Where CFL teams started their Canadians in 2019

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/CFLPhotoArchive.com

Having strong Canadian talent is essential to achieving success in the CFL. It’s what makes the draft so important and allows star nationals to pursue large contracts in free agency.

Clubs are required to start a minimum of seven nationals per game; if a team lacks starting-quality Canadians — and the appropriate backups — it will struggle.

Below is a look at how the league’s nine teams fielded their national starters in 2019.

Canadian players accounted for 1,183 starts last year, an average of 7.30 per team per game. This number is relatively low — in the past, many teams have regularly started eight or more Canadians over the course of a season.

B.C. was the only team to start extra nationals for a notable stint in 2019, fielding nine or more Canadians in each of their first six games. After Week 8, the Lions started more than seven nationals just once.

Guard was the league’s most national-dominated position in 2019 with Canadians accounting for 311 of a possible 324 starts (96.0 per cent). It’s little wonder why interior blockers are drafted in such huge numbers — virtually every team starts two national guards per game.

It’s also easy to see why nationals capable of playing tackle are at such a premium. 83.3 per cent of starts at tackle were made by American players in 2019, which left relatively few starts for Canadians.

A similarity exists in the secondary where defensive backs capable of playing cornerback or halfback are held at a premium over those who play safety. No team committed to starting a national cornerback for the entire 2019 season; Edmonton had ten national starts at corner, while Toronto had eight. The safety position remains dominated by nationals, accounting for 79.6 per cent of starts.

Starts at weak-side and middle linebacker were split evenly at 45 apiece. Saskatchewan’s Cameron Judge, Toronto’s Justin Herdman, and Montreal’s DJ Lalama were the only Canadians to start at least one game at both positions.

141 of 142 national starts at wide receiver were to the strong-side of the field. The only player to start on the boundary side was Toronto’s Kurleigh Gittens Jr. in Week 21. This gives nationals a starting rate of 87.0 per cent to the field and 0.6 per cent to the boundary.

Grey Cup finalists Winnipeg and Hamilton accounted for 30 of the league’s national starts at running back. Those starts were made by a combination of Andrew Harris, Sean Thomas-Erlington, Maleek Irons, Anthony Coombs, Johnny Augustine, and Jackson Bennett.

The league did not have a national player start at quarterback in 2019. B.C.’s Brandon Bridge and Toronto’s Michael O’Connor came close to starting late in the year, but neither got the opportunity. Bridge went 14-of-22 for 194 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions in Week 21 against Calgary, while O’Connor completed 15 passes for 173 yards and a score over the final two games of the season.

Other notes and tidbits:

Cornerback Dominique Termansen was the only Canadian to start games for more than one team in 2019 (B.C. and Montreal) … Offensive linemen accounted for 503 national starts in 2019; all other positions accounted for 680 combined … Toronto’s Jermaine Gabriel was the league’s only national to start a game at strong-side linebacker (SAM) … Eight of the 13 non-Canadian starts at guard were made by Eskimos’ veteran Travis Bond … The only Canadian to start at three different positions in 2019 was Toronto’s Robert Woodson (cornerback, halfback, and safety) … Edmonton’s Kwaku Boateng accounted for 17 of the league’s 25 national starts at defensive end.

John Hodge is a CFL insider and draft analyst who has been covering the league since 2014.