At times in years past, the CFL Draft day strategy of Edmonton Elks’ head coach and general manager Chris Jones has been described as unconventional. This year, his affinity for taking shots on unique athletes has been called something else entirely: historic.
When the Elks dealt a pair of impact players to Hamilton in exchange for the eighth overall pick on Tuesday and used that selection on Hec Crighton Trophy winner Tre Ford, they made him the first quarterback taken in the first round of the CFL Draft since 1980.
It was a moment long dreamed about by football fans across the country, but Jones was performing no act of charity. He’s made a living out of finding roles for freak athletes and Ford was simply too good to pass up.
“In 20 years of doing it, [I’ve not seen a player like him]. He’s dominated the [U Sports] level. He makes it look like a video game,” Jones raved during an appearance on The Jason Gregor Show.
“Some people may say it’s apples and oranges or whatever, but it’s like Kyler Murray. He’s kind of moving all over the field and you can’t get your hands on him, they’re very closely linked in that way.”
Comparisons to a former Heisman winner and two-time NFL Pro Bowl selection are not handed out lightly, but Ford has proven himself to be more than worthy of such lofty company. The native of Niagara Falls, Ont. threw for 7,118 passing yards, 56 touchdowns, and 18 interceptions over his four-year career with the University of Waterloo Warriors. He also rushed for 2,621 yards and 15 touchdowns en route to twice being named the Ontario University Athletic’s Conference MVP.
Just as impressive as his statistics were Ford’s raw athletic measurables. A national calibre sprinter in the 60-metres, he wowed scouts during the University at Buffalo pro day and has since earned invitations to the rookie mini-camps of the Baltimore Ravens and New York Giants.
“I mean, the kid ran low 4.4 in the forty and verted almost 40. He’s a super athlete and he does have the ability to throw the football as well — he is very confident,” Jones added. “How many times do you see a Canadian quarterback getting a couple opportunities to go try out for NFL teams? That tells you on its own exactly what kind of athlete we’re dealing with.”
The question now becomes how soon Ford will see the CFL field. The Elks’ quarterback spot is up for grabs in training camp, with Jones and his staff reportedly less than enamoured with Nick Arbuckle. The unexpected retirement due to injury of highly-touted free agent signing J.T. Barrett has further complicated matters, though Ford actually starting games as a rookie out of U Sports would be virtually unprecedented.
There may be other ways to get him involved however, as the CFL recently implemented a rule change that would allow two quarterbacks to be on the field at the same time. Ford’s versatility makes him cat-nip for trick play designers, though Jones warns that sometimes less is more in that regard.
“Sometimes you can overthink it and almost drive yourself crazy trying to find a way to get two of them on the field,” he said. “We need good quarterback play. We need the ability to read curl, flat and throw the ball consistently, do some of the basic things.”
That isn’t to say that the Elks don’t have packages already designed to utilize their new weapon. They do and don’t be surprised if you see him under centre throughout the season.
“I’m looking at some pictures of it right now. We’ve already kind of sat down and looked at different ways we could utilize him,” Jones admitted with a chuckle.
“He’s probably going to be late to camp, but hopefully we get him here in time to where he can come in and get some preseason time under his belt, that way this first year’s not wasted.”