In September, the CFL's Amateur Scouting Bureau released its list of the Top Ten CIS prospects for the 2009 Canadian Draft. However, much like talking about the NHL Draft without considering the Europeans, the picture would be incomplete without a look at those Canadian prospects playing college football south of the border.
Two factors that heavily influence CFL scouts' perceptions of a draft class are the number and quality of NCAA-trained players, and the relative depth at the offensive line position. The 2008 Draft hit a homerun on both counts, as it featured ten offensive linemen from Division 1 programs. In stark contrast, the Class of '09 only contains eleven NCAA players in total. Of those eleven, only two are offensive linemen, and they both play at the Division 1-AA level. A very ordinary NCAA class to start with, this group also lost several players to injury, transfers back to Canada, and other academic or career pursuits over the course of their four-year college football journey. Despite that lack of overall depth, there are still some very good prospects, particularly at the usually tough to find defensive back position. So, without any further ado, here's a look at the draft-eligible Canadians in the NCAA.
1. Eric Fraser (defensive back, Central Michigan, 6'1", 201 lbs.) - Fraser possesses three traits that make him as much of a sure thing as there is in the Class of 2009. The first is his speed, which ranks him as the fastest player in the draft. The second is his experience, as the redshirt junior will be the only prospect in the '09 class with two years as a Division 1 starter on his résumé going into the draft. In fact, Fraser will still have another year of NCAA eligibility left after this season, so he'll likely have three years as a starter under his belt by the time he arrives in the CFL. The third key trait is his versatility, which allowed him to start games at three different secondary positions last season. He has also been a wide receiver and kick returner during his career at CMU. That flexibility will be a valuable asset in the CFL, given the multiple personnel packages employed by most defences.
2. Tang Bacheyie (defensive back, Kansas, 6'1", 215 lbs.) - Despite the nagging injuries that have limited Bacheyie's playing time over the last couple of seasons, the converted running back has earned a reputation as a physical player. That aggressiveness, along with his 215-pound frame could allow him to move to linebacker in the CFL. While his relative lack of game experience and history of injuries may be of concern, Bacheyie has two other factors working in his favour. The first is the high level of competition that he has faced over the last four years, both within the Jayhawk program and throughout the Big Twelve Conference. The second is the fact that he has never redshirted and will therefore be available immediately to the team that drafts him.
3. Zac Carlson (offensive lineman, Weber State, 6'4", 300 lbs.) - It may surprise some people to find Zac Carlson's name among the top prospects for the CFL Draft, considering that he calls San Jacinto, California home. However, the Wildcats' starting right tackle spent the first eight years of his life in Winnipeg, which qualifies him as a non-import. As word of his Canadian roots spreads, Carlson will attract his share of attention from CFL scouts because he is one of only two NCAA offensive linemen eligible for the 2009 CFL Draft. Carlson has another Canadian connection as well, having previously backed up current Calgary Stampeder Dmitri Tsoumpas, the second overall pick in the 2008 Canadian Draft, when the latter was at Weber State.
4. Eric Lee (running back, Weber State, 5'11", 230 lbs.) - He goes by the last name Lee but was born Eric Acheampong in the African nation of Ghana. He grew up in Ontario, completed high school in New Mexico, and attended a junior college in Arizona before arriving at Weber State University in Utah. And, as interesting as his story is off the field, it's what Eric Lee brings to the gridiron that has scouts talking. At 230 pounds, Lee, who also ran track at the juco level, is the fastest player on the WSU roster. That combination of size and speed should allow him to contribute at fullback and tailback in a CFL offence.
5. Tristan Black (linebacker, Wayne State, 6'3", 243 lbs.) - While the fact that a player from a Division 2 program is one of the top five NCAA prospects definitely speaks to the lack of depth in this draft class, that shouldn't take away from the positive attributes possessed by Tristan Black. A strong and athletic All-Star in one of D2's toughest conferences, he should be physically able to compete at the next level. Black is also a team captain and fourth-year starter, who will be 25 by Draft Day, so he should have the maturity to make the step up as well.
6. Ryan Hinds (defensive back, New Hampshire, 6'1", 190 lbs.) - Hinds is following in the footsteps of current Montreal Alouette Etienne Boulay, starting at cornerback for the Wildcats. With CFL teams using non-imports to play the wide side cornerback position, or seeking free safeties who can cover receivers man-to-man, Hinds' coverage skills will be an asset at the next level. He is a redshirt junior and, therefore, has another year of NCAA eligibility remaining.
7. Bill McGrath (offensive lineman, Indiana State, 6'5", 275 lbs.) - McGrath began his NCAA career at Temple as a tight end, however, his quest for playing time led him to change both his school and his position. He earned a starting job at tackle for the Sycamores in '07, but injuries have hampered his progress this season. As a redshirt, he'll have another year of eligibility in which he could further establish himself but rumblings have him bypassing his final year for the right CFL opportunity. While the injuries and resulting lack of PT may work against him on Draft Day, the success of his older brother, Edmonton OT Joe McGrath, his willingness to turn pro immediately, and his ability to handle long snapping duties could be enough to temper that.
8. Martin Bedard (tight end, Connecticut, 6'3", 239 lbs.) - While Bedard has played a little bit at tight end for the Huskies, his primary role has been as the team's long snapper. That skill should be enough to earn him a look from the CFL, especially given the importance of the kicking game in three down football.
9. Matt Lambros (wide receiver, Liberty, 6'3", 210 lbs.) - Projected as the Flames' third wideout going into season, Lambros' involvement in the offence has been limited so far this season, largely due to a hand injury. Nonetheless, with his size and speed, he could emerge as a sleeper in this relatively shallow draft pool.
10. Caleb Clark (wide receiver, Western Michigan, 6'2", 212 lbs.) - Clark spent his first three seasons at Western Michigan as a quarterback before moving to wide receiver this year. He has seen very limited action thus far but, as a redshirt junior, has another year of eligibility to further hone his receiving skills and special teams play.
11. Chris Parris (defensive end, Charleston Southern, 6'4", 240 lbs.) - Although he doesn't start, Parris, a redshirt junior, is a part of the Buccaneers' D-Line rotation. While he could play a larger role on defence next year, the former Liberty transfer's best chance of making the CFL will be as a special teamer.
Note: There are at least three more Canadian-born players in the NCAA who may (or may not) receive non-import status between now and the CFL's Evaluation Camp. Stay tuned.