2020 CFL Draft Recap: The Trends, The Surprises and My Favourites

Courtesy: Ohio Bobcats Athletics via CFL.ca

Well that’s it folks! The 2020 CFL Draft concluded Thursday night, after an adapted virtual version was broadcasted across TSN and CFL.ca for 8-rounds. With the unusual circumstances surrounding the draft this year we didn’t know what to expect with any given selection. Some early picks went according to the script of mock-drafters, but the randomness began to creep in quickly thereafter.

As we now have all the time in the world without a live CFL event, we can analyze the night that was and put a stamp on the 2020 iteration. We will start with more general trends that we can draw from the 73 selections, before heading towards some of the specific picks that were somewhat surprising. Finally, we give some of our favourites that we think could be standouts with their given team.

Disagree with our selections? Have something to add? Please be sure to let us know in the comments below!

General Draft Takeaways

Courtesy: Queen’s Gales Athletics

Positional Overview:

*Number of selections in Top-20 (Rounds-1-2) in brackets

  • Quarterback: 1 (1)
  • Runningback: 5 (0)
  • Wide-Receiver: 10 (2)
  • Offensive-Lineman: 15 (4)
  • Defensive-Lineman: 14 (6)
  • Linebacker: 13 (4)
  • Defensive-Back: 10 (3)
  • Kicker: 4 (0)
  • Long-Snapper: 1 (0)

Here we have our positional breakdown of the 2020 CFL Draft class. To simplify the process, any players classified under a similar position get transferred to a more general positional grouping. This is the case of slotbacks, for example, which were placed under the wide receiver category. The same goes for defensive ends and defensive tackles going under defensive lineman, and cornerbacks, halfbacks and safeties filed under defensive back. So keep that in mind when evaluating the numbers and where these players might play in the CFL.

Ohio’s Nathan Rourke marked the lone selection at quarterback this year, but was proven to be highly regarded. The Bobcats star equaled the record set by Florida’s Jesse Palmer back in 2001 for highest-drafted quarterback in CFL history at #15 overall (2nd-round). More about Rourke later on.

This year’s Canadian runningback class was more shallow than in past drafts, with not a single prospect getting selected in the first four rounds, let alone one in the Top-20 overall. Waterloo’s Dion Pellerin finally broke the ice at the #42 slot. Though there have been exceptions, most of these guys will have to prove themselves first in special-teams roles.

On the other hand, at receiver, there were two selected in the draft’s first two rounds: Virginia’s Dejon Brissett (#2), and UBC’s Trivel Pinto (#12). This is about what was expected going into the draft, though we thought that maybe Simon Fraser’s Rysen John or Waterloo’s Tyler Ternowski might have found a way into the Top-20.

In the offensive trenches, fifteen players heard their names called, with four in the Top-20. All four offensive lineman selected in the Top-20 happened to come in round-1, with Buffalo’s Tomas Jack-Kurdyla going first at #4 overall. For comparison’s sake, the 2019 draft class produced six Top-20 picks, but less than fifteen selections overall. The turnout of this year’s draft for offensive lineman was probably heavily influenced by the lack of in-person contact teams could have with top prospects, as many were projected to go higher than they ended up going, such as Western’s Dylan Giffen (#28, 3rd-round).

On the flip side, by the numbers, the 2020 defensive line group was deemed by talent evaluators to be the strongest position in the draft, as evidenced by fourteen total selections and a draft-high six in the Top-20. The highest selected of this group was Southeastern Louisiana’s Isaac Adeyemi-Berglund, a player that jolted up draft-boards this spring and was selected by Calgary at #3 in the 1st-round.

Linebacker had significant depth as well. There were doubled-digit total picks, with four, including the draft’s first overall pick, East Carolina’s Jordan Williams, going in the first two rounds. It’s a position that’s difficult to fill in the Canadian game, as there aren’t many athletic enough to roam sideline-to-sideline on the CFL’s 65-yard-wide surface. The fact this many ‘backers were picked this year is a a good sign for Canada’s future at the position.

At defensive-back we see the class mirroring the receivers, with ten taken and three going in the Top-20. Among those three selected was McMaster’s Noah Hallett, going in the late 2nd-round to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Its an interesting position group, with a combination of versatile players like McMaster’s Noah Hallett and elite athletes like Montreal’s Marc-Antoine Dequoy.

For kicks, let’s tell tell a fun fact: there have been more kickers selected than quarterbacks in the history of the CFL Draft! This year is a classic case in point, as four kickers heard their name called compared to just one signal-caller. Its an instance that really marks how important kicking is in the Canadian game, perhaps more so than in the American variety due to having one less down.

Finally, we have the lone long-snapper selected in 2020, UBC’s Tom Schnitzler, going in the 8th-round to the Tigercats. Schnitzler was also listed at defensive line, but going this late likely means he’s positioned for a long-time role as a snapping-specialist. Which is by no means a bad thing, considering long-snappers have had some of the longest careers for Canadian players. Or even look down South, where one of the greatest Canadian NFL players ever, L.P Ladouceur, is still long-snapping for the Cowboys at age 39!

Trends, Notes and Storylines

Jordan Williams (#7) playing for the University of East Carolina
Courtesy: ECU Athletics
  • NFL interest in prospects played a huge role: All players that were either selected in the 2020 NFL Draft or signed shortly-thereafter as undrafted free agents, fell out of the 1st-round entirely. This includes Notre Dame and recent Pittsburgh Steelers’ draft-pick Chase Claypool, who was ranked #2 in the CFL’s Scouting Bureau but went undrafted. The highest drafted of this group was Brown defensive lineman Michael Hoecht, who went at #10 overall as the first pick of the 2nd-round. With the NFL and CFL potentially beginning a season at the same time this year, maybe this deterred teams from taking players they know for sure they won’t get their hands on this coming year.
  • #1 overall pick LB Jordan Williams made the most of this weird offseason: A consensus was starting to build in the final weeks before the draft that Williams might be the first player selected, and sure enough, that’s exactly what happened. What a year for the former Eastern Carolina standout, who was out of football the past calendar year working at Amazon while gearing up for the CFL Regional Combine. He was able to attend said combine last month in Toronto, where he ran a 4.48 second 40-yard dash and posted a 39-inch vertical jump. These were clearly rare athletic traits in the eyes of scouts, and when paired with his excellent collegiate production, was enough to push him to the top of this draft class.
  • New Als’ GM Danny Maciocia took some swings: As we mentioned previously about draft-eligible players with NFL interest, there were no such players taken in the 1st-round. However, the Alouettes, led by a former USports coach in Maciocia, didn’t have a 1st-rounder this season. Despite this, Montreal spent their highest two picks on two players currently signed to NFL rosters in DB Marc-Antoine Dequoy (#14) and OL Carter O’Donnell (#22). Interesting calls by Montreal, who risks not having an immediate young contributor from their draft class next season. That being said, it will be a worthwhile gamble if Dequoy and O’Donnell do take their talents home within the next few seasons as they are arguably the best players in the entire draft at their respected positions.
  • Very few trades on draft night: It seems strange saying this in a draft that included a trade-up for the #1 overall pick, but there wasn’t a ton of trade activity on Thursday night. The BC Lions traded up from the #3 slot to get Calgary’s #1 pick, while their selections in the 2nd-round flipped. Other than that, there wasn’t a single draft-night deal. This mirrors what occurred in last week’s NFL Draft, where there we far fewer trades than normal. This is likely due to the lack of communication and “groupthink” that is usually developed among team scouting departments from the countless hours spent meeting with prospects and narrowing their exact list of players down to a few key targets. That is typically what encourages a team to pursue trade-up options.

The Surprises

Ottawa’s Alain Pae (#90), playing against the Queen’s Gales
Credit: Ottawa Sun Tony Caldwell/PostMedia

Round 1, Pick 2: TOR WR Dejon Brissett, Virginia

It was surprising to see Brissett get taken so early, not because he isn’t a talented player, but rather because of the lack of certainty regarding his recent performance. Brissett was a star for the Richmond Spiders in 2017, catching 63 passes for 896 yards and 7 touchdowns as a Junior. He was also a star at kick-returner. Brissett missed most of his senior season in 2018 due to injury before transferring up to the FBS level with the University of Virginia in his fifth collegiate season. He struggled to get on the field with the Cavaliers after struggling with a camp injury, appearing in 12 games and only managing 2 catches for 18 yards. His recent history didn’t deter the Toronto Argonauts, who selected him with the second pick on draft night despite the injury and recent signs of not producing. Brissett is definitely athletic enough to play in the league, and I like his potential in the return game, but I thought there were higher-floor and more consistent prospects available to Toronto.

Round 1, Pick 9: TOR Theren Churchill, Regina

A big shock to end the 1st-round, as Churchill was seen as a middle-tier lineman in most mock-drafts. In fact, he was perceived as a mid-to-late round pick in very recent mocks on CFL.ca and 3DownNation. Yet the Argonauts decided they loved Churchill, and after doing some general scouting after he was picked, you can see why. He is a very technically sound lineman that isn’t too flashy but is strong at the point of attack. Being seen as a realistic prospect to immediately report to the team probably didn’t hurt either.

Round 2, Pick 4: EDM DL Alain Pae, Ottawa

In any usual year, this pick would have been the shock of the draft. Pae has quite the story. He only began playing organized american football at the age of 22 in Prague, Czech Republic. He played well in his two seasons there and decided that he wanted to transfer to the University of Ottawa to finish his academic studies. He has been out of football for over two years as he was working on continuing his career as a designated CFL Global player. When the COVID-19 struck he was finally able to apply for a Canadian passport that allowed him entry into the CFL Draft’s prospect pool. When this happened, no one had Pae pegged any higher than a late-round pick, but he went in the 2nd-round on draft night. Reportedly, he has ran a 4.65 40-yard dash as a defensive lineman, which is rare athleticism you don’t usually see in too many draft-eligible players his size. This sure is a story for the ages, but it only gets beaten by our next pick.

Round 8, Pick 1: OTT OL Ketel Asse Laval

There’s something missing with the story behind Asse, an offensive lineman with prototypical size, length and strength. Coming from Laval, Canada’s premier football factory, there was significant scouting interest in the lineman as reflected in his ranking of 11th on the final edition of the CFL’s Scouting Bureau. With all of the NFL buzz around the prospects ahead of him and Asse not receiving one, a CFL team was bound to take him in the 1st-round, no? 2nd? 3rd? 4th?…Finally, in the 8th-round the Ottawa Redblacks drafted Asse. Something must be strange because everywhere I look he was highly regarded going into the night. Then I looked on the NFL’s list of best remaining undrafted free agents and who’s on the list? Asse. However, even if CFL teams got word that he was receiving NFL interest, that doesn’t explain him dropping this far, as all comparable cases in this class such as Carter O’Donnell (signed with the Indianapolis Colts..drafted in 3rd-Round of CFL Draft), all slipped but still got taken relatively high. There must be something of concern that CFL teams got word of, since there appears to be something missing here.

My Favourite Fits

Round 1, Pick 3: CAL DE Isaac Adeyemi-Berglund, Southeastern Louisiana

Calgary has an embarrassment of riches and continuity in many spots on their roster, and in going into this draft with the #1 pick, had a chance to put the cherry on top. I expected them to simply add another offensive lineman to their existing-core, but they made an interesting decision to trade down with the BC Lions to the #3 pick, while also swapping picks with the Lions in the 2nd. Adeyemi-Berglund, a standout edge rusher, was their selection with that #3 pick. The lineman from Darthmouth, Nova Scotia was a standout at Southeastern Louisiana over the past two seasons, accruing 15 sacks, 28 tackles for loss, and 6 forced fumbles in 33 games. When I study him, he is a smooth mover while having the production worthy of being considered the biggest playmaker at his position in the draft. I think Calgary has been the most stable CFL franchise over the past several years, particularly in their national talent development. The Stamps had the depth to make this pick and Adeyemi-Berglund should be an instant rotation-guy in his rookie season.

Round 1, Pick 6: OTT DB/LB Adam Auclair, Laval

I believed by the time I had watched the draft, after studying anything I could get my hands on about the top-prospects, that Auclair was the most bust-proof player in the draft class. That was because he does so many things, so well, that he is destined to find a role in the league. He moves considerably well for his size at six-foot-two, allowing for him to play defensive back or linebacker depending on the situation. His special teams highlights at Laval are actually some of his best, which signals to me that Ottawa will be able to ease him in on defense while still giving him plenty of playing time in the kicking game. Ultimately, I just don’t think there’s much chance of failure with Auclair and the ceiling is still so high based on the rare traits.

Round 2, Pick 6: BC QB Nathan Rourke, Ohio

Earlier, we noted that Rourke tied the CFL draft record for highest-drafted quarterback. He also ends up in a great situation, with a clear chance for a primary back-up job with the Lions behind Mike Reilly. This will give Rourke a chance to adjust back to the Canadian game after playing the last four years in the NCAA. The plight of the Canadian quarterback in the CFL is something that plenty has been written about, but Rourke has the chance to break the mold if he keeps hitting benchmarks in his development year after year. If he ends up seeing playing time anytime soon, the Lions have a talented group of pass-catchers on both the American and Canadian side for the Oakville native to throw to.

Round 3, Pick 7: HAM WR Tyler Ternowski, Waterloo

Here’s a pick that hits home for me, as I was once high school teammates with Ternowski in Hamilton, Ontario. I would have enjoyed Ternowski, one of the most productive OUA receivers in recent memory, getting drafted by anyone, but the fact that he goes to back to his hometown is quite the bonus. The Waterloo product brings 26 career touchdowns with him to Hamilton, who instantly adds a talented prospect to their thin national depth at receiver. Though I thought he should have been selected a little earlier, I was very happy to see him fall back to the Hammer at #27.

Round 3, Pick 8: TOR OL Dylan Giffen, Western

I was genuinely shocked to see the six-foot-eight, 346 lbs Giffen last until pick 28. The Western Mustangs have done arguably the best job in all of the OUA at developing CFL talent, producing players such as Stampeders All-Star Guard Shane Bergman. When you watch Giffen’s best plays, when he’s able to land his punches on the defender, you see how well Giffen’s play strength really is. Perhaps CFL teams viewed the former Mustang as someone with less than adequate foot-speed to play tackle, but I see him as one of the better guard prospects in this draft and one that could end up playing pretty early if the need arises. Great pick here by Toronto.