Unfortunately, offensive lineman Zac Carlson's (Weber State) application for non-import status was not approved in time to make the final draft eligibility list, which went out to every CFL team last week. As a result, he will not be eligible to be selected in the CFL's Canadian Draft on May 2. This development will affect the draft strategy of several teams, as Carlson was projected as a guaranteed top six pick, perhaps even going as high as first overall.
In order for Carlson, who was born in Winnipeg but moved to California as a child, to qualify as a non-import, he needs to prove that he lived in Canada for seven of his first fifteen years. For such an application to be approved, the player must provide documentation, such as school records, tax returns, and rent receipts, proving his time of residence in Canada to two different governing bodies. The first, and most obvious, is the Canadian Football League itself. If the powers that be at the CFL office are satisfied that the player has provided sufficient evidence to support his claim, then they forward the application to the CFL Players Association. Despite the fact that the two organizations evaluate applications based on identical criteria, the CFL and CFLPA arrived at different verdicts in the Carlson case, with the PA feeling that he lacked supporting documentation for a few months of the seven years. I'll write more about the non-import rule and this process in a future column.
By no means does the decision end Carlson's hopes of competing in the CFL as a non-import. However, he'll now have to set his sights on qualifying in time for a supplemental draft, which would include players in this draft class whose eligibility is granted less than three weeks before the draft (another prospect who may fall into that category, should he choose to apply for non-import status, is Boston College defensive lineman Brendan Deska. A team selecting a player in any round of the 2009 supplemental draft would forfeit their pick in the corresponding round of the 2010 (regular) Canadian Draft. This scenario presents two potential negatives for Carlson. First of all, teams are generally hesitant to expend high draft choices in a supplemental draft because of uncertainty as to how valuable that pick will be a year later. As a result, a player who was a lock to go in the first round of the 2009 Draft could easily become a lower pick in the supplemental draft.
The other drawback for Carlson is that, in the supplemental draft, his value would be assessed relative to the 2010 draft class, which is deeper than the Class of ‘09, especially at the O-Line position. That said, the top five NCAA offensive line prospects available in 2010 will all have a year of eligibility remaining when they're drafted, meaning that they wouldn't actually join a CFL team until 2011 at the earliest. By that time, Zac Carlson could theoretically have two full years of CFL experience. So whether a team is willing to use an early round 2010 pick to get him to their 2009 training camp depends on how urgently they need O-Line help, and how they rate the upside of the athletic Carlson relative to the long term potential of 2010 offensive line prospects like John Bender (Nevada), Joe Eppele (Washington State), Danny Watkins (Baylor), J'Michael Deane (Michigan State), and Nasser Jamal (Louisiana-Lafayette).
Teams Must Adjust
The B.C. Lions are the team which will be most affected by Carlson's exclusion from the draft. Had he remained in the May 2nd draft, the Lions, holders the fourth, fifth, and sixth overall picks, would've had three opportunities to select him before any of Montreal, Calgary, Winnipeg, Edmonton, or Saskatchewan even had one, and, if the 6'4", 300 pound tackle were available, B.C. almost certainly would've taken him in one of those three slots. On the other hand, in a supplemental draft, the selection order is determined by waiver priority. In this case, it means that the Blue Bombers, Eskimos, and Roughriders will now get a shot at Carlson before the Leos' turn arrives. In theory, the biggest winners in all of this could be the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, who not only possess the first and third overall selections on Draft Day, but would also pick first in the supplemental draft.
The O-Line Picture
Carlson's combination of size, athletic ability, and experience playing offensive tackle (most non-imports play guard or centre) had him ranked as one of the top two offensive linemen on most teams' draft boards.
With him out of the mix, Simeon Rottier (Alberta) becomes more firmly entrenched as the draft's top O-Line prospect, while Matt Morencie
(Windsor) should be the next offensive lineman selected. However, after that, the O-Line picture becomes very cloudy, as Carlson, Rottier, and Morencie were the only three consensus first rounders in the group.
Next in line would appear to be Dylan Steenbergen (Calgary) and Steve Myddelton (St. Francis Xavier), who both ranked among the CFL Scouting Bureau's Top Ten CIS prospects throughout last season. The opportunity now exists for one or both to climb but, after a less than stellar Evaluation Camp showing by the O-Line group as a whole, the search for help in the trenches took many CFL scouts off of the beaten path. After being overlooked for E-Camp invitations, Gord Hinse (Alberta) and Christian Oberegger (St. Francis Xavier) showed enough at Université Laval's annual combine to find their way on to the radars of several clubs. It wouldn't be a shock to see Hinse, in particular, as one of the first five offensive linemen taken on Draft Day.
Redshirts Relieve The Pressure
CFL teams are occasionally forced to draft players, particularly offensive linemen, higher than they want to simply because they have a need at the position but, this year, most teams have the luxury of not having to make such "reach" picks. One reason is the strong O-Line crops on the horizon for both 2010 and especially 2011. A larger factor though, is the delayed influx of young O-Line talent from the Class of ‘08. With many of the redshirts from last year's outstanding offensive line group now joining their CFL clubs, the league-wide demand for young OL prospects has been slightly alleviated. In recent weeks, Jonathan St. Pierre (10th overall pick in ‘08 from Illinois State) has signed with the Saskatchewan Roughriders, Andrew Woodruff (12th overall, Boise State), and Gurminder Thind (32nd overall, South Carolina) have joined the Montreal Alouettes, and Jon Gott (35th overall, Boise State) is poised to become a Calgary Stampeder later this week. The future will become a little clearer concerning two other 2008 draftees following this weekend's NFL Draft. Tackles Justin Sorensen (5th overall, South Carolina) and Greg Wojt (11th overall, Central Michigan) will keep the B.C. Lions and Edmonton Eskimos respectively, on hold while they wait to see if any opportunities emerge south of the border. Neither is likely to be drafted but they could be signed as priority free agents immediately after the draft ends on Sunday evening.
• Running back Devon Jones (Saint Mary's) was a late addition to the draft eligibility list. Through his high school and junior football careers, Jones was often overshadowed by his older brother, Tristan, but the 5'10", 230 pound son of former CFL'er Milson Jones had a breakout season for the Huskies, averaging over seven yards per carry. He could draw some attention in the later rounds.
• Receiver Cassidy Doneff (Washburn) has been informed by the NCAA that he would have to sit out for a year if he transferred from Washburn University to St. Cloud State. As a result, he will forgo his two remaining years of NCAA eligibility to make himself available immediately to whichever CFL team drafts him. Doneff worked out for the Toronto Argonauts last week and has a Pro-Day, open to all CFL teams, scheduled in his hometown of Calgary on April 26.
• Redshirt junior receiver Caleb Clark (Western Michigan) will also bypass his remaining season of NCAA eligibility but the converted quarterback has all of his options covered. If he doesn't stick with a CFL team this season, he'll join the Clan at Simon Fraser University, where he was recently announced as a part of their 2009 recruiting class. Clark will have two years of CIS eligibility and will be able to play immediately at SFU because he will graduate from Western Michigan this spring.
• Daniel Cordick, a 6'3", 245 pound linebacker/defensive end was also listed as part of that SFU recruiting class. The Vancouver native has spent the last two years playing football at Sacramento City College, a two-year junior college in California, in an attempt to land a scholarship to a PAC-10 school. While he garnered plenty of attention from NCAA Division I programs, the ideal situation didn't materialize.
As a result, Cordick decided to return home to play the next two years at SFU, with an eye towards the 2011 CFL Draft, for which he is a very good prospect. However, a loophole in the CFL's draft rules could allow him to fast track his arrival in the CFL and impact this year's draft in the process. The CFL does not include CJFL (junior football) players in the draft but underage players from that league are permitted to try out with the closest CFL team as "domiciled juniors". A Canadian playing at a U.S. junior college, like Cordick, is treated as a domiciled junior unless and until he plays football at a four-year school (once an individual plays in a four-year program, he is "tracked" for the CFL Draft). Cordick, on the strength of his junior college film and physical testing numbers (340 lbs. bench press, 4.59 40-yard dash, 4.3 20-yard shuttle), has earned a look from his hometown B.C. Lions, who will work him out on April 29. If he impresses, he could actually even attend the Lions training camp without jeopardizing his CIS eligibility. Thus, if he doesn't stick with the Lions, he can resume his original plan of playing at SFU until 2011. It's a "can't lose" situation for Cordick and the Lions, who could land a top Canadian prospect without having to use a draft choice to get him.
• Although he was drafted by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers two years ago, defensive tackle Corey Mace may well determine how the first three picks of the 2009 CFL Draft unfold. Mace, who has spent the last two years with the NFL's Buffalo Bills, saw the Bombers send his CFL rights to Hamilton in the Zeke Moreno deal last summer. He is currently a free agent and, if he doesn't find NFL employment in the aftermath of that league's draft this weekend, then he's expected to sign with the Tiger-Cats. Here's how his status relates to the CFL Draft. Hamilton owns the first and third overall selections and, if they don't get Mace locked up, then they must acquire a defensive lineman, likely Etienne Légaré (Laval), with one of those picks. If they're able to secure Mace's services before Draft Day, the Tabbies will likely turn their attention to the top available offensive prospects, tackle Simeon
Rottier and running back Jamall Lee (Bishop's). Regardless, strategy will be key for the Ticats, as the Toronto Argonauts, owners of the number two pick, have a very similar wish list.