Personnel people confused by top Canadian prospects deferring to 2024 CFL Draft

Photo: Michael Scraper/3DownNation. All rights reserved.

The number of CFL prospects deferring their draft years has a number of personnel people across the league scratching their heads.

“Unfortunately, a lot of the guys that were in the upper-level part of this draft have decided to go back to school,” said Edmonton Elks’ head coach and general manager Chris Jones.

“There’s probably at least six to eight of them, maybe even 10 that have gone back to school for an extra year, so it has kinda pushed down the number of guys that are going to be available that would fit the needs of a CFL football team.”

Most student-athletes were granted an extra year of eligibility amid the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced the temporary cancellation of a number of sports. The CFL subsequently permitted players to opt out of the following year’s draft, allowing them to wait an extra year before entering the professional ranks.

U Sports handles player eligibility differently than the NCAA, which is why it can come as more of a surprise when Canadian college players defer their draft year. North of the border, football players automatically have a fifth year of eligibility and can return to U Sports even after being drafted and participating in a CFL training camp.

With this option already available to players, one might expect the choice to defer to be relatively rare. Instead, hundreds of prospects have chosen to defer their draft years, including approximately 150 this year.

“I’m confused on why certain guys defer. I really don’t understand that, especially Canadian college guys,” said Calgary Stampeders’ head coach and general manager Dave Dickenson. “I don’t understand it, but I’m not in their heads.”

Photo courtesy: Rich Lam/UBC Athletics

The most notable player who opted out of the 2023 CFL Draft is offensive lineman Theo Benedet out of the University of British Columbia. The six-foot-seven, 290-pound blocker was named a first-team U Sports All-Canadian this past season and won the J. P. Metras Trophy, which is awarded annually to the top lineman in Canadian collegiate football.

Several sources have indicated that, barring serious interest from the NFL, Benedet would have been a top-three selection in this year’s draft. His teammate and fellow offensive lineman Giovanni Manu would also have been a relatively high selection, though he also opted out of this year’s draft. Other notable prospects who deferred to 2024 include Kojo Odoom, Jean-William Rouleau, AK Gassama, Kalylyn St-Cyr, Kyle Samson, and Scott Murray.

Dickenson believes that new eligibility rules are forcing CFL teams to be a little more patient with the players they choose to draft, especially those who are hoping to catch on with the NFL.

“I think more and more some of our top talent is staying in the south a little longer than maybe in the past. Looking back on some of our picks, we did sign (2020 CFL Draft pick) Rysen John this year to (a) three-year (contract). We’ve got a couple of other players down there and so do the rest of the league,” he said.

Jones sees the NCAA’s new name, image, and likeness (NIL) policy as a barrier for top talent coming to the CFL via negotiation lists. He referenced top college players making six figures while still in college as well as a top quarterback who is going to make over $1 million this upcoming season as a freshman.

“The odds of getting that guy right now, especially when the agents are spending $20, $30, $40,000 in training, the agents have no interest in that young man coming to the Canadian Football League,” said Jones.

“That’s kind of where my philosophy has come from, I’ve got to have help right now. We’ve got to put together a team right now of players that are coming out of this year’s class that can come up and compete in camp. And so that’ll be made up of former NFL guys, guys that have gone through the draft process already, and then guys from smaller schools.”

This is Dickenson’s first draft in his new dual role and it appears he wants to draft a player who will be in training camp with his team’s top pick.

“To me, with your first-round pick it’s is he going to be worth it and is he going to come? That’s the million dollar question and I think that’s the thing that you’ve gotta get answered. But no, it’s a solid group. I think the talent level does increase it just seems like right now a few of the guys you were hoping could be in this draft took themselves out of the draft.”

John Hodge is a Canadian football reporter based in Winnipeg.