CFL Pass

Canadians in the NFL Draft: Five who could get called

We’re now just nine days out from the 2016 NFL Draft – well past time to consider which Canadian players could be playing south of the border this upcoming season.

Last year’s Canadian NFL draft class included a handful of high-potential prospects, led by Christian Covington and Tyler Varga, who ultimately landed with the Houston Texas and Indianapolis Colts, respectively. Whose names will CFLpass be waiting to hear on NFL Draft Day(s) – or perhaps seeing in the news shortly thereafter as receiving a undrafted-FA contract? Read on!

WR Tevaun “The Canadian Missile” Smith is definitely the headliner among Canada’s prospective NFL draftees this year. A native of Toronto, Smith graduated out of a Connecticut private school to join the University of Iowa in 2012. By 2014, Smith’s 596 receiving yards were enough to lead the Hawkeyes and earn himself an honorable mention for the All Big-Ten team at season’s end.

Smith entered his senior year as a Top 200 NFL Draft prospect and turned in a soid season for Iowa with 30 receptions for 546 yards and three TDs, including an 85-yarder which represents the longest pass play in Hawkeyes history.

As of this writing, Smith is generally forecast to be going as high as the fifth or sixth round, but weak quarterback play throughout his stint at Iowa have watered down his statistics. On the other hand, Smith reportedly turned in a quite good performance at Iowa’s “Pro Day,” turning in a 4.33 in the 40-yard dash, a favorable showing in comparison with the speedsters invited to the NFL rookie combine in February and prompting the NFL Draft specialists at Walter Football to comment that “Smith caught the ball well in drills and is a sleeper who just needs proper coaching to translate his athletic ability into football production.”

And last month, Smith was quoted by TSN.ca as currently “tempering draft expectations” after his Pro Day show – an enviable spin to have to make to media which shows some quiet confidence. In the same interview, he revealed that the Houston Texans had given him a workout in February.

Big defensive linemen are always in demand on either side of the border, and Canada’s produced two that are getting consideration from NFL scouts going into this year’s draft:

DT Mehdi Abdesmad of Boston College and DE David Onyemata out of Manitoba.

Abdesmad saw limited action for the BC Eagles in both 2013 and ’14, which had certainly dropped him on most prospect lists before he turned in an outstanding season for the Eagles; in said senior year, the Montreal native amassed a big 5½ sacks and 15 tackles for loss, though at least one source’s scouting report isn’t taking much for granted there: The CBS Sports book on Abdesmad reckons that “He’s not the threat off the edge that his [2015 season stats] would suggest” and that he’s “projecting best as a developmental five-tech defensive end in a traditional 3-4 scheme.” (Are you listening, Indianapolis Colts…? San Diego Chargers…?)

Happily for Canadian football fans, even should Abdesmad not land with an NFL team – and he’s reportedly met with 10 US clubs, incidentally – for 2016, we’re still likely to see him suiting up for professional ball this season. “I think the first goal of every kid [playing football] is to go to the NFL,” he told the Montreal Gazette, “but the CFL is still a pro league and you still have a chance to call yourself a pro and football is still your job.” In addition, playing for his hometown Alouettes “would be great.”

After playing college ball at Manitoba, David Onyemata got lots more attention for his nice work in the East-West Shrine Game. No less a source than NFL.com’s Michael Mayock wrote up the 300-pounder as “raw” but undeniably possessed of “talent and movement skills, and some team is going to want to develop that” after the January showcase.

Also at NFL.com, Daniel Jeremiah named Onyemata a top-five player during Shrine week, enthusing that “He has a big frame and he has some shock in his hands. We've seen Canadian players [such as Akiem Hicks, a third-round pick in 2012, making him the second-highest draftee from a CIS school in NFL history] vault up draft boards because of their performance at this game. He could be the next one.”

He could just be: Onyemata generally wowed scouts from 18 NFL teams at a tryout in Winnipeg in early April. Though certainly biased, Manitoba Bisons head coach Brian Dobie stated at the event stated that Onyemata’s “numbers throughout the day have been crazy.”

University of Calgary’s Sean McEwen also started in this year’s Shrine Game, parlaying his team there into an invite to an NFL regional combine in March. The big news on this former Dino center is his status as one of the few draft-eligible players who has NFL experience – well, sort of.

After being declared eligible for the 2015 NFL Draft following a fourth year at Calgary, McEwen did not have his name called but was invited to the New York Giants mini-camp. However, in not signing a professional contract and not making the Giants’ roster, McEwen returned to university for a fifth year; he’s recently been deemed eligible for draft selection again this year.

We’ll see if McEwen’s solid play in the Shrine Game plus a respectable turn at the combine gets him taken in the first seven rounds this season, but this might be a bit of a long shot after being skipped over in ’15. CFLpass certainly wouldn’t be surprised if the Giants game him yet another look with a camp invite, given their seriously woeful offensive line play last season…

Finally, who needs a punter? The Seattle Seahawks and Oakland Raiders are likely looking to make upgrades at this position, as the teams became to first ever to visit University of British Columbia players in a scouting capacity, checking out punter/PK Quinn van Gylswyk and interestingly-named linebacker Terrell Davis.

While Davis probably did not show enough to attract draft interest from the NFL guys, it’s hard to imagine van Gylswyk, the CIS’s leading punter in 2015, going unemployed this season. While drafting a punter is quite rare, van Gylswyk should definitely get his opportunities beginning either with a post-draft camp invite or a selection on CFL Draft Day.

– written by Os Davis