Along with good coaching and strong quarterbacking, the quality of a team's Canadian players is generally viewed as one of the key elements of success in the CFL. The following is a look at where each team stands in that regard.
Elite Players: All-Star calibre players at their respective positions.
Up and Comers: Primarily second- and third-year players who are poised for a breakthrough.
Top Prospects: Rookies and other drafted players for whom teams have high expectations.
Ratio Buster: A non-import player who plays a position usually occupied by an import.
Ratio Flexibility: The ability of a team to manipulate its roster easily, while still meeting ratio requirements (seven non-import starters).
1. B.C. LIONS
Elite Players: It seems like a foregone conclusion that, for the fifth consecutive year, the CFL's Most Outstanding Canadian award will go to a B.C Lion. The question is whether it will be DE Brent Johnson, SB Jason Clermont, WR Paris Jackson, or LB Javy Glatt. Add to that group OG Kelly Bates, who was an All-Canadian last season, and the Leos have more top end homegrown talent than any other team.
Up and Comers: FS Tad Crawford, DE Ricky Foley, and LB Jay Pottinger all play regularly in the Lions' multiple defensive looks. Crawford should one day affect the ratio as the heir apparent to import FS Barron Miles.
Top Prospects: Rookie FB Rolly Lumbala has already made his presence felt in short yardage situations for B.C., while OT Justin Sorensen enters his third season as a starter at the University of South Carolina. RB Jerome Messam, who may have been the most talented player in the 2008 Draft, is currently on the Lions' negotiation list and could join the club when practice rosters expand in September.
Summary: Beyond the big names, B.C. also possesses an impressive mix of unheralded soldiers, like OC Angus Reid and FB Lyle Green. The only question mark seems to be how top prospects, OG John Hameister-Ries and LB Josh Bean, will respond to the injuries that have made them non-factors in '08. Considering though, that, within the past decade, the Lions have lost first rounders DE Robert Meier and FS Oshiomogho Atogwe, plus second round pick OC Brett Romberg to the NFL, the depth of non-import talent in B.C. is remarkable.
2. MONTREAL ALOUETTES
Elite Players: Regardless of nationality, SB Ben Cahoon has been the most dominant receiver in the East Division over the last eight years, and FS Etienne Boulay is arguably the most athletic safety in the league. On the O-Line, OC Bryan Chiu and OG Scott Flory have combined for thirteen All-Star selections.
Up and Comers: For years, Montreal has had enough Canadian depth to use a "best player available" strategy on Draft Day, even if it meant waiting a few years for NFL bound prospects. Their approach has paid off in spades, with OT Josh Bourke, FB Kerry Carter, WR Eric Deslauriers, and DE Alain Kashama all making significant contributions after returning to Canada. OT Jeff Perrett and SB Danny Desriveaux have also proven to be more than capable when pressed into starting duty.
Top Prospects: Alouette rookies LB Shea Emry and CB Paul Woldu are already among the CFL's leading special teams tacklers. Those two, along with CB Donovan Alexander, could one day be ratio busters for Montreal. OT Andrew Woodruff has another year left at Boise State and should get an NFL look after that, but if he ends up in Montreal, he'll join Bourke and Perrett as the cornerstones of the Alouettes' O-Line for the next several years..
Summary: In the CFL, the two positions most commonly occupied by Canadians are offensive line and receiver. Not surprisingly, Montreal has a wealth of homegrown talent, in terms of both youth and experience, at both spots. Perhaps more impressive though is their unusually deep Canadian talent pool in the usually import dominated secondary. The Alouettes have five current or potential starting DBs in cornerbacks Davis Sanchez, Woldu, and Alexander, and safeties Boulay and Mathieu Proulx. That creates tremendous ratio flexibility.
3. TORONTO ARGONAUTS
Elite Players: For the last few years, the strength of the Toronto Argonauts has been their defence, and the quality of their Canadians on that side of the ball has been a big factor in their success. Relative to the ratio, the Argos typically start one or two extra non-imports, emphasizing the point that DT Adriano Belli, LB Kevin Eiben, and DE Riall Johnson are starters thanks to their productivity, rather than simply because they're Canadian. Offensively, OG Taylor Robertson is already a Division All-Star and is still improving.
Up and Comers: Four second-year Canucks figure prominently in the Argonauts' future plans. OT Brian Ramsay has started every game in '08, while LB Aaron Wagner and SB Obed Cétoute could make that step up by next season. RB Andre Durie should also see some offensive snaps after recovering from a broken thumb.
Top Prospects: WR Tyler Scott, TE/FB Steve Schmidt, OC Mark Dewit were all late round picks who have made the club as rookies, a testament to the outstanding work of Canadian scout Miles Gorrell. Finding those hidden gems has been important to a team that has lost draftees OT/DT Dan Federkeil, RB Clifton Dawson, and OT Nick Kaczur to the NFL in recent years.
Summary: While veterans Mike O'Shea, Chad Folk, and Jude St. John are clearly on the downside of their impressive careers, they remain valuable assets to the organization as mentors to the young Canadians who will one day succeed them. That's an ideal arrangement for long-term success.
4. SASKATCHEWAN ROUGHRIDERS
Elite Players: In just his third CFL season, SB Andy Fantuz had proven himself as one of the league's premier big play receivers prior to breaking his leg. DT Scott Schultz anchors the D and, on the other side of the ball, OG Gene Makowsky and OC Jeremy O'Day are All-Stars. K Luca Congi is a difference maker on a team that plays a lot of close games.
Up and Comers: LB Yannick Carter is an outstanding special teams player who could eventually grow into the weakside LB spot.
Top Prospects: DT Keith Shologan is the heir apparent to Schultz at nose tackle. DE Michael Stadnyk and OC Jonathan St. Pierre each have a year of NCAA eligibility remaining, but were among the premier players available in this year's draft.
Summary: The Roughriders have a solid group of non-import starters, but the role players have been equally important this year. The Riders have been able to survive their season long rash of injuries because players like FB Neal Hughes, WR Corey Grant, and DL Luc Mullinder have all moved seamlessly into featured roles when called upon. That depth is important over the course of an eighteen game season.
5. CALGARY STAMPEDERS
Elite Players: In three down football, a clutch kicker is key and Stampeder K Sandro DeAngelis is the standard by which all others are judged.
Up and Comers: OG Dmitri Tsoumpas and OG Jesse Newman bypassed the "Prospect" stage by jumping right into the starting lineup as rookies. DE Mike Labinjo, DE Justin Phillips, and DT Miguel Robédé have provided the Stampeders with D-Line depth that they have lacked for a few years. Labinjo, in particular, has made on impact on both the field and the ratio.
Top Prospects: At 6'5", 260 lbs., NFL veteran TE/FB Teyo Johnson offers the Stampeder offence a new dimension. The same may one day be true of 6'3" WR Jabari Arthur, but he's currently with the Kansas City Chiefs. DE Fernand Kashama has been a late bloomer, but will gain valuable experience in his senior year at Western Michigan.
Summary: Calgary's Canadian contingent isn't stacked with stars but OT Jeff Pilon and WR Brett Ralph are among the league's most underrated players. Plus, the Stamps' collection of young guns includes RB Jon Cornish, who could be something special given the opportunity. Overall, the Stampeders have a nice balance between youth and experience.
6. WINNIPEG BLUE BOMBERS
Elite Players: DT Doug Brown is the best player on one of the CFL's best defensive lines, and OT Alex Gauthier is a ratio buster, playing the critical left tackle spot. After battling health issues for the last two seasons, the Blue Bombers hope that OL Ibrahim Khan will be able to return to the form that had made him one of the CFL's best interior O-Linemen.
Up and Comers: With all the American talent in Winnipeg's receiving corps, it would be easy for homegrown SB Arjei Franklin to get lost in the shuffle. Instead, the Windsor product has stood out as a reliable playmaker. The value of third-year OC Dominic Picard and second-year OG Kyle Koch became most apparent when they were injured, as the Blue Bombers O-Line struggled without them.
Top Prospects: Injuries have allowed this year's first round pick OG Brendon LaBatte to gain valuable playing time, and he has progressed beyond expectations. His fellow '08 draftees, SB Aaron Hargreaves and LB Pierre-Luc Labbé, have contributed on special teams and have the potential to eventually to provide ratio flexibility as starters. DE Cory Mace would be a major addition but he may stick with the NFL's Buffalo Bills for a second straight season.
Summary: The Blue Bombers traded their first round pick every year from 2001 through 2007. While dealing high picks for top non-imports Brown and Gauthier as well as QB Kevin Glenn has worked out, overall, the practice has been costly to Winnipeg's Canadian talent base. In short, they lack sufficient depth to overcome injuries, a fact proven by this year's O-Line woes.
7. HAMILTON TIGER-CATS
Elite Players: As the lone non-import feature back in the CFL, RB Jesse Lumsden is the most uniquely gifted Canadian in the league.
Up and Comers: Sophomore Ticats SB Chris Bauman, OG Cedric Gagné-Marcoux, and OG Peter Dyakowski have all seen significant time in the starting lineup in their young careers. For the Tiger-Cats to become contenders, the club needs all three of them to develop into top flight CFLers.
Top Prospects: The future could be bright for Hamilton IF this year's first overall draft choice, FS Dylan Barker, is able to fully recover from the broken leg that has wiped out his rookie season, IF freakishly athletic WR Samuel Giguere, the eighth overall selection in '08 returns from the NFL, and IF last year's fourth overall pick, OT J.P. Bekasiak can successfully make the transition from defence to offence. The development of any one of the three into a starter would provide Hamilton with some much needed ratio flexibility.
Summary: The only two things keeping DE Nautyn McKay-Loescher from earning similar accolades to those of his former teammate Brent Johnson are a lack of consistency and the absence of a great supporting cast. With the exception of All-Star OC Marwan Hage and OG George Hudson, Hamilton's Canadian starters are all in their first or second year in that role. Thus, the Tiger-Cats' future success hinges on the development of their collection of young non-imports.
8. EDMONTON ESKIMOS
Elite Players: After a few bumps in the road, SB Kamau Peterson is finally fulfilling the promise that he showed early in his career.
Up and Comers: As a sophomore CFLer, RB Calvin McCarty has seen his role in the offence expanded and he has shown that he could soon be a ratio changing, every down back.
Top Prospects: OT Greg Wojt is projected as a starting tackle, which would help ratio wise. First, however, he'll complete his senior year at Central Michigan. WR Kevin Challenger is still adjusting to CFL life after starring at Boston College.
Summary: Young veterans OG Patrick Kabongo and DT Adam Braidwood have the potential to soon be among the league's elite homegrown players, as does WR Brock Ralph, if he's able to find his niche in the offence. The Esks' trade of their 2009 first round pick for K Noel Prefontaine and subsequent release of '07 first round pick, PK Warren Kean, means that the team will have spent two first rounders in three years to replace Sean Fleming. That's costly for a team that doesn't have a great deal of non-import depth.