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Forde: The CFL Draft Day Plot Thickens

Duane Forde
3/27/2009 12:04:57 PM
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The path from the Evaluation Camp to Draft Day is hardly a straight line for CFL teams and the prospects who are vying for their attention. Here are a few of the twists and turns to emerge in recent weeks.

- Help Is On The Way -

Even those in Canadian football's inner circle can be forgiven if they're not overly familiar with two of the fastest rising prospects for the upcoming CFL Draft. You see, the CFL drafts only non-import players and, as a result, the vast majority of the nearly 800 players eligible to be selected were raised in Canada. However, Toronto-born wide receiver Spencer Armstrong (Air Force) and Winnipeg native Zac Carlson (Weber State), an offensive lineman, are exceptions to the norm, having spent much of their youth living in Nevada and California respectively. Both individuals qualify as non-imports by virtue of having lived in the Great White North for at least seven years before their fifteenth birthdays and, in a year where the league's draft pool is a little on the shallow side, CFL teams couldn't be happier about it.

Each is among the top prospects at his position, and recent events have caused the stock of both to see a sudden spike.

In Armstrong's case, he was granted non-import status and added to the league's draft eligibility list in January. At that time, he was also offered an invitation to audition in front of CFL scouts at the Evaluation Camp. Unfortunately, that invitation was withdrawn when the teams learned that he has two year military commitment upon graduation from the U.S. Air Force Academy this spring which will render him unavailable until the 2011 season (the clubs voted to replace him with a prospect who would be immediately available). However, with a strong performance at Air Force's Pro Day on March 16, Armstrong served notice that he could be well worth the wait. He posted the following scores in physical testing:

- 40 yard Dash: 4.59 seconds (would've ranked third among receivers at the CFL E-Camp)
- 20-yard Shuttle: 4.04 seconds (first)
- Vertical Jump: 38" (first)
- Broad Jump: 10' 4" (second, by ¼")
- 3 Cone Drill: 6.67 seconds (this test isn't performed at the CFL E-Camp but, to provide a frame of reference, this is the fourth fastest time recorded at any NCAA Pro Day so far this year)

Carlson, on the other hand, doesn't have such gaudy Pro Day numbers benefitting his cause. In fact, he didn't even participate in Weber State's March 10 Pro Day because, until about ten days ago, he was planning to return to school this fall to play as a fifth-year senior.

However, a call from the NCAA informing him that he would be denied his final year of eligibility has resulted in a change of plans. The silver lining to this dark cloud is that CFL clubs will look to draft Carlson earlier now that they won't have to wait until 2010 before they can get him under contract. As one of only two offensive linemen from NCAA Division 1 programs in this entire draft class (Indiana State's Bill McGrath is the other), Carlson had already attracted considerable attention, and, coming on the heels of a very average showing by the O-Linemen at the E-Camp, news of his immediate availability could be enough to vault Carlson into the first round on Draft Day. However, one more obstacle stands between him and the goal of being drafted at all, as he's still in the process of applying to receive non-import status from the CFL and CFL Players Association.

- On The Road To Recovery -

With two years as a starter in a Division 1 program, redshirt junior defensive back Eric Fraser (Central Michigan) has as impressive a resume as any player in the draft. That, combined with his 6'1", 201 lbs. frame and sub-4.5 speed over forty yards, had Fraser near the top of every team's draft board. At least that was the case prior to a broken ankle he suffered late last season. The Burnaby, British Columbia native had surgery to insert two pins in the injured ankle, casting doubt on his immediate football future. However, recent reports indicate that Fraser's recovery is ahead of schedule. In fact, the screws were removed from his ankle earlier this week and he should be at full speed by the time the Chippewas open training camp in August.

- Decisions, Decisions -

Wide receiver Caleb Clark (Western Michigan) spent his first year at WMU as a redshirt, meaning that he still has another year of NCAA eligibility. However, he will actually graduate this spring and that creates a number of options for both Clark and any team that drafts him.

The first two scenarios are straightforward with the converted quarterback either returning to play out his eligibility with the Broncos or leaving school upon graduation to seek CFL employment. From there, things get a little more complicated though, as Clark could also transfer to a CIS (Canadian) school, a move which would have multiple benefits. First of all, as a member of a CIS program, Clark could attend a CFL training camp this summer without jeopardizing his remaining eligibility. Furthermore, in the CIS, student athletes receive five years of eligibility and, because he has only used three years at WMU, Clark would be able to play two more years of university football instead of just one. This option could be of interest if Clark needs that time to hone his skills as a receiver after playing quarterback for his first three years down south. Academically, he could spend those two years working towards a Master's degree. Finally, if he fails to generate much CFL interest as a receiver or special teams player, the Cochrane, Alberta product could also choose to transfer to a CIS school for an opportunity to play quarterback.

Another Southern Albertan, wide receiver Cassidy Doneff (Washburn), is also playing a waiting game before deciding on his next move.

Doneff, the 2007 Canadian Junior Football League MVP, spent the '08 season at Washburn University of the NAIA but has applied to transfer to an NCAA Division 2 school, St. Cloud State. As a transfer student, the NCAA might rule that he has to sit out a year of football before he can play for his new school. If that's the case, then Doneff will forfeit his remaining U.S. college eligibility and report to the training camp of whatever CFL team drafts him. On the other hand, if the NCAA rules him eligible to play immediately at St. Cloud State then Doneff will put the CFL on hold to play his last two years of eligibility at the Minnesota school.

- Not So Fast -

He won't be eligible for the CFL Draft until 2011 but sophomore defensive lineman* Vaughn Martin (Western Ontario)* has been granted early entry to this year's NFL Draft. Martin recently worked out for scouts from that league and proved that he is not only a gifted football player but also a freakish athlete. For the sake of comparison, Martin bench pressed 225 lbs. 33 times, which is ten more reps than anyone did at this year's CFL E-Camp. As for his 20-yard shuttle time of 4.31 seconds, it matched the time posted by the quickest E-Camp defensive lineman, Stan Van Sichem (Regina), who weighs 100 lbs. less than the 6'3", 331 lbs. Martin. If he was eligible for this year's CFL Draft, Martin's rare combination of size, skill, strength, and quickness would likely make him the first overall selection. The irony is that, as much as this is a compliment to Martin, it also highlights the lack of “high end" depth in the Class of '09, as Martin wouldn't be such a clear a choice in the very impressive 2011 draft class. Martin works out for NFL scouts again on Friday.

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