We've discussed the shadow of the NFL and the impact the southern league's draft has on the CFL's own draft many times before, but it's an issue that always provides new test cases. One of the most notable this year is Regina Rams' defensive lineman Stefan Charles, who was ranked second in the CFL Scouting Bureau's final prospect list last week, but is aiming for the NFL. The NFL's draft started Thursday and runs through Saturday (rounds two and three start Friday night at 6:30 p.m. Eastern, with the following rounds held Saturday) and CFL executives will be keeping a close eye on it to see if and when potential CFL players are drafted. Most of those players are guys at NCAA schools who are already on the NFL's radar, but Charles is a rare case who's drawing significant NFL interest out of CIS. As Lowell Ullrich writes, it seems quite likely he's going be picked:
At least seven NFL teams have inquired or sought game tape on Charles, who participated in the league’s recent super-regional combine in Dallas, where one in four players on average are eventually signed. Several pre-draft publications project Charles as a rush end in a 3-4 defence.
“I’ve seen interest level pretty high in Canadians, but never something quite like this,” said Montreal-based agent Darren Gill, who represents Charles in Canada.
There are a few notable things about Charles. For one, he has raw size (Ullrich's piece lists him as 6'4'', 328 pounds). Size can be critical on the line, as Sports Illustrated's Austin Murphy recently explored, but it's crucial to have power and agility as well. Charles didn't blow people away with his CFL combine results, finishing in the middle of the pack at his position at most drills, but he's much bigger than most of those players. His results were more than respectable given his size, and that size gives him a much better NFL shot than your typical Canadian defensive lineman. Most defensive ends in CIS and the CFL are well under 300 pounds, and while tackles tend to be north of the 300 pound line, most aren't by much. Famed Winnipeg defensive tackle Doug Brown generally played around 290 pounds, for example. Many CFL defensive ends who go to the NFL wind up converting to linebacker (see Cam Wake), and many tackles wind up switching to end. Charles is a rare prospect who has the legitimate size to play end or perhaps even tackle in the NFL. Combine that with his skills, and he's an attractive target for NFL teams to take a look at.
Often, though, a player like Charles might well have been overlooked in the U.S. despite attributes that could put him on the NFL radar. There are so many U.S. football schools out there that scouting the CIS ranks isn't exactly a priority for most teams. Charles was on the right team at the right time, though. After some time in the junior football ranks in B.C., he landed in CIS with the Regina Rams. At Regina last year, he played with Akiem Hicks, the one-time LSU recruit who wound up in Canada after a few stops and was eventually taken 89th overall by the New Orleans Saints in the 2012 NFL draft. Hicks also played on the defensive line, and when scouts came to see him or watched his tape, they also happened to notice the impressive presence of Charles beside him. That caused teams to think about Charles too, and that could well result in him being picked in the NFL draft at some point over the next couple of days.
Of course, this isn't going to help Charles' CFL draft stock. Much like top-ranked prospect Bo Lokombo (who plays at Oregon and plans to enter the 2014 NFL draft), interest from south of the border means Charles likely won't be one of the top picks in this year's CFL draft despite his potential. Unlike Lokombo, CFL teams will have a clear idea of how much southern interest there is in Charles following the NFL's draft, but even if he isn't chosen in that draft and only signs as an undrafted free agent, there may be good reason to not pick him high. Charles is more of a project in the NFL's eyes than a ready-to-go player at this point, so if a team does pick him up, they're likely to hang on to him for at least a few years and see what they have. Thus, Charles will certainly be picked in the CFL draft, but he's likely to go in one of the later rounds as a futures pick on the off-chance he doesn't stick in the NFL.
Charles' size is such an important factor here, too. There aren't many guys well over 300 pounds with the athleticism to play defensive end, so that further boosts his value to the NFL. A CIS-to-NFL story certainly isn't common, but it has happened with players like Israel Idonije and Cory Greenwood. If Charles does wind up in the NFL, that's further evidence of the improving level of CIS play and Canadian football talent in general. Like the picks of Hicks, Greenwood and others before him, too, Charles' selection could get NFL teams to look at CIS more and more. The NFL interest in Charles is additional proof that football in this country has come a long way, and that there are players here who are worthy of serious consideration by that league.