Forde: Explaining the strangest CFL draft class, ever

Duane Forde
4/24/2011 12:47:26 PM
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The Strangest Draft Class...EVER

On Thursday, in the belief that fans will take a greater interest in the CFL Draft if they understood it better, I promised to try to clarify the eligibility requirements. I felt that this would be the ideal year to do it because it seems that virtually every quirky rule in the book has come into play with this draft class. I've used some "case studies" to illustrate the rules. Be forewarned though. Before you read any further, you might want to sit down. In the vast majority of cases – over 90% - determining a player's eligibility is actually pretty straightforward but the ones that aren't so simple could make your head spin. What did you expect from the league that gave you the rouge?

First of all, in order to be draft eligible, a player has to qualify as a "non-import". Although people treat the terms as interchangeable, this isn't always as simple as being "Canadian". Basically, if a player has lived in Canada for a total of five or more years (not necessarily consecutively) by the time he is eighteen, then he is considered a non-import. If a player is known to have spent some portion of his first eighteen years living in another country then he may be required to submit documentation (school transcripts, medical records, parents' tax bills, etc.) to the CFL and CFL Players Association (CFLPA) to prove his time of residency in Canada.

Case Studies
• Orlando Franklin: The Jamaican born, Toronto raised offensive lineman will be chosen within the first three rounds of the NFL Draft (April 28-30) and is clearly the best player in this draft class...except that, technically, he's not in this draft class. The Miami Hurricanes stud meets the qualifications of a non-import but, because he spent his last two years of high school in Florida, the CFL requires him to submit paperwork to prove that he meets the standard. With the NFL in his immediate future, dealing with that CFL technicality is hardly a priority for the 6'7" he's not eligible for this draft.
• Kito Poblah: After over a year of exchanging paperwork with the CFL and CFLPA, I anticipate that the Montreal born, Florida raised receiver will finally be granted non-import status sometime within the next week. However, since there are less than three weeks until the draft, the Central Michigan star will have to wait an extra week or two for the Supplemental Draft. At that time, expect some team (likely Winnipeg) to forfeit its 2012 first round pick to select Poblah, who recorded a 4.45 second 40 yard dash and 20 bench press reps with 225 lbs. at his CMU Pro Day.
• Michael Knill: The CFL's E-Camp bench press record holder actually should have been part of the Class of 2007, four years after his college career began as a walk-on at Michigan State in 2003. However, the Waterloo, Ontario native moved to Michigan when he was 15 and no one in CFL circles realized he was a non-import until he returned home in '09 to pursue a master's degree at Wilfrid Laurier. He easily could've been placed in the 2010 Draft but he chose to wait until this year to complete the required paperwork to gain non-import status.

In the NFL, a player automatically becomes eligible for the draft upon completion of his college eligibility. He may apply to enter the draft before that, as long as it has been at least three years since his class graduated from high school. However, CFL draft eligibility is tied to neither college eligibility nor high school graduation. Typically non-import players become eligible for the draft four years after beginning college or university, provided that their name has appeared on the roster of a college or university football team at any point during those four years. This is the case regardless of whether or not they "redshirt" (are on the roster but don't participate in games) and regardless of whether they were on the roster all four years.

Case Studies
• Tyler Holmes and Moe Petrus: Holmes, a tackle from Tulsa, and Petrus, a centre from Connecticut, are two of the top O-Line prospects in this year's draft class but they won't actually turn pro for another year. Both players began their college careers in 2007 but redshirted that season, meaning they won't complete their NCAA eligibility until this fall. It's worth noting that both were chosen to the College Football News Freshman All-American team when they finally hit the field in'08.
• Logan Brooks: This defensive end enrolled at the University of Regina in the fall of 2007 but, rather than joining the Rams to redshirt or play sparingly, he played junior football for his first two years of school. He has been a Ram only for the last two seasons and still has three years of CIS eligibility, but he is draft eligible because he started university four years ago.

Still, the majority of this draft class consists of players who joined college or university football programs in the fall of 2007. The most common exception to this "four year rule" involves players who reach age 25 prior to their fourth year. Such individuals automatically become eligible for the draft in the calendar year after they turn 25 (i.e. underclassmen born in 1985 are in the 2011 draft class), regardless of when they started college or how much remaining eligibility they have.

Case Studies
• Philip Blake: It's very common for Canadian prospects at American schools to have a year of collegiate eligibility remaining when they become eligible for the CFL Draft. Usually this happens because those individuals have been redshirted for a season. However, the highly regarded Blake, like his fellow Baylor Bears O-Lineman Danny Watkins a year ago, is eligible because he had reached the age of 25 prior to his fourth year of intercollegiate football.
• Chris Hodgson: He has already played professionally and won a CIS National hockey. His football experience? Well, if you include Little League and high school...the grand total would be one season (2010) as a backup defensive lineman at Saint Mary's. Like Blake, Hodgson is this draft class because the former minor pro hockey player is already 26. His size and raw athletic ability suggest that he has great upside. At his age, the debate is over whether or not he has time to reach his potential.

If a non-import player at an NCAA school enters the NFL Draft as an underclassman, he will be entered in the CFL Draft the same year. This is permitted because, in this circumstance, the player will have waived his remaining NCAA eligibility.

Case Study
• Jerome Messam (Class of '08): The big running back from Graceland University was placed in the 2008 CFL Draft after just three years of college because he had entered the NFL Draft as an underclassman that year. That part of his story demonstrates the rule very clearly. I don't want to confuse anyone but his situation became complicated later, as he returned to Graceland for the '09 season. This was possible because he never signed an NFL contract, leaving his eligibility intact with the NAIA, in which the Yellowjackets play. Had Graceland been an NCAA school, Messam would have waived any remaining eligibility simply by declaring for the NFL Draft, regardless of his contract status.

The only circumstances under which a CIS player can enter the CFL prior to the satisfying either the "four year rule" or "age 25 rule" is if he graduates first.

Case Studies
• Vaughn Martin: Wayne Smith was selected in the 2004 Canadian Draft after attending NFL training camps in '02 and '03, and Riall Johnson was selected in the CFL's 2004 Supplemental Draft after playing four seasons in the NFL. However, San Diego Chargers defensive tackle Vaughn Martin will become the first player to ever be selected in the Canadian Draft after participating in an NFL regular season game. Martin was able to enter the 2009 NFL Draft as an underclassman because he had finished high school three years earlier in 2006. However, the former Western Ontario star had to wait until 2011 to go through the CFL Draft because he didn't start university until '07.
• Samuel Giguere (Class of '08): The former CIS star, currently with the NFL's New York Giants, entered the 2008 CFL Draft after his third year at Sherbrooke because he had already earned his degree.

Prior to 2007, players could defer their draft eligibility by one year. That option no longer exists.
Now, the only case in which a player may become draft eligible more than four years after he first appears on a college roster is if he started his intercollegiate career at a junior college (two year school) before transferring to a four-year program. Such players become eligible for the draft five years after beginning their college careers unless they meet one of the previously mentioned thresholds (graduate, turn 25, or U.S. college eligibility expires) before then.

Case Study
• Michael Carter, Bruce Anderson, and Dale Furber: All three of these players were on a preliminary version of the 2010 draft list but were bumped to 2011 when this rarely used rule came into play. Almost all of the former junior college (juco) players to be drafted into the CFL in recent years, including Paris Jackson and Corey Mace, joined four-year NCAA programs without redshirting. As a result, they had completed their college eligibility in their fourth year, immediately making them draft eligible. Carter, Anderson, and Furber all started juco in 2006 but none had exhausted his college eligibility prior to the 2010 Draft. In Carter's case, he redshirted for the '08 season when he transferred to Maryland. Anderson (Regina) and Furber (Simon Fraser, then Saskatchewan) both transferred to programs in the CIS, where student-athletes have five years of eligibility instead of the NCAA's four years.

CJFL (Canadian Junior Football League) players are not eligible to be drafted unless they have previously appeared on a university or college roster, in which case they become eligible four years after first appearing on that roster. Otherwise, CJFL players can join the closest (geographically) CFL team as "domiciled juniors" or may sign with any team as free agents once their CJFL eligibility has expired.

Case Studies
• Robin Medeiros and Yunell Clayton: These two began their CIS careers together in the fall of 2007 as rookie receivers at Bishop's University. Ultimately both left the Gaiters program but they continued playing football in the CJFL, Medeiros with the Burlington Braves and Vancouver Island Raiders, and Clayton with the Brampton Bears. The Toronto Argonauts actually tried to bring Clayton to their training camp last summer as a domiciled junior. However, they were denied because he had previously played college football, meaning that he could only enter the CFL via the draft. Both players have a good chance of being selected in next month's CFL Draft.
• Ryan King and Wyatt Jacobi: Saint Mary's linebacker King is not draft eligible and former Manitoba defensive end Jacobi is eligible but this duo actually falls into the same category. They're among the first "victims" of a CIS rule change that has made it possible for players to spend a year in football Purgatory, having run out of college eligibility before they reach their draft year. For many years, CJFL participation had no impact on CIS eligibility but a few years ago, the CIS implemented a rule that only allowed an individual to play two years of CJFL football after high school before it started counting against their CIS eligibility. In King's case, he played four years for the Edmonton Wildcats, which cost him two years of CIS eligibility. He then played three years at SMU, exhausting his eligibility without satisfying any of the requirements to enter the CFL Draft. As a result, King now has to wait until 2012, at which time it will have been four years since he enrolled at SMU. Jacobi, in a similar scenario last year, sat out the 2010 season but turned 25 during the year, making him eligible for the 2011 Draft. Meanwhile, the CIS has since tweaked its rule slightly, giving athletes a seven year window after high school in which to use their five years of eligibility...but, by my calculation, the same risk will still exist.  (Does anyone else find it troubling that a Canadian who exhausts his eligibility at an American school gets an immediate opportunity to enter the CFL Draft but those who exhaust their CIS eligibility don't?)

In the words of Benjamin Buford "Bubba" Blue, "That's about it."

What If...?

Last year, I wrote about how the first round of the 2002 CFL Draft would have been completely different had offensive lineman Wayne Smith's non-import status not gone undetected until two years later. In a nutshell, Smith was born in Toronto and spent his early childhood there before moving to Florida. He had been out of college for two years and had been through two NFL training camps before anyone associated with the CFL realized that he had a significant enough Canadian background to qualify as a non-import. As a result, Smith, who should have been part of the Class of 2002 wasn't entered in the draft until '04.

While doing some research, I discovered that a similar case may have had an impact on the 2003 Draft as well. As it turns out, defensive tackle Colin Cole of the NFL's Seattle Seahawks was also born in Toronto and lived there long enough to qualify as a non-import...but his name has never appeared on a CFL draft eligibility list. Like Smith, he moved to Florida as a child and slipped through the cracks in the CFL scouting system, despite starring at the University of Iowa. The 6'2", 330 lbs. Cole is currently in the midst of a 5-year, 21 million dollar contract, which may lead you to believe that he was always "too good" to entertain the notion of playing in the CFL anyway. However, consider the following. Upon completing his college career, Cole was passed over in the '03 NFL Draft. He signed with Minnesota as a free agent but was waived by both the Vikings and the Detroit Lions within his first year in the league. He didn't see the field regularly until '05, suggesting that there may have been a window of opportunity in the early years of his career to lure him north. It's likely a moot point but, just for the record, if Cole ever did want to play in the CFL as a non-import, he would still have to submit the appropriate paperwork and go through either the normal or supplemental draft process.



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