No Canadians have signed deals from NFL minicamps yet, which may boost CFL draft

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UConn centre Alex Mateas could be one of the top CFL prospects. (TSN.ca.)
UConn centre Alex Mateas could be one of the top CFL prospects. (TSN.ca.)

It's remarkable how much can change in a week. Last week, the vast majority of the CFL's top 20 prospects received invitations to weekend NFL minicamps (at the very least; top-ranked prospect Christian Covington was drafted in the sixth round, and second- and fourth-ranked prospects Brett Boyko and Tyler Varga signed as undrafted free agents soon after the draft), raising the spectre of a CFL draft where large numbers of the best players were NFL-bound. The actual picture looks far more rosy for the CFL, though, as by Monday afternoon, none of the 11 CFL prospects (9 CIS players and 2 NCAA ones) in camp with the New York Giants had signed contracts.Third-ranked Alex Mateas, ninth-ranked Nic Demski and 19th-ranked Brandon Bridge also attended minicamps with the New York Jets, Cleveland Browns and Dallas Cowboys respectively, but none of them had signed deals by Monday afternoon. This picture could still change by Tuesday's draft (8 p.m. Eastern, TSN/RDS), but right now, it's looking like a lot of top CFL prospects have a strong chance of actually being available to play in the league this year.

The highest-ranked prospect apparently no longer targeted by the NFL is Mateas, who wasn't offered a contract by the Jets following their weekend minicamp. Before that minicamp, he was in Tier II of NFL interest; he didn't receive an invite to the full NFL combine, but took part in other U.S. events (including the College Gridiron Showcase all-star game) and impressed at UConn's pro day. Mateas started his college career as a redshirt at Penn State, then transferred to UConn. Over the last three years, he started 29 of 36 games at centre, including all 24 the past two seasons. His variety of experience, including playing centre in the NCAA and left tackle in the CJFL, and his size (he's listed at 6'4'', 309 pounds), could be attractive to CFL teams looking for a versatile lineman. There was a lot of NFL interest in Mateas before this weekend, though, so it's not implausible he could still be snapped up by a U.S. team at some point.

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The players the Giants decided not to sign are also interesting. A couple of the most notable are Laval offensive lineman Danny Groulx and Simon Fraser receiver Lemar Durant, who were both in our March list of five prospects to watch ahead of the draft. Groulx was ranked fifth overall in the final list of top prospects, and he did very well both in college with the Rouge et Or and at the CFL combine. At 6'6'' and 320 pounds, he has the size to play tackle in the CFL, and he seems to have the agility as well. Durant, the top-ranked receiver (eighth-overall) on that final list, has plenty of size (6'2'', 233 pounds) and speed (a 4.55-second 40-yard-dash), and he put up significant yards in Division II with SFU. There are questions about how he'll do against tougher competition, but he seems likely to be a high CFL draft pick as well if no NFL team snaps him up before Tuesday. 

Demski and Bridge deserve discussion as well. Although Cleveland passed on Demski, the Manitoba Bisons' product is still a top candidate for the CFL draft, and he has the versatility to potentially contribute as a receiver, a running back or a hybrid role that combines the two (similar to what Toronto's done with Andre Durie). As a pure receiver, he's in the conversation with Durant, so which of them goes first may come down to team preferences.

Bridge may be even more notable; he's the last remaining player (Covington, Boyko and Varga are the others) who attended the full NFL combine, and he received strong interest from various NFL teams as an undrafted free agent. It's unlikely he'll go near the top of the CFL draft, thanks to the league's bizarre rules that still don't let quarterbacks count as Canadian, but he could be an interesting mid-round option for someone. Like many of the other players here, Bridge looked like a strong candidate for the NFL at one point. If that league has in fact fully passed on him and other top prospects, that could be a great opportunity for the CFL.

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