While the NFL Draft thrives off the glitz and glamour of quarterbacks, the CFL Draft has always traded in the currency of offensive linemen.
Even as Canadians have begun receiving greater opportunities at more diverse positions, the big men up front have retained their value. As unexciting as many fans think that might be, offensive linemen offer a stable investment and a reliable exchange rate. The interest is predictable and they depreciate slower than other assets, helping protect the high-yield stocks on your roster.
Unfortunately, like much of the financial world, offensive linemen are in a recession in 2023. Sparked by NFL cherry-picking, unexpected deferrals, and several surprise retirements, the crop of talent at the draft’s most important position is especially shallow this year. For the top players in this class, that could mean an earlier-than-expected selection as teams scramble to grab someone who can help them in the short term,
You can count Queen’s University left guard Evan Floren on that list. The second-team All-Canadian is one of a handful of blockers meriting first-round hype in the days before the draft and believes he should be the first one off the board.
“I think I’m the hardest worker. I know how to study the game, how to be a student of the game and I think I’ve got the body,” the six-foot-four, 303-pounder argued in a recent interview with 3DownNation. “I know how to work on my body and I’ve got what it takes to win. I’ve got that grit.”
“I’d say I probably have some good girth too,” he added, paraphrasing legendary B.C. Lions offensive line coach Dan Dorazio.
It isn’t difficult to pick out the Ancaster, Ont. native’s large frame on the field. Like most linemen, he was reluctantly thrust into the position as a youngster for that very reason. He describes the experience as an “acquired taste” but has since fallen in love with his craft.
While easy to spot, a young Floren was initially overlooked by most U Sports programs. After being told by coaches that he had a future in football, he moved to Connecticut part-way through high school and played three years at Salisbury School hoping to attract NCAA attention.
Normally, a prep school commitment garners recruiters on both sides of the border but Floren’s Division I focus and initially under-the-radar status meant no conversations with Canadian schools took place.
“I wasn’t a big name coming out of Canada. It was my time in the States that actually got me to be at a high level,” he explained.
“I didn’t really open up to Canadian school because all that was on my mind was that I wanted to stick in the States.”
Those U.S. offers never arrived, with FCS program Merrimack being the only one to make any advances. Floren’s football future was up in the air until he attended a practice with the Hamilton Ironmen and caught the eye of former first-overall CFL Draft pick Shomari Williams, then the recruiting coordinator for Queen’s.
The Gaels quickly provided him with his first and only U Sports offer. He rewarded them by starting every game he played as a freshman and earning OUA all-rookie team honours in 2019. In three seasons, he has started 21 regular season contests plus playoffs.
“I was lucky to come in with a change in the coaching staff. They’re so passionate and so good at what they do and they took it to the next level and turned that program completely around,” Floren said of his time in Kingston. “It was fantastic. It’s really one of the closest you can get to a D1 program in Canada.”
Queen’s has been an OUA powerhouse during his tenure, advancing to back-to-back Yates Cup finals. The one hurdle they haven’t been able to overcome is the Western Mustangs, who have handed them defeats in both conference championship games.
That’s a streak that Floren believes will end in 2023, though he may not be there to see it.
“We’ll get them next year,’ he promised. “Either way, we’ll take them down.”
It is far more likely that the 22-year-old guard will be in a CFL uniform when that game is being played, as he is expected to command a premium selection on Tuesday. In a group light on movement skills, he is the exception, clocking a 5.36-second forty-yard dash, 4.68-second short shuttle, and 7.75-second three-cone at the CFL Combine.
Those final two results led all draft-eligible offensive linemen, save for NFL draft picks Matthew Bergeron and Sidy Sow.
“For my size, I’m very quick, very athletic, and I lean on that. Now I have to work on getting that all-around skill set, to be both athletic and have that brute strength. That’s the next step,” Floren said.
“I’m working on my strike and my power through my arms, just being able to get those big 300-pounders that are fantastic athletes in the next level, get them off my chest and handle them.”
Should whichever team drafts him believe that development would best occur in college, Floren still has eligibility remaining with the Gaels. He’s open to returning to school but is clear about his objectives.
“I had it in my mind that I was going to play pro before I even got into university. That’s been my dream,” he stressed. “I’m gonna do whatever it takes, whatever is the best step for me.”
With athleticism like Floren’s being so scarce, CFL teams hope that next step is taken in their direction. High developmental upside like his is a valuable commodity in most drafts, this year it’s worth its weight in gold.