Why do the Eagles keep turning to CFL to find new talent?

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Marken Michel

Marken Michel may be the most intriguing name to many, due to the bells it will ring. Brother to Patriots running back Sony, Michel’s road to the NFL wasn’t exactly conventional.

Unlike his brother, Marken wasn’t given an offer by a top 10 college and instead looked to carve a name for himself with the historic Massachusetts Minutemen. It took him a while to crack the starting lineup, beginning his tenure with the team as a rarely-used receiver. In the meantime, he returned kicks in an attempt to get on the field and fared admirably — finishing the year with 16.1 yards per return. Somewhat surprisingly, he decided to take his second year off and came back to the team with a new focus.

The 5’11” 190-pound receiver came back swinging for his third season. He made himself invaluable with his versatility and big play ability. In three years of college, Michel’s numbers weren’t fantastic, but his explosiveness was difficult to overlook. As the number two receiver and a rotational running back, he averaged 6+ yards per carry and close to 12 yards per reception in both of his final two seasons. That was all while sharing touches with standout receiver Tajae Sharpe, now with the Tennessee Titans. Still, the promise of Marken’s athletic ability wasn’t enough to hear his name called on draft day. The 2016 NFL Draft came and went and a long trek to the NFL became that much longer for the electric receiver.

After a workout with Minnesota, Michel took his talents to Canada where his reputation as a gadget player was invaluable to the Stampeders. He was named the West Division’s top rookie, finishing the season with 41 receptions, 780 yards and 3 touchdowns in just 13 games.

Oh, and to Roseman’s quote about finding guys who feel pushed to the side…Marken fits that mold perfectly.

“I don’t believe in taking a break. In the offseason you got a lot of guys going on vacation, but I just feel like I don’t have time to waste. I have aspirations, for me to reach those goals I can’t let my competitors outwork me.’

In an interview with Laura Bates of the Calgary Stampeders

On the field, this is where things spice up. The Eagles offense showed a real desire to get the ball into open space last year. This sounds obvious and overly simple, but just look at the acquisition of Golden Tate.

The Eagles YAC leaders prior to Tate’s debut were Corey Clement and Wendell Smallwood. Clement, who tallied 140 yards after the catch actually had more after the catch, than total receiving yards. Why is that? You guessed it: screens.

Doug Pederson leaned heavily on the screen game in the absence of Jay Ajayi. The Birds struggled to balance the offense and had to get creative when it came to finding open space and setting up those explosive plays. After all, why would they trade for Golden Tate when Nelson Agholor is a bonafide starter in his own right? Not to mention Jordan Matthews in the picture.

Whether it panned out or not, Tate averaged 6.4 yards after the reception prior to joining the Birds. 54.4% of his total receiving yards up to that point came after the catch.

Now, back to Michel.

394 of his 1215 receiving yards (or 32.4%) in the CFL came after the catch. He also managed 11.8 yards per carry in his young career. He’s a jack-of-all-trades player that would intrigue any NFL scout. With special teams value as a returner and the sticky hands to become the perfect gadget player in an offense that has so many threats, it would seem illogical to pour attention into a rogue Michel sneaking onto the field, there is every chance this young swiss-army knife makes his case in Training Camp.

Alex Singleton

Another former CFL standout attempting to crack the Eagles is Alex Singleton, who not only dominated during his time at Calgary, but set records.

After going undrafted in 2015, the 6’2, 232 lbs, linebacker bounced around NFL practice squads before landing in Calgary, where in three seasons he recorded 311 tackles, 4 sacks, one interception, and forced six fumbles.

Named a CFL All-Star in both of his last two seasons, he was also given the CFL’s ‘Most Outstanding Defensive player’ in 2017, leading the league in tackles one year later.

Why is this important for the Eagles?

The CFL field being wide than an NFL field means that off-ball linebackers naturally have further to travel and with the nature of players being able to motion before the snap, the reliance on that sideline-to-sideline speed is even more important.

The Eagles lost Jordan Hicks this offseason and while Paul Worrilow re-signed with the team after an ACL tear, Zach Brown will command the middle of the field. On the other side, special teams ace Kamu Grugier-Hill and Nate Gerry will be splitting responsibilities…which leads us to another interesting point.

Singleton has 29 special teams tackles in 2 years. 29.

He had a great rookie minicamp and benefitted greatly from the first-team exposure. If he can ride that wave deep into a training camp where prized UDFA’s Joey Alfieri and T.J Edwards await, there is a chance he can spring the upset and maybe unseat them, pushing for a special teams role and climbing the rungs of the ladder in the same way that Kamu Grugier-Hill once did.

The Eagles are a smart team. They realize that while the CFL game is fundamentally the same, the intricacies can create a dependence on a skill set that in the right environment, could really benefit a forward-thinking NFL team. If you match that with the aim to sustain an underdog culture, what you have is a franchise who will likely continue to hone in on the hottest names in the CFL in an attempt to reap the high-value rewards.

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