2022 CFL Global Draft primer: Amazing array of international talent up for grabs

Since 2019, the Canadian Football League has looked abroad for talent, mandating teams bring in international athletes as a part of the league’s Global program. On Tuesday, 27 more will get the call to live out their pro football dream when the second ever CFL Global Draft kicks off.

Entering the draft, the league’s program is in a state of flux, with exact roster requirements currently being negotiated with the players union as part of collective bargaining. Through the two previous seasons, each of the nine CFL teams was required to carry one Global athlete on their active roster, though it was supposed to be increased to two for the canceled 2020 season. How many will be required in 2022 or if there will be changes to the league’s Global pay structure may not be known until training camp, but the three-round draft will offer a chance to bring in competition for their existing players.

Like many things regarding the CFL, the Global Draft can be a complex endeavor for fans to understand. Due to the way in which rosters are constructed and the fact that Global athletes can only see the field in place of an American player, rather than a Canadian, means that certain positions are valued much more highly than others. The ability to contribute on special teams is also priced at a premium, meaning smaller skilled position players may struggle to get picked. The best player in Europe or Mexico may not be the best fit for the next level.

The most talented athletes on the list of 114 players eligible for selection are also highly unlikely to hear their name called. Greece’s George Karlaftis, Scotland’s David Ojabo, Austria’s Bernhard Raimann, and Australia’s Daniel Faalele will be available for clubs, but have already been selected highly in the NFL Draft and are unlikely to ever come to Canada.

Other players on the list also have NFL opportunities but could still be selected if a team values them highly enough. Known as a “futures pick,” CFL teams will often draft players knowing they may have to wait a year or two for their services, seeing the chance of their acquisition as better than the chance that a prospect available right now will be able to contribute. British offensive tackle Bamidele Olaseni and Nigerian defensive end Kingsley Jonathan are two such prospects, both signed as NFL undrafted free agents this weekend, while Belgian punter Corliss Waitman is another.

Swedish linebacker Jordan Genmark Heath, who split his college career between Notre Dame and UCLA, might have been in contention for the top overall selection, but he signed a late contract with the Kansas City Chiefs. With his movement skills in space and coverage ability, he will still be in the early round conversation.

Not every college prospect will have an NFL opportunity, however. Those with a chance to jump straight from the NCAA ranks to the CFL include Baylor’s Austrian tight end Christoph Henle, Bahamian defensive tackle Rondre Knowles-Tener of UVA-Wise, USC’s British running back Samuel Oram-Jones, and Western New England safety Bailey Devine-Scott of Australia.

Also in the futures category are players in the NFL’s International Player Pathway Program. Freakish German defensive back Marcel Dabo, French defensive back Souleymane Karamoko — who played university football in Canada –, defensive linemen Ralf Rusins of Latvia and Leandro Santos of Brazil, Mexican offensive lineman Hector Zepeda, and Dutch tight end Thomas Odukoya will all be intriguing to team, but four will receive a three-year NFL roster exemption that could make them a risky CFL gamble.

In 2021, it was the punters that dominated the draft, with seven selected and four taken in the first round. Specialists will continue to be coveted as a Global spot by teams, though several franchises are set at the position heading into training camp. Among the highest profile Aussies available are Blake Hayes of Illinois, Ben Griffiths of USC, Kirk Christodoulou of Pitt, John Haggerty of Western Kentucky, and Oscar Bradburn of Virginia Tech. On the kicking side, Brazilian Rafael Gaglianone of Wisconsin Badgers fame is attempting to stage a comeback.

Due to the emphasis on special teams contributions, the draft is expected to skew heavy on the defensive side. Teams especially covet large, athletic body types that can cover kicks, block for returns, and potentially chip in as part of the defensive line rotation — the exact role that allowed the league’s first Global standout Thiadric Hansen to blossom.

Latvia’s Karlis Brauns and Simeon Okonta-Wariso of the United Kingdom appeared to separate themselves from the pack at the National Combine in vying for that role, with the ELF standout Brauns bringing more defensive line experience and his British counterpart more raw versatility. Germans Raphael Zistler, Flamur Simon and Samuel Kargel may also work their way into that conversation, while Japan’s Naoyuki Saikawa has a motor that won’t quit.

Brazilian linebacker Ryan Gomes may be one of the safest bets to be selected after briefly signing with the Ottawa Redblacks last year and showing well at the Combine. Two high-profile players who weren’t at that event in Toronto could be intriguing candidates as well, with Swiss linebacker Lukas Ruoss of the Potsdam Royals and the ELF’s French standout Wael Nasri bringing special teams ready bodies to the table. Others, like Mexican Andres Espinosa, suffer from a lack of size, while Norwegian Mads Flats tested incredibly well but needs serious development.

The secondary has traditionally been a tough sell for teams in the Global process with a limited path to the field, but it does feature the fastest prospect in French corner Edris Jean-Alphonse. He’s blazing fast, but hardly played at the Université de Laval. Dutchman Roedion Henrique checks many of the required boxes as well but suffers from being an older prospect. By contrast, French safety Maceo Beard-Aigret is among the youngest available and had some buzz at the UK Regional, while Mexico’s Osvaldo Zumalacarregui impressed me at the National. Dutch safety Chavildo Van Ommeren could also be an interesting candidate, but is several years removed from a stint at North Dakota.

Though not as highly valued as defense, the offensive line has been the position of the league’s only two Global starters. Frenchman Nour-Eddine Seidnaly, who started at tackle for Arkansas State, may be the top candidate on that front, though his athletic limitations will give teams pause. German Gerrit Brandt of the Braunschweig New Yorker Lions has some first step quickness and developmental upside, while Brazilians Otavio Amorim and Pollys Junio Sacramento have improved their stock by playing in Europe, but none are instant potential starters like Steven Nielsen last season. The likeliest blocker to make an early impact is German fullback John Levi Kruse of the Hamburg Sea Devils, who has a special teams skill set.

When it comes to offensive skill positions, none are a lock for selection, though German wide receiver Robin Wilzeck has far and away the most athletic upside and is just 23. Japanese receivers Yoshihito Omi and Riki Matsui, as well as Austrian Yannick Mayr were passed over in last year’s draft despite solid measurables due to questions around their physicality. British pass catcher Kris Wedderburn’s well-built frame may serve him well in that regard, while his countryman Andy Owusu and Finland’s Karri Pajarinen are longshots to be picked at running back.

With over a hundred players from vastly different backgrounds to choose from, the May 3rd Global Draft will be nothing if not predictable. Buckle up and prepare for surprises as soon as the Montreal Alouettes are on the clock at first overall.

J.C. Abbott is a writer and CFL Draft analyst for 3DownNation. You can find year-round CFL news and analysis online at 3DownNation.com.

Join the AFI crew Tuesday, May 3 at 18:00 CET (6 pm, 12 Noon ET) on the AFI Facebook Page for full coverage of the CFL Global Draft.

J.C. Abbott is a student at the University of British Columbia and amateur football coach in Vancouver, Canada. A CFL writer for 3DownNation, his love of travel has been the root of his fascination with the global game.