Edmonton Elks’ Chris Jones: ‘sky’s the limit’ for Canadian DL and NFL hopeful J-Min Pelley

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Edmonton Elks’ head coach and general manager Chris Jones is high on Canadian defensive lineman J-Min Pelley and believes there’s a chance he could end up in the NFL following the upcoming CFL season.

The Calgary native reported to training camp with the Elks last season measuring in at six-foot-six and close to 360 pounds. The club’s coaching staff considered moving him to the offensive side of the ball but ultimately kept him at defensive tackle, slowly integrating him into the fold as he shedded weight.

“He only practiced for about an hour or an hour and 15 minutes per day to try to manage the weight situation until we could get his weight down to where he could compete at a high level,” said head coach and general manager Chris Jones.

“Then I started a slow rotation with him and Mak Henry to develop the kid into what he became there at the end of the year. He was a force at times for us and certainly we have to make sure that he’s properly motivated but if he does, the sky’s the limit.”

The 24-year-old made 11 defensive tackles as a rookie and started seven games, including six of the club’s final seven regular season contests. It appears safe to presume that he will be a day-one starter at defensive tackle this season given that the Elks chose not to retain Henry in free agency.

Pelley took a unique path to the CFL, one that could lead to an NFL opportunity following the upcoming season.

The behemoth defender committed to the University of Calgary Dinos in 2019 following stints with the Calgary Colts and Okanagan Sun of the Canadian Junior Football League. He was named a second-team All-Canadian in his lone U Sports season but didn’t return to the Dinos following the cancelled 2020 campaign due to academic challenges.

Pelley wasn’t going to be eligible for the CFL draft until 2023 but was able to enter the league one year early due to a rarely-used bylaw designed to help prospects experiencing financial hardship. He was subsequently made available to teams as a supplemental pick and was claimed by the Elks, who forfeited their second-round selection in this year’s draft to secure his rights.

All CFL players are eligible to sign NFL contracts via the league’s signing window, which runs from January until free agency gets underway. However, because Pelley entered the CFL draft a year early, he is not yet considered a free agent in the NFL. He declared for this year’s NFL draft, a formality that will make him eligible to sign with a team south of the border in 2024 if he’s offered a contract.

After a rookie season in which Pelley showed tremendous growth, Jones wouldn’t be surprised if he’s able to secure an NFL contract.

“There’s tremendous potential there. … We’ve had a lot of a lot of phone calls (from NFL teams) about him,” said Jones. “People know who he is, there’s plenty of people down south that know who he is. He’s a rare physical talent that has more athleticism than what people realize for a guy that’s 350 or 360 pounds at times.”

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