Monday, May 4, 2015

Eyes Light Up as Varga, Bridge Go Undrafted

Christian Covington was unsurprisingly the first Canadian-born prospect selected in the NFL draft this year. No one predicted he would also be the only.

The son of the CFL's all-time sack-leader Grover Covington, Christian played his college ball at Rice University and fell to the Houston Texans in the sixth round, 216th overall. The 6'2", 289-pound Junior ranked 1st overall in the CFL's annual scouting bureau and headlined a talented pool of Canadians eligible for the NFL draft.

Behind Covington in the rankings include Senior Bowl standout Tyler Varga of Yale, intriguing Quarterback Brandon Bridge of South Alabama, Offensive Tackle Brett Boyko of UNLV and Centre Alex Mateas out of UCONN. Shockingly, none of these Canadian-born stars had their name called during the NFL draft.

Varga (Colts) and Boyko (Eagles) were both snatched up immediately following the completion of the seventh and final round of the draft with undrafted free agent contracts. Bridge, surprisingly, settled to attend the Dallas Cowboys' rookie mini-camp despite being projected to be drafted sometime during day three.

Meanwhile, eight other (and counting) NCAA and CIS Canadian prospects- Mateas, Sukh Chungh, Sean McEwen, Lemar Durant, Jacob Ruby, Byron Archambault, Tevaughn Campbell and Daryl Waud- have all accepted NFL mini-camp invites.

All the mini-camp invites given to projected early-round CFL draft prospects show that NFL teams are keeping an eye on what's going on up north of the border. As a result, one big question suddenly looms: How will the large amount of NFL attention for CIS stars (and lack thereof for NCAA stars like Varga and Bridge) affect their CFL draft stocks as the draft approaches on May 12th?

Since the majority of the projected first round prospects will all be off to NFL mini-camps just before the CFL draft May 12th, it now becomes equally as risky for a team to alter their draft board based on the mini-camp invites than it is to keep it the same since most projected 1st-rounders received an invite.  The best bet for CFL teams may just be to leave their draft board (minus Varga and Bridge) as mini-camp invites don't mean anything unless the player is awarded a contract following the three day activity.
Unfortunately, possible contracts following the rookie camp may not be signed until after the completion of the CFL draft, therefore it doesn't seem smart for teams to try and predict who will receive a contract and who won't. Their best move may be to stick to their originally rankings formed by game-tape and combine performances, not minor NFL interest. Of course, teams that can't afford to wait a few months for their draft pick if they do in fact quickly earn a contract prior to May 12th will need to have a backup plan in place.

As for the three NCAA players who were expected to be drafted only to have to settle for a UDFA contract, their CFL draft stocks are surely on the rise.

Yale's Tyler Varga was originally projected to be a late-third, early-fourth round CFL selection due to NFL interest. After seeing Varga fail to be drafted down south, it wouldn't be surprising if a CFL team took the bruising runningback as early as the second round.

Varga, who missed the NFL combine due to injury, may only make it as far as training camp before being without an NFL contract. He may also have a stint (or more) as a solid special team player awaiting him. The latter of the two seems more likely, although it still makes more sense now for a CFL club to invest an early round pick in a potential ratio-changing back that could be an even better version of Jon Cornish.
Bridge, meanwhile, received his own fair share of hype following his final year of eligibility at South Alabama University. Dubbed an "intriguing, raw developmental project with potential" by NFL scouts, the Mississauga native was expected to surely be selected in the sixth or seventh round.

Up here in Canada, Bridge likely would have gone in a similar round during the CFL draft. Not anymore though, as Bridge will have to prove himself in mini-camp before he can hope to join Dallas' Quarterback group that already includes 2 undrafted free agents. Bridge's chance of making the Dallas Cowboys aren't looking as good as the could've had he been drafted.
In a league where we haven't seen a Canadian dominate the quarterback position since Russ Jackson in the '60s, Bridge going undrafted has helped his case on why a team should snatch up the most talented QB we've seen in awhile during the middle rounds of the CFL draft on May 12th.

Although Canada only ended up producing one NFL draft pick in 2015, it's quite evident Canadian football players are gathering more attention than ever from our neighbours' NFL teams down south.
And while it's helps build a good reputation for the country, it only complicates things for our own CFL teams. How they approach this situation will be hard to predict and interesting to observe; Good luck to those creating mock drafts this year!

As for the coaches and general managers around the league, knowing the Canadian you're drafting is good enough to be apart of an NFL team can't necessarily be a bad problem, though. Let's see how it all plays out.

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