CFL Draft 2017: Ranking, Evaluating the Defensive Backs

With the combine now in the rear view mirror, CFL talent evaluators can now begin to come to conclusions with their prospect rankings.

It’s a solid year for defensive backs in the CFL draft. There are at least two likely future starters, three solid special-teamers and one underrated wildcard.

With that in mind, here are the top-8 defensive back prospects in the 2017 CFL Draft.

1. FS Dondre Wright, Henderson State

Height: 5’10.2″
Weight: 199-lbs
Scouting Bureau ranking (September): N/R
Scouting Bureau ranking (December): N/R

Wright is the best run defender out of all the defensive backs in the 2017 class. He’s rather physical at the point of attack, and has the tools and vision to set the edge by stacking blockers, forcing the play back-inside. He has the strength to get off the block and make a play on the ball-carrier when the opportunity presents itself. Wright is a smart, instinctive player who reads his run defense keys well and understands leverage in pass-coverage. He has the change-of-direction skills and hard-hitting prowess to make plays while reading and reacting.

The Ajax, ON native’s biggest negative is his ball-skills. He has good hands, but routinely fails to get his head around to locate the ball in the air. As a free safety, this can result in a lot of missed interceptions, and can also lead to countless pass-interference penalties for running through the receiver. Wright can also get grabby at the top of routes in man-coverage, and has limited experience as a true center-fielder – he mostly played in or around the box as a strong safety and nickel corner while at Henderson State. As he develops into a starter, Wright will dominate on special-teams for the first couple seasons of his career.

2. CB/FS Robert Woodson, Calgary

Height: 5’10.2″
Weight: 191-lbs
Scouting Bureau ranking (September): 12
Scouting Bureau ranking (December): 17

Woodson, who’s easily the top raw cover-man in the class, is just a hair behind Wright for the top spot; in fact, I almost think he’s the safer pick between the two. Based on Woodson’s current traits, I’m fairly confident he has what it takes to develop into a starting field corner. But if a team wants to maximize his talent, he could also be developed into a free safety. His lack of zone instincts and ability to come down-hill and support the run are worrisome from a free safety standpoint, but there’s no denying he has the feet, hips and ball-skills to compensate.

Woodson has the best feet in the class. His change-of-direction skills to break on routes and under-cut throws are second-to-none. He’s extremely twitchy, and has loose hips to speed turn or turn and run with receivers. His ball-skills, meanwhile, are well documented – Woodson has 7 interceptions in his last two seasons despite offenses routinely game-planning to minimize his opportunities in 2016. Teams often isolated one receiver in the boundary against Calgary, rotating Woodson to safety and away from one-on-one with their top receivers, a true testament to the respect Woodson earned in his junior season, when he was named the Canada West’s defensive player of the year.

3. FS Nate Hamlin, Carleton

Height: 6’0″
Weight: 195-lbs
Scouting Bureau ranking (September): N/R
Scouting Bureau ranking (December): N/R

Hamlin is easily projected as a free safety, as although he displayed excellent range and change of direction skills as a zone corner with Carleton, he lacks the functional twitch to be a man-coverage player at the next level. Hamlin’s a hard hitter that reads what’s in front of him well and breaks on the ball with bad intentions. Hamlin possesses good closing speed and above-average ball skills.

A player whose built nicely at 6’0″, 195-lbs that runs well, takes good angles and tackles with force, Hamlin projects nicely as a special-teams player in the CFL. His lack of twitch hurts his potential as a free safety, but he has several other starter traits and should at least develop into a solid backup.

4. FS Tunde Adeleke, Carleton

Image result for nate hamlin carleton

Height: 5’9.7″
Weight: 190
Scouting Bureau ranking (September): N/R
Scouting Bureau ranking (December): N/R

Adeleke possesses the needed twitch that his teammate, Hamlin, needs. He has solid ball skills and can run with anyone on the field. Adeleke, a star returner for the Ravens, clocked a 4.58 40-yard dash to lead all defensive backs at the combine. He’s another hard-hitter that is rarely late to the spot, reacting on time. Adeleke has intriguing potential on special-teams, with the abilities of a gunner and kick-returner.

5. FS Jordan Hoover, Waterloo

Height: 6’0.5″
Weight: 194
Scouting Bureau ranking (September): N/R
Scouting Bureau ranking (December): N/R

Hoover is an exceptional athlete, which often projects special-teams abilities. His combine numbers for the broad jump, 3-cone and shuttle lead all defensive backs, while he was a close second behind Adeleke for the top 40-time with a 4.601. Hoover lacks fundamental cover skills, projecting strictly as a special-teamer.

6. CB Adam Laurensse, Calgary

Height: 6’0.3″
Weight: 187-lbs
Scouting Bureau ranking (September): N/R
Scouting Bureau ranking (December): N/R

In terms of coverage abilities, Laurensse is easily a top-3 defensive back in the class. He stays square and confident in his back-pedal until the last second, and can open his hips nicely. He possesses good change of direction skills and does a good job locating the ball in the air. With that being said, its exceptionally risky to draft a Canadian defensive back early when he doesn’t project well as a special-teamer, regardless of his talents as a cover man. Laurensse is underweight and doesn’t run particularly well – he recorded the worst 40-yard dash of all defensive backs with a 4.75-second time. He has the traits to possibly see time as a field corner, but with below-average special-teams abilities, Laurensse’s stock will suffer.

7. FS Harland Hastings, Waterloo

Height: 5’10.7″
Weight: 189
Scouting Bureau ranking (September): N/R
Scouting Bureau ranking (December): N/R

Hastings is a fairly gifted athlete but lacks size and overall coverage abilities. He runs well and is an explosive athlete, certainly displaying some special-teams potential.

8. FS Richard Gillespie, Toronto

Height: 5’8.5″
Weight: 189
Scouting Bureau ranking (September): N/R
Scouting Bureau ranking (December): N/R

Gillespie is clean in coverage with good instincts and excellent ball skills, but is a limited athlete with a lack of size.

 

CFL Draft 2017: Dondre Wright (DB, Henderson State) Scouting Report

Every year there’s an NCAA Division II prospect whose name does not surface until the middle of the draft process. Last year it was Grant Valley State offensive lineman Brandon Revenberg, who went third overall to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. This year it’s Henderson State defensive back Dondre Wright, who, similarly to Revenberg, was not ranked in the September and December scouting bureaus.

Wright began his collegiate football career at the New Mexico Military Institute before becoming a two-year starter at Henderson State. He played a unique role in the Reddies’ defense, seeing time at strong safety (his primary position), nickel corner and even some strong-side linebacker. I project him as a free safety in the CFL.

Positives

Wright is the best run defender out of all the defensive backs in the 2017 draft class. He’s physical at the point of attack and has the strength to stack blockers when setting the edge, ultimately forcing the play back inside. He has good vision when engaged in blocks, keeping his eyes on the ball-carrier and positioning himself accordingly.

Wright rarely makes blatant mental mistakes. He reads his run keys well and reacts as he’s coached to. From attacking the outside shoulder of a pulling offensive lineman, or defending the triple option, as the below GIF shows, Wright is clearly a smart, instinctive player.

Wright certainly does not lack physicality. He comes down hill like a heat-seeking missile while still flashing fundamental tackling skills. Wright has a good, solid frame at 199-lbs at merely 5’10.2″, and runs well enough to play numerous positions on defense and special-teams. Wright tested quite well with a 4.618 40-yard dash, and showed his explosiveness with a 4.06 short-shuttle time.

Negatives

Wright will be a free safety in the CFL. While playing 12-15 yards back and reading and reacting suits his skill-set better, Wright also lacks some of the fundamental man-coverage skills. The native of Ajax, ON can be awfully grabby at the top of routes – especially in trail technique – and can also get caught looking at the upper-body of receivers rather than their hips.

Wright also lacks in the ball-skills department. He has good hands, but routinely fails to get his head around to locate the ball. As a free safety, this can result in a lot of missed interceptions as well as pass interference penalties for running through the receiver. He needs work turning his head back to the quarterback and punching his hand in the air while legally maintaining control of the receiver.

Though he was dynamic playmaker underneath, Wright has limited experience as a center-fielder. To go along with this, Wright seldom had to perform common hip turns as a free safety, such as completely opening up and flipping his hips from one side to another when the ball is released to a different area of the field. As mentioned, though, he’s a smart football player that will adapt with pro coaching, but there may be a learning curve.

Bottom Line

Wright is the best defensive back in the class. He’s going to be an instinctive, hard-hitting free safety with plus run defense skills. Wright needs some seasoning before jumping into a starting role, but will dominate on special-teams in the meantime. Wright would be a good value pick in the late-first, early-second round ballpark.

CFL Draft 2017: Ranking, Evaluating the Defensive End Class

With the combine now in the rear view mirror, CFL talent evaluators can now begin to come to conclusions with their prospect rankings.

It’s once again an indifferent class at the defensive end position. Although slightly better than last year, its been a long time since the last dominant defensive end draft class.

A lot of stock was put into combine measurables for the defensive end prospects – more so than any other position group. The fact is that most defensive end prospects are drafted to be special-team players, so their tape on defense isn’t as valuable. Combine times and measurables just happens to be a somewhat reliable way of projecting special-teams value.

With that in mind, here are the top-4 defensive end prospects in the 2017 CFL Draft.

1. Kwaku Boateng, Wilfred Laurier

Kha Vo/Laurier Athletics

Height: 6’0.4″
Weight: 233-lbs
Eligibility: 4th
Scouting Bureau ranking (September): 2
Scouting Bureau ranking (December): 6

Boateng’s name is well known throughout Canada at this point of the CFL Draft process. A two-time second team All-Canadian, Boateng is Wilfred Laurier’s All-Time sack leader with 20.5 sacks in four seasons. He’s been a J.P. Metras Trophy nominee, and a consistent favorite to win defensive player of the year.

Positives

There’s a lot to like about Boateng when watching him in action. The flexibility shown in his hips and knees when turning the corner at the top of the arc is exceptional. Further to that, he has an excellent hump move to take advantage of offensive tackles cheating to take away his outside rush. Boateng has a broad pass-rush repertoire, with a eye-opening amount of finesse moves with his hands. He takes on pull blocks well, and can quickly locate the quarterback or ball-carrier.

Negatives

Boateng’s draft took a steep fall at the combine. He weighed in surprisingly small at 233-lbs, and despite being undersized, Boateng failed to crack the low 4.8s in his 40 time, clocking an official 4.901. Its quite unlikely Boateng played his senior season at Laurier at that weight, which begs the question: did he drop that weight before the combine just to run better, and can he put that weight back on before training camp opens?

Bottom Line

Boateng will be a tough prospect to avoid over-thinking. The bottom line is that he’s been regarded as a top prospect for a reason, and the repertoire behind his university production is translatable to the CFL. Boateng is a mid-to-late first round talent.

2. Connor McGough, University of Calgary

Height: 6’0.6″
Weight: 247-lbs
Eligibility: 4th
Scouting Bureau ranking (September): N/R
Scouting Bureau ranking (December): N/R

McGough was an integral part of the Hardy Cup-winning defensive line, seeing time as a three-technique, five-technique, 3-4 outside linebacker and off-ball linebacker. He also played up-back on Calgary’s punt unit – a testament to his athleticism – and was a top performer at the CFL Combine. The Medicine Hat, AB native is a two-time Canada West All-Star recipient.

Positives

McGough is easily the most athletic defensive end in the class. Despite weighing significantly more than his two closest counter-parts, Evan Foster and Kwaku Boateng, McGough posted the best 40-yard dash (4.73s) and short shuttle (4.25) of the four defensive ends at the national combine. He was also a close second in the bench press (23 reps), vertical jump (32.5″) and 3-cone (7.14s) categories. He’s the most athletic defensive end in the last two draft classes according to national combine results.

As a pass-rusher, McGough has shown the ability to convert speed to power on his bull-rushes. He’s quick off the line and threatens outside before shooting his hands into the chest-plate area of the offensive tackle and walking him back into the quarterback. McGough has quick hands and strikes accurately with his rip/swim moves and with his hand placement on offensive linemen. McGough is a high-motor player that chases plays down from the back-side, and at times flashes some of the coveted flexibility around the edge.

As a run defender, McGough has quick run recognition, rarely putting himself too far up-field and opening up a massive hole through the B-Gap. He has the power to stack offensive linemen at the point of attack as well as the upper-body strength to shed his blocker to make a play on the ball-carrier. McGough has good change of direction skills, which he really flashes when playing the read option and, as a pass rusher, on hump moves.

Negatives

At times it appears as though McGough lacks the balance and lower center of gravity to really dip his shoulder, lean into the tackle and bend around the corner on speed rushes. McGough struggles to react to traffic in the backfield, such as motion, misdirection and pulling offensive linemen. He often loses his positioning in these situations, allowing the play to get outside of him. McGough will get squeezed down the line too often before being sealed, putting far too much stress on his outside linebacker to make a play.

McGough (#75, Left Defensive End) poorly takes on pulling OL.

Bottom line

McGough has all the athleticism to be a staple on special teams units for many seasons to come. He also has the development traits to become a sold rotational pass-rusher in his prime years. McGough would be a good value pick in the early third round, but could sneak into the bottom of round two.

3. Mark Mackie, McMaster University

Height: 6’1.1″
Weight: 255-lbs
Eligibility: 4th
Scouting Bureau ranking (September): N/R
Scouting Bureau ranking (December): N/R

Mackie had a productive four-year career as a Marauder, amassing 14.5 sacks and 74 total tackles in 31 games. Similarly to McGough, he’s played downs at every position on the defensive line, and at 255-lbs, possesses ideal weight for a defensive end in the CFL. Mackie didn’t test particularly well at the national combine but had a solid session in the 1-on-1s.

Positives

Mackie is a strong, powerful player with a low center of gravity. He’s tough to move off the line, and it almost seems as though chip blocks from receivers and running backs bounce right off him. Mackie is a very explosive player on tape, beating offensive lineman off the snap and winning the battle for inside hand placement. For proof of his explosiveness, Mackie recorded the best broad jump of all defensive ends with a 9’5.75-ft leap. He eats up a lot of ground with his get-off, displaying excellent closing speed. He isn’t as stiff as one would think when running the arc on speed rushes, showing some flexibility to turn the corner.

Negatives

Mackie is one of those high floor, low ceiling prospects. He has many good traits and was a productive player in university, but has limited athletic potential left to fulfill. He can, however, expand and refine his pass rush repertoire, which is quite minuscule at this point.

Bottom Line: 

Mackie has more developmental upside as a pass-rusher in the CFL than Evan Foster based on the skills he already possesses, but is likely being mostly evaluated as a special-teamer. Mackie looks to be a fourth-to-fifth round pick come May.

4. Evan Foster, University of Manitoba

Winnipeg, Manitoba – Bisons Football vs Regina Rams October 2. Jeff Miller-Bison Sports-

Height: 5’11.3″
Weight: 225-lbs
Eligibility: 5th
Scouting Bureau ranking (September): N/R
Scouting Bureau ranking (December): N/R

Foster is one of the more athletic defensive linemen in the class, but his underwhelming weight of 225-pounds limits his ceiling. Despite often playing off-ball linebacker on passing downs, Foster still amassed 4 sacks, 8 TFL and 1 FF in his fifth-year season. With 3 solo tackles, 2 TFL and a sack, the Chilliwack, BC native was named the defensive MVP of the 2016 East-West Bowl.

Positives

Foster’s testing numbers translate onto the field. He had the best 3-cone time of all defensive ends (7.11s) and flashes great inside moves as a pass-rusher and change of direction skills against the run or as an off-ball linebacker. He’s fairly good with his hands as a pass-rusher, and flashed an effective spin move during combine one-on-ones. Foster is a high-motor player that tackles well and can play on several special-teams units.

Weaknesses

Listed at 245-lbs on the Bisons’ website, Foster weighed in at 225-lbs in Regina, quickly tarnishing his draft stock. For an undersized player that projects strictly as a special-teamer in the pro ranks, Foster’s 4.981 40-yard dash was also disappointing. Beyond the measurables, similarly to McGough, Foster can get lost in backfield traffic rules, and doesn’t consistently display the power that’s coveted from Canadian pass-rushers.

Bottom Line

Foster projects as a 5th-to-late-round pick.

 

CFL Draft 2017: Mock Draft Version 1.0

With college All-Star games all wrapped up, as well as the CFL combine being just a couple of weeks away, it’s time to start back up the mock draft machine.

This is an outstanding draft class. I’ve been really digging into the CFL draft for three years now, and this is the best prospect pool I’ve seen yet. It’s especially top-heavy, featuring a plethora of NCAA athletes and better talent than usual at skill-positions. It’s possible only two offensive linemen are selected in the first round come draft day in May.

This is the first of three 2017 mock drafts.

ROUND ONE

1:1 – Winnipeg Blue Bombers: NT Eli Ankou, UCLA

Photo Credit: Steve Cheng
Photo Credit: Steve Cheng

Ankou fills a positional need for the Bombers and has the tools to justify being selected with the first overall pick. The Bombers cut ties with starting nose tackle Keith Shologan prior to free agency, and considering the team would likely prefer to continue to start three American offensive linemen, Mike O’Shea and Co. will be forced to start a Canadian along the interior of the defensive line. The Problem? Five-year veteran DT Jake Thomas isn’t starter quality. With Ankou pushing him, however, the Bombers could get by in 2017. Free agent acquisition Drake Nevis, an international, will start at nose tackle this season, and although Thomas is strictly a defensive tackle while Ankou is, at this point, strictly a nose tackle, Nevis will see plenty of time as a three-technique as well in order to get Ankou on the field.

Ankou comes from a traditional two-gapping 3-4 defense at UCLA, where he took on an important role as the team’s starting nose tackle. He amassed ridiculous tackle numbers  – 91 in 22 appearances – despite playing a position that’s not supposed to generate statistical production. This can be attributed to the Ottawa native’s spectacular vision. Ankou finds the football early in the play and uses his technique to stack offensive linemen and free himself to make the tackle. Although he checks the majority of the boxes in terms of player traits, the 6’3″, 325-pounder has room to grow as a pass-rusher.

READ HERE: Eli Ankou Scouting Report

1:2 – Saskatchewan Roughriders: OL Mason Woods, Idaho

Photo credit: Idaho athletics
Photo credit: Idaho athletics

Following the retirement of 10-year vet Chris Best, the Riders are once again starving for Canadian offensive linemen. The Riders also have a huge need for Canadian defensive tackles and defensive backs, but selecting a player of either of those positions with this pick would be a massive reach. Plus, at this stage, Matt Vonk is slated as the starter at right guard, with only two second-year linemen – last year’s 1st overall pick, Josiah St. John, and Dillon Guy – as depth. Ouch. Brendan LaBatte may only have one more season in him, too. It was rumored early in the off-season that he was considering retirement due to concussions.

Selecting Woods no. 2 slight might be a slight reach in terms of other players available, but considering the value of his position, this would be a good pick for Saskatchewan. Woods is a mountain of a man, standing 6’9″ and weighing in at 325-pounds. He was a three-year starter in the Sun-Belt conference, playing strong-side guard for the Vandals. The B.C. native has quick, heavy hands to deliver a sharp punch. He does a good job getting his hands high and tight immediately following the snap of the ball. Woods has similar strength to Manitoba guard Geoff Gray but comes without the glaring technical flaws. He compares to Edmonton right guard Matt O’Donnell.

READ MORE: Mason Woods Scouting Report 

1:3 – BC Lions: DE Kwaku Boateng, Wilfred Laurier

Kha Vo/Laurier Athletics
Kha Vo/Laurier Athletics

Rashuan Simonise is a better prospect than Boateng, and since Shawn Gore may retire sooner than we think, the Lions will probably heavily consider the fast, lanky receiver here. Boateng, however, fills a massive need for Wally Buono’s team, as the Lions have just three Canadian defensive linemen under contract. To make matters worse, David Menard will likely be forced to start at DE for ratio implications, and BC has no depth behind him – Dylan Ainsworth is nothing more than a special-teamer, and the jury is still out on 2015 7th-round pick Maxx Forde.

The loss of recent first-round pick Ese Mrabure-Ajufo surely still stings, but the Lions can fill the void with another Wilfred Laurier pass-rusher in Boateng. Boateng has shown the impressive flexibility to really bend on pass-rushes and run the arc. He also posses a large and developed pass-rush repertoire. He’s slightly lacking in the quickness department, but Boateng has the size (6’2″, 250-lbs) and production (Wilfred Laurier’s all-time sack leader) to warrant this pick.

1:4 – Hamilton Tiger-Cats: WR Rashaun Simonise, Calgary

rashaun_simonise
Photo by Josh Schaefer (getmyphoto.ca)

The Ti-Cats won’t pass on this talented of a receiver again, right? (See Durant, Lemar). With excellent Canadian content and only depth needed, Hamilton should select easily the best player available in this scenario – Rashaun Simonise.

Simonise is an absolute freak athlete. At 6’5″, he ran a 4.42 and 4.48 40-yard dash at his Pro Day last year. Simonise, who left the University of Calgary to declare for the NFL supplemental draft after being ruled academically ineligible, already has NFL experience – he was a late training camp cut of the Cincinnati Bengals last August. NFL opportunities will certainly come into play in terms of Simonise’s draft stock, but after playing last season for the CJFL’s Okanagan Sun, it could be harder for Simonise to land another shot without getting some better game tape against increased competition.

1:5 – Edmonton Eskimos: LB Christophe Mulumba Tshimanga, Maine

mulumba
Peter Buehner Photo

The Eskimos will likely consider University of Manitoba guard Geoff Gray here, as the days in the CFL for long-time guard Simeon Rottier are numbered, but Mulumba Tshimanga would be the best player available. Having brought back Shamawd Chambers from Saskatchewan, the Eskimos can wait until a later round to fill the loss of receivers Devon Bailey and Chris Getzlaf.

Mulumba Tshimanga is one of the most pro-ready players in this draft class. He’s a smart, instinctive linebacker that’s often one step ahead of the offense. He’s nearly reached his athletic potential, with NFL-size physical attributes at 6’1″, 245-lbs. He’ll be asked to drop some weight, but the fact that he’ll likely run around a 4.84 40-yard dash at his current weight is eye-opening for CFL talent evaluators. Considering the Eskimos will roll with four Americans on the defensive line following the release of Eddie Steele, Mulumba Tshimanga may need to contribute in some capacity as early as next season, as head coach Jason Maas would certainly rather not start three Canadians at receiver.

READ MORE: Christophe Mulumba Tshimanga Scouting Report

1:6 – Winnipeg Blue Bombers: WR Danny Vandervoort, McMaster

vandervoort-one-hander

Receiver is the Bombers’ biggest need heading into the draft. Fortunately for Kyle Walters and the blue and gold, the receiver position is a massive position of strength in this class. After years of mediocrity with the likes of Rory Kohlert and Julian Feoli-Gudino, the Bombers may finally land a high-end receiver prospect in the first round.

Vandervoort has a coveted combination of size and speed at 6’2″, 205-lbs. He pulls away from defenders on deep crossers, fades, etc., and displays a massive catch radius on 50/50 balls. Like most receivers who enter the CFL draft, the Barrie, ON. native must sharpen his route-running. Vandervoort, who’s third all-time in Canadian University Football touchdown receptions, has all the tools to become a dynamic CFL receiver.

1:7 – BC Lions: OL Geoff Gray, Manitoba

Photo via Bison Athletics
Photo via Bison Athletics

The Lions have a nice core of Canadian offensive linemen in the likes of Hunter Steward, Cody Husband, Kirby Fabien and Charles Vaillancourt, but Wally Buono won’t be able to keep all four forever. While the Lions have a greater need for a pass-catcher and a defensive tackle, it’d still be a wise move for Buono to invest in another high-end offensive line prospect.

Considering the current state of the Lions’ offensive line, Gray would be granted the time he needs to develop in order to reach his maximum potential. Gray, an olympic lifter, is an absolute bulldozer on the field. He’s fairly agile and has excellent size at 6’5″, 319-lbs. Gray has obvious technical issues that will keep him from seeing the field without seasoning first –  the Winnipeg product struggles with pad level and hand usage – but the pick could pay off hugely in the future for BC. Just envision, if all goes well, Charles Vaillancourt and Geoff Gray would form an exceptional duo for the future.

READ MORE: Geoff Gray Scouting Report

1:8 – Calgary Stampeders: TE Antony Auclair, Laval

auclair

As usual, the Stamps have the best Canadian content in the league. (I know, what else is new?). They’ll pick up some depth nationals in the later rounds to replace some losses in free agency, but have absolutely no pressing needs in the first round. They’re astronomically loaded along the offensive line, with Canadians Pierre Lavertu, Spencer Wilson, Dan Federkeil, Shane Bergman, Karl Lavoie, Brad Erdos, Roman Grozman and Cam Thorn. Calgary’s in perfect position to invest in an NFL-bound player, and who better than Laval TE/SB Anthony Auclair, a truly unique prospect to the CFL Draft.

Auclair, who impressed at the East-West Shrine Game, possesses NFL-wanted TE size at 6’6″, 254-pounds. When watching him at the Shrine as well as during his time at Laval, I was shocked by just how comfortable and smooth he seemed running and catching the football. He’s going to get an NFL opportunity, but if he comes north, the Stamps will have a seriously interesting player on their hands. There’s truly no current CFLer to compare with Auclair – he’s a unicorn. I envision Auclair as an F-receiver that doesn’t need to be subbed out for a fullback in those personnel groupings. The Stamps would be able to get incredibly creative with their offense if they ever landed Auclair on a CFL contract.

1:9 – Ottawa REDBLACKS: WR Nathaniel Behar, Carleton

Ashley Fraser/Postmedia News
Ashley Fraser/Postmedia News

Although the Redblacks could go many different routes with the last pick in the first round, selecting Behar makes a lot of sense. It fills a need – Ottawa has suspect depth behind Brad Sinopoli – and adds another local product to the team’s receiving corps. Behar is a London, Ontario native but, of course, played college ball in Ottawa. The Redblacks could use another offensive lineman – McGill’s Qadr Spooner will be considered – as well as a defensive tackle, however a DT such as Idaho’s Faith Ekakitie or Montreal’s Junior Luke would be a reach in the first round. Behar’s local ties edge out Spooner.

Next mock draft: 3 rounds following the Combine.

CFL Draft 2017: Mason Woods (OG, Idaho) Scouting Report

At this point in preparation for the 2017 CFL draft, the crown as the number one offensive lineman in the class is still up for the taking. Idaho’s Mason Woods, though, may be the one to emerge atop everyone in the end.

Excluding Mississippi State OT Justin Senior, who’s NFL-bound, Manitoba’s Geoff Gray has been heralded as the top offensive lineman in the class. A participant in the East-West Shrine Game, Gray possesses otherworldly strength and ideal size. Woods, however, possesses some elite traits of his own and comes without as many technical flaws.

Woods was a three-year starter for the Vandals in the Sun-Belt conference. He played strong-side guard in Idaho’s pro-style offense, meaning on any given play he could be the left guard, right guard, or offensive tackle.

Measurables

Woods is a mountain of a man standing six-foot-nine. Despite his height, he’s able to bend his knees and out-leverage defensive linemen, similarly to Matt O’Donnell. Woods carries his weight healthily at 320 pounds.

Footwork, Agility

Woods is quite nimble for a man of his size. He consistently arrives on time in pass-protection, mirroring pass-rushers with ease. He does sometimes lack quickness to recover against hump-moves, or other sudden needed changes of direction. Despite being the puller on Idaho’s trap and counter runs, he’s not particularly fast getting out of his stance and into open space. He stands straight up on fold blocks, resulting in a fairly soft block on the edge defender. Woods’ footwork needs plenty of development. I’ve noted a plethora of over-sets and under-sets from the Port Coquitlam, B.C. native, while in the run game, Woods will often take work poor angles on fan blocks.

Hands

Woods’ hands are a strong-point for the 22-year-old. He’s the first to get his hands up upon the snap of the football, bringing them high and tight like a boxer, ready to punch at any given moment. He’s able to establish inside hand placement before his opponent. Woods’ arms are like a steel barricade for defensive linemen. If he’s able to reach an arm out, even just in desperation, Woods has a chance to stop the defender without drawing a flag. He possesses heavy hands to lock onto defenders and control their movements.

woods-active-hands
Woods’ fast, active hands in use.

Strength

Woods has remarkable bench-press-like strength. He’s able to use his upper-body strength to relocate defenders with force, whether they’re blitzers from depth or head-on defensive tackles. Woods is able to anchor against bull-rushes, as with his combination of lower-body strength and simply being a sheer mountain of a man, he’s tough to move backwards. He has the ability to stonewall inside rushes with strength, which is one way he compensates for his over-sets. Woods’ run-blocking is inconsistent at times, and it almost seems as though he’s wearing out throughout the game. At times, he’ll drive a defensive tackle off the ball, while other times he’s simply shield-blocking at the point of attack.

Woods (LG, 67) showing that bench press.
Woods (LG, 67) showing that bench press.
Now at RG, Woods shows off the bench-press-like strength again.
Now at RG, Woods shows off the bench-press-like strength again.

Pass Block Technique

Woods maintains solid pad level for a man of his size in pass-protection. He keeps a flat back throughout the block, but doesn’t always maintain a nice forward lean. He’s able to time his punch nicely. He gets his hands high and tight off the ball but, as mentioned, will over and under-set.

Run Block Technique

As mentioned, Woods works some poor angles as a run defender; he’ll sometimes step too flat on a fan block, allowing the defender to rip and come free, or sometimes too sharp, giving the defender the opportunity to run around his block. When blocking in the second level, Woods must become more consistent at rolling his hips underneath him to move the ‘backer, as well as breaking down in space. This goes hand in hand with Woods needing to keep his feet moving during blocks more often. Overall, Woods is a good run-blocker but lacks consistency.

The Skinny

Beyond both being 6’9″ and 6’10”, Woods reminds me Edmonton Eskimos RG Matt O’Donnell. Both players can bend their knees and use their size to their advantage. They have tackle size and quick enough feet – O’Donnell spent 2016 training camp as a right tackle with the Cincinnati Bengals – but will play their careers along the interior of the offensive line. Woods has elite strength and good technique, and his issues are all coachable. He comes without little red flags, and should be a highly sought-after prospect come draft day.

Grade: 4.45 (out of possible 6.5)
Projected round: One

Draft Notebook: Combine Rosters Revealed, Mulumba Tshimanga Scouting Report

Draft notebook is a weekly series where I share my thoughts from the past week of watching film, hearing what CFL Draft sources are reported to be saying, and general CFL Draft tid-bits. An idea from Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller, ‘Draft Notebook’ will hopefully be a good way for those interested in the draft to follow closely along as I comb through the tape of dozens and dozens of Canadian prospects in this year’s class. 

We’re now one month away from the national CFL combine.

The combine rosters have been announced and, although preliminary – there are only 35 participants listed so far compared to 51 players last year – some notable names have been announced.

Some notable names include NCAA athletes Christophe Mulumba Tshimanga (LB, Maine), Mason Woods (OG, Idaho) and Faith Ekakitie (DT, Idaho), as their schools will likely be hosting Pro Days, and as we’ve seen, few prospects partake in the Combine if their school hosts a Pro Day for NFL/CFL scouts. For a league using CFL Week in Regina, Saskatchewan to help draw more interest to the Combine, successfully recruiting more NCAA athletes to the Combine is good news.

THREE DOWNS

1. It’s hard to understate just how good Simon Fraser LB Jordan Herdman is. Despite being inexplicably unranked in the September Scouting Bureau, and then only being ranked no. 16 on the next, the Winnipeg native is likely the second best player in the class, with the ceiling to be the best. Herdman did better than anyone would have imagined at the Senior Bowl for a Division-II GNAC conference player, often catching the attention of NFL Network draft guru Mike Mayock. Herdman is a freak athlete that does not come around often. Look for the 5’10”, 238-pounder to sneak into day-three of the NFL draft.

2. As I watch the games of more and more highly-touted offensive line prospects, the less infatuated I become with Manitoba Bisons’ right guard Geoff Gray, who’s the top-ranked lineman on the Scouting Bureau besides NFL-bound OT Justin Senior. Gray has obvious technical issues, and while teams will always value athleticism ahead of any other on-field trait, this class has other offensive lineman that possess similar strength with less technical concerns. One of those players is Idaho’s Mason Woods.

3. Wilfred Laurier pass-rusher Kwaku Boateng is an awfully intriguing prospect at defensive end. He has ideal size, with a rare ability to bend around the edge, displaying a low center of gravity and flexibility in his knees. This trait alone will sell some teams. His testing numbers will be interesting. I’d like to see his 3-cone time before coming to any conclusions.

SCOUTING REPORT

LB Christophe Mulumba Tshimanga, University of Maine

mulumba

Height: 6’1″
Weight: 245-lbs
Eligibility: 4th

Positives

Simply put, Mulumba has a nose for the football that every football coach desires from their middle linebacker. He’s a physical, violent play-maker that always finds a way to get his hands on the ball-carrier at the end of the play. A four-year starter at a Division-I FCS program, the Laval, Que. native accumulated 347 tackles, 20 tackles-for-loss and 4 interceptions in 42 career starts. He’s noticeably good at sifting through the trash to find the ball.

Mulumba is an incredibly instinctive linebacker. At times, it seems as though he knows what play the offense is running before they even do. Mulumba, the leader of the Maine’s defense, signaling and directing traffic in the defensive backfield, is exceptional at recognizing formations and quickly reading his keys. He’s rarely a victim of play-action and misdirection. Mulumba works from depth nicely in pass-coverage, jumping on shallow crosses. He uses a quick first step to his advantage after diagnosing what he sees from the offense as an off-ball player.

Mulumba tackles ball-carriers with a purpose. He was often used as a pass-rushing OLB on third-down, and displayed a good get-off coupled with surprising efficiency working with his hands. Scouts will value Mulumba’s production in a 2-gap defense, as he’ll be free to be more aggressive in a one-gap CFL scheme.

Negatives

Granted, he is 20-25 pounds heavier than the average CFL linebacker, Mulumba doesn’t possess sideline-to-sideline speed, and he will be asked to drop some weight. Expect Mulumba to run around a 4.84-second 40-yard-dash at his Pro Day, which, while above-average, isn’t elite speed.

Mulumba’s change of direction abilities also have room to improve. He can be just a split-second behind at times. While playing in an overwhelming scheme for college blocking schemes to handle, Mulumba also benefited plentifully from a strong front-seven around him. Scouts may also be worried that a player they’d be drafting to be a starter in the future had minimal pass coverage responsibilities.

Mulumba will at times mistakenly get caught on the shoulder of a pulling guard, opening a large rushing lane for the ball-carrier when he’s responsible for two gaps. He wasn’t a reliable TED linebacker for Maine’s 3-4 when asked. (Think of the MIKE linebacker in Richie Hall’s defense, eating blocks to free up the WILL). Mulumba must work at staying square at the point of attack. He seemed to burn out in the fourth quarter of Maine’s week one match-up against UCONN.

The bottom line: Mulumba is a first-round talent with the traits to be a long-time starter at middle linebacker.

Projected round: First round.

Bombers Riskily Betting on Thomas Following Abrupt Release of Shologan

On the second day of free agency, the Montreal Alouettes inked Canadian defensive tackle Jabar Westerman to a three-year deal, spelling the end of any hopes of the Winnipeg Football Club landing the younger brother of Bombers’ pass-rushing specialist, Jamaal Westerman.

The Bombers recently released veteran Canadian nose tackle Keith Shologan before free agency, likely due his remarkably expensive salary of $175,000 annually. Having made this transaction without a set replacement in place, the Bombers seriously needed to land Westerman in free agency, as the former BC Lion was the only proven Canadian interior defensive lineman on the market that the Bombers had a chance to afford. Due to other teams raising Westerman’s value, the cap-pressed Bombers were out-bid early in negotiations, and on Wednesday morning, the 27-year-old was an Alouette.

The Bombers face quite the conundrum now that neither Shologan, who was also picked up by Montreal, or Westerman are options. They’re without a seventh Canadian starter, and while the club’s Canadian content is mostly quite strong, the roster is really only structured to start a seventh national at defensive tackle or as a third offensive lineman, where Patrick Neufeld, who proved in 2015 that he’s a serviceable option at right tackle or guard, would disassemble an excellent offensive line in 2016 thanks to three international starters.

Considering the risk the Bombers took in releasing Shologan at the time they did, as well as the fact that they backed out of negotiations with Westerman, it’s clear the club is confident in the abilities of Jake Thomas, a five-year veteran, to possibly step up as the team’s seventh Canadian starter. Although the Bombers will likely take an interior defensive lineman early in the draft – I believe they’ll use the first overall pick to select UCLA NT Eli Ankou – there’s an increasingly solid chance that Thomas will be thrusted into a starting role in 2017.

Walters and O’Shea are playing with fire here. While free agent signee Drake Nevis will start at Shologan’s now-vacated nose tackle position, the team’s quality of play from Canadian interior defensive linemen will likely steeply decline with Thomas at defensive tackle.

While quite over-paid at $175k, Shologan was fairly solid in 2016. As a run-stopper, Shologan was a consistently gap-sound player that flashed a lot of veteran-savvy in his attempt to maintain position in defending his gap. He could anchor against double-teams and, as a defensive lineman in a one-gap system, took advantage of his freedom, if you will, to shoots gaps. He did leave some plays in the backfield due to tackling issues, but it did not appear as though age affected his run-stopping capabilities.

Thomas, meanwhile, struggles in this area. He’d be much better suited as a second-down pass-rusher in a 4-man rotation, but seeing as the Bombers only dressed three interior defensive linemen per game in 2016, Thomas needed to be an every down player.

Thomas lacks a lot of fundamentals in playing the run. Most notably, he struggles with getting his head up and locating the ball-carrier, and lacks some of the fundamental strength to withstand both down-blocks and double-teams. (In a three-man rotation, Thomas also had to play a some nose tackle, which naturally draws more double teams). He’s slow off the line, and is not able to routinely get in a position to stack blockers, locate the ball-carrier, shed the block and make the play. The below GIF is one of many examples of Thomas giving up ground as a run-defender. While it’s LB Khalil Bass who did not fill his gap responsibility – he got stuck on the outside shoulder of the left tackle – the result of Thomas, who’s responsible for the A-gap here, giving up ground widens the B-gap far too much, creating a monster hole for Ottawa RB Mossis Madu to run through for the easy score.

thomas-too-much-ground-gif

As a pass-rusher, Thomas has one move only: a funny looking, but extremely effective bull-rush. Walking the guard five steps into the backfield, Thomas is routinely able to create interior pressure on the quarterback. While it’s undeniably effective, the process of the making of this bull-rush if, well, unorthodox, to say the least.

Thomas seems to use his slow get-off to his advantage, creating a large distance between he and the guard, almost as a running start. He then closes quickly with short, quick steps. Thomas wins with excellent hand placement and uses tremendous leverage, keeping his feet moving through contact and the strength he does possess to power through. Because he gets out of stance, lowers his head and powers into the offensive lineman on rushes in passing-situations, Thomas doesn’t really see what’s happening in the backfield, which takes away clean-up sack opportunities. Having really only one pass-rush move is, of course, a huge disadvantage, but while the process is odd, Thomas’ bull-rush is, as mentioned, undeniably effective.

While a below-average pass-rushing nose tackle league-wide, Shologan is still better in this regard than Thomas, even if not by much. He can do a couple different things, but typically uses basic power moves to shed blocks in attempt to penetrate. Shologan pushes the pocket decently well, too.

His sack numbers, however, drastically dipped from seven in 2015 to merely two in 2016. This can likely be attributed to Shologan being moved along the line a lot more in Ottawa, whereas in Winnipeg, he only aligned as a three-tech approximately once every 9 snaps. Playing almost exclusively at nose tackle means Shologan rarely drew one-on-one match-ups, either being quickly chipped first or double-teamed altogether.

It’s clear the Bombers wanted less of a robot at nose tackle and more of a play-maker. O’Shea and defensive coordinator Richie Hall are probably willing to sacrifice some technique in the middle for an athlete with a larger pass-rushing repertoire, who’s able to pull off moves like Lions’ Mic’hael Brooks’ club move with some consistency.

brooks-club-gif

The Bombers got their guy in Nevis. Unfortunately, though, while they improved at nose tackle, the quality of Canadian interior defensive line play, which the Bombers have – and likely will continue to – rely on has steeply declined.

In losing Shologan and missing out on Westerman, the Bombers are now forced to choose between to rather unfavorable scenarios in deciding how they’ll meet the required amount of Canadian starters.

O’Shea and Walters have clearly placed a lot of eggs in Jake Thomas’ basket – I’d probably consider it a blind leap of faith – and will need surprising results to avoid criticism for a mid-February move of releasing Keith Shologan.