Evaluating the roster chances of every former American CFL player in NFL training camp

Every year, a number of former CFL players 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. Already some former CFL players have been released, including linebacker Derrick Moncrief, defensive back Chris Edwards, receiver Bralon Addison and safety Anthony Cioffi.

Training camp has already begun but players won’t be allowed to put on pads until August 16 and 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 CFL representatives? 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 our CFL hopefuls. I’m including only Americans on this list, I have a separate breakdown for all of the Canadians in NFL training camps. 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, COVID-19 could strike and other players could be acquired, but as the rosters stand now here is my sense of how every player is positioned.

Arizona Cardinals

Chris Streveler, QB, South Dakota

Last CFL team: Winnipeg Blue Bombers (2019)

Roster outlook: in the hunt

The Cardinals only have three quarterbacks on the roster and while they would typically only carry two, there is plenty of reason to suspect that more NFL teams than normal will employ a third signal caller for COVID-19 insurance. Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury, also a former Bombers’ backup, thinks highly of Streveler’s athleticism. With his capacity to contribute in other ways like Taysom Hill, the Grey Cup champ has several ways to impress in order to earn his way onto the team. He’s far from a roster certainty, but there is a clear avenue available for Streveler to make Arizona’s team.

Buffalo Bills

D’haquille “Duke” Williams, REC, Auburn

Last CFL team: Edmonton Football Team (2018)

Roster outlook: on the bubble

While his return from the reserve/COVID-19 list before practices begin helps his chances, Williams is in tough to make the Bills roster. The addition of Stefon Diggs in the off-season has crowded the receiving room and fourth round rookie Gabriel Davis will get first dibs at the big-bodied, red-zone weapon role that Williams showed flashes in last season. Without the return ability or scheme versatility of other pass catchers, Williams’ best hope might be to stick as a member of the expanded practice squad, a step back from last year.

Carolina Panthers

Brandon Zylstra, REC, Concordia College (Minn.)

Last CFL team: Edmonton Football Team (2017)

Roster outlook: on the bubble

Another former Edmonton receiver who has shown flashes of NFL potential, Zylstra is also facing a tough battle to make a receiving corps revamped by a few free agent additions. Zylstra will likely have to beat out top UDFA Omar Bayless and former Saint Keith Kirkwood, a favourite of new head coach Matt Rhule in college, for a bottom of the roster spot. It’s more likely he’ll provide COVID-19 insurance as one of the practice roster veterans, but even that is not a certainty.

Marken Michel, WR, UMass

Last CFL Team: Calgary Stampeders (2018)

Roster Outlook: in tough

The Panthers receiver room got more interesting when the aforementioned Keith Kirkwood broke his clavicle in practice. Michel was signed Sunday to help fill that void in competition. He’s in direct competition with Zylstra for one of the bottom of the roster spots, though its an uphill battle for a late free agency add. Adding more intrigue was the addition of former Saint Tommylee Lewis at the same time, who has experience as an NFL contributor.

Chicago Bears

Akiem Hicks, DT, Regina

CFL rights holder: none

Roster outlook: roster lock

Yeah, he’s not a former CFL player but no U Sports fan will miss a chance to bring up former University of Regina Ram Akiem Hicks. The one-time Pro Bowler is still a dominant force when healthy and an established star on Chicago’s defence. The crown jewel of Canadian university football isn’t going anywhere.

James Vaughters, OLB, Stanford

Last CFL team: Calgary Stampeders (2018)

Roster outlook: on the bubble

Vaughters was on and off the roster last year, something he is likely to replicate this year. Vaughters would have to beat out veteran special teamer Isiah Irving to make the roster, which he failed to do last season. That task is not impossible, but he is more likely to sit on the practice roster unless injury forces him into the lineup.

Tre Roberson, CB, Illinois State

Last CFL team: Calgary Stampeders (2019)

Roster outlook: long term injured reserve

The Bears had hoped that Roberson would compete for time at corner, until they were forced to waive him after he suffered a broken foot while training. Roberson cleared waivers and now sits on the Bears non-football injured reserve list. New COVID-19 rules may allow him to be taken off IR later in the season once he is healed, but it’s impossible to know what the roster will look like at that point.

Cincinnati Bengals

Winston Rose, CB, New Mexico State

Last CFL team: Winnipeg Blue Bombers (2019)

Roster outlook: in the hunt

Last year’s CFL interception leader isn’t the clubhouse leader to make the roster, but the Bengals defensive coordinator has made clear that he shouldn’t be slept on in a revamped secondary. The top three corners were set, but now free agent addition Trae Waynes has torn his pec and will miss two months. Rose will get a fair shot to dislodge pre-existing Bengals like Darius Phillips, Torry McTyer and Greg Mabin, none of whom produced last year, for a spot on the roster once contact practices begin.

Denver Broncos

Diontae Spencer, REC/RET, McNeese State

Last CFL team: Ottawa Redblacks (2018)

Roster outlook: in the hunt

Spencer impressed as returner last year and most people assume he’ll fill the role again, but he was also caught pressing at times as he adjusted to the more confined return game of the NFL. Rookie K.J. Hamler is the projected starting slot receiver, but he was an explosive returner in college and the Broncos could allow him to do both. They would likely prefer not to and not risk injury to a key offensive weapon, but if Spencer can’t prove he can contribute in other ways and someone like seventh round pick Tyrie Cleveland or UDFA Kendall Hinton proves they can, his time in Denver could come to an end.

Green Bay Packers

Reggie Begelton, REC, Lamar

Last CFL team: Calgary Stampeders (2019)

Roster outlook: in the hunt

Beyond the incredible Davante Adams, the Packers have an underwhelming receiving corps that was hurt by the opt out of Devin Funchess. Some might even argue that every depth chart spot besides Adams is up for grabs should a player wow in camp. I wouldn’t go that far, but I anticipate Begelton to be in a fierce competition with fan favourite Jake Kumerow for the fifth roster spot and potentially force coach Matt LaFleur’s hand into carrying six pass catchers in 2020. The Packers have not been sitting on their hands however, adding Travis Fulgham from Detroit off waivers and signing former Seahawk Malik Turner in the past few days. I think Begelton is at least a practice roster talent given the group currently assembled, but the end result of this open competition is anyone’s guess.

DaShaun Amos, CB, East Carolina

Last CFL team: Calgary Stampeders (2019)

Roster outlook: in tough

Amos came out of The Spring League to prove himself in Calgary, but I’m not particularly optimistic about his chances to make the jump to the next level. Amos sticking in Green Bay would likely only happen if they decide to move on from former 2018 second round pick, Josh Jackson if he disappoints in another training camp. Even then Amos would still need to beat out intriguing UDFA’s Stanford Samuels III, the son of a former CFL player, and Will Sunderland. There is some hope for an expanded practice roster opportunity, but even that might be a long shot with the Packers boasting a handful of developmental projects who have more intriguing long-term upside, like converted receiver Kabion Ento.

Las Vegas Raiders

Erik Harris, SS, California (PA)

Last CFL team: Hamilton Tiger-Cats (2015)

Roster outlook: safe bet

Harris has been a very productive backup and great pinch starter for several years in silver and black. He’ll more than likely fill that role again in 2020. It would take a massive training camp from undrafted hybrid Javin White to displace Harris, but the Raiders seem to want to use him at linebacker. I have a hard time seeing Harris left off the final roster.

De’Mornay Pierson-El, REC, Nebraska

Last CFL team: Montreal Alouettes (2018)

Roster outlook: long shot

Who? De’Mornay Pierson-El did play a single game with the Montreal Alouettes in 2018 before stints in the AAF and XFL. This is his second consecutive camp with the Raiders (he caught a touchdown in the pre-season game in Winnipeg last year) and had a brief practice roster stint in December, but he is likely little more than a training camp body.

William Stanback, RB, Virginia Union

Last CFL team: Montreal Alouettes (2019)

Roster outlook: long shot

Jon Gruden loves a grueling power runner, but that probably won’t save Stanback. Second-year man Josh Jacobs is the undisputed starter in Vegas, Lynn Bowden Jr. is an explosive rookie and both Jalen Richards and Devontae Booker provide veteran situational backs. Stanback will need to beat out both Richards and Booker by proving himself as a short yardage back, something fullback Alex Ingold will probably do for the Raiders anyway. With running backs being a dime a dozen and easy to integrate into a system quickly, there probably isn’t a lot of merit to keeping a 26-year-old ball carrier on the practice roster, but people will certainly be pulling for Stanback after he lost both his parents in the lead up to training camp.

Nick Usher, DE/LB, UTEP

Last CFL team: Edmonton Football Team (2019)

Roster outlook: on the bubble

Usher is currently listed as an extremely undersized DE but there has been plenty of talk that he could be a pass rush specialist at linebacker as well. That isn’t a skillset the Raiders have on the roster, but Usher will still need to put on weight to do it. He’ll need to excel on special teams to prove he can help the team, but will mainly be hoping to impress enough to get time on the practice roster to build his frame.

Kendal Vickers, DT, Tennessee

Last CFL team: Edmonton Football Team (2019)

Roster outlook: long shot

Vickers is listed at defensive end but he’s probably a defensive tackle that will have to beat out former Cowboy Daniel Ross, a favourite of DL coach Rod Marinelli, and UDFA Mike Panasiuk to even get near the roster. Vickers was good for Edmonton last year, but one of the more surprising NFL free agent signings. I don’t see this happening for him.

Daniel Ross, DT, Northeast Mississippi CC

Last CFL Team: Saskatchewan Roughriders (2016)

Roster Outlook: in the hunt

I have to give credit where credit is due here and acknowledge that I missed Daniel Ross’ CFL connection until current Argo receiver Natey Adjei reached out to me. Ross was, in fact, his teammate during several training camps in Edmonton and played one game for the Riders in August of 2016. Since then he has bounced around the NFL before finding some success with Rod Marinelli in Dallas. He lost all of 2019 to injury and is by no means a lock for the roster, but he was brought in by the Raiders as a veteran familiar to the coaching staff and sits ahead of Vickers as things stand now.

Los Angeles Chargers

Ty Long, P, UAB

Last CFL team: B.C. Lions (2018)

Roster outlook: roster lock

Ty Long tried to do double duty in his first NFL season, but was quickly confined to just punting. He performed well in that role and he has no competition on the Chargers roster as it currently stands. Long should sail through training camp and continue to us his big leg in 2020.

Miami Dolphins

Sam Eguavoen, LB, Texas Tech

Last CFL team: Saskatchewan Roughriders (2018)

Roster outlook: on the bubble

Eguavoen was highly thought of in training camp last year and made some starts on a terrible Miami team. The Dolphins’ linebacking corps has been completely revamped with the addition of free agents Kyle Van Noy, Elandon Roberts and Kamu Grugier-Hill, as well as draft pick Curtis Weaver. Eguavoen won’t have much of a chance to start, but even to make the roster as a backup he will need to beat out one of Roberts, Grugier-Hill or 2019 fifth round pick Andrew Van Ginkel. That could be challenging even without UDFA Kylan Kohnson breathing down his neck. Still, with the value of experience in a COVID-19 world, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Eguavoen on the expanded practice roster.

Brandin Bryant, DT, Florida Atlantic

Last CFL team: Montreal Alouettes (2019)

Roster outlook: in tough

Bryant was signed by the team last Wednesday, so they are clearly looking to improve the interior defensive line after initial impressions in camp. That said, three active roster spots are filled already with Christian Wilkins, Davon Godchaux and draft pick Raekwon Davis. Bryant will have to unseat third-year man Zach Sieler to prove he belongs, with heavy competition from UDFA Benito Jones. Throwing a wrench into the equation and weakening Bryant’s case for a potential practice roster spot is Durval Quieroz Neto, Miami’s 2019 international player program practice roster exemption from Brazil. Quieroz Neto has had a year to learn the game and will get a shot to stick around thanks to his freaky physical tools, a 330-pound former judo champion who can do a standing back flip.

Minnesota Vikings

Marcus Sayles, CB, West Georgia

Last CFL team: Winnipeg Blue Bombers (2019)

Roster outlook: in tough

The Vikings secondary is a very different unit this season with Mike Hughes and Holton Hill returning to expanded roles and rookies Jeff Gladney, Cameron Dantzler and Harrison Hand looking to prove themselves. Sayles would have to beat out sixth man Kris Boyd to make the active roster, but doesn’t seem the best candidate to do that. UDFA Nevelle Clarke got $100,000 of his contract guaranteed and Mark Fields was acquired in a trade for a seventh round pick last year. Sayles is hoping to get on the practice squad and how many corners the Vikings want to carry there will be the key factor determining his chances.

New York Jets

Brett Maher, K, Nebraska

Last CFL team: Ottawa Redblacks (2017)

Roster outlook: safe bet

Maher was booted from Dallas but he’s been brought in to replace incumbent Sam Ficken in New York and seems likely to do so. Maher boasts better career accuracy and a big leg but, like most kicking battles, this will be determined by the hot hand in camp so you can’t write his name in pen quite yet.

Greg Van Roten, OL, Pennsylvania

Last CFL team: Toronto Argonauts (2016)

Roster outlook: roster lock

Barring something unforeseen, Van Roten will be the Jets starting right guard after being brought over from Carolina. He was expected to compete with incumbent Brian Winters, but the vet was released before training camp and the job is now firmly Van Roten’s.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bryant Mitchell, REC, Northwestern State

Last CFL team: Edmonton Football Team (2018)

Roster outlook: on the bubble

Mitchell was making a strong case to be the Bucs’ fifth receiver in 2019 before he tore his Achilles in camp. The team liked him enough to keep him around for a year while injured but there are still no guarantees. He’ll need to beat out former fifth rounder Justin Watson to make the active roster, but there are also six other receivers right on his heels. If he has fully recovered from the 2019 injury, I would guess he has a leg up on the practice roster, however that could be a tough sell if he has lost a step. Either way, he’ll get to catch a few passes from Tom Brady this month.

Washington Football Team

Dontrelle Inman, REC, Virginia

Last CFL team: Toronto Argonauts (2013)

Roster outlook: roster lock

A late addition, Inman was signed to a roster bereft of veteran receivers. Second year man Terry McLaurin is the star, but a torn ACL for Kelvin Harmon and possible suspension for Cody Latimer means Inman will compete for a starting role. It’s a near certainty he’ll be on the team, but the extent of his role will be determined by the performances of rookie fourth rounder Antonio Gandy-Golden and former Mr. Irrelevant Trey Quinn in training camp.

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.