Riders’ Craig Dickenson believes mastering the CFL Global Draft can give team an ‘advantage’

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The CFL’s controversial Global initiative is set to enter it’s fourth season in 2023 with few meaningful results, but the Saskatchewan Roughriders’ head coach Craig Dickenson isn’t one of those complaining.

During his weekly appearance on 620 CKRM’s The SportsCage, the Riders’ bench boss dismissed the notion that his team could slack off when it comes to evaluating talent for the upcoming 2023 Global Draft.

“We put quite a bit of time into it, just because the difference between winning and losing is so small in pro sports and if you can add a good Global player, it makes a big difference,” Dickenson insisted.

“It’s a lot of work, I’m not gonna lie, and [assistant general manager] Kyle Carson deserves a lot of credit for our preparation, he’s the point man for us on the Global Draft. We put a lot of time and effort in, we’ve had some good players and I think the teams that do a good job with the Global Draft have an advantage, so we’re doing the best we can to try to be that team.”

First introduced in 2019, the CFL’s Global program has forced teams to dress one player who hails from outside Canada or the United States for every game of the season in an attempt to tap in to foreign markets. The initiative has yet to generate meaningful revenue and has received significant pushback from personnel people and coaches around the league regarding the increased workload and comparatively low level of the talent pool.

A handful of Global players have carved out meaningful roles for themselves, including German defensive end Thiadric Hansen of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Belgian defensive tackle Tibo Debaillie of the B.C. Lions. However, teams have notoriously focused on acquiring specialist, including all-star punters Cody Grace of the Calgary Stampeders and John Haggerty of the Toronto Argonauts.

“It is a lot of work and a lot of times hard to get film of these guys, but there’s so many especially good punters in the Global Draft because the Australians are good and we’ve gotten a couple of special teams body types,” Dickenson noted. “There was a couple of good ones at the Combine as well, positional players that you can look at.”

The Riders found their own impact Global performer in the second round of the 2021 Global Draft when they acquired Norwegian punter Kaare Vedvik, who has averaged 44.8 yards per kick over the past two seasons. They recently signed French defensive end Valentin Gnahoua in free agency, providing added roster flexibility with a player who has recorded 11 special teams tackles in three seasons with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

However, the program has not always been productive for the team. Their 2021 first-round Global Draft pick, German fullback Chris Ezeala, looked to be a promising special teamer in his first season, but unexpectedly retired ahead of 2022 training camp.

Their 2022 Global Draft produced more disappointment, as highly touted first-round Swedish linebacker Jordan Genmark-Heath spent just two weeks with the team after pursuing NFL opportunities and was promptly released. He currently plays for the USFL’s Philadelphia Stars. The team’s second-round pick, Swiss linebacker Lukas Ruoss, opted not to sign a contract at all, while third-round safety Maceo Beard-Aigret was cut in training camp.

Still, Dickenson believes that investing the clubs’ effort into the upcoming Global pick fest is vital for success.

“The argument can be made that sometimes the juice in the squeeze isn’t quite the same at times but it’s worth it for us,” he said. “We’re gonna keep plugging along because the difference between winning and losing is small and if you can get a good Global player that can help you even win just one or two more games, that makes a difference in the end.”

The third annual CFL Global Draft will take place on Tuesday, May 2 starting at 11:00 a.m. ET.