The CFL is presenting Jake Burt a new lease on his pro football life.
The former Boston College tight end is regarded as one of the top prospects in a wide-open ‘21 CFL draft, which goes Tuesday night. The six-foot-five, 245-pound Burt was a late addition to the draft because, while he grew up in Boston, he was born in Regina and remained there for about four years before relocating with his family.
“I’m very excited about this opportunity,” Burt said during a video conference Monday. “I grew up in Boston, yes, but I was always the outsider from Canada and I always took pride in that.
“I’m from Saskatchewan, that’s where my family is from so there’s a lot of pride in Saskatchewan and the country in general. I know it’s a great country, I’m excited about everything this opportunity brings for me and my entire family.”
Burt appeared in 36 career games at Boston College, registering 23 catches for 307 yards and two touchdowns. After being bypassed in the 2020 NFL draft, Burt signed as a free agent with the New England Patriots, spending the entire season on the practice roster before becoming a free agent this off-season.
Burt’s situation is very similar to that of linebacker Alex Singleton. A native Californian who played collegiately at Montana State, Singleton spent time in 2015 with Seattle, New England and Minnesota before being deemed eligible for the ‘16 CFL draft because his mother was Canadian.
Singleton was taken sixth overall Calgary and quickly blossomed into a CFL star. He was twice a league all-star and in ‘17 was named the league’s top defensive player before helping the Stampeders win the 2018 Grey Cup.
Singleton joined the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles in 2019 and re-signed with the club in March.
Predictably, Burt said he’s not looking ahead to returning to the NFL.
“Right now, the CFL is the one that’s calling my name and honestly I’m extremely excited to get out there and play,” he said. “I’m 24, I get to go experience a different country and go play football there, play a style I feel fits my style very well.”
Trouble is, CFL teams no longer use dedicated tight ends.
“When your film evaluating players is from the New England Patriots training camp, it gets your attention,” Winnipeg GM Kyle Walters said. “The interesting thing for Jake is the position he played in the U.S. doesn’t really exist in Canada so it’s for CFL teams to get creative and figure out the best way to use him offensively.”
Burt feels he could easily fit in with a CFL offence.
“My speed is my hidden gem here,” he said. “I can run extremely well (4.48 second virtual 40-yard dash), I’ve worked tirelessly on my route running … I got great coaching and went against great competition (with Patriots) and only sharpened my tools more.
“I’d say I could make a big impact as a receiver but I can come in and do H-back (halfback) stuff too. I’m hoping we put a whole new twist on this position as a big receiver who could run like all the other receivers but is big enough to come in and do the other thing.”
Burt added he could even be utilized on specialty plays given he was a high-school quarterback.
However, a bigger story Tuesday will be how many top prospects will be future considerations. Sixteen players on the scouting bureau’s final top-20 list have been selected by/signed NFL contracts, are remaining in school, have transferred to new institutions or are in the process of doing so.
The Canadian Press learned Monday that New Mexico State’s Sage Doxtater, a hulking six-foot-seven, 350-pound offensive lineman from Glencoe, Ont., will return to school this fall. He was ranked No. 8 on the CFL scouting bureau.
That leaves Virginia receiver Terrell Jana (Vancouver, No. 15), Saskatchewan linebacker Nelson Lokombo (Abbotsford, B.C., No. 17), Calgary offensive linemen Logan Bandy (Calgary, No. 18) and Laurier offensive lineman Bruce Bell (Waterloo, Ont., No. 19) as top-20 players who could report to CFL camps immediately.
Another challenge facing CFL general managers is having to evaluate the Canadian university prospects without the benefit of 2020 game film. Schools in Canada did not play football last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Then again, neither did the CFL. It had originally planned opening the ‘21 season in June but pushed that back to Aug. 5, pending the novel coronavirus.
“Like everybody this year, you’re going off film,” Walters said. “So the inability to see players on film in 2020 is a challenge.
“We’re going back to 2019 and a lot of the interview process is, ‘What was your bodyweight that we’re watching on fil? What have you been doing for a year? How’s the training going? What are you weighing now?’ It’s a real, real challenge.”
Having to go without football has been difficult for Bell, the lone Ontario university player on the scouting bureau list.
“Everybody had struggles over the last year and football definitely felt them,” he said. “We worked through them the only way we know how, trained and did what we could and just tried to work our hardest.
“I’m confident playing any of the five positions on the O-Line because a lot of the development we do at Laurier. I think I have good athleticism in the box … I feel I’m efficient in my movements, I’m a very technical O-line player. Wherever the coaches think is best for me to play and can use me best in the system I’ll play there for that team.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 3, 2021.
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press