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Record-breaking CanCon in NFL draft is good for Canadian football, not as much for the CFL

Boise State's Tyrone Crawford (40, left) tries to stop Air Force's Asher Clark in a 2011 game.

This week's NFL draft may have been the most international version ever, and Canadian talent was a big part of that. Three Canadian players were chosen, the most-ever in a single draft, and the draft also saw the selections of a German, an Englishman and an American who played CIS football. Moreover, at least two further vaunted CFL prospects had signed with NFL teams as undrafted free agents by Sunday afternoon. While the depth of NFL interest in Canadian players this year is a good indication of the rising calibre of this country's football talent, it's also concerning for the CFL, at least in the short term. These NFL deals seem likely to ensure that these players won't be around for at least the first part of this year's CFL season, and that will dilute the talent pool of available Canadian players. It's not a crisis yet, as that pool is still quite deep and some of these guys may even be added back to it a year or two down the road if they crash out of the NFL, but this will pose some significant challenges for CFL teams.

The three Canadians who were drafted may be the most notable losses for the CFL. Boise State defensive end Tyrone Crawford, who was taken by the Dallas Cowboys in the third round (81st overall), was ranked as the top prospect for Thursday's upcoming CFL draft in the CFL Scouting Bureau's April list (a collection of teams' rankings), while Baylor offensive lineman Philip Blake (taken by the Denver Broncos in the fourth round, 108th overall) was a hot prospect in last year's CFL draft and only fell to 23rd overall (the third round) thanks to worries about his NFL chances. The third CFL non-import drafted, Georgia State defensive tackle Christo Bilukidi (taken in the sixth round by the Oakland Raiders, 189th overall), was ranked as the sixth-highest CFL prospect in that April list. Blake and Crawford are likely in the NFL for at least a few years given the rounds they were taken in, and Bilukidi may follow suit if he's able to make an impression with the Raiders. Thus, don't expect to see them in CFL colours any time soon.

The two notable Canadian players chosen as undrafted free agents will also likely be significantly missed, though. That would be Montana kicker Brody McKnight, who signed a deal with the New York Jets, and Virginia offensive lineman Austin Pasztor, who signed with the Minnesota Vikings. McKnight was selected in the first round of last year's CFL draft (eighth overall) by the Montreal Alouettes, while Pasztor was the fourth-ranked player on that April list of prospects for this year's draft. Undrafted free agency signings don't ensure that players will still have a job once the season starts, but many undrafted players go on to make notable NFL impacts, and this has often been the case for northern prospects: Canadians who have signed as undrafted free agents and currently remain on NFL rosters include the Chicago Bears' Israel Idonije, the Seattle Seahawks' Jon Ryan, the Kansas City Chiefs' Cory Greenwood, the Dallas Cowboys' Louis-Philippe Ladouceur, the Pittsburgh Steelers' Shaun Suisham, the Miami Dolphins' Jamaal Westerman and Jerome Messam and the Cleveland Browns' Matt O'Donnell. Undrafted free agents will have an easier time catching on this year, too, as the lockout's no longer in the way, so McKnight and Pasztor could be playing south of the border for the foreseeable future as well.

Curiously, the story from this draft that may be the best for Canadian football as a whole is about an American. That would be defensive tackle Akiem Hicks, a California native who played CIS football at the University of Regina following his involvement in a recruiting scandal at LSU. Hicks' selection by the New Orleans Saints in the third round (89th overall) should help to boost the profile of CIS football, and it may lead to more American players considering CIS as a viable alternative. Furthermore, Hicks isn't a massive loss to the CFL, as he would count as an American import there (the rule is based on how much time a player spent in Canada before age 18); he could still wind up playing north of the border eventually, but the supply of import talent is much deeper, so it will be easier to find someone else who can take his place.

Overall, it's not like the CFL needs to panic over this. While it's unprecedented to see three Canadians drafted in a single year, it just goes to show the improving quality of the Canadian talent pool, and that's a very good thing for the league overall. Sure, the NFL may snap up some players here and there, but there are lots of other capable Canadians out there, and Hicks' selection demonstrates that CIS football's getting to a point where the quality of competition is very good. These selections will make things harder for some teams, especially heading into Thursday's draft, where they'll have to decide if it's worth gambling a pick on a NFL-bound guy and hoping he comes north some time, or if they should go with a safer option who's guaranteed to be available. Still, they're generally a good indication that there's a lot of solid Canadian talent out there, and that bodes very well for the league's future, even if these particular players may not wind up in the CFL any time soon.

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