3DownNation’s all-time CFL-to-NFL team

Photo courtesy: AP Photo/Jim Bourdier, File

Last month, the football world lost a legend when Bud Grant passed away at age 95.

The former head coach of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Minnesota Vikings defined excellence on both sides of the border, becoming the first person inducted into both the Canadian Football and Pro Football Hall of Fame. Arguably, he is the CFL’s greatest-ever export.

But if Grant is the head coach of an all-time CFL-to-NFL team, what might that roster look like? Each of us can rattle off a few prominent CFLers who went on to NFL stardom, but the myriad of online top 10 listicles rarely moves past the obvious quarterbacks.

3DownNation is endeavouring to change that. For the past month, I have trawled through the archives and received hundreds of fan submissions in an attempt to assemble a full 53-man NFL roster made up of the greatest players to have played the three-down game.

The criteria were simple. Players were judged on the quality of their NFL production and accolades, not their CFL accomplishments. While players who began their careers in the NFL before coming to Canada were eligible, only their resume after leaving the CFL was considered — Fred Biletnikoff, Mark Gastineau, and Chad Johnson need not apply. For the sake of simplicity, AFL stats were treated as NFL stats and players from CFL teams before the league officially formed were also included.

What resulted was an impressive list of impact NFL performers, with a very high bar for inclusion. One or two solid seasons south of the border wouldn’t earn you a spot on this team, it is inhabited by Pro Bowlers, All-Pros and a handful of Hall of Famers.

For the ease of the reader, starters at each position are highlighted with a full bio while their backups will be listed by name. Players receiving serious consideration who did not make the team are included as honourable mentions at the end of the article.

In reality, assembling the perfect roster was an impossible task. I am undoubtedly missing several deserving players whose accomplishments have been unjustly forgotten. Nevertheless, I hope you’ll enjoy this attempt at highlighting some of the league’s greatest products.

Without further ado, here is the Bud Grant Memorial CFL-to-NFL All-Time Team.


Photo courtesy: AP Photo, File

Warren Moon — Edmonton Elks (1978-83)

Was there ever any doubt? After a six-year stint in Edmonton that included five Grey Cup wins and a Most Outstanding Player trophy, Moon spent 17 seasons in the NFL with the Houston Oilers, Minnesota Vikings, Seattle Seahawks and Kansas City Chiefs. The nine-time Pro Bowler threw for 49,325 yards, 291 touchdowns and 233 interceptions, becoming the first player ever to be inducted into both the Canadian Football and Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Backups: Jeff Garcia — Calgary Stampeders (1994-98) | Joe Theismann — Toronto Argonauts (1971-73)

Running back

Photo courtesy: AP Photo

John Henry Johnson — Calgary Stampeders (1953)

A dynamic three-phase player in one season with the Stamps, Johnson took home the Jeff Nicklin Memorial Trophy as the most outstanding player in the Western Interprovincial Football Union — later known as the West Division. He would go on to play 13 years with the San Francisco 49ers, Detroit Lions, Pittsburgh Steelers and Houston Oilers, retiring in 1966 as the NFL’s third all-time leading rusher.  Despite amassing 6,803 yards and 48 touchdowns on the ground to go along with 1,478 yards receiving and seven scores through the air, he is better remembered for his tenacity as a blocker and was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1987.

Backups: Cookie Gilchrist — Sarnia Imperials (1954), Kitchener-Waterloo Dutchmen (1955), Hamilton Tiger-Cats (1956-57), Saskatchewan Roughriders (1958), Toronto Argonauts (1959-61) | Alex Webster — Montreal Alouettes (1953-54) | Ricky Williams — Toronto Argonauts (2006)

Tight End

Photo courtesy: Las Vegas Raiders

Dave Kocourek — Winnipeg Blue Bombers (1959)

After making his pro debut with the Bombers, Kocourek played nine seasons with the San Diego Chargers, Miami Dolphins and Oakland Raiders. The only player to play in seven AFL Championships, he caught 249 passes for 4,090 yards and 24 touchdowns while earning four league all-star selections. In 1970, he was voted as the AFL All-Time Team second-team tight end.

Backups: Ernie Warlick — Calgary Stampeders (1957-61) | M.L. Harris — Hamilton Tiger-Cats (1976-77), Toronto Argonauts (1978-79)

Wide receiver

Photo courtesy: AP Photo/William P. Smith, File

Don Maynard — Hamilton Tiger-Cats (1959)

Few will recall that Maynard was cut by the New York Giants following his rookie season, playing a single game with the Ticats and catching one pass for 10 yards. What they do remember is the 13 seasons he spent with the New York Jets — originally the New York Titans — where he won a Super Bowl, had his jersey retired and set a then-pro football record with 633 catches for 11,834 yards and 88 touchdowns. The four-time AFL all-star also had brief stints with the St. Louis Cardinals and Los Angeles Rams before being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1987.

Photo courtesy: AP Photo/Andrew Cohoon

Joe Horn — Baltimore Stallions (1994), Shreveport Pirates (1995), Memphis Mad Dogs (1995)

A college drop-out who was selected in the fifth round of the 1996 NFL Draft after lighting it up in the CFL’s US expansion era, Horn played 12 seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs, New Orleans Saints, and Atlanta Falcons. He caught 603 passes for 8,744 yards and 58 touchdowns on his way to four Pro Bowl selections and a spot in the Saints’ Hall of Fame — though he is best remembered for pulling a cellphone out of the goalpost in one of the greatest touchdown celebrations in NFL history.

Photo courtesy: AP Photo/Donna McWilliam

Raghib Ismail — Toronto Argonauts (1991-92)

The trio of Bruce McNall, Wayne Gretzky and John Candy stole “The Rocket” for two seasons and prevented him from becoming the number-one pick in the 1991 NFL Draft, but he had plenty of success once he returned south of the border. In 10 years with the Oakland Raiders, Carolina Panthers and Dallas Cowboys, Ismail caught 363 passes for 5,295 yards and 28 touchdowns while adding 2,334 yards in the return game.

Backups: Mervyn Fernandez — B.C. Lions (1982-86, 1994) | Billy Johnson — Montreal Alouettes (1981)

Offensive line

Photo courtesy: AP Photo

Mike Wilson — Toronto Argonauts (1977)

After winning the East Division’s Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman nomination in 1977, Wilson played 12 seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals and Seattle Seahawks. He suited up in 174 games over that span and started 172 at both offensive tackle spots, including Super Bowl XVI.

Photo courtesy: Chicago Bears

Noah Jackson — Toronto Argonauts (1972-74)

Jackson was selected in the seventh round of the 1974 NFL Draft by the Baltimore Colts but played another all-star season in Toronto. His rights were traded to the Chicago Bears the next season, where he would spend the next nine years blocking for Walter Payton before finishing his career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He played 131 games in the NFL, starting 127 at left guard.

Photo courtesy: AP Photo/AQ

Chuck Walton — Montreal Alouettes (1963-64), Hamilton Tiger-Cats (1965-66)

A three-time East Division all-star, Walton spent eight seasons in the NFL with the Detroit Lions. He dressed for 98 games with the team and made 93 starts at left guard, though he was part of just one playoff squad.

Photo courtesy: Los Angeles Rams

Tom Nutten — Hamilton Tiger-Cats (1997)

Nutten was born in Ohio, raised in Germany and played his high school football in Quebec, but his greatest football accomplishments came in Missouri. After unsuccessful stints with the Buffalo Bills and Denver Broncos, he turned a year with the Ticats into an opportunity in NFL Europe and eventually a contract with the St. Louis Rams. He played seven seasons with the team — only missing the 2003 season due to a brief retirement — seeing action in 77 games and making 69 starts at left guard, winning Super Bowl XXXIV.

Photo courtesy: Miami Dolphins

Mark Dixon — Baltimore Stallions (1995), Montreal Alouettes (1996-97)

Dixon didn’t begin his NFL career until he was 27 years old but he notched five productive seasons with the Miami Dolphins. He played in 62 games and started 60, contributing as both a guard and tackle.

Backups: Shar Pourdanesh — Baltimore Stallions (1994-95) | Greg Van Roten — Toronto Argonauts (2015-18) | Ed George — Montreal Alouettes (1970-74), Hamilton Tiger-Cats (1979-80) | Ron Mikolajczyk — Toronto Argonauts (1972-73) 

Defensive end

Photo courtesy: AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee

Cameron Wake — B.C. Lions (2007-08)

With two CFL Most Outstanding Defensive Player awards under his belt, Wake jumped to the NFL in 2009 and played 11 seasons with the Miami Dolphins and Tennessee Titans. He amassed 364 tackles and 100.5 career sacks, making five Pro Bowl appearances and earning first-team All-Pro honours in 2012 to go along with three second-team selections. He is tied for 37th on the NFL’s official all-time sacks list.

Photo courtesy: AP Photo/Jim Mone

Jim Marshall — Saskatchewan Roughriders (1959)

Arguably the worst team in Riders history produced the franchise’s greatest NFL alumnus when they traded Marshall to the Cleveland Browns in exchange for quarterback Bob Ptacek. He would play one year in Cleveland and 19 seasons with the Minnesota Vikings, becoming one of the four members of the iconic Purple People Eaters defensive line. Though he is best remembered for his infamous wrong-way fumble return, Marshall was a three-time second-team All-Pro and two-time Pro Bowler who set the NFL record for most consecutive starts by a defensive player at 270. He is widely considered to be one of the greatest players not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and has been unofficially credited with 130.5 career sacks — a statistic which was not recorded until three seasons after his retirement.

Backups: Bertrand Berry — Edmonton Elks (2000) | Gene Brito — Calgary Stampeders (1954) | Ed O’Bradovich — Calgary Stampeders (1961), B.C. Lions (1961)

Defensive tackles

Photo courtesy: AP Photo

Earl Edwards — Ottawa Rough Riders (1967), Edmonton Elks (1967-68)

Edwards signed in the CFL after his sophomore year of college and was eventually taken in the fifth round of the 1969 NFL Draft by the San Francisco 49ers. He was the runner-up for Defensive Rookie of the Year that season behind Mean Joe Greene and went on to play 11 years in the league with the Niners, Buffalo Bills, Cleveland Browns, and Green Bay Packers. He could play both inside and outside, twice receiving honourable mention All-Pro honours and unofficially recording 51 career sacks.

Photo courtesy: AP Photo/Harry Harris

Bob Gain — Ottawa Rough Riders (1951)

Gain made the Cleveland Browns wait a year after they drafted him with the fifth overall pick in the 1951 NFL Draft, posting an all-star season in Ottawa. He made up for it by playing 12 seasons with the franchise — interrupted only by a tour of duty with the air force in Korea in 1953– earning seven second-team All-Pro selections and appearing in five Pro Bowls. In total, he saw action in 126 games and won three NFL championships in an era where most defensive statistics went unrecorded.

Backups: Richard Bishop — Hamilton Tiger-Cats (1974-75), Ottawa Rough Riders (1975) | Willie Whitehead — Baltimore Stallions (1995), Montreal Alouettes (1996), Hamilton Tiger-Cats (1997-98)


Photo courtesy: AP Photo/Harry Harris

Dale Meinert — Edmonton Elks (1955-57)

After turning down a shot with the Baltimore Colts to play on the line in Edmonton, Meinert followed legendary coach Pop Ivy to Chicago and later St. Louis to play for the Cardinals. He played 10 seasons in the NFL and was converted to linebacker in 1960, appearing in 125 games with the team and earning three Pro Bowl selections.

Photo courtesy: AP Photo/Steve Nesius

Shelton Quarles — B.C. Lions (1995-96)

After two productive seasons in Vancouver, Quarles signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and has remained with the organization ever since, currently serving as director of football operations. In 10 seasons as a player, he collected 710 tackles, 13 sacks, eight forced fumbles, four interceptions, and two touchdowns. In 2002, he was selected to attend the Pro Bowl in the same year that he helped capture the Bucs’ first Super Bowl ring.

Photo courtesy: AP Photo

Tom Cousineau — Montreal Alouettes (1979-81)

The Buffalo Bills selected Cousineau with the first overall pick in the 1979 NFL Draft, only for him to be poached by the Alouettes. His rights were eventually traded to the Cleveland Browns in exchange for the draft pick that became Jim Kelly. Though he never lived up to that level of hype, Cousineau had a productive six-year career with the Browns and San Francisco 49ers. He was an All-Rookie selection in 1982 and second-team All-Pro in 1984, collecting 10 interceptions and 6.5 sacks in an era before tackles were recorded.

Backups: Jerrell Freeman — Saskatchewan Roughriders (2009-11) | Alex Singleton — Calgary Stampeders (2016-18) | Brendon Ayanbadejo — Winnipeg Blue Bombers (2000), Toronto Argonauts (2000), B.C. Lions (2002)


Photo courtesy: AP Photo/Michael Conroy

Nick Harper — Hamilton Tiger-Cats (2000)

Harper played one season with the Ticats after being deemed ineligible for his senior year at Fort Valley State but translated that setback into a nine-year NFL career with the Indianapolis Colts and Tennessee Titans. He amassed 626 tackles, 90 pass breakups and 21 interceptions, winning Super Bowl XLI with the Colts.

Photo courtesy: AP Photo/File

Bob Jeter — B.C. Lions (1960-61)

In two years with the Lions, Jeter served as the backup running back behind the great Willie Fleming. He was originally deployed as a wide receiver after making the jump to the NFL and it wasn’t until his fourth season with the Green Bay Packers that he was switched to corner, helping the team win three NFL championships and the first two Super Bowls. In total, he played 12 years with the Packers and Chicago Bears and collected 26 career interceptions, earning a first-team All-Pro selection in 1967 and second-team status in 1968 to go along with two Pro Bowl appearances.

Backups: J.C. Caroline — Toronto Argonauts (1955), Montreal Alouettes (1955) | Brandon Browner — Calgary Stampeders (2006-10) | Eric Harris — Toronto Argonauts (1977-79)  


Photo courtesy: AP Photo

Jake Scott — B.C. Lions (1969)

Scott left school early to play receiver and return kicks in the CFL but converted to safety after being taken in the seventh round of the 1970 NFL Draft by the Miami Dolphins. He would go on to win two Super Bowls with the team, taking home the game’s MVP award after capping the legendary undefeated 1972 season with a victory. In nine years with the Dolphins and Washington Commanders, Scott hauled in 49 interceptions and amassed 1,357 punt return yards with a single touchdown, earning two first-team All-Pro selections, three second-team selections and five Pro Bowl invites.

Photo courtesy: AP Photo/Mark Costantini

Dwight Hicks — Toronto Argonauts (1978)

Hicks’ stint with Toronto lasted just three games but he turned that into a significant role with the dynastic San Francisco 49ers. In seven seasons with the team, he won two Super Bowls and was selected to four Pro Bowls, earning second-team All-Pro honours in 1981. He wrapped up his career with a one-year stay with the Indianapolis Colts, retiring with 32 interceptions and three defensive touchdowns to his name.

Backups: Felix Wright — Hamilton Tiger-Cats (1982-84) | Vernon Perry — Montreal Alouettes (1977-78) | Joe Scudero — Toronto Argonauts (1953)


Photo courtesy: AP Photo/Chris O’Meara

Mike Vanderjagt — Saskatchewan Roughriders (1993), Toronto Argonauts (1996-97, 2008)

Once not-so-affectionately referred to as “our idiot kicker” by Peyton Manning, even the quarterbacking legend can’t argue against Vanderjagt’s excellence during his nine-year NFL stint with the Indianapolis Colts and Dallas Cowboys. The native of Oakvillle, Ont. connected on 230-of-266 career field goal attempts (86.5 percent) while amassing 1,067 points, earning second-team All-Pro status in 1999 and a first-team selection in 2003.

Photo courtesy: AP Photo/Elaine Thompson

Jon Ryan — Winnipeg Blue Bombers (2004-2005), Saskatchewan Roughriders (2019-2021), Hamilton Tiger-Cats (2022), Edmonton Elks (2022)

An excellent receiver as well as kicker with his hometown University of Regina Rams, Ryan spent 13 spectacular seasons in the NFL with the Green Bay Packers, Seattle Seahawks, and Buffalo Bills. He let loose 914 punts over that span and averaged a whopping 44.7 yards per kick, pinning opponents within their 20-yard line 311 times. He captured Super Bowl XLVIII with the Seahawks and is the last Canadian — and only punter — to have thrown for a touchdown in an NFL playoff game.

Photo courtesy: AP Photo/Elaine Thompson

J.P. Darche — Toronto Argonauts (1999)

An outstanding middle linebacker at McGill, it took Darche just one CFL season to attract NFL interest as a long snapper. He would go on to play nine seasons with the Seattle Seahawks and Kansas City Chiefs, collecting 21 tackles in 120 games. Following his retirement, Darche became a medical doctor and continues to serve as a team physician with the defending Super Bowl champion Chiefs.

Photo courtesy: AP Photo/L.G. Patterson

Tamarick Vanover — Las Vegas Posse (1994)

The CFL has produced a large number of productive NFL returners, but none found the endzone as frequently as Vanover. In six seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs and San Diego Chargers, he returned 197 punts for 2,016 yards and four touchdowns, 226 kickoffs for 5,422 yards and four scores, and caught 39 passes for 564 yards and three more majors. He was named to the NFL all-rookie team in 1995.

Honourable mentions: QB Doug Flutie — BC (’90-91), CGY (’92-95), TOR (’96-97) | QB Joe Kapp — CGY (’59-60), BC (’61-66) | QB Eddie LeBaron — CGY (’54) | FB Mike Sellers — EDM (’95-97), WPG (’02-03) | RB Bo Scott — OTT (’65-68) | RB Vic Washington — OTT (’68-69), BC (’70) | RB Tom Tracy — OTT (’55-56) | RB Mack Herron — WPG (’70-72) | TE Harry Holt — BC (’78-82) | WR Andrew Hawkins — MTL (’09-10) | WR Dontrelle Inman — TOR (’12-13, ’23) | WR Eugene Goodlow — WPG (’80-82) | OL Brett Jones — CGY (’13-14) | OL Michael Ola — MTL (’12-13) | DE Leroy Jones — EDM (’73-75) | DE Bruce Clark — TOR (’80-81) | DE Ed Henke — WPG (’50), CGY (’54-55) | DE Pat Holmes — CGY (’62-65) | DE Vaughn Booker — WPG (’92-93) | DE Harald Hasselbach — CGY (’90-93) | DE Keith Gary — MTL (’81-82) | DE Chris Wilson — BC (’05-06, ’13), MTL (’14) | DT Tom Johnson — CGY (’09-10) | DT Chuck Klingbeil — SSK (’89-90) | DT Jermaine Haley — TOR (’98-99) | LB Charlie Clemons — WPG (’94-95, ’96), OTT (’95) | LB Rashad Jeanty — EDM (’02-05, ’12) | LB Joe Harris — HAM (’75-76) | LB Pete Wysocki — HAM (’71), TOR (’72), SSK (’73-74) | LB O.J. Brigance — BC (’91-93), BAL (’94-95) | CB Fakhir Brown — TOR (’98) | CB Mel Jenkins — CGY (’84-86) | CB Duane Wood — HAM (’59-60), EDM (’65) | CB Juran Bolden — WPG (’95, ’00-01, ’07) | CB Mike McGruder — SSK (’86-88) | CB Neiko Thorpe — TOR (’13) | S Bennie Thompson — WPG (’86-88) | S Erik Harris — HAM (’13-15) | S Dale Hackbart — WPG (’64-65) | S John Sciarra — BC (’76-77) | S Johnnie Harris — SAT (’95), TOR (’96-97) | K Lawrence Tynes — OTT (’02-03) | P Josh Miller — BAL (’94-95) | P Scott Player — BIR (’95) | LS David Diaz-Infante — SAC (’93-94) | KR Mike Nelms — HAM (’77), OTT (’77-79) 

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.