The CFL's annual draft is always notable, as it's the primary method by which new Canadian talent enters the league. As Saskatchewan general manager Brendan Taman said afterwards, though, "It's rare you can go in and get a guy who can make an impact right away." Most players take a few years to develop into contributors at the CFL level, and this year in particular has seen some of the few who might have been players with an immediate impact decide they're going to return to the CIS ranks. However, there still are some picks from this year's draft who may provide notable returns for their CFL teams this year. Here's a look at five of them:
—Shamawd Chambers, receiver, Edmonton: The belief in this corner has long been that Chambers was one of the greatest steals in the 2012 draft. Projected as high as first overall by some, the man who blew away the field with a 4.42 40-yard-dash at E-Camp eventually fell to sixth, thanks partly to rumours of NFL interest in him. Chambers did attend the Philadelphia Eagles' minicamp, but wasn't offered a deal, so he elected to return to Edmonton, signed a deal and has been very impressive so far. He has a good head on his shoulders in addition to his speed, and he could be a key contributor for the Eskimos this season.
—Sam Hurl, linebacker, Saskatchewan: Hurl's from the University of Calgary, but unlike teammates Kirby Fabien (taken seventh overall by B.C.) and Carson Rockhill (taken 13th overall by Hamilton), the 12th-overall pick in May's draft didn't turn down the CFL to return there. That's looking to be good for both sides thus far, as Hurl's impressed in camp and in preseason action. As Rod Pedersen relates, Taman cited Hurl as a player who stood out in the Riders' 44-10 preseason loss to the B.C. Lions:
"What we were looking for was effort and if they did their assignments right," Taman told us on the Sports Cage's Four Seasons Football Friday. "That's where a guy like Sam Hurl showed up again and again and again. That catches your eye. It's not about necessarily who's making the play and everybody notices.
Hurl was drafted primarily as a special-teams type, and that's likely where he'll see the most opportunities at first, but he's very capable of being a solid player on defence as well. He'll be one to watch this year.
—Jabar Westerman, defensive end, B.C.: The second-overall pick in this year's draft should get plenty of opportunities this year, as Brent Johnson's retirement has left the Lions with a vacancy at defensive end and a Canadian like Westerman would be the ideal replacement for ratio reasons. There hasn't been a lot of talk about Westerman lately, but B.C. head coach Mike Benevides told Mike Beamish in early June that he expects his top pick to step in right away and perform:
"I expect to see him on a game-day roster," Benevides said. "With Jabar's size and leverage, I expect him to be part of our six-man rotation [D-line] from Day 1."
There's lots of competition for spots on that defensive line, and the Lions have another promising Canadian in Steve Doege (who may commute back and forth from his junior team this year to practice with the Lions, the way Andrew Harris once did), but Westerman still seems likely to make an impact this year.
—Ameet Pall, defensive end, Calgary: The fifth-overall pick out of FCS-level Wofford College in Southern Carolina may seem undersized (he's only 6'0'' and 245 pounds, which is on the small side for a defensive lineman), but he has been effective in camp thus far. The Stampeders have plenty of defensive line depth, so Pall's unlikely to win a starting job at first, but he could be a valuable backup and an important presence on special teams if he can survive training camp.
—Ben Heenan, offensive line, Saskatchewan: The top-overall pick has looked solid in camp, and despite struggling with one blitz in particular during the Riders' preseason loss, he also looked pretty good overall in game action. Head coach Corey Chamblin told the Regina Leader-Post's Greg Harder that he liked what he saw from the rookie:
"Ben was a guy who graded positive," Chamblin said. "I think he had one of the better grades in the O-line. He held his own. They brought a blitz and he did miss it but after that he got better. I wanted to see how he handled their big inside guys. There were some times where there was a stalemate and (other times) he won and that's what I was proud of, just to see a young guy show it wasn't too big for him. I was real excited about Ben stepping in there."
Heenan may not start immediately, but the Riders' guards have had some injury issues. If those continue, he could have a substantial role to play on their offensive line this season.
—Honourable mention: Matt Norman, offensive line, B.C.: The Western product is starting to look like one of this draft's steals. He was chosen at the end of the third round, 22nd overall, but he's already looking like he could win a roster spot with the Lions (and that could be important, given their offensive line injuries). However, he may elect not to take one, as he wants to go back to school and finish his teaching degree (which will take two years of classes instead of one if he waits beyond this year). Regardless of if the Lions get him this year or next, though, Norman could be an important part of their line for years to come.
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