Every year in the CFL people always talk about which guys they think could make an NFL roster, or how they worry their favorite player will leave their team for a shot at more money down south. Here is a list of the top 5 guys who I think have the best opportunity at making it in the NFL.
1. James Wilder Jr.
— TSN (@TSN_Sports) September 24, 2020
This one is probably the most obvious with Wilder trying to land an NFL opportunity last off-season, but being blocked by the Argos with a year left on his contract. Wilder brings a crazy double threat to every game being able to shred defences both on the ground and through the air.
After training camp stints with the Cincinnati Bengals and Buffalo Bills of the NFL, Wilder ended up signing with the Argos in 2017. He was a back-up, until starting running back Brandon Whitaker suffered an injury allowing Wilder to start his first CFL game on July 24, 2017.
Through 17 games in 2017 Wilder had 122 carries for 872 yards and 5 touchdowns; he also accrued 51 receptions for 533 yards with 467 of those being after the catch. In the 2017 playoffs he had a total of 135 offensive yards between the Eastern Final and Grey Cup with 1 rushing touchdown on his way to winning the Grey Cup.
In 6 games this year Wilder has 66 carries for 301 yards and 27 catches for 280 yards and a total of 3 TDs on the year.
At 6’3” and 232 lbs Wilder has an above average body size for a running back, allowing him to be a monster at running with power through the line while using his height to his advantage coming out of the backfield as a receiver. He is the perfect fit in-between a power back and a speedster who can catch out of the backfield. If given the opportunity to go down south I think he would find success.
The only question is whether that opportunity will come with the contract dispute of last offseason forbidding him to sign with an NFL team. In the end, he signed a 2-year extension with Toronto after threatening to sit out the 2018 season. Time will only tell but the potential is more than there for the 26-year old back.
2. Duron Carter
WOW. Duron Carter, son of Cris Carter pic.twitter.com/SGWTg5By2C
— Steelers Depot (@Steelersdepot) July 30, 2020
Duron Carter posses a versatility we haven’t seen from a professional football player since Deion Sanders. Being able to play both the WR and DB positions and to do them both very well is a skill not many, if any, own.
Carter came to the CFL after stints with Ohio State and Coffeyville Community College in Kansas before he tried to make it with the Alabama Crimson Tide and Florida Atlantic University, but never saw the field with the latter two.
He signed a contract with the Montreal Alouettes and through his first two years in Canada had over 1900 yards receiving and 12 touchdowns. Carter proved to be a playmaker; however, he came with some baggage. He would then sign with the Indianapolis Colts of the NFL in 2015 but never made it past the practice squad and was never offered a futures deal.
He then returned to the Al’s in 2016 where he fell 62 yards short of 1,000 receiving in just 14 games. Along with great numbers came more issues attitude-wise for Carter and Montreal resulting in his release.
Following his release, Carter signed a contract with the Saskatchewan Roughriders. In 2017 Carter played in all 18 regular season games, compiling 73 catches for 1,043 yards and 8 TDs. In two playoff games last year, Carter had 11 catches for 150 yards and 1 TD. He also had a pick-six on Bo Levi Mitchell and the Calgary Stampeders while playing DB during the regular season.
In 2018 his offensive numbers have taken a huge dip with him playing most of his games on the defensive side of the ball so far.
When on the offensive side of the ball DC_chillin is one of the most explosive offensive weapons in the game being able to stretch the field against any secondary. At 6’5” his height gives him the advantage in any jump ball situation. Add to that his above average speed and he can run past most defenders.
However, he doesn’t just use that height to score touchdowns. He can also use it to prevent them. When getting playing time at the defensive back position Carter has been known to shut down some of the better receivers in the league. He excels at uing his speed to bait QBs, allowing the WR to get a good release off the line tempting the QB to throw in that direction before Carter uses that speed to catch up and break up the pass or make the interception.
That being said, his technique has been rusty at times. With not being a natural corner, Carter has been burned deep a few times. You can question Chris Jones’ choice to take his best offensive playmaker off the field and play him at DB all you want, but Carter himself has shown he can manage on the corner spot. It would just be nice to have him tear up opposing defences as well.
Duron Carter possesses the build and all the talent to make it in the NFL, but his attitude and personality is something that could hinder him getting back there. At 27-years old he’s starting to see that window of opportunity close, especially if he can’t showcase his offensive ability as much. To be completely versatile you must show how you can play both positions, not just one.
3. Derel Walker
Mike Reilly and Derel Walker set a high bar on TDs this season 😳pic.twitter.com/71HaZOGVG6
— Yahoo Canada Sports (@YahooCASports) June 15, 2020
Walker has been one of the more dominant receivers in the CFL since breaking out in 2015. At 6’2” and 188 lbs he doesn’t possess a massive frame, but he has some height and speed and can always find an open spot in the secondary for Mike Reilly to hit, especially on the deep ball.
Walker was signed as an undrafted free-agent by the Tennessee Titans out of Texas A&M. He didn’t make it out of camp being released after the pre-season. He signed with the Eskimos in 2015 and never looked back.
In his first season in the CFL Walker had 89 catches for 1110 yards and 6 touchdowns becoming the most explosive weapon in the league on his way to winning a Grey Cup. In 2016 he blew those numbers off the map with staggering 109 receptions for 1589 yards and 10 TDs. A year like that will earn you some attention from the NFL.
Shortly after, it did as Walker signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Unfortunately, it didn’t last long. He only recorded 1 catch for 15 yards and was released before the regular season in September.
Since coming back from a quick stint with Tampa Bay, Walker hasn’t been as dominant as he once was finishing with just over 600 yards in 8 games last year. Through 6 games in 2018 has 31 catches for 463 yards and 4 TDs.
He may not be the same force he was when he first broke out, but he is still one of the top three best receivers in the league and with an actual shot down south could make an NFL roster. Like Carter he is 27-years old and has all the talent and build to make it, he just needs the opportunity and a fair one.
4. Adam Bighill
— Jefferson Steelflex (@PJG116) July 8, 2020
Adam Bighill is one of the most ferocious defenders I’ve ever seen in the CFL. The way he uses his body as a human missile on short yardage gains, and the way he’s become a tackling machine over his 7-year career is nothing short of astonishing.
After going undrafted in the NFL Draft out of Central Washington, Bighill spent six years with the B.C. Lions. In that time, he played in 99 games totalling 489 tackles 33 sacks and 8 interceptions. He also forced 8 fumbles and 69 special teams tackles.
He signed with the New Orleans Saints of the NFL in 2017 where he spent time between the active and practice roster. He did play in three regular season games for the Saints where he had one tackle. He was later released and signed by the Winnipeg BlueBombers where he has re-established himself as a force. In 7 games in 2018 he has 42 tackles and 2 interceptions, one which he took back for a pick-six.
At just 5’10” he uses all his 230 lbs in every violent hit he dishes out and can even come up with an interception or two at times. At 29-years old it doesn’t appear as though this 2011 Grey Cup Champ is slowing down any time soon, and even made a slight impact with the Saints in 2017 before being released.
He has the right tools, the perfect attitude and work ethic to make an NFL roster, but again will that opportunity come? He made a strong impression on the Saints and word gets around quickly in the football circle. He’s the exact type of guy NFL teams want in the locker room and if nothing else is the best kind of special teams player to have on a roster down south.
5. Eric Rogers
— TSN (@TSN_Sports) June 23, 2020
Eric Rogers is probably the one guy on this list who had the least opportunity in his stint down south, suffering a torn ACL in camp with the 49ers before being released. At 6’4” 215 lbs Rogers has the body and catch radius that makes a great receiver in any league.
After being signed and released by the Dallas Cowboys out of Cal Lutheran, Rogers spent some time in the Arena Football League where he put up 903 yards and 27 touchdowns before signing with the Calgary Stampeders.
Rogers is the most intriguing of anyone on this list because he has the least amount of game experience. He played in just two games in his first year in the league in 2014, making 9 catches for 149 yards and 2 TD’s. He had 5 catches for 108 yards in the Grey Cup on way to winning it all against the Tiger-Cats.
In 2015 he blew it up playing in 17 games totalling 87 receptions for 1448 yards and 10 TDs. He had 117 yards in the Western Final that year, but the Stamps fell short to the eventual Grey Cup Champion Edmonton Eskimos.
In 2016 he signed with the 49ers and spent the 2017 season rehabbing from the torn ACL before coming back to the Stamps in 2018. So far this year through 6 games he has 21 catches for 329 yards and 5 TDs.
He is the quintessential deep threat being able to go down field and come down with any jump ball, no matter how many defenders are draped all over him. In my opinion, he has the best opportunity out of anyone on this list to make it back to the NFL and stick, as he possesses the most skill and ability that can fit an NFL roster.
Willie Jefferson is the perfect size at 6’6” and 245 lbs for an edge rusher position in the NFL. He is a bit too slim to be a primary NFL defensive end, but he could easily line-up as a stand up rusher in a 3-4 defensive scheme and use that frame to break through offensive lines like has in his five-year CFL career.
Jefferson has 23 career sacks in the CFL and has forced 5 fumbles and was a dominant force with Edmonton where he recorded 6 sacks on his way to a Grey Cup Championship.
He spent some time in Washington’s training camp in 2016 but was released before the regular season reuniting him with Head Coach Chris Jones in Saskatchewan.
This is the most hyped name on the list as everyone is ready to see what Johnny Manziel can bring to the CFL. After having an explosive career at Texas A&M, Manziel was drafted in the first round by the Cleveland Browns.
Things never panned out in Cleveland however, as off the field issues and a lack of production on the field led to a shortened NFL career. Manziel is back on the grid iron after being out of the game for two years.
Manziel signed a contract with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and had a limited playing time in the pre-season where it looked like he could be a potential play-maker in this league. Johnny Football however never saw any playing time in the first six weeks of the season.
Hamilton then traded Manziel to the Montreal Alouettes for veterans Chris Williams and Jamaal Westerman as well as two first round picks. Having just been traded a week ago, Manziel did not see action in this past week’s game against Edmonton.
Manziel not seeing any playing time on a CFL field is what lands him on the Honourable Mentions list. It’s impossible to say he can make it back to the NFL without him playing a snap in the CFL. His skillset of having a strong arm and being able to run could lead to success in the CFL, however typically that is not the type of thing that lands you an NFL contract.
Time will tell if Manziel will be what everyone is hoping for up here and whether that will lead him back to the NFL. If he showcases what he did at the Collegiate level one thing is for sure. It will be very exciting.
This is the name most people will probably disagree with. The statistical numbers aren’t there for Chris Rainey. He only has a career 684 rushing yards and 1046 receiving yards in the CFL.
He does however have over 7,000 special teams yards. He’s a kick and punt return beast averaging a little over 12 yards per punt return a year and around 25 yards per kickoff a year over his 5-year CFL career.
He hasn’t had an opportunity in the NFL yet but his explosiveness in the return game as well as being an explosive runner and weapon out of the backfield could earn him an audition down south with the right club.
At 5’8” 180 lbs he could be the perfect fit as a change of pace back for a power-running team in the NFL who can also be used on special teams.
The former Notre Dame Irishmen spent the 2016 season on the practice rosters of the Vikings and Patriots before signing with the Stampeders in 2016. Daniels is an explosive receiver who has a solid frame at 6’2” 205 lbs and can move down the field with speed.
He’s the perfect slant and go, YAC yard type of receiver, putting up over 800 yards in his rookie year en route to winning the ROY award. He has yet to have a 1,000-yard receiving season, but in just two years and six games this year he has 141 YAC yards and 2 TD’s.
At just 25-years old, Daniels has a lot of upside and his sure-fire hands and speed is all an NFL receivers coach could want in a player. Not breaking the 1,000-yard mark in a season is what lands him as an honourable mention list but he could change that soon.
D’haqullie “Duke” Williams
At 6’3” and 225 lbs Williams much like the other names on this list is the perfect type for an NFL WR. In his rookie year in 2017 he had 46 receptions for 715 yards and 4 TDs. It’s not just the numbers for Williams, it’s the way he goes up and gets the ball.
Duke always plays the ball at it’s high-point and can make plays after the catch. He had 163 YAC yards in 2017 and already passed that this year with 194. He’s also almost passed his total receiving yards through 6 games this year, and almost at 1,000 with a league leading 672 receiving yards.
Duke Williams has had limited CFL experience only playing in 13 games last year and has shown a few attitude issues in his young career which is what keeps him off the main list. If he can stay focused and keep producing at the pace he is in 2018, there will be a plethora of NFL teams knocking on the door to offer an audition.
While I hate to think of the CFL as a stepping stone for players to make it to the NFL it’s exciting to see them succeed on the bigger stage. I think the CFL is better than just an audition league.
However, I do enjoy seeing these guys have all the hard work pay off in the form of NFL careers. I hope all these players have historic CFL careers but would love to see them become stars in the NFL, knowing where they started and what helped get them there.
The Canadian Football League.