2016 CFL Mock Draft: Version One

The Canadian Football League’s free agent frenzy has come and gone, and teams have their full attention set on the Canadian College Draft, scheduled for May 10. But first comes the regional and national combines – the latter being scheduled for March 11-13 – where several players will see their draft stock fluctuate.

Here’s my first of three mock drafts.

First Round: 

1:1 Saskatchewan Roughriders – G Charles Vaillancourt, Laval

The ‘Riders essentially have needs for Canadians at every position, but none more than along their offensive line. Saskatchewan lost depth offensive lineman Corey Watman – a disappointing first-round pick from 2014 –  in free agency; Chris Best, 32, is ageing and is on the decline; and centre Dan Clark, who cooled off after an inspiring start, could use some serious competition in training camp. Vaillancourt, meanwhile, has fantastic size at six-foot-four, 325 pounds, and is one of the most decorated offensive lineman in CIS football history.

1:2 Montreal Alouettes – WR Tevaun Smith, Iowa

Recording only 563 receiving yards, Smith had a disappointing senior campaign for Iowa and, as a result, saw his NFL stock decrease dramatically. But the physical traits are there, as the six-foot-two, Toronto, ON. native has elite speed and jumping ability – he’s a legitimate deep-threat. The Alouettes aren’t exactly desperate for Canadian pass-catchers, but Smith’s talents could be simply too good to pass on.

1:3 BC Lions – G Josiah St. John, Oklahoma

Unlike last year, the Lions will start three Canadian interior offensive lineman next season, and drafting St. John could give them a solid sixth lineman and future All-Star. St. John couldn’t hold down a starting offensive tackle position with the Sooners – he started four games in 2015 – but at six-foot-six, 308 pounds, with great run-blocking skills, he could make a seamless transition to guard.

1:4 Toronto Argonauts – DT Mehdi Abdesmad, Boston College

Abdesmad was a solid defensive end at Boston College but projects as a three-tech defensive tackle in the professional ranks. He has phenomenal lower-body strength and was a productive player in the ACC, amassing a whopping 49 tackles and 15 tackles-for-loss in 2015. The Argos, who’s signing of Brian Bulcke indicates they’ll still start a Canadian DT despite Cleyon Laing leaving for the NFL, could have a fantastic defensive tackle rotation in the future with Abdesmad and 2015 second-round pick Daryl Waud.

1:5 Hamilton Tiger-Cats – RG Dillon Guy, Buffalo

Guy, a Hamilton native, was apart of Buffalo’s offensive line rotation since his true freshman season. He’s known as a smart, disciplined right guard, who isn’t overly athletic but, oddly enough, stands out more as a pass-blocker than a run-blocker. Guy has a recent injury history, however, as he missed much of the 2014 season with a foot injury as well as much of last year with an unfortunate season-ending knee injury. The Ti-Cats traded away 36-year-old Tim O’Neill to the Lions, all but guaranteeing that they’ll be using their first-round pick on an offensive lineman.

1:6 Calgary Stampeders – RB Mercer Timmis, Calgary

The Stamps have solid Canadian depth all through their roster – except at running back, that is. They recently cut Matt Walter, and while Jon Hufnagel says the Stamps don’t need a national RB, I’m not buying it. With unreal speed for a running back of that size (6’1″, 220), Timmis has big-time player potential.

1:7 Ottawa REDBLACKS – DB Arjen Colquhoun, Michigan State

Ottawa, who took centre Alex Mateas with last year’s first-overall pick, can afford to pass on an offensive lineman here and look to improve their National depth elsewhere. Strong-side LB is Ottawa’s lone defensive position that’s absolutely guaranteed to be occupied by a Canadian (Antoine Pruneau) due to free agent losses, and depth is needed behind the 26-year-old. Colquhoun, who’s redshirt senior season was his first as a starter at Michigan St., could be a gem.

1:8 Edmonton Eskimos – G Philippe Gagnon, Laval

With the midseason signing of Matt O’Donnell, the Eskimos, at one point, had 14 offensive lineman under contract last season. Injuries have decimated this unit recently, and after passing on early-round offensive lineman annually until last season, the Esks would be wise to invest a first-round pick in Philippe Gagnon. Gagnon would be reuniting with 2015 first-round pick out of Laval, Danny Groulx, potentially forming a formidable duo for the future.

Round Two

2:1 Winnipeg Blue Bombers – G Jason Lauzon-Seguin, Laval

Having traded Chris Greaves, released Dominic Picard and losing Tommy Griffiths to retirement, the Bombers only have four national offensive lineman under-contract, including recently signed, 33-year-old Jeff Keeping. Winnipeg has no choice but to spend one of their consecutive second-round picks on an interior lineman, and you can rarely go wrong with a Laval kid.

2:2 Winnipeg Blue Bombers – DT David Onyemata, Manitoba

This one could be a surprise to many. While Onyemata will surely sign a UDFA contract with an NFL team, there’s always a chance that he’s cut in mini-camp or training camp. The Bombers can afford to wait a year or two for Onyemata, the consensus top prospect, if necessary, with Jake Thomas and recently-signed Keith Shologan rotating at nose-tackle. And Onyemata, a Manitoba product from Nigeria, would surely be worth the wait.

2:3 Montreal Alouettes – RG Zachary Intzandt, McMaster

Some may view this as a reach, but Intzandt does nothing but impress me on film. He’s an athletic dude with great size, technique and a solid burst out of his stance. He’s also an effective puller, polished pass-protector and a solid run-blocker – the total package. He’s not great at anything, but more importantly, Intzandt has no glaring weaknesses. I wouldn’t be shocked if a solid combine sees McMaster’s anchor move into the first round on several team’s big-boards.

2:4 BC Lions – DE Trent Corney, Virginia

With Ese Mrabure-Ajufo only one year into his career, the Lions can’t be ready to give up on starting a Canadian defensive end after Jabar Westerman’s lackluster 2015 campaign. Corney, a high-motor rusher who reminds of Greg Peach, could give them another option for the future.

2:5 Toronto Argonauts – DB Elie Bouka, Calgary

Bouka, already my second-ranked defensive back, could see his draft stock improve even more after draft combine one-on-ones. Having played each position in the secondary as well as some linebacker, Bouka brings tremendous versatility to the table. As shown by several first-round selections in past drafts such as Chris Ackie, Antoine Pruneau and Mike Edem, CFL teams really value DBs who are able to play wherever needed. Don’t be surprised if Alquhoun and Bouka swap draft positions in the real thing, pending the CFL combine.

2:6 Hamilton Tiger-Cats – DB Taylor Loffler, UBC

While Loffler, a Boise State graduate, isn’t the most athletic safety available in the draft, he could be the most intelligent. He routinely reads route combinations, reacts quickly on the fly and isn’t easily fooled by any motion that offenses throw at him. The Ti-Cats, who could – but likely won’t – start three Canadian defensive backs if Craig Butler moves to linebacker, will need depth in the secondary after moving on from Neil King, Aaron Crawford, Mike Edem and Kyle Miller in free agency.

2:7 Calgary Stampeders – WR Juwan Brescacin, Northern Illinois

Brescacin wasn’t the most productive receiver during his time at Northern Illinois – his season totals have declined each year after putting up a career-high 499 yards and six touchdowns in his sophomore season – but he’s certainly showed flashes of potential as a red-zone threat with his massive build. Similarly to Lemar Durant last year, scouts may question the six-foot-four, 230-pound receiver’s ability to run an entire route tree.

2:8 Ottawa REDBLACKS – LG Sean Jamieson, Western

Ottawa really can’t go wrong with adding another young, Canadian offensive lineman to the cupboard for a future role as the sixth offensive lineman. Jamieson, a mean, nasty run-blocker, would be a safe pick.

2:9 Edmonton Eskimos – DB Anthony Thompson, Southern Illinois

Thompson, contrary to Taylor Loffler, is an extremely raw player with pro-calibre speed and agility. He’s displayed poor awareness in zone-coverage as a safety and far too often goes for the kill shot rather than the wrap-up tackle. But, again, he has so much talent in terms of his speed, quickness and ball skills that he could warrant a top-15 selection.

Round Three

3:1 Hamilton Tiger-Cats – LB Terrell Davis, UBC

Davis, a former running back for Arizona State, is a prototypical Ti-Cat linebacker with his athleticism. While he has the agility, blitzing ability and pass-coverage awareness to fit in well in Hamilton’s defensive schemes, he’s going to make his money on special-teams. It’s easy to envision the six-foot, 220-pounder as an excellent punt protector at the pro-level.

3:2 Winnipeg Blue Bombers – WR Llevi Noel, Toronto

Noel appears to be the complete opposite of Addison Richards, Winnipeg’s second-round draft pick in 2015, supplying fantastic speed from the outside and big-time yards-after-catch ability. Noel appears to be far from a complete receiver, however, and I’m interested to see if he lives up to the hype at the CFL combine.

3:3 Montreal Alouettes – DB Josh Woodman, Western

Woodman is a likely candidate to leap-frog Anthony Thompson in the DB position rankings. He’s a smart player who’s aggressive, yet fundamentally sound. He looked especially good at corner throughout his tenure at Western in their zone-heavy defensive scheme.

3:4 BC Lions – WR Doug Corby, Queens

Averaging 118.4 receiving yards/game, Corby’s 2015 season really put him on the map. The Lions are quite thin at national slot-back behind Austin Collie and drafting Corby is a low-risk move with the thin amount of talent remaining.

3:5 Toronto Argonauts – LB Curtis Newton, Guelph

Green is a fantastic pass-coverage linebacker with Guelph that, perhaps in the future, could become a situational weak-side linebacker. While I doubt the Argos start third-year linebacker Thomas Miles in the middle this year, Cory Greenwood will start the season at WILL. The latter suffered some major concussion injuries last season, however, giving the Argos even more incentive to draft Newton (six-foot-two, 220-pounds).

3:6 Hamilton Tiger-Cats – FB Declan Cross, McMaster

Cross enjoyed a large role in McMaster’s offense and developed into a very versatile fullback. He’s an absolute wrecking ball, no doubt, but shows flashes of rushing and receiving capabilities that could keep him in the CFL for a long time.

3:7 Saskatchewan Roughriders – G Kadeem Adams, Western

Adams displayed good feet and downfield blocking as a puller, but isn’t the biggest guy and will need to bulk up to move inside to right guard in the CFL. The ‘Riders could use another developmental project along the offensive line.

3:8 Ottawa REDBLACKS – K/P Quinn Van Gylswyk, UBC

Van Gylswyk connected on 20/24 field goals but, more impressively, averaged over 43.6 yards per punt last year with UBC. Having kicked the Vanier Cup-winning field goal, he already has experience making big kicks in big times. It sounds like Van Gylswyk, who evidently has a huge leg, has great accuracy, as well.

3:9 Saskatchewan Roughriders – WR Joshua Stanford, Kansas

The last pick in this mock is the wild-card. Stanford, once a break-out true freshman with West Virginia, who had over 600 yards in 2013, has been a disappointment ever since. Before transferring to Kansas, where he battled a hamstring issue among other things, in 2015, Stanford fell out of favor in his sophomore season with the Hokies, dealing with on-field, off-field and injury issues. But if he resembles anything like the dynamic player he was in 2013 at the CFL combine, Stanford could sky-rocket up the draft boards.

vaillancourt
Simon Clark: Agence QMI

Randle Renews Deal With Bombers

Bomber fans will get to see at least two more seasons of Chris Randle’s play-making in the Blue & Gold.

The 27-year-old agreed to terms with the Bombers on a two-year extension, keeping him in Winnipeg through the 2017 season.

Randle, who started at boundary cornerback for the Bombers in 2014, really came into form as a linebacker after a rough start, largely due to the position change. The Utah State alum recorded 37 tackles, a sack and an interception in nine games before suffering a season-ending injury in the Labour Day Classic. He’s one of the most underrated defensive backs in the league and a key piece to this defense.

Extending Randle’s contract a year before it was originally set to expire is great for GM Kyle Walters, who’s one of the best in the CFL at managing contracts and renewing them midseason or ahead of time, creating a much less stressful December and January.

Randle
Brian Ronogh: Winnipeg Sun

An Underrated Key to New-Era Defense in CFL

Among the many similarities between the league’s best defenses in 2015 – the first season played where a new rule was put in place that prohibited defensive players from contacting or impeding a receiver after five yards – an underrated, but absolutely crucial need was having defensive backs with enough quickness, football IQ and burst to get up in the receiver’s face and impede or redirect him while they can.

It’s no coincidence that the league’s best defenses – Edmonton, Hamilton, Montreal and Ottawa – had certain defensive backs line up close to the line of scrimmage, depending on the play-call. (Calgary was excluded simply due to their unique defensive scheme where they pass assignments and give different looks). It’s also no coincidence that last year’s top-two defenses against the pass, Edmonton and Ottawa, easily ran more man-coverage than any other defense in the league and from a press alignment. And they certainly weren’t going to be effective in man-coverage with all of their defensive backs giving soft, 10 yards of cushion on every play – just ask British-Columbia, Toronto and Saskatchewan.

Entering the season it wasn’t quite known how defensive coordinators were going to adapt their defenses for the rule change. We expected – and witnessed – a ridiculous amount of zone-coverage from all teams in the first few weeks of the season. But then certain defensive coordinators seemingly started realizing their options, and it was largely based off the talent of their defenders on the backfield.

Consistently giving a receiver 10-plus yards of cushion or, on the other hand, lining up within five yards and impeding the route in the legal zone, proved to be a clear indictment of a defensive back’s skill level; or better put, their abilities within the league’s pointless new rule change. While, of course, a halfback can’t press a slot-back when it’s zone-coverage and he’s responsible for a deep third, he can still line up close to the line of scrimmage and then start backpedaling pre-snap. The alignment of the secondary is dictated by the play-call, but any defensive coordinator would hope to have good enough defensive backs able to also perform certain assignments while giving 1-5 yards cushion – just not everyone can.

It’s because defensive coordinators need to especially remain as unpredictable as they can with their play-calls, and being limited to running almost strictly zone is a huge restriction. Quarterbacks picked those defenses apart last season, not having to worry about coverage bluffs. Regularly giving receivers 10 yards of cushion pre-snap across the board is a clear indication for a quarterback that it’s some type of zone defense; one less thing to worry about.

But the best defenses kept quarterbacks guessing as a result of having smart, quick defensive backs with a great burst to drive on the receiver’s route, allowing their team’s to run man or zone coverage from different looks – press or with cushion. Individually, press coverage can allow a defensive back to pick his shade (position) on the receiver best for the surrounding coverage/situation, slow down a receiver with a jam within the legal five yards before passing him to a teammate or running with him in man, and also takes away the short pass, more obviously. A mix of different looks from press or soft alignment from different defensive backs, regardless of the type of coverage, goes a long way to remaining unpredictable.

It really comes down to great defensive backs for teams to have such options – particularly halfbacks, as it’s a lot harder to effectively run man-coverage, or even simply line up in press, against slot-backs, who have a running start. But the league’s best halfbacks in 2015- Jerell Gavins, Bruce Johnson, Aaron Grymes, Jamar Wall, Billy Parker, etc – could line up in press and gave their team’s far more options in play-calling as a result. (Ryan Phillips would have been included on this list but BC rarely ran any man and consistently gave soft coverage, to very little success).

While having a stout pass-rush and athletic linebackers will always be a major factor in stopping the past, surrounding them with great defensive backs in the new era of defense in the CFL that can run man or press, lining up at different depths, is now more of a need than ever.

b johnson
THE CANADIAN PRESS, via CFL.ca

Avon Cobourne Named Running Backs Coach

All is right again in the Bombers’ backfield from a coaching perspective.

Buck Pierce will return to the QB meeting room as the team’s quarterbacks coach, and, as originally reported by TSN’s Gary Lawless, the team has officially named Avon Cobourne running backs coach. Cobourne, of course, is a former All-Star running back in the CFL, spending five years with the Alouettes, winning two Grey Cups, and another two years with the Tiger-Cats. His finest season, in 2009, saw him rush for 1,214 yards and 13 TDs – both career highs – on route to a 15-3 record and Grey Cup championship.

The 38-year-old spent the last two years as the same positional coach with the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Under Cobourne, the Riders had the league’s most lethal rushing attack in both seasons – although Cornish rushing for 1,000 yards in nine games in 2014 may beg to differ – with several different rushers. Jerome Messam had his best season as a professional in 2015 under Cobourne – his 2011 numbers would’ve been squashed last season had he received more carries – and Anthony Allen earned himself a contract with the BC Lions.

It’ll be exciting to watch Cobourne work with Andrew Harris, as the two have some things in common. Cobourne, like Harris, was an emotional player and also a threat as a receiver. They’re both extremely smart rushers and are known for their football IQ.

Cobourne’s biggest task is to groom a couple of young, Canadian running backs into legitimate backups with the Bombers going national at the positions. The Bombers already have 2014 second-round draft pick Pascal Lochard, who they recently signed in free agency from British-Columbia, and will likely add another in the draft.

Seeing how successful Avon Cobourne was as a player and as a coach with the Roughriders, there’s no reason not to believe that he’s the right guy for the job.

Jeff McIntosh: THE CANADIAN PRESS
Jeff McIntosh: THE CANADIAN PRESS

Are We Witnessing the Demise of Jim Popp?

Note: This post was published before Herb Zurkowsky of the Montreal Gazette reported that the Alouettes have restructured the contracts of SJ Green, Chip Cox and Bear Woods. The Als will have probably saved close to $100k or more with these moves, but they’re still over the cap. And they should be nowhere near the salary cap with the talent on that roster.

As the General Manager for the same team for over 20 years, Jim Popp is perhaps the most respected figure around the Canadian Football League.

It’s his Alouettes clubs that have been emulated by many teams over the years. He made the Alouettes the class of the league from 2009-2012. His team has been the team to beat in the East.

He’s open to the media, speaks his mind and knows the league inside and out. He’s proactive and has supported change and suggested ideas to better the league. Heck, you could even say he’s been a trend-setter at times.

But recently, the 51-year-old has changed. He’s gone away from his own philosophies in some regards, while even some of his strategies that used to work, differentiating Popp from the rest, simply aren’t working anymore.

I think Jim Popp, someone who I have the utmost respect for, is really feeling as though his head’s under the ax having seen his team spiral downward since 2012.

Popp has yet to prove that he can win in the salary cap era without Anthony Calvillo and Marc Trestman. With a .425 winning percentage over the past three seasons, as well as two different head coaches and eight different quarterbacks, Popp’s done anything but.

I mean, firing two head coaches midseason over three years and naming himself, who’s now on his fifth – yes, his fifth! – stint as Montreal’s head coach, interim both times absolutely reeks of desperation. Just as ridiculous is the fact that Popp has formally anointed himself head coach for the 2016 season, putting matters into his own hands despite defensive coordinator Noel Thorpe having already earned such an opportunity and chomping at the bit for it.

Popp, however will never blame himself for all this until, maybe, the day he’s fired, if it ever happens with owner Bob Wetenhall. Like I said, I like Popp, but the guy has a huge ego and once again it’s affecting his decision making and hurting his team.

Fact is, having Calvillo and Trestman made Popp’s job a lot easier and gave him a lot more freedom. Their dominance covered up any of his mistakes during their dominant tenure. Popp is certainly missing them now with his job likely on the line in the next season or two.

Popp has had the longest leash of any executive in the modern era of the CFL. Seeing him struggle build a winning team while doing the nonsensical things he’s doing now seems so odd.

Popp’s salary cap management has been absolutely horrific. Didier Orméjuste of RDS has reported that one week after free agency, the Alouettes were a mind-blowing $700k over the salary cap.

Seven-hundred-thousand dollars.

It’s the equivalent of being $10M over the salary cap in the NHL.

I don’t care if it’s only February; that, people, is an absolute catostrofic disaster. Like, Triple-Bogey-on-a-par-three type disaster. Well, even that’s a huge understatement.

Given the Alouettes’ talent level on the roster, they should probably have the third or fourth lowest payroll and roughly $600-$700k of cap space – not negative $700k. Well, no team should ever have -$700k in cap space at any time. It’s an absolute ludicrous situation to be in.

The Alouettes, who had a logjam at inside linebacker, had to release their elite, Canadian middle linebacker, Henoc Muamba, because Popp somehow dug himself so deep into the ground that dumping Muamba’s contract before he was due a $60,000 bonus was the only way for Popp to start clawing toward the surface.

A well-documented reason the Als are in salary cap hell is due to Popp’s affinity for veteran players. Montreal has basically become a retirement home for CFL players.

They’re far and away the oldest team in the CFL for the second consecutive season. They have nineteen veterans in their thirties, which is a mind-blowing amount given scouting departments ability to find players and replacements every year, reiterating Popp’s desperation. It’s a terribly, terribly high number, not to mention that much of those players make up the core of Montreal’s roster.

In just over the past calendar year, Popp has offered Nik Lewis two contracts; payed 33-year-old wide-side CB Jovon Johnson $90k in free agency because the player reached out to the team, telling them he’d like to play there; re-signed now 35-year-olds Jerald Brown and Kyries Hebert; failed miserably with Michael Sam one year after the washed-up Chad Johnson debacle; traded promising 24-year-old Kenny Stafford for a washed-up Fred Stamps (more on that later); cut arguably the best middle LB in the CFL in Henoc Muamba, who’s young and Canadian, to afford these veterans; and, to top it off, after a carousel of quarterbacks for three seasons, has 36-year-old Kevin Glenn as his best option at quarterback, giving us an immediate indication of how much this team is limited to achieving.

After disappointing 2014 and 2015 seasons, Popp should’ve gone young. He clearly hasn’t, and is paying for it. With his mind set in stone on using veteran players, Popp shouldn’t have signed WR Duron Carter and made him tied for the highest paid receiver with another Alouette, SJ Green. And then he also signs Kenny Stafford – a player Popp should’ve never traded – to a six-figure deal and all of the sudden the Als are likely paying around $630k for three American receivers. And this is a roster that already had talented, young receivers in Cody Hoffman and BJ Cunningham that are making peanuts compared to the aforementioned.

But there’s a reason Popp is where is he is. He continuously dominates the Canadian College Draft year after year and does a great job building game-day rosters. He does, however, desperately need a winning season in 2016 if he wishes to continue his tenure in Montreal.

While winning cures all, Popp needs to fix his salary cap issue before he can even get to that part. We could be witnessing the demise of an All-Time great CFL General Manager.

REUTERS
REUTERS

Bombers ink deal with ex-Lion DB

As first reported by Darrin Bauming last week, the Winnipeg Football Club have now officially added two more internationals to their training camp roster in DB Jonte Green and OT Lawrence Martin.

Green is a former sixth-round pick of the Detroit Lions, spending two seasons in the Motor City before being cut in early 2014. In 2015 he participated in off-season workouts in April with the Buffalo Bills and a month in training camp with the Arizona Cardinals.

Green, a three year starter at New Mexico State, started five games in his rookie season back in 2012. While several pundits saw potential in Green seeing as he was a sixth-round pick starting in his rookie season, I always thought he was a train-wreck at cornerback.

SI.com:

Positives: Athletic cornerback who’s displayed a variety of skill in his game. Plays with an aggressive nature, works hard to defend the run and makes a lot of tackles up the field. Keeps the action in front of him, gets a nice jump on the throw and displays a good move to the pass. Can burst to the ball out of his plant and works to make plays. Solid return specialist who sets up blocks, finds the running lanes and quickly gets through them.

Negatives: Does not consistently play to his 40 time or show a burst. Loses opponents, blows assignments and does a lot of trailing down the field. Struggles staying with receivers out of breaks.

Sports Illustrated’s scouting report of Green coming out of college seemed to be spot on based on his experience in the NFL. He showed poor awareness in zone, took a lot of holding penalties and didn’t at least become the decent man-on-man corner that he had the potential/was projected to be. That all doesn’t sound good for his chances of making it in the CFL.

The six-foot, 185-pound Green will likely compete at boundary halfback and strong-side linebacker for the Bombers. He was a strong tackler with New Mexico State, but whether or not he can regain his college form remains to be seen.

Winnipeg’s other new coup, Lawrence Martin, is far more of a mystery. He’s got great size at six-foot-three, 320-pounds and actually played tight end and fullback at a whopping 316 pounds in his second and final year of college football with South Florida; it’s safe to say Martin doesn’t lack athleticism. He had three career starts as an offensive lineman at South Florida.

Lawrence has since played in the Arena League with the Tampa Bay Storm. He’ll compete for the right tackle position with Jace Daniels and Jamarcus Hardrick.

Credit to DetroitLions.com
Credit to DetroitLions.com

Scouting Report: RB Mercer Timmis

With Free Agency in the books, it’s officially draft season around the CFL. For the next few weeks, I’ll be taking a look at some of the eligible draft prospects that could be a fit with the Bombers. Through attending most Bison games as well as watching film, here are my thoughts on RB Mercer Timmis.

Name: Mercer Timmis
Position: Running Back
School: Calgary
Height: 6-1
Weight: 22o

“Game-breaker” is a rather cliché term used to describe big-play players, but that’s exactly University of Calgary running back Mercer Timmis to a tee.  The explosive junior wasn’t always the feature of Calgary’s offense with Hec Creighton award winner Andrew Buckley at QB, but he still exhibits traits that could lead to him being an explosive player in the pro ranks.

You can view his highlights here.

Rushing: 

At six-foot-one, 220-pounds, Timmis has good speed for a running back of that size, and I’d be shocked if he didn’t run a sub-4.55 40-yard dash at the CFL combine. To compare, the balanced, but primarily speed back is not only much faster, but also bigger than the five-foot-ten, 213-pound fellow-Canadian Andrew Harris.

Timmis’ natural blend of size and speed are the first things that come to mind when on the topic of the fourth-year Dino. He stands every bit of six-foot-one, with a well-built frame that’s made to shed arm tackles. Like I said, he has legit 4.55 speed (at least) with an incredible second gear to destroy pursuit angles in the open-field. While not overly shifty, he has enough moves to make people miss in the opening field, including a strong stiff-arm. He’s a straight-line burner that reads blocks well downfield and will get his nose dirty. But, frankly, he didn’t have to all that much at the University level.

It must be considered that Timmis played behind a stout offensive line that opened up huge running lanes. I question if Timmis has the wiggle to succeed between the tackles on a consistent basis, squeezing through small holes and just making plays happen on his own. Similarly to guys like Chris Johnson, CJ Spiller, Lesean McCoy and even Barry Sanders, Timmis is a home-run hitter – a threat to score on any play. But, like the rest, while always searching for the long run, they could lose yardage on any play. It frustrates coaches until they break one 55 yards to the house.

Receiving and pass protection: 

Having caught only eight passes in 2015, Timmis doesn’t have a lot of experience as a route-runner. While he does have decent hands, the Burlington, ON. native hasn’t shown the abilities to create mismatches with crisp route-running. He’s an ideal running back for the screen game, however, with his good initial burst and ability to read blocks downfield and make quick decisions.

Timmis is an above-average pass protector coming out of University. While he doesn’t always take good angles and fire his feet enough, he goes low and delivers hits, unlike most running backs, rather than taking them. He reads defenses good and identifies flaws in the pass-pro scheme versus the defensive front, anticipating free rushers or the need of a double team.

Special-teams: 

Timmis has hardly played special-teams since his freshman year, as he took over starting duties on offense the following season and never relinquished them. But with his size and speed as well as his toughness in the pass-protection game, I have no doubt that Timmis could excel on every unit, particularly as a wedge-buster and punt protector.

Overall: 

An underrated prospect, Timmis is one of the best draft-eligible running backs in a long time. After he stands out at the CFL combine, few will be shocked if he’s a late first-round pick. He only had 80 carries in 2015 – to compare, Argos’ draft pick Dillon Campbell had 186 – which is certainly good news and something pro teams absolutely consider.

It would be wise for the Bombers to add another national running back in Mercer Timmis to their stable with their consecutive second round picks at ninth and tenth overall, as well as an offensive lineman. There’s no way Kyle Walters could pass on Timmis if he was still available when they’re on the clock.

He could be a future star.

mercer-timmis
Photo courtesy of the University of Calgary Dinos

 

Cotton, Peach the Latest Salary Cap Casualties

The purge continues again today with Kyle Walters releasing two more veterans. Both RB Paris Cotton and DE Greg Peach were released today, clearing up cap space for the Bombers’ seven free agent signings. And whether or not the team is interested in pursuing free agent MLB Henoc Muamba – which, I doubt – these salary cap cuts were going to happen, anyway.

It was obvious that their days in the Blue & Gold were numbered, as the signing of non-import Andrew Harris meant the team likely won’t carry an American running back unless, perhaps, they’re a dynamic returner. Cotton showed glimpses of greatness in his career in Winnipeg, ending the 2014 season on a tear and opening up the 2015 season in week one against Saskatchewan in equally spectacular fashion. His game against Saskatchewan, catching and running the football, was one of the most exciting performances I’ve ever seen from a Blue Bomber running back.

Cotton slowed down shortly after, and may have even lost his starting job to Cameron Marshall before breaking his arm, but it’s clear that the talent is there. Cotton could be very successful with another CFL team, but he didn’t fit into the Bombers’ plans this year simply because of his passport.

Peach, too, could find another home in the CFL, but he doesn’t have as much upside. The 29-year-old struggled in 2015 despite playing opposite Jamaal Westerman, recording just one sack in 11 games. On the other hand, he’s a high-motor guy with a big heart and lots of leadership, which any team can benefit from.

Best of luck to these two men in the future.

cotton
Trevor Hagan: Winnipeg Free Press

Bombers Given Solid Schedule for 2016

The Blue Bombers will find out very early in 2016 if all the changes they made in the off-season will pay dividends.

The CFL just released the 2016 schedule and it has the Bombers playing six of their first seven games against Calgary, Edmonton and Hamilton. Recently, the Blue & Gold have had very easy starts to the season, giving fans false hope after a strong start. The week one home game against Montreal will serve as a tuner for the tough stretch afterwards.

The Bombers don’t have any short weeks, mercifully, after numerous 4-day weeks last year. They do, however, play a whopping four games on Thursdays and one on Wednesday (August 3 vs. Hamilton). Thursday night games weren’t necessarily a success last year but the league clearly wants to give them another shot.

Unlike the last couple seasons, the Bombers will only play Saskatchewan twice this year – the annual Labour Day and Banjo Bowl contests – instead going head-to-head with the Calgary Stampeders (weeks 2, 5, 14) and the Grey Cup defending champion Edmonton Eskimos on three occasions (weeks 4, 6, 15). The Bombers have never once played the Eskimos close in Mike O’Shea’s tenure in Winnipeg, losing handily in each match up.

The Bombers play a home-and-home series with British-Columbia in weeks 16 and 17 before their second bye week of the season, eight weeks after their first one in week nine. Once again, the Bombers have been given two solid dates for bye weeks in their schedule.

After the difficult start to the season, the Bombers have a relatively easy schedule. Their longest road trip is three games, with an important bye week in between, and it’s against Toronto in week eight, Montreal in week ten and Saskatchewan in week eleven. The Blue & Gold will then play Saskatchewan, Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton, BC (2) and a home-and-home with Ottawa to close out the season, hopefully with a playoff spot locked up by then.

Overall, I think the Bombers have a great schedule this year for the team itself. With no short weeks, long road trips or badly scheduled bye weeks, it’s all in the team’s court to have a successful season. If Mike O’Shea’s team can reach their bye week in week nine at or above .500, they have a really good chance of making the playoffs for the first time since 2012.

Our first time to see the Bombers in action is Wednesday, June 8 when they take on the Montreal Alouettes at Investors Group Field in pre-season action.

Blue Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea says a trip back to Toronto doesn't conjure any feelings of nostalgia.
Trevor Hagan: THE CANADIAN PRESS

Bombers release Zach Anderson

It’s happening.

To the surprise of no one, the Blue Bombers have begun the process of improving their cap space through releasing veteran players deemed expendable. Zach Anderson, the first of many salary cap casualties, was officially released today.

Anderson, 26, played three years with the Bombers and was one of the teams best defensive players in early 2014, earning himself a well-deserved two-year contract extension. However, the Northern Michigan graduate tore his ACL during his breakout season and was never fully healthy in 2015.

The Bombers recently signed 24-year-old Euclid Cummings from Toronto in free agency to take over the 3-tech position from Anderson, which is a great signing, but I would have preferred to see Anderson at least be given a shot to make the team in training camp while fully healthy. Defensive Tackle has been one of the most underachieving positions on the Bombers during Mike O’Shea’s tenure, and it would have been nice to have a solid rotation there with Keith Shologan and Jake Thomas at nose with Cummings and Anderson at the 3-tech.

The odd man out of that Defensive Tackle group is Bryant Turner Jr., who’ll likely be the next veteran given the pink slip. The days of Clarence Denmark, who’d I like to see the team keep, and Greg Peach in the Blue & Gold could be numbered.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers DT Zach Anderson runs off the field during football practice at Investors Group Field in Winnipeg, Man., on Wed., July 1, 2015. Photo by Jason Halstead/Winnipeg Free Press
Photo by Jason Halstead/Winnipeg Free Press