The CFL draft took place on Sunday May 7, 2017. This edition of the draft was the most well produced and covered event to date.
I won’t lie to you, I’m not the most well-versed in the Canadian Football League, especially when it comes to the draft process. I consider myself a football fan from heavily watching the NFL and the occasional Western University game. Besides the twelve men, three downs, bigger field, and bigger balls, much of the game’s details elude me.
I am not alone among self-proclaimed football fans in overlooking the talent that our national game is producing. In Canada, most parents choose to enroll their children in soccer, basketball and hockey. Producing high-level athletes in football is almost an afterthought in the Canadian sports world.
However, as the NFL continues to grow, so does our own league. In the past few years we’ve seen universities picking up competitive junior teams, like Western’s Jr. Mustangs, to cultivate young talent. More gyms and trainers are opening that specialize in football athletes training. We’ve seen this in Ottawa with the Canadian Football Institute and other similar developmental programs.
So what route have some of these athletes taken to get from development to the pros? Although it is true that CFL teams use a percentage of American-import players, the notion that the CFL is full of these players is false. The league has implemented rules to make sure a set number of Canadian-born athletes are starters on each team. That will be explained later, as well as some inside perspectives on the draft process from two newest Edmonton Eskimos, Nate Behar and Mark Mackie.
CFL Draft Process:
The CFL draft has not been a very public event for much of it’s history. It only recently began broadcasting the first two rounds. Rounds three through eight are done via conference call. It wasn’t until 2009 that TSN started broadcasting coverage of the event and streaming it online. We’ve also TSN take to Facebook and use the live functionality to show the athletes performing in the combine. This is very much a result of the NFL’s success over the past two decades of turning both the combine and draft night into the grand spectacle we have come to enjoy.
The draft is exclusively for Canadian-born athletes or players able to obtain “non-import” or national status. American born players are not eligible for this draft and must be signed via free agency. This is because in the CFL the ratio of national to internationals plays such an integral role in roster building. Out of the 44 man active roster, a maximum of 20 international players and a minimum of 21 national players must be met. Out of the 24 starters on the team, at least seven must be national players. This is to ensure that the Canadian Football League remains somewhat true to its name and isn’t overrun from players from the south.
This is all part of the chaos on a CFL draft board. So many factors come into play. Does your team need to maintain its national to inter-national ratio? How many players are leaving in hopes of attending NFL training camps? What positions are best left for internationals? Questions of competition levels in various of CIS divisions also come into play.
The whole CFL draft process has flown under the radar for a long time, and I’ve been looking for an opportunity to shine some light on the whole process.
Luckily enough, I was able to ask a couple of players drafted in the 2017 CFL Draft. Wide receiver Nathaniel Behar (5th overall) and defensive lineman Mark Mackie (67th overall) were drafted by the Edmonton Eskimos. Both proud London natives, they were kind enough to answer some of my questions about the process and their journey to this point.
1)As a child, how large of a role did football culture play? Being from Canada we are often introduced to soccer and hockey at early ages, over football. When did football really become influential in your life?
I picked up football before any other sport. I was about six years old. It was everything to me from the jump. I picked up basketball later, but it was always football as my number one.
2)This question plays off the last one. Canadian school systems (specifically high school), don’t offer the same type of resources for student athletes as the United States. What support systems outside of the educational system did you use the most to help you get to this point?
Our coaches did a great job helping us get employment in the city we were in, which helps offset the costs of university. The biggest thing is just time management.
3)How long before the draft was it apparent to you that you would go in the first round? How many teams explicitly expressed interest, and did you think you would end up in Edmonton?
I met with all nine teams at the CFL combine, which was a nice sign that I had a good amount of interest. The whole draft positioning thing is tough to gauge in the CFL draft. Some teams draft on need and some for best player. We had high hopes going in, and I’m just happy to get a chance.
4)What are personal goals and expectations from yourself joining the 2017 Edmonton Eskimos?
I just want to contribute. It’s going to be a big learning curve, so I just want to learn early and often and try to make my mark wherever possible.
5)Your school, Carleton, had the most players drafted out of any Ontario University with six. Laurier and McMaster tied for second with three each. How does this reflect how quickly Carleton’s program has grown in such a short time? Do you and your fellow teammates feel a sense of pride having established the school’s football program in the last four years?
It’s such an amazing feeling and sense of accomplishment because it was all the guys we played with that made this possible. Carleton is here. We’ve arrived, and it’s a great time to be a Raven.
6)Your not the only London Native to be drafted by the Edmonton Eskimos. What does it mean to be be able to go into this with former teammate/opponent Mark Mackie? Have you contacted him at all?
I’m so excited for Mark, and can’t wait to play with him and watch him blow by some guys in 1v1’s. I know how hard he works, and he’s a great guy to have on your side.
1)You’ve been playing football for a very long time now. At what point in your career did you realize this could be something you could pursue professionally?
After the conclusion of my rookie season at McMaster, one of my coaches came up to me and said, “You have all the potential to play in the CFL.” Thats the first time I started to believe the CFL could be a possibility. Over the next couple of years, I started to see guys that I had played with and against get opportunities in the CFL and it made me think to myself, “I can compete with that guy, and if they are succeeding at the next level, why can’t I?” The goal to play in the CFL didn’t really feel real until the East-West Bowl that I participated in at the end of third year — the event is kind of the start of the evaluation process for CFL scouts. That’s when everything starts to become more tangible, and that’s when I decided I wanted to do everything I could to play at the next level. Even after being drafted there is a long way to go and a lot of work to be done if I want to play in the CFL, but coming this far is very exciting.
2)The draft process has been a long on for you. Just over 6 months since your last game on October 22nd. What has the CFL Draft process been like for you and what was your mentality heading into it?
The entire draft process is a difficult grind. Most of the time was spent preparing for the combine — workouts were twice a day, six days a week. I tried to control my diet, limit going out and really focus on getting into top shape. For me personally, I was not invited to the main combine, rather I was invited to the Toronto regional combine (takes place a week before the national combine in Regina). I ended up doing really well at the Toronto combine and was selected to participate at the national combine. So I actually ended up participating in two combines, which are really challenging physical and mental events to complete. The mentality with the combines was to come in confident and not get too high or too low. Obviously with the number of events at the combine its difficult to get a personal best on everything, some things are going to go really well (for me that was the 1v1s) and some things don’t go so hot (I ran a slower 40 time than I wanted to) — but the important part is to just move on to the next event and not let anything phase you. After the combines you kind of play a waiting game for draft day and a lot of the process is out of your hands.
Overall, the entire process has its positives and negatives. Getting to know all the other prospects and putting in all the hard work and seeing it pay off was very rewarding. However, the process can be frustrating as it involves a lot of hype, “eye tests”, and combine events that don’t completely translate to the football field. Moving forward, I am way more excited about the prospect of actually playing football and being evaluated as a football player in a football camp.
3)I got a chance to catch some of your combine on Facebook live feed, specifically the 40 yard dash. How was it for you to be able to finally compare yourself to your competition of fellow CFL players. Was their anything in your opinion that could have ran better in the CFL’s management of the combine?
Competing at the regional and national combines was an absolute blast. The environments at both combines were extremely competitive and high energy. You could tell everyone had been preparing for months, and emotions were very high. Every event you compete in is about trying to separate yourself from guys in your positional group, so you are always looking at how your numbers compare to other guys. Its especially awesome to get into pads and compete one on one. For me personally, winning some reps against top rated prospects at the main combine really gave me a sense that I can compete with the best. The combines were both incredibly well run by the CFL staff (the set-up of the main combine in Regina for CFL week was really cool) and everything about them was awesome. They really took care of us.
4)How confident were you that you would be drafted? Did teams indicate that you were indeed going to be taken or that it would be situational. How much communication was there between yourself and CFL organizations?
In the weeks leading up to the draft, teams will contact you and try to get any last minute information they might have missed. It gives you some idea of who might be interested. Generally however teams are pretty tight-lipped about who they like or don’t like. From talking with my agent and other people who were invested in the draft, I was pretty confident I would hear my name called on draft day. However, a big factor this year particularly is how deep the defensive line class was. Due to the sheer depth of the class, I knew there was also a possibility I may not be drafted. When draft night came around there were some pretty tense moments watching the draft tracker, especially into the final round. But once I saw my name called and got on the phone with the Eskimos, it was a big relief and I was incredibly excited.
5)What excites you must about joining the Eskimos, specifically? Besides the obvious hard work you have put in to get to this point, what are the best qualities you can offer the team?
The Edmonton Eskimos are an extremely talented football team, and the opportunity to immediately be a part of a Grey Cup contender is fantastic. Also, there are numerous veteran defensive linemen I think I can learn a lot from on the team. For me, the goal will be to carve out a role for myself on special teams. I like to be a very physical player and mixing that in with a high energy level I think will allow me to succeed on specials.
If you’re interested in the actual draft results here is a link below.
If you would like to contact me, you can reach me at Shotarohmoore@hotmail.com