To sustain consistent success in the CFL, teams need Canadians who can make an impact from game to game. And getting those players on the roster boils down to drafting them. Having great Canadians on a CFL roster is a premium because teams must have a minimum of 21 national players on a 44-man roster from game to game. That makes CFL prospects from Canadian universities a key part of every team’s strategy.
Impact CFL Prospects from the OUA
The most recent example of this is Winnipeg Blue Bomber Taylor Loffler. The big 6’4″ safety was drafted in the third round last year. Right from the start, he made a name for himself as part of the most dangerous secondary in the league with his physical play and ball hawking skills. Winnipeg made the playoffs for the first time in four years in large part due to Loffler and the rest of the backs. Loffler, a 2015 Vanier Cup champion with the Victoria Thunderbirds, was rewarded for his impressive season when he was named to the CFL West All-Star and CFL All-Star team.
Despite all his talent, many fans did not hear of Loffler before the regular season. This year’s draft class has players with similar potential who, like Loffler, are flying under the radar. Here are some of the names from the OUA in this year’s draft who are worth looking out for as they may make an immediate impact for the teams lucky enough to draft them.
Impact CFL Prospects from the OUA
Nakas Onyeka, LineBacker, Laurier Golden Hawk
Most of the talk around Wilfrid Laurier University is on defensive end Kwaki Boateng, and for good reason. But don’t ignore Nakas Onyeka, another key piece of the Golden Hawks’ impressive defense that led the nation in sacks and was among the best in the majority of OUA defensive categories.
Onyeka is a speedy and physical linebacker who’s not afraid of contact. He got better each year during his four years at Laurier and finished his final campaign with 59.5 tackles, 5.5 sacks, and one forced fumble. He showed his potential in the 109th Yates Cup against No.3 Western Mustangs. The Brampton Ontario native was a big reason Laurier’s 43-40 come-from-behind upset against Western. In that game, he racked up 8.5 tackles, 0.5 sacks and a forced fumble to help Golden Hawks capture their first Yates Cup in 11 years.
He was named to the 2016 OUA Men’s Football First Team All-Star, was a 2016 U Sports Men’s football First Team All-Canadian, and won the OUA men’s Football Presidents Award.
Onyeka has the speed and drive to compete at the next level. Any CFL team could use a Canadian like him. He currently sits as the 16th highest prospect in this coming draft.
Jordan Hoover, Defensive Back, Waterloo Warriors
Before the 2016 season kicked off, Jordan Hoover was a player to watch even on the struggling Waterloo Warriors team. In 2015 he led the nation in interceptions and really made a name for himself in the 14th annual CIS East-West Bowl. He put himself on the CFL’s radar and did not disappoint this past year.
The Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario native was consistently responsible for covering opponents’ number one weapons, and displayed his talent for playing all over the field in any defensive scheme. He has the top end speed to keep up with any wide receivers at the next. Hoover posted a 4.603 40-yard dash at the CFL combine, which was the second best at Regina. He also had the best time in the three-cone drill and shuttle.
It is clear that he truly enjoys playing, and he’s great at hitting people – he ranked eighth in the OUA in solo tackles, which is pretty impressive considering six of the seven players ahead of Hoover in the category are linebackers.
The 6’2″ back is quick, physical, strong, and very intelligent. His ability to read plays allows him to anticipate things well before they happen, and with his speed he can cover a lot of ground.
Worth noting is that he did play some offensive snaps as a receiver in his final year, making six grabs for 157 yards.
Nathaniel Behar, Wide Receiver, Carleton Ravens
By far one of the best receivers in the OUA this past season, Nathaniel Behar has ‘play maker’ written all over him. In his last year for Carleton University he ranked second in the OUA in receptions (57), second in receiving yards (788), third in yards per game (98.5), and first in touchdowns (9). The Ravens had the second best passing attack in the OUA and were seventh in the nation. A big reason for that was Behar. He was named to U Sports Football’s 2016 All Canadian team. He also cracked the list back in 2014.
The London, Ontario native’s 22 career touchdowns is tied for the most in Carleton football history with Scott Alexander. He set school records in receptions and receiving yards in 2016, piling up a career 178 receptions for 2,577 receiving yards.
Behar is a dynamic wide-out who’s a very good route runner. Most importantly he can line up in the slot or outside the numbers. He goes 0 to 100 in seconds, which allows him to gain separation consistently. The 6’0 receiver maintains his top level speed no matter the route he runs. He blew scouts away at the combine with his strength, benching 22 reps, the most for any wide receiver or defensive back. His speed is impressive too: his 40-yard dash was the third best, clocking in at 4.613 seconds.
No matter what team decides to draft the number eight ranked prospect, they’ll be getting a receiver with a high ceiling and big play potential at any point of the game.
Richard Gillespie, Defensive Back, Toronto Varsity Blues
Richard Gillespie is one of the most underrated prospects coming into the 2017 draft. He may not be the flashiest compared to his counterparts, but he gets the job done. The Whitby, Ontario native makes the most of his 5’9″, 190 pound frame, and he is very good in coverage.
Gillespie led the OUA with five interceptions this past season, as well as 29.5 total tackles and three pass break ups. His strong performance gave him the opportunity to participate for team West in the 2016 CIS East-West Bowl and he managed to turn heads in the CFL.
He continued to impress at the Ontario Regional Combine, posting the second most bench reps for defensive backs with 18. In addition to his 4.772 40-yard dash ranked fourth in the entire field. Gillespie may not be drafted this May, but he definitely deserves to be invited to camp for teams to take a closer look.
Drafting is truly an art and evaluating talent, especially of young players, is one of the most difficult things to do in sports. Considering the importance of Canadian players with 21 nation spots on a 44-man roster held for them. It can truly make the difference between a team making a deep playoff run, to missing the postseason entirely. Scouts on all nine CFL teams will be paying attention to these four as they prepare their draft strategies this spring.