CFL players insiders say could get NFL look

Young players who perform at a high level in the Canadian Football League are generating more NFL interest every year.

Athletes who slip through the cracks the first time around out of college, for a myriad of reasons, can try to make a CFL roster, produce and earn a look from NFL teams that way.

Take 2015 CFL receiving champion Eric Rogers as an example, a recent best-case scenario for a player who played arena football in 2014. While playing for the Stampeders, he amassed a league-leading 1,448 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2015. That garnered 13 offers from NFL teams and Rogers signed a lucrative deal last winter with the San Francisco 49ers.

Meanwhile, offensive lineman Colin Kelly, defensive lineman Freddie Bishop, defensive backs and safeties Aaron Grymes, Dexter McCoil and Erik Harris all made NFL active or practice rosters after playing CFL football in 2015.

Eskimos’ receiver Derel Walker appears to be the jewel of the CFL-to-NFL class this time around. The Texas A&M grad put up 1,589 and 10 touchdowns with Edmonton in 2016 after going for 1,110 yards and six touchdowns in 12 games to capture the 2015 CFL Most Outstanding Rookie award. Back-to-back stand out campaigns should bring plenty of NFL suitors.

After getting insight from personnel evaluators across the league, there are a number of CFL players who will draw interest from clubs down south. Let’s take a look at who they are.

Notes: Pending CFL free agents need a permission letter to workout for NFL teams…Players can sign futures contracts at any time, but they have to get released by their CFL club… Personnel men say any CFL players turning 29 before the 2017 NFL season begins have likely past their NFL window.

Receivers

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Terrell Sinkfield, Lions

After sticking around Minnesota Vikings training camp for a while, Sinfield, 26, has age in his favour and could get another NFL look.

B.C. Lions' Bryan Burnham (16) jumps to make the catch as Edmonton Eskimos' Neil King (43) gives chase during first half CFL action in Edmonton, Alta., on Friday September 23, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson.

Bryan Burnham, Lions

At six-foot-two, 205 pounds, Burnham put forth his best season in three CFL years. He’s athletic and those special traits were on display when he made many acrobatic catches throughout a 1,392-yard season.

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Derel Walker, Eskimos

The 25-year-old hits the NFL market coming off two impressive seasons in Edmonton – 198 receptions for 2,699 receiving yards (13.5 YPC and nearly 90 YPG) and 16 touchdowns in 30 games. Walker could command Eric Rogers-level interest from teams south of the border.

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Quincy McDuffie, Bombers

The dynamic playmaker would be more sought for his ability in the return game than as a receiver, but McDuffie’s shown he can make plays on offence too.

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Diontae Spencer, Argos

Close friend Odell Beckham Jr. could help Spencer get a shot with an NFL, but he’s got the skills to earn a legitimate opportunity. The diminutive receiver has speed to burn – 4.27 40-yard time when coming out of McNeese State.

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Kenny Shaw, Argos

It what was essentially Shaw’s rookie campaign in the CFL and he recorded a 1,000-yard season with four different starting quarterbacks throwing him passes. The Florida State product has big NCAA school pedigree, producing 933 yards and six touchdowns on 54 receptions in the Seminoles 2014 BCS National Championship season.

Terrence Toliver, Ticats

A late-blooming pro, Toliver has fresh legs for a soon-to-be 29-year-old (May 2017). His size (six-foot-five) and red zone ability (15 touchdowns in 26 CFL games) are valuable assets.

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Greg Ellingson, Redblacks

Six-foot-three gives Ellingson the size to have a shot. He’s been consistently healthy and productive with back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons. Needs to show he can get off the line in the NFL.

Offensive linemen

Hunter Steward, Lions

At six-foot-six, 315 pounds Steward has NFL size. He’s coming off a fully healthy season while playing mostly left guard.

Greg Van Roten, Argos

Both seasons Van Roten’s played in the CFL he’s been named Toronto’s Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman, playing all over the line – centre, guard and tackle. That versatility could make for a backup role in the NFL.

Nolan MacMillan, Redblacks

Injury history works against MacMillan, but he has a strong pedigree from playing at the University of Iowa. He’s young and long, two traits NFL teams covet.

Defensive linemen

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Alex Bazzie, Lions

29 sacks in three years with B.C. proves Bazzie can get to the quarterback. He’s undersized for an NFL defensive end, but teams are finding ways to use players who have a penchant for pressuring and hitting the passer.

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Mic’hael Brooks, Lions

When focused Brooks can be a disruptive force in the trenches. The six-foot-three, 295-pounder spent 2013 with Seattle and played in a game for the Seahawks. He’s young enough to get another look just 25 years old.

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Frank Beltre, Stampeders

Four sacks in nine games displayed Beltre’s ability to rush the quarterback. Must prove he can keep himself on the field.

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Micah Johnson, Stampeders

An underrated defensive lineman in the CFL, Johnson was a 2016 CFL and CFLPA all-star. Despite being on the age threshold, he could get a look if the fit is right with an NFL team.

Saskatchewan Roughriders' Willie Jefferson (5) reaches for the ball, thrown by Ottawa Redblacks quarterback Trevor Harris ( not shown), as teammate Otha Foster III (20) and Redblacks' Tanner Doll (52) look on during second half CFL action on Friday, Oct. 7, 2016 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang ORG XMIT: JDT116
Saskatchewan Roughriders’ Willie Jefferson (5) reaches for the ball, thrown by Ottawa Redblacks quarterback Trevor Harris ( not shown). THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Willie Jefferson, Riders

While playing five games with Chris Jones in Saskatchewan, Jefferson made three sacks and that could ignite NFL possibilities once again. He was a late camp cut by Washington.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers running back Andrew Harris (33) is tackled by Hamilton Tiger-Cats Drake Nevis (91) and Travis Lee (14) during the second half of CFL football action in Hamilton on Thursday, July 7, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Peter Power

Drake Nevis, Ticats

Ratio changes affected Nevis’ playing time in Hamilton, but when he was on the field in 2016 he was disruptive. He’s still young enough to warrant another NFL peek.

Linebackers

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Deon Lacey, Eskimos

All teams covet physical linebackers who can run and that’s what Lacey brings to the table. He won’t be intimidated by any opponent. There is a real buzz about Lacey amongst personnel men.

Otha Foster, Riders

A versatile defender who has put up stat-stuffing numbers for three straight seasons.

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Jeff Knox Jr., Riders

Some view Knox Jr. as a potential special teams player in the NFL, but others question whether or not he runs well enough. Plus, he’s coming off surgery.

Hamilton Tiger-Cats' Andy Fantuz (83) is stopped by Winnipeg Blue Bombers' Khalil Bass (2) during second half CFL action in Winnipeg Wednesday, August 3, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

Khalil Bass, Bombers

Put up strong numbers for two straight seasons in The Peg, Bass gets himself to the football and can create turnovers.

Tony Burnett, Bombers

Flies around and finds the football, Burnett had 31 defensive tackles and 19 on special teams.

Defensive backs

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John Ojo, Eskimos

Just because Ojo suffered an Achilles injury during Eskimos training camp, doesn’t mean he should be forgotten about from an NFL standpoint. If the 2015 CFL all-star can prove he’s healthy that could be the ticket. Remember Arizona signed Canadian defensive back Elie Bouka as an undrafted free agent coming off a torn Achilles.

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Emanuel Davis, Ticats

Back-to-back five interception seasons could get the 27-year-old another NFL look, Davis worked out for the Titans and Saints last off-season.

Kickers/punters

B.C. Lions kicker/punter Richie Leone at the club's 2016 training camp in Kelowna. Photo courtesy of the B.C. Lions. [PNG Merlin Archive]

Richie Leone, Lions

Two years in the CFL and both times Leone has led all punters with over 49-yard punt averages. He has real potential as a punter.

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