Evaluating the roster chances of every Canadian in NFL training camps

Photo courtesy: Dallas Cowboys

Every year, a small group of Canadians try their hand at the NFL meat grinder, but there has never been an off-season during a global pandemic.

With the ever present spectre of COVID-19 looming over the season, many players on the fringes have seen their roster hopes crushed. Training camp has already begun, however players won’t be allowed to put on pads until August 16. All rosters will have to be reduced to 80 players from the usual 90 before that point.

Without pre-season games, fringe players will receive fewer reps to prove they belong on the active 53-man roster. The consolation prize is that the practice roster has been expanded from 10 to 16, with six of those spots being open to any veteran player regardless of how many years they’ve accrued. There are also plenty of adjustments to the injured reserve.

What do these changes mean for our Canadian countrymen? It varies from player to player. Some have seen their opportunities expanded, while others won’t get a chance to truly prove themselves. Fellow 3DownNation colleague John Hodge has already made his annual list of Canadians and CFL alumni in the NFL, but what do each of their chances look like? That’s what I will attempt to shine light on here.

This is a breakdown of the roster situation for each of the Canadians, you can find a list breaking down the hopes of American former CFL players in a separate piece on tomorrow. Without being in training camp, it is impossible to accurately assess who will make a team, but here is a rough estimate of each player’s active roster chances before contact practices begin. Injuries can happen, coronavirus could strike and other players acquired, but as the rosters stand now here is my sense of how every player is positioned.

Chicago Bears

Brent Urban, DE, Virginia

CFL rights holder: Hamilton Tiger-Cats (2013)

Roster outlook: safe bet

After being released by Tennessee last year, Urban proved he could contribute in Chicago as an injury replacement for Akiem Hicks. His contract is cheap and Urban has proven himself a capable spot starter, something that coaches will value in a COVID-19 world where veterans are key. With fellow defensive lineman Eddie Goldman opting out, Urban has a much clearer path onto the roster and it would take a big training camp from a UDFA or a large free agent signing to push him off the team.

Cleveland Browns

Eli Ankou, DT, UCLA

CFL rights holder: Ottawa Redblacks (2017)

Roster outlook: in the hunt

Three years into his NFL career, Ankou still exists on the fringes of the NFL. He made two starts for the Browns last year but will have to beat out fellow DT Daniel Ekuale to crack the top 53. Working in his favour is that run stuffing nose tackle Andrew Billings opted out of the 2020 season and Ankou is the only player on the Browns that can compare to him size-wise for sub-packages. A free agent could fill that role though and Ankou might find himself hoping for yet another practice squad opportunity.

Dallas Cowboys

Tyrone Crawford, DE, Boise State

CFL rights holder: none

Roster outlook: roster lock, short term injured reserve

Crawford is still on the physically unable to perform list due to season-ending hip surgery last year, but he is still the projected starter in Dallas’ defensive rotation. That isn’t going to change and Crawford can take his time getting back to full strength.

Neville Gallimore, DT, Oklahoma

CFL rights holder: Saskatchewan Roughriders (2020)

Roster outlook: roster lock

As a third-round pick, Gallimore is almost guaranteed to make the roster and the only question is how big his role will be. He’s not going to displace established NFL defensive starters like Gerald McCoy and Dontari Poe, but he looks set to overtake second-year man Trysten Hill as the next guy in the rotation.

L.P. Ladouceur, LS, California

CFL rights holder: none (originally Ottawa Renegades from 2004)

Roster outlook: roster lock

In 16 years with the Cowboys, Ladouceur has never had an inaccurate snap. At 39, he is the sixth oldest player in the NFL and the Montreal native is again running unopposed for the long snapping role. It would take an obvious drop off to spell the end of his time with Cowboys and that is unlikely.

Denver Broncos

Christian Covington, DT, Rice

CFL rights holder: B.C. Lions (2015)

Roster outlook: on the bubble

The son of legendary Ticats defensive end Grover Covington is an established veteran on a cheap one-year contract, but could struggle to make the roster. The trio of Jurell Casey, Shelby Harris and nose tackle Mike Purcell will start, with sophomore Dre’Mont Jones and rookie McTelvin Agim locked in for development. Covington will need to beat out Demarcus Walker, who had four sacks last year, for the final spot or hope for an injury to create opportunity. His veteran experience and alignment versatility could be valuable however, and he seems like the type of COVID-19 insurance designed for one of the six veteran practice roster spots.

Brett Rypien, QB, Boise State

CFL rights holder: none

Roster outlook: in the hunt

He’s not technically Canadian yet but Mark Rypien’s nephew is eligible to be a CFL national if he wants it. He was once on the B.C. Lions neg list but his rights are no longer owned by any CFL team, so it’s not impossible that process has already begun (although it’s equally possibly teams just don’t currently have interest). Denver is another team carrying only three passers in camp and Rypien is the distinct third option. COVID-19 likely prompts them to keep Rypien around, either as a third player protected on the active roster or a practice roster insurance option.

Green Bay Packers

Marc-Antoine Dequoy, DB, Montreal

CFL rights holder: Montreal Alouettes (2019)

Roster Outlook: practice roster hopeful

Dequoy is in for an uphill battle as a UDFA from a U Sports program, but his unique combination of six-foot-three size and 4.35 speed make him a physical freak with few equals. Listed at corner, but more likely to play safety, I have a hard time seeing the Canadian making the active roster in a season where veterans will be heavily favoured. He does have upside as a developmental piece and will press seventh rounder Vernon Scott, as well as fellow UDFA Henry Black for a practice roster spot. Working against Dequoy is his age. At 25, he’s older than some of the Packers veteran starters and if a development spot comes to a draw, the Packers might go with the younger player.

Indianapolis Colts

Carter O’Donnell, OL, Alberta

CFL rights holder: Montreal Alouettes (2019)

Roster outlook: on the bubble

The Colts have the best offensive line in the NFL, so don’t expect O’Donnell to press for playing time at either tackle or guard, especially with teams leaning towards experience. With that said, NFL scouts haven’t been this high on a U Sports OL since Laurent Duvernay-Tardif and O’Donnell received a sizable UDFA signing bonus of $25,000 after interest from six teams. I think he is most likely to find himself developing on the practice squad, but Indy might fear losing him enough to keep him on the active roster as the ninth or tenth OL over any of the veteran journeymen vying for those spots.

Kansas City Chiefs

Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, OL, McGill

CFL rights holder: Calgary Stampeders (2014)

Roster outlook: COVID-19 opt out

The starting right guard for the reigning Super Bowl champions is a modern day hero, becoming the first NFL player to opt out due to COVID-19 so he could continue his work as an orderly in a Quebec long term care home. His spot will be there for him when he returns in 2021.

Ryan Hunter, OL, Bowling Green

CFL rights holder: Toronto Argonauts (2018)

Roster outlook: in the hunt

While the Chiefs adding veteran Kelechi Osemele negates most of the benefits of Duvernay-Tardif opting out for Hunter, he is still firmly in the mix to be a backup guard. His biggest competition is likely former seventh round pick Nick Allegretti and UDFA C/G Darryl Williams, but Hunter’s two years in the Chiefs’ system could give him a leg up on an expanded practice roster spot if he doesn’t win the training camp battle.

Los Angeles Chargers

Tevaughn Campbell, CB, Regina

Last CFL team: Montreal Alouettes (2018)

Roster outlook: practice roster hopeful

The fastest player in CFL combine history was on and off the Chargers active roster last season and their secondary has improved since then with the addition of slot corner Chris Harris Jr. The five rostered cornerbacks are basically locks and Campbell will be vying with three UDFAs and fellow 2019 practice squad member Quenton Meeks to stick around as insurance. Frankly, none of the resumes in question are particularly stunning, so Campbell might have the inside track given his pro experience. Still it wouldn’t shock anyone to see him released.

Los Angeles Rams

Lirim Hajrullahu, K, Western

Last CFL team: Hamilton Tiger-Cats (2019)

Roster outlook: in the hunt

The Rams are holding an open competition between Hajrullahu, seventh round draft pick Sam Sloman and XFL leg Austin MacGinnis for their vacant kicker spot. The projected winner differs based on which prognosticator you believe. Hajrullahu has the best resumé and comes highly recommended, but Sloman likely has the leg up given the investment of draft capital. With that said, seventh rounders get cut all the time and Hajrullahu’s prospects will be entirely determined by his performance in camp, not what comes before.

Michael Hoecht, DT, Brown

CFL rights holder: Ottawa Redblacks (2019)

Roster outlook: in the hunt

Hoecht is a powerful physical freak and dodged a bullet by returning from the reserve/COVID-19 list without missed time. He’s not about to unseat Aaron Donald, but the extremely productive Ivy Leaguer could flash enough athleticism to press for a backup role, especially if his 4.6 speed allows him to be a big man who can contribute on special teams. That will still require him to replace either 2019 fourth round NT Greg Gaines or newly resigned DE Morgan Fox, neither of which Hoecht is a perfect physical match for. Even if he can’t crack the roster, the Rams seem to view him positively enough that he’s a strong bet for the practice squad.

Minnesota Vikings

Brett Jones, OL, Regina

Last CFL team: Calgary Stampeders (2014)

Roster outlook: in the hunt

Despite the atrocious play of young Vikings offensive linemen at times, Brett Jones has never really been given a chance to contribute in Minnesota and was even briefly cut last year. At 29 without a consistent starting role, the Vikings might normally want to find a younger replacement for Jones, but there really isn’t a safe option on the roster to bail out Garrett Bradbury at centre if he struggles. Ultimately, Jones is more likely to make the roster than not, especially in a COVID-19 world, but if Bradbury shines in camp, other young players like Dru Samia or Aviante Collins take a big step forward, or small school rookies like Kyle Hinton and Jake Lacina exceed expectations, then Jones will not be safe.

New England Patriots

N’Keal Harry, REC, Arizona

CFL rights holder: none

Roster outlook: roster lock

The Montreal-born 2019 first round pick was disappointing in his rookie season, but he’s projected to start for the Tom Brady-less Patriots in 2020. No one is moving on from a first rounder after a single year, so you can rest assured Harry will catch passes this season.

New Orleans Saints

David Onyemata, DT, Manitoba

CFL rights holder: Saskatchewan Roughriders (2016)

Roster outlook: roster lock

The Nigerian-born Onyemata has continued to prove he belongs in the NFL after beginning his football career in U Sports and will start for the Saints in 2020. His roster status is not in dispute, so you can rest easy with this one.

New York Giants

Rysen John, TE, Simon Fraser

CFL rights holder: Calgary Stampeders (2019)

Roster outlook: practice roster hopeful

As a size mismatch converted to tight end from Division II receiver, John still has a long way to go to make the Giants. New York could carry four tight ends as a focal point of the offence and I highly doubt the Vancouverite will be one of them. Evan Engram, Kaden Smith and Levine Toilolo are locks, with Eric Tomlinson as the likely blocking fourth. John will have to prove his potential upside is more worthy of practice roster attention than Garrett Dickerson or convince the team to keep them both.

New York Jets

Nathan Shepherd, DT, Fort Hays State

CFL rights holder: Hamilton Tiger-Cats (Neg List)

Roster outlook: safe bet

The 2018 third round pick isn’t quite a roster lock, but after returning from a six game PED suspension in 2019, Shepherd showed flashes of the interior pass rush ability that is missing from the Jets roster. They aren’t likely to move on from him now and he could be primed for a breakout campaign.

Philadelphia Eagles

Alex Singleton, LB, Montana State

Last CFL team: Calgary Stampeders (2018)

Roster outlook: in the hunt

Up until recently, Singleton looked like he’d be on the outside looking in but then free agent signing Jatavis Brown unexpectedly retired. Now, Singleton looks like a safe fifth or sixth linebacker depending how rookies Davion Taylor and Shaun Bradley pan out. He still must be wary of former Big Sky Defensive Player of the Year Dante Olson nipping at his heels as a UDFA, but the Eagles are, at the very least, confident in Singleton as a special teamer.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Chase Claypool, REC, Notre Dame

CFL rights holder: B.C. Lions (neg list)

Roster outlook: roster lock

I really view the second round pick from Abbottsford as a near unbustable prospect given how he can contribute as a wide receiver, tight end or dominant special teamer. He’s safe as a big-time draft pick and probably starts off as the fourth receiver in the Steelers’ offence, where he will be expected to make big plays.

San Francisco 49ers

Jonathan Kongbo, DE, Tennessee

Last CFL team: Winnipeg Blue Bombers (2019)

Roster outlook: long shot

San Francisco still has a loaded defensive line and Jonathan Kongbo didn’t exactly dominate in Winnipeg last year, so I have a hard time believing he’ll coast onto the roster based on his five-star NCAA pedigree. He’d need a big camp to overcome veteran backups on the bubble like Ronald Blair, Jullian Taylor, Kentavius Street and Kevin Givens. Maybe San Francisco thinks they are the ones to finally make him reach his potential with a practice roster spot, but I don’t think it’s likely.

Kyle Nelson, LS, New Mexico State

CFL rights holder: none

Roster outlook: roster lock

Not technically a Canadian, Kyle Nelson was still raised north of the border for parts of his childhood thanks to his dad, defensive coordinator Mark Nelson. Though American born, he’d qualify as a national by today’s standards and his rugby playing brother was set to try out for the Argos in 2020 as a Canadian before deciding to retire and work in the medical field due to COVID-19. I’ll give Kyle Nelson honorary Canadian status here, as he is entrenched as the long snapper for the reigning NFC champions.

Seattle Seahawks

Luke Willson, TE, Rice

CFL rights holder: Toronto Argonauts (2012)

Roster outlook: in tough

It looks increasingly like the end of the line for former Super Bowl champ Luke Willson. A non-factor in Detroit in 2018 and cut by the Raiders last year, he returned to his fan favourite status in Seattle, but he’s an afterthought on this roster. Greg Olsen and Will Dissly are the starters, while Jacob Hollister and rookie Colby Parkinson will feature heavily. Willson could make the argument that he’s the only willing blocker of the group and Parkinson is still injured to start camp, but that might only be delaying the inevitable. There are six veteran practice roster spots that Willson could qualify for knowing full well that Olsen is oft injured, but that would be a huge blow to the eighth-year man.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Antony Auclair, TE, Laval

CFL rights holder: Saskatchewan Roughriders (2017)

Roster outlook: safe bet

Tight end will be the focal point of Tampa Bay’s offence with Tom Brady and the position group is loaded with Rob Gronkowski, O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate. Auclair is still expected to make the roster over fellow Buc Tanner Hudson because of his prowess as a heavy-package blocker. At the NFL Combine, head coach Bruce Arians called him one of the best blocking tight ends in the NFL. He’s unlikely to let that go, even with a refreshed Gronk in the building.

J.C. Abbott is a University of British Columbia graduate and high school football coach. He covers the CFL, B.C. Lions, CFL Draft and the three-down league's Global initiative.