The Canadian Football League has made changes to the 2021 Draft, all of them stemming from the impact of Covid-19 on the professional and college levels.
Some of those changes are significant – from the implementation of a ‘snake’ format to the number of rounds being reduced from eight to six – but so, too, is the simple announcement of those changes.
The alterations to the draft is an indicator the league is pushing ahead with plans for a 2021 season – and that wasn’t lost on Winnipeg Blue Bombers GM Kyle Walters.
“You have to look at any little sign like this as we are still moving in the right direction,” said Walters in an interview with bluebombers.com on Thursday. “It’s better than the alternative, which would have been, ‘Let’s just wait and see and we’re not going to do anything and press the pause button on the whole CFL.’ That’s not the case. The case is we’re moving forward in some areas and we can start prepping for the draft and go from there.”
The changes, proposed by the nine general managers and approached by the CFL’s Management Council, include the following:
1. The draft order will be determined by a random draw – apparently to be announced during what would have been Grey Cup week later this month – rather than the order based on the records in the previous season, as it was for the 2020 CFL Draft, for example.
That means instead of picking ninth in the first round – as the Bombers did this past spring – they could be picking anywhere from first to ninth. The ‘snake’ format also means that after teams select in the first round, the order will be reversed in the second. The team picking ninth, for example, would then open the second round with the 10th overall selection.
“I was the one who threw it out there that if we don’t play the 2020 season I don’t know why the draft order would remain the same,” said Walters. “Every GM has their team’s best interests in mind and when I first floated this there was some opposition. But the consensus is that this seemed like a fair way to go. Everybody was on board with it. It will be like the other league’s draft lottery.”
2. The 2021 CFL Draft will drop from eight to six rounds, partly to accommodate the two draft classes that will be attending training camps next spring – the 2020 and 2021 classes. What still has to be discussed are possible changes to training camp cut-down dates next year to allow the potentially larger number of Canadian college prospects to be fairly evaluated.
“From our standpoint, the general managers, that is a big concern,” said Walters. “But we’ve got to get there first. There is a priority list of what the presidents and the league office are dealing with. That’s the kind of stuff we’ll get down to, but it’s a very good point.
“Teams are going to have 15-16 draft picks (from 2020 and 2021). Even with this next draft being reduced by a couple of rounds that is still going to mean 14-15 draft picks at your training camp and how do you find room for them all?
“It will be tougher for them. You could have more value, potentially, with a kid that could go back and play another year of school. You might have to plan and weigh the opportunity of a player going back to school a little higher.”
3. U Sports and NCAA players who lost their 2020 seasons due to the Coronavirus have been granted another year of eligibility next year. As well, the CFL has determined that 2021 draft eligible players now have the option to defer their draft year to 2022.
“A few weeks ago I told myself I was going to put everything else down for a bit – the stuff like budgets and planning — and just call university coaches and catch up and dig around and do some draft work,” said Walters. “Even without a U Sports season I’ve still been able to have good, in-depth discussions with about half of the U Sports coaches so far. A lot of them have been out practising and so I’ve been able to pick their brains about how guys look, even with a reduced practice plan with respect to contact.
“So, these past two-three weeks have been the most enjoyable for me since this all started because I’m focusing on the 2021 draft. Talking football, going over their rosters, they’ve been asking what we’re doing and what we’re hearing… them informing me, me informing them. It’s been great.”
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