‘It’s not about the five Canadian starting linemen’: Lalji believes fan identification with CFL ratio driven by skill position talent

Screengrab courtesy: TSN

Every off-season, CFL fans get drug into the same debate about the merits of the league’s Canadian ratio. It’s tiresome at the best of times, but headed in to 2022, it’s become downright pointless.

That’s because Canadian talent is at an all-time high across all levels of football, just ask Farhan Lalji.

“The guys are more ready now and you’re seeing more players from Canada that are going up to the NCAA,” the TSN insider said on the Dave Jamieson Show on Thursday. “Whether it’s a guy like [West Virginia safety] Alonzo Addae, who today just declared for the NFL Draft and was taken 13th overall [in the CFL Draft] last year, there’s a bunch of these guys that are getting a chance to play the collegiate game at the top level down there.”

Canadians like Alabama receiver John Metchie III are making a major impact at the highest level of college football and the Great White North boasts a number of budding NFL stars like Pittsburgh receiver Chase Claypool. The trickle down has greatly boosted Canadian talent in the CFL as well and it is the types of players now receiving pro accolades that have Lalji excited.

“Last year was the perfect example. You had four guys that got drafted [in the NFL] and they weren’t linemen,” Lalji said, referencing Dolphins safety Jevon Holland, WFT cornerback Benjamin St-Juste, Chargers receiver Josh Palmer, and Panthers running back Chuba Hubbard.

“That was a big thing for me, because there was a 15 year stretch where every Canadian that got drafted in that 15 years, only four were non-linemen and three of those weren’t even real Canadians. It was like Austin Collie types. Now you’re getting skilled position guys and that’s really what Canadians want to see.”

Traditionally, the big boys up front have made up the backbone of Canadian talent in the CFL and almost all of the country’s NFL exports. That’s fine for the players, but has stunted the true marketing potential of Canadian content.

“God bless all the Canadian linemen that are out there, but when you’re talking about Canadian fans and the value of the ratio in terms of fan identification as opposed to roster management, it’s not about the five Canadian starting linemen in Sask,” Lalji said.

“It’s when you get a chance to get an Andrew Harris or Nathan Rourke or John Cornish and somebody who you can talk about in that light, that’s what Canadians want to see. They wanna see the guy scoring the touchdown and getting the interceptions. As we see more skill position players, that’s what excites me more about what we can see in both leagues.”

In the opinion of many football nationalists, that talent has always lain beneath the surface, but there is little doubt that the NCAA’s bigger recruiting interest in Canadian players, driven in large part by US prep schools, is bringing it to the forefront

“Regardless of which league, they’re that much more ready and they’re also gonna get a little more exposure as far as the NFL’s concerned. It becomes an apples to apples comparison, whereas the Canadian guys that are playing up here, while many of them are capable, they might be a little farther behind. Maybe a year or more of development is required,” Lalji explained.

“The challenge that a lot of those guys have in terms of getting NFL opportunities is just getting a legitimate evaluation, because the guys that are there, you’re competing against those guys whereas the guys here, they want to gauge it and say ‘well, is he really that good or is it just who he’s playing against?'”

For Canadian NCAA prospects, there is no doubt.