The Montreal Alouettes general manager said Wednesday that CFL teams should only be selecting NCAA underclassmen who declare they're leaving school and favours the league adding more rounds to its draft to get more Canadian-born players into training camps.
"I love the way we handle the CIS but I don't think (NCAA) kids should be in our draft until they declare they're coming out," Popp said during a conference call. "I don't think we should be drafting juniors because we don't know what's going to happen.
"They can get hurt, they can get signed by NFL teams and we're all put in the position where do we take maybe the best guy or do we draft somebody who's not as good and see what happens in a couple of years?
"Some teams take chances and go with those guys but at the end of the day we're not getting a full tilt of guys in training camp and we're not developing people we're on a waiting list, we're waiting to see if someone is going to come to us at another time because they may be some of the better players."
Currently, Canadian players in the NCAA become eligible for the CFL draft in their fourth year. Trouble is, many are redshirted — they participate in the academic year but not the football season — and after being drafted in Canada return to school for their senior year then become eligible for the NFL draft, delaying their return to Canada.
That creates plenty of uncertainty for CFL teams, who must decide whether to skip drafting the player altogether or gamble by taking a flyer with a draft pick unsure when — or even if — he'll arrive. Popp would like the CFL to follow the NFL's lead regarding underclassmen: Only those declaring they're leaving school early are draft-eligible to create more certainty for CFL GMs.
"Then we all know that they'll be coming and those guys, more than likely, will come to our (evaluation) camp, our CFL combine as part of that because they know they're leaving school," Popp said.
If the prospect opted to return to school for his senior year he'd become eligible for both the NFL and Canadian college draft the following year. With the NFL draft usually taking place first, a CFL GM would have much more clarity about a prospect's standing south of the border leading up to the draft in Canada.
And Popp, who has been Montreal's GM since the franchise relocated from Baltimore in 1996, said increasing the current six-round draft would ensure more Canadian-born players at CFL camps.
"I think we need to add rounds to guarantee we're going to get more CIS guys into training camp and develop them," Popp said.
Earlier on Wednesday, Popp said on Twitter that just 22 of the 45 players selected in last week's CFL draft participated in the league's evaluation camp in March. Popp added he wasn't knocking either the league or the camp itself, rather just stating an interesting fact.
"That is because we have juniors in the draft and then players that are invited that do not show up to e-camp or guys who don't get invited who are a part of that crew that end up getting drafted because people do their homework," he said.
"Some of the guys that end up at our evaluation camp are curiosity factors, meaning there's not a lot of film of them, they're in isolated places that it's hard to get film or see them in person and people want to see them in person then decide they're not the guy they want to draft.
"It's just an interesting fact that I threw out there."
Another interesting development was Popp adding yet another Canadian university quarterback. Popp signed Acadia's Kyle Graves on Wednesday, a day after coming to terms with McMaster's Kyle Quinlan.
That boosts the number of Canadian quarterbacks on CFL rosters to three. Brad Sinopoli, a native of Peterborough, Ont., who won the 2010 Hec Crighton Trophy winner at the University of Ottawa, is entering his second season with the Calgary Stampeders.
Graves, a native of Barrie, Ont., participated in the CFL's evaluation camp but was bypassed in last week's draft. The six-foot-three, 220-pound Graves was named an Atlantic University Sport all-star last season at quarterback and punter after leading the league in passing yards (1,856), completions (121), passing TD's (17) and punting (36.7-yard average).
Quinlan, 23, of South Woodslee, Ont., also attended the evaluation camp after leading McMaster to its first-ever Vanier Cup title last year. The six-foot-three, 215-pound Quinlan threw for 482 yards and two TDs while also running for a team-high 106 yards in the Marauders' wild 41-38 double overtime Vanier Cup victory over Laval.
Graves and Quinlan are longshots to crack Montreal's roster as veterans Calvillo and Adrian McPherson occupy the top two spots. That leaves Graves and Quinlan to battle fourth-year pro Ricky Santos and sophomore Josh Neiswander, both imports, for the No. 3 position although both Canadians can return to school this fall.
Popp said attending the Alouettes camp will give Quinlan and Graves a great opportunity to learn from Calvillo, offensive co-ordinator Marcus Brady (a former CFL quarterback) and Montreal head coach Marc Trestman, a quarterback guru who has also spent time coaching in the NCAA and NFL.
"They're winners and great athletes and deserve the opportunity," Popp said. "How many reps they'll get in camp is a whole other story, we'll find that out.
"But from an education process and spending some quality time with them before or after practice to take a good look at them, we will do everything we can to help in the developmental process."
Trestman helped prepare former Florida star Tim Tebow for the 2010 NFL draft but admits knowing little about the Canadian university game. However, Trestman said the formula for quarterback success on both sides of the border remains pretty much the same and the Canadian rookies will learn plenty just watching Calvillo, a 19-year CFL veteran and pro football's career passing leader.
"They're going to learn how difficult it is," Trestman said. "There's nothing like it, it's the most dynamic and complex position to play and I think they'll get a real sense of it just by keeping their eyes open and staying focused on Anthony.
"Their days will be filled with information that will allow them to get a better idea of what they're getting themselves into, which is a very, very difficult and challenging environment. At the end of the day it's the quarterback position and quarterbacks aren't born, they have to be developed, they have to be trained."