With the recent dip in Canadian talent, 2016 CFL Draft could be a game-changer

Who won the draft?

This is a popular question fans ask every year following the conclusion of the CFL draft. It’s a fun talking point that can lead to engaging debates about teams, players, and trades, but any conclusions that are drawn will always be premature. It takes several years to fairly judge the outcome of any draft — particularly one as hit-and-miss as the CFL draft — making it nearly impossible to accurately judge player selections before they have had an adequate amount of time to develop.

With this in mind, I believe the biggest winner of the 2016 CFL draft will ultimately prove to be not a team, player or coach. I believe the biggest winner is us — the fans.

The overall level of league-wide Canadian talent has steadily decreased in recent years. Lackluster 2012, 2013, and 2014 draft classes were ill-timed with the introduction of Ottawa in 2014, diluting what was already an inadequate pool of national talent.

This decreasing standard of Canadian play was on full display last season when Brad Sinopoli, the fourth-leading receiver on his RedBlacks squad, was named the league’s Most Outstanding Canadian for recording 1,035 receiving yards and three touchdowns. While respectable, these numbers are relatively unimpressive next to those of past award winners, particularly considering the caliber of Americans drawing coverage away from Sinopoli in Ottawa’s prolific 2015 offence.

Worse yet was the performance that earned Shamawd Chambers the Dick Suderman Trophy as the Grey Cup’s Most Outstanding Canadian last season. With all due respect to Chambers (and Sinopoli, for that matter, both of whom I really like as players), 49 yards on three receptions is not a stat line that one would normally classify as worthy of an award.

John Cornish, one of the greatest Canadian CFL players of all-time, announced his retirement in December of last year. Josh Bourke, the league’s only starting national left tackle, turns 34 in December. Shea Emry, one of just two starting Canadian middle linebackers a season ago, retired in February due to concussion issues. Andy Fantuz and Chris Getzlaf, the best Canadian receivers of their generation, will both be 33 by year’s end. And Ricky Foley, the CFL’s only active defensive player ever to be named Most Outstanding Canadian, will turn 34 in June.

With so many of the CFL’s marquee Canadians at or nearing the ends of their careers, fans will need new, young nationals to watch, follow, and cheer for.

That’s where this year’s draft comes in.

Just one year after an impressive 2015 draft class took centre stage, this year’s group of Canadians had general managers and scouts raving about the depth of talent available on draft night. TSN draft guru Duane Forde told TSN1290 in Winnipeg that 2016 was “the deepest [draft class] in a decade,” something that fans hope holds true.

Josiah St. John (Oklahoma) and Jason Lauzon-Seguin (Laval), drafted first and seventh overall by Saskatchewan and Ottawa, respectively, are legitimate offensive tackle prospects. Brian Jones (Acadia), selected fourth overall by Toronto, has drawn comparisons to Lion great Jason Clermont. Trent Corney (Virginia) has been called the best Canadian pass-rushing prospect since Ricky Foley. Alex Singleton (Montana State) spent last season with the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings and could be Calgary’s starting middle linebacker as early as next season.

And that’s just the beginning.

Juwan Brescacin (Northern Illinois), Mercer Timmis (Calgary), Mike Jones (Southern), and Taylor Loffler (UBC) are all skill position players who would be first rounders in most draft classes.

Philippe Gagnon (Laval), Brandon Revenberg (Grand Valley State), Charles Vaillancourt (Laval), and Michael Couture (Simon Fraser) round out the best class of offensive linemen in recent memory. And unlike in past years — David Foucault (5th overall, Montreal, 2013), Laurent Duvernay-Tardif (19th overall, Calgary, 2014), Brett Boyko (14th overall, BC, 2015) — the top offensive lineman available didn’t receive an NFL contract. This means that the best homegrown hogs will be playing in the CFL next season protecting our league’s quarterbacks — not sitting on practice rosters down south.

As for the Canadian players who did end up signing contracts down south — Dave Onyemata (Manitoba), Tevaun Smith (Iowa), Arjen Colquhoun (Michigan State), Mehdi Abdesmad (Boston College), and Elie Bouka (Calgary) — all will be major additions to their respective CFL teams should they come north.

There will, of course, be high-touted players from the 2016 CFL draft who fail to reach their full potential. This is simply a reality of professional sports where injuries, coaching, playing opportunities, conditioning, psychology, and life events can each have a strong influence on a prospect’s development.

Even with this in mind, however, one thing is for sure: the 2016 CFL draft class is one we’ll be cheering on for a long time.

Best of luck to all players drafted in the 2016 CFL draft.

Now it’s time to get to work.

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