When the Ticats essentially traded Ryan Bomben to the Montreal Alouettes to move up in the draft from two to one, whomever the team selected was going to have high expectations heaped upon him.
So Mark Chapman, welcome to “Unrealistic Expectations City.”
It doesn’t roll off the tongue all that well.
But what should fans expect of Chapman in his inaugural season in black and gold? The Ticats seem to think that Chapman can come in and contribute right away, which is great to think, but much harder to execute.
Canadian receivers have not fared all that well in their first season, even ones who have become all-stars, award winners and Hall of Famers. It is tough to make the transition from college to the pros, and looking at what rookie receivers have done over the past 10 years further proves that.
For the purpose of this piece, I limited my research to players who were selected in the Top 20 of their draft class between 2008 to -17. There will be some players discussed that were selected outside the Top 20 and I will also talk about some of the most well-known receivers who were drafted prior to 2008. So with that out of the way, let’s dig in.
Last year saw three receivers picked in the Top 20 — Danny Vandervoort (3rd overall, B.C.), Nate Behar (5th overall, Edmonton) and Julan Lynch (17th overall, Calgary) — and Vandervoort led those players with 25 receiving yards and Lynch caught the most passes… with two. Behar, who famously held out to start the season, recorded goose eggs on his stat sheet. Last year’s top Canadian rookie receiver didn’t even hear his name called on draft night. Toronto’s Jimmy Ralph topped all receivers last year by catching 26 passes for 278 yards.
The draft class of 2016 also saw three receivers go in the top 20, with the Argos nabbing Brian Jones with the 4th overall pick, Calgary snagging Juwan Brescacin at No. 15 and the Ticats taking Mike Jones at No, 18. Jones would have the best rookie season of the bunch with 12 receptions for 128 yards and a touchdown, while Brescacin notched 4 receptions for 51 yards and Jones tallied two catches for 27 yards.
We saw four receivers go in the Top 20 in 2015, with Nic Demski leading the way when Saskatchewan picked the former Manitoba Bison 6th overall. After that we saw Jake Harty go to Ottawa at No. 10, Addison Richards go to Winnipeg and No. 11 and Lemar Durant get picked by Calgary at No. 18. Durant had the best season of the bunch, with 12 receptions for 170 yards and three touchdowns. Demski hauled in 13 passes for 165 yards, while Richards had one catch for 12 yards and Harty caught nothing for nothing.
Three receivers went in the Top 20 in 2014, with Edmonton taking Devon Bailey at No. 6, Ottawa selecting Scott McDonnell at No. 13 and Saskatchewan grabbing Alex Pierzchalski at No. 18. Bailey caught 17 passes for 219 yards, McDonnell caught 13 for 181 and one touchdown, while Pierzchalski caught just one pass for 12 yards in his rookie campaign.
The trend here is pretty apparent and continues at about the same clip every year that I looked at. S.J. Haidara went 12th overall to B.C. in 2013 and he caught just four passes for 40 yards that year. Shamawd Chambers (6th overall, Edmonton), had one of the better rookie seasons when he caught 37 passes for 390 yards and two touchdowns in 2012, but his fellow Top-20 mate was Giovanni Aprile who didn’t get an offensive stat to his name until last season.
The 2011 draft saw four receivers go in the top six, starting with Anthony Parker going third to Calgary and ending with Marco Iannuzzi going sixth to B.C. In between we had the Bombers select Jade Etienne at No. 4 and Edmonton pick Nate Coehoorn at No. 5. None of those players cracked the nine-catch barrier or went over 90 yards on the season and the best receiver to come out of that draft went 29th to the Stampeders: some dude named Brad Sinopoli, who was drafted as a quarterback, didn’t convert to receiver until 2013 and didn’t really become the league’s best Canuck pass catcher until he went to Ottawa in 2015.
In fact, the inarguable best Canadian rookie receiver to come out in the last 10 years was a guy that was run out of Hamilton because his numbers weren’t good enough: Sam Giguère. The Ticats selected Giguère with the 8th overall pick in 2008, but he didn’t arrive north until the 2012 season, so his rookie season comes with a huge asterisk because he spent four years honing his craft in the NFL. So he was a first-year CFLer, but far from a rookie. But even his numbers — 41 catches for 549 yards and one touchdown — weren’t earth-shattering, but they are hall of fame calibre compared to his fellow rookies, none of which cracked even the 400-yard mark in their first seasons.
So with these numbers being underwhelming, I decided to look at some players outside the last 10 years to see how they fared in their rookie seasons and the numbers were not any more encouraging.
Andy Fantuz, probably the best Canadian receiver of the last 15 years, was picked by the Roughriders with the third pick in 2006 draft, came into the CFL as the reigning Hec Creighton award winner and CIS all-time leader in receptions (189), yards (4,123) and touchdowns (41). He was, to put it bluntly, a monster at Western. His rookie numbers with the Riders put him in the upper echelon of rookie Canadian receivers, but his 30 catches for 408 yards and three touchdowns were not exactly eye-popping.
Ben Cahoon, who was the best Canadian receiver before Fantuz took the mantle, put up similar numbers to Fantuz with 33 catches for 471 yards and three scores. Again, not game-changing numbers.
But the two players that Chapman is mostly likely going to be compared to are the last two receivers to go No. 1 overall in the draft: Chris Bauman and Don Blair.
Bauman famously (at least in Hamilton) went first to the Ticats in 2007, while Blair went first to Edmonton in 1996. Bauman is a great cautionary tale of asking for too much too soon. He was thrust into a position as a rookie that he was not ready for, in some ways asked to be a franchise saviour, and when he didn’t post otherworldly numbers as a rookie (30 catches, 370 yards) the boo birds came out. Bauman never achieved the success you would hope the draft’s top player would and he was out of Hamilton after the 2010 season, floated around Alberta for a couple of years — he even won a Grey Cup with Calgary in 2014 when they beat… Hamilton … and last played one game with the Toronto Argonauts in 2015.
Blair had a better career than Bauman, but never really transcended the game like many thought he would after winning the Hec Creighton while with the Calgary Dinos. He never caught more than 64 passes in a single season and only once eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark.
So what does all this mean for Chapman? It means that even though Hamilton traded a lot to get him, and used the draft’s first pick to take him, you shouldn’t expect him to be a star right away. It takes time for even some of the game’s best to become the game’s best. Fantuz didn’t record his first 1,000-yard season until 2010, Ben Cahoon didn’t crack the 1,000-yard mark until his third season or the 100-catch mark until his sixth year in the league, and Jason Clermont needed three years before he went over 1,000 yards and he was the league’s top rookie his first season.
Chapman may end up being one of the best Canadian receivers in the game one day, but that day will not be in 2018. So temper expectations and expect growing pains.
June Jones and the Ticats staff might say they see him as a contributor right away, but history shows he won’t be.