CFL Global update: Top international athletes through Week 7

The Canadian Football League season is a third of the way done and international players are making an impact like never before.

For the third straight season, all nine CFL are required to carry at least one Global player — an athlete from outside the United States or Canada — on their active game-day roster, with the option to dress an additional player if they so choose. As a result, 15 different players from 10 different countries have seen playing time in the first seven weeks of 2022, with roles ranging from bit special teams players to major defensive contributors.

Here is a breakdown of every Global player to make an active roster thus far, listed from the least impactful to the most.

Chris Mulumba, DT, Hamilton Tiger-Cats (Finland): The University of Colorado product dressed for the first time in Week 7 and got a few reps in against the B.C. Lions, though he was held off the stat sheet.

Souleymane Karamoko, DB, Winnipeg Blue Bombers (France): A former star for the Laval Rouge et Or in the Canadian university ranks, Karamoko drew into the lineup in Week 2 and notched his first career special teams tackle.

Bailey Devine-Scott, DB, Calgary Stampeders (Australia): A thin secondary coming out of training camp saw the Stampeders dress Devine-Scott for the first two games of the season and the former Western New England standout stepped up with a pair of special teams tackles in the opener.

Tigie Sankoh, DB, Toronto Argonauts (United Kingdom): Sankoh was initially part of the Argos’ final cuts but the former member of the Cleveland Browns was brought back and has since played four games, though he has yet to appear on the box score.

Cody Grace, P, Calgary Stampeders (Australia): Last year’s West Division all-star punter, Grace was injured late in training camp and missed his team’s first three games. He has suited up twice since recovering and is still rounding into form, posting a 35-yard net average per punt and a 41.4 gross average.

Valentin Gnahoua, DE, Hamilton Tiger-Cats (France): One of just two original Global players remaining on CFL active rosters, Gnahoua has played in all six games for Hamilton but has yet to make the stat sheet due to his unglamorous special teams role.

James Smith, P, Calgary Stampeders/Saskatchewan Roughriders (Australia): One of the weirdest stories of the CFL season thus far, Saskatchewan essentially rented Smith to the Stampeders for the duration of Cody Grace’s injury in exchange for a draft pick and had the punter traded back to them afterwards to place on their practice squad. The Cincinnati product performed well in three games for Calgary, averaging a net of 36.1  yards and a gross of 44.2 yards per punt.

Steven Nielsen, OT, Edmonton Elks (Denmark): Last year’s second overall Global Draft pick has played in all seven games for Edmonton so far this season as their sixth offensive lineman and has been forced to pinch-hit due to injuries on a couple of occasions, though the Eastern Michigan product has yet to start.

Tyron Vrede, LB, Ottawa Redblacks (Netherlands):  The flying Dutchman from the University of North Dakota continues to be a crucial piece of Ottawa’s special teams unit in year two, playing in all six games and making three tackles in kick coverage.

John Haggerty, P, Toronto Argonauts (Australia): The only first round pick from the 2022 Global Draft to be on a CFL roster and one of just three players from that draft to see playing time at all, Haggerty has shown off a field-flipping leg for the Argos. In five games, he has the second-highest gross average in the league at 47.6 yards per punt, though his 35.2 yards net average provides the biggest disparity in the league between those numbers.

Thiadric Hansen, DE, Winnipeg Blue Bombers (Germany): The Global program’s poster boy, Hansen re-joined the Bombers already in-season after dealing with contract issues. He’s picked up right where he left off, making four special teams tackles in five games played and adding two more on defense with a significant amount of rotational play.

Les Maruo, LB, Winnipeg Blue Bombers (Japan): Shining alongside Hansen has been Winnipeg’s other Global player, Les Maruo, who is seeing an increased role in year two. The UTSA product has seen an increased role in the Bombers’ linebacking corps due to injuries and has notched six defensive tackles and one more on special teams in six games. Maruo also recorded his first career sack last week against Edmonton.

Kaare Vedvik, P, Saskatchewan Roughriders (Norway): Taking over for former Super Bowl champion and hometown hero Jon Ryan in Saskatchewan was a tall order for Vedvik, but the Norwegian has come on strong the last couple of  week. In seven game, he has a excellent gross average of 45.5 yard per punt and an equally impressive net average of 36.9 yards.

Joseph Zema, P, Montreal Alouettes (Australia): Without much fanfare, Joseph Zema is having arguable the second-best season of any punter in the CFL. In six games for the Alouettes, the Aussie has a 47.1-yard gross average — fourth in the league — but his 39 yard net average is second best. That means that Zema is not only booming kicks, but he’s placing them where his teammates can erase returns.

Tibo Debaillie, DT, B.C. Lions (Belgium): A 2021 third-round Global pick that was unceremoniously cut by Edmonton this offseason, it appeared that Debaillie’s CFL career was over. Instead, the Towson product signed with the Lions and has become the most heavily used international player in the league. Doing the dirty work in the middle, Debaillie’s seven defensive tackles in five games won’t jump off the page, but he’s seeing close to half the reps in an even defensive rotation and is routinely on the field in pivotal situations — goal line stands and game-deciding drives included.

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.