Bombers Cut Ties With Denmark, Turner Jr.

The longest serving Blue Bombers will be wearing new colors in 2016, as the team announced today that DT Bryant Turner Jr. and SB Clarence Denmark, who were both signed in 2011, had been released.

Turner Jr., who appeared in 53 games over five seasons, recorded 89 tackles and 26 sacks during his time in Winnipeg. Once known as one of best players at his position, the UAB product battled several injuries over the years and played on several bad defenses that prevented him from living up to his contract. Once the initial wave of free agency passed and the Bombers walked away with former Argos DT Euclid Cummings, 24, under contract, it was clear that Turner Jr.’s days as a Bomber were numbered.

Denmark, similarly to Turner Jr., was a salary cap casualty. With the additions of Ryan Smith and Weston Dressler from Saskatchewan, the Bombers simply could not afford to employ three American pass-catchers earning between $150k to $190k. The obvious odd man out of the trio was Denmark, 30, who recorded only 718 yards and 3 touchdowns in 2015.

Denmark caught 306 passes for 4,165 yards and 16 touchdowns with the Bombers, only ever missing three games in five seasons. He was durable, reliable and, at times, spectacular, surpassing 1,000 receiving yards in one season for the first time in 2014 – his first season as the go-to with relatively stable quarterbacking.

Ideally, the Bombers likely would’ve preferred to keep Denmark. As was the case throughout most of his time in Winnipeg, Denmark played with five different quarterbacks in 2015, and was also stuck in Marcel Bellefeuille’s system.

But unlike last year and several before, the Bombers may have found one or more American, rookie pass-catchers that may have a bright future in the league. Although it will be a completely open competition to replace Denmark, who I fully expect to sign with Calgary, don’t be surprised if a former Baylor stud, Tevin Reese, 5-foot-10, 170-lbs, wins the job out of training camp. But there are also a few other intriguing names that have a good chance to replace Denmark as well.

Denmark and Turner Jr. were two players that deserved better over their careers in Winnipeg. Unfortunately, together they were stuck on terrible Bombers teams for four straight seasons. And neither complained.

Both will surely receive several teams calling for their services, and have many effective seasons still in the tank. A change of scenery could do wonders.

Although, as a fan, it isn’t pleasant to see Denmark and Turner Jr. go, it’s difficult to argue against the thinking of the Bombers’ brass in this situation.

denny
Kevin King: Winnipeg Sun

2016 CFL Mock Draft: Version Two

While scouts will always gather the most information on a player from game tape, scouting combines are a great opportunity for players to prove – or confirm – what may not have appeared on film and, as a result, improve their draft stock.

With the conclusion of the regional and national combines, plenty has changed since mock draft: version one. We’ve now seen these players compete against the best of the best on every rep in combine one-on-ones, and also have a better idea of their athletic abilities through testing results. We’ve also learned more about certain player’s NFL interest, as you’ll notice that defensive tackles David Onyemata and Mehdi Abdesmad are not included in this mock. Onyemata, who had 18 scouts at his pro day, could be drafted as early as the third round in the NFL draft and will likely never play a down in the CFL. Abdesmad, meanwhile, had a solid weekend at the NFL’s national combine and will undoubtedly sign a UDFA contract if he doesn’t hear his name called on day three of the NFL draft.

A third and final mock draft will be released after the conclusion of the NFL draft UDFA frenzy. You can find all of my draft/combine content here if you’re looking for a more in-depth look at each prospect in the draft.

Note: The Winnipeg Blue Bombers forfeited their 2016 first-round pick to select Dartmouth DB/LB Garrett Waggoner in the 2015 Supplemental draft.

Round One:

1:1 Saskatchewan Roughriders – RG Charles Vaillancourt, Laval

Although this draft class has no clear-cut no. 1 overall pick, I think Vaillancourt is the top offensive line prospect, and the ‘Riders, who are rebuilding their Canadian talent, must build up from the roots of Canadian talent: national offensive lineman. Vaillancourt, one of the most decorated offensive lineman in CIS history, had a solid combine, doing nothing to hurt his draft stock.

1:2 Montreal Alouettes – CB Arjen Colquhoun, Michigan State

Colquhoun put up solid testing numbers at his Michigan State Pro Day, running a 4.55 40-yard dash; recording a 37-inch vertical; 10-foot, 1-inch broad jump; and a 4.16-second shuttle. After a solid season starting at boundary corner for the Spartans, Colquhoun is poised to be a top-3 pick, and the Alouettes likely won’t be able to pass on a versatile defensive back like Colquhoun, who’d form a formidable Canadian duo with Chris Ackie for the future. For an in-depth look at Colquhoun, feel free to check out my scouting report on the five-year Spartan.

1:3 BC Lions – RT 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 competition for the role of sixth offensive lineman, and in the future, potentially a ratio-breaking, Canadian right tackle. 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, the Lions will likely give him an opportunity to be a rare, Canadian tackle in the CFL, with the option to switch him to guard if needed. St. John will need seasoning, but he undoubtedly has a high ceiling.

1:4 Toronto Argonauts – 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 big-play ability. With Spencer Watt departed in 2015 and 35-year-old Andre Durie’s health and future up in the air, the Argos are relatively desperate for national pass-catchers. Smith’s talents would simply be far too good to pass up on.

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, which prohibited him from participating at the combine. 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 recently cut Matt Walter, and while Jon Hufnagel says the Stamps don’t need a national RB, I’m not buying it. While Timmis had an underwhelming combine performance, running only a 4.73 40-yard dash, recording only 8 bench press reps and being sub-par in blocking drills, take the testing numbers with a grain of salt. I’m not convinced the laser timer was accurate for the 40, and Timmis’ bench press abilities could be limited to his shoulder rehab. The Burlington, ON. native is still worthy of a first-round pick, and the Stamps are still in need of a national running back.

1:7 Ottawa REDBLACKS – RG Philippe Gagnon, Laval

Alex Mateas, who Ottawa selected with the first overall selection last year, spent the 2015 season as the sixth offensive lineman, but should shift into a starting role this season. With RT Colin Kelly gone to the NFL, expect Mateas to start at right guard as Nolan Macmillan kicks out to right tackle. Gagnon and Matthew Albright would give the Redblacks, who were extremely fortunate to start the same five offensive lineman for all 18 games last season, solid Canadian depth.

1:8 Edmonton Eskimos – DB Taylor Loffler, UBC

It appears as though Loffler is this year’s combine winner. The former Boise State Bronco was the best defensive back in one-on-ones despite being a natural safety, and also tested fairly well all around. Loffler could potentially even play weak-side linebacker in the CFL as well as safety, offering teams much-needed versatility. The Eskimos, who drafted RG Danny Groulx and LG David Beard in the opening two rounds last year, can afford to pass on an offensive lineman to grab Loffler, who projects as a future starter in the CFL.

Round Two:

2:1 Winnipeg Blue Bombers – C Michael Couture, SFU

Couture’s draft stock took a turn for the best the moment he stood on the weight scale on Friday. The main concern scouts had with Couture heading into the combine was his weight, as he often played at 275-pounds with the Clan, which is far too light for the CFL. But the Burnaby, B.C. native, who we already knew had the technique, depth of knowledge and talent to be a first-round pick heading into the combine, weighed in at a healthy 292-pounds and counting. Couture had a very strong showing in the one-on-ones, playing all five positions to great success. He’s versatile and would be a perfect pick for the Bombers, who’ll undoubtedly select an offensive lineman with this pick seeing as they only have four Canadians under contract.

2:2 Winnipeg Blue Bombers – WR Juwan Brescacin, Northern Illinois

Aside from Tevaun Smith and Brescacin, this year’s crop of receivers isn’t necessarily eye-popping – no one has really separated themselves from the rest – so the Bombers would be wise to select a receiver from the top-tier in Brescacin while they can. The 6-foot-4, 230-pounder posted solid numbers at his pro day, with a 4.62 40-yard dash, 36.6-inch vertical and 7.03 3-cone time.

2:3 Montreal Alouettes – WR Llevi Noel, Toronto

It’s hard to guess the order in which the receivers in this year’s class are drafted, as I’m sure each team would rank them entirely differently. I have Noel (6-foot-one, 201-lbs) as the first pass-catcher not named Smith or Brescacin off the board seeing as he was a fantastic special-teams player in 2016, showed his explosiveness in combine testing and ran the best routes in one-on-ones. The Alouettes would be wise to add another young, Canadian receiver to develop along with their 2015 fourth-round pick, Alex Charette, behind 31-year-old Sam Giguere.

2:4 BC Lions – WR Brian Jones, Acadia

Top receiver prospects that have the potential to be both future starting receivers and dominant special-teams players don’t come around very often, giving Jones and Laval’s Felix Faubert-Lussier an advantage in the draft. Jones, who I wasn’t really high on as a slotback/wide receiver heading into the combine, had a great weekend, running a 4.69 40-yard dash as a 6-foot-4, 233-pound behemoth, and being virtually unstoppable in one-on-ones. The Lions, who start two Canadian receivers nonetheless, are thin at national receiver, especially with Austin Collie’s future/commitment in the air.

2:5 Toronto Argonauts – LB Terrell Davis, UBC

Davis, a former Arizona State running back, is full of athleticism and potential. In his first season as a linebacker, Davis continually improved as the season went on and developed into a legitimate CFL prospect. Davis’ draft stock continued to rise at the combine, where he posted a 4.78 40-yard dash time and 7.25 3-cone time, but most importantly, had a solid outing in the one-on-ones. The Argos could potentially start two Canadian linebackers in Thomas Miles and Cory Greenwood, who had concussion issues last seasons, making depth at the position all the more important.

2:6 Hamilton Tiger-Cats – DB Elie Bouka, Calgary

Bouka ruptured his achilles tendon in training camp last season and, as a result, did not participate in the CFL combine. Having played every position in the secondary as well as some linebacker with the Dinos, Bouka brings tremendous versatility (and size) 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. The Ti-Cats, who lost a plethora of national defensive backs in free agency, would get an excellent replacement for the future in Bouka.

2:7 Calgary Stampeders – G/OT Jason Lauzon-Seguin, Laval

The Stamps won’t hesitate to select Lauzon-Seguin, who falls to the bottom of the second round in this mock. Although the 26-year-old had a solid combine, he falls as a result of Michael Couture’s emergence and teams already having selected an offensive lineman in the first round.

2:8 Ottawa REDBLACKS – DB Maiko Zepeda, Montreal

While scouts probably wish Zepeda stood taller than 5-foot-8, he’s still 200-lbs, runs a 4.57 40-yard dash and hits like a missile. Zepeda, who displayed excellent football I.Q. with the Carabins, should development into a really solid special-teams players with his athletic gifts, while also giving Ottawa another much-needed Canadian defensive back along with Antoine Pruneau and Ryan Hinds.

2:9 Edmonton Eskimos – SB Felix Faubert-Lussier, Laval

Faubert-Lussier certainly boosted his stock at the combine, where he posted outstanding testing numbers, including a 4.58 40-yard dash and 6.73 3-cone time. The six-foot, 216-pounder, who has the size and athletic abilities to be a great special-teams player, showed over the weekend that he could potentially play slot-back and fullback in the future. The Eskimos, who start two Canadian receivers, need a third national receiver for the future, as Chris Getzlaf and Cory Watson are only short-term solutions.

Round Three: 

3:1 Hamilton Tiger-Cats – K/P Quinn Van Gyslwyk, UBC

Hamilton can’t risk the chance of Van Gyslwyk being selected by the Argonauts one pick before they’re back on the board at 23 overall. The Victoria, B.C. native has a big leg and after losing Justin Medlock in free agency, the Ti-Cats would be foolish to not do whatever they can to assure that they pick Van Gylswyk up.

3:2 Winnipeg Blue Bombers – NT Rupert Butcher, Western

Butcher had an excellent combine and could not be blocked in one-on-ones. He routinely bested offensive lineman with a series of different moves, even showing off his quickness and swim/rip moves on numerous reps. Although the 6-foot-4, 324-pounder could still be asked to lose some weight, it would be in Winnipeg’s best interest to add another Canadian nose-tackle to develop behind Keith Shologan and Jake Thomas.

3:Montreal Alouettes – DE Trent Corney, Virginia

Corney will likely be a first-round pick in the CFL draft if no NFL teams sign him to a UDFA contact. He’s an athletic freak and was very productive in his collegiate career at Virginia. Jim Popp has a reputation of risking a draft pick on NFL-bound players, and recently, it’s worked out, with Philip Blake and Vaughn Martin signing with Montreal after time down south.

3:4 BC Lions – DB Mikael Charland, Concordia

Charland, an absolute tackling machine, was extremely productive with Concordia, amassing 52.5 tackles and three interceptions last season. He tested fairly well over the weekend, and at 6-foot-3, 212-pounds, still looks like a future special-teams monster along with Mikael Zepeda.

3:5 Toronto Argonauts – DB Anthony Thompson, Southern Illinois

Although Thompson had a rough outing in one-on-ones at the combine, he’s primarily a free safety and won’t have to regularly cover slot-backs and wide-receivers in man coverage. The Argos need to improve their depth behind Jermaine Gabriel at safety after a rough stint without him in 2015, and Thompson is an intriguing prospect that’s worth the pick in the third round.

3:6 Hamilton Tiger-Cats – SB Doug Corby, Queens

The Ti-Cats are in need of another young, Canadian pass-catcher, and Corby, who could be the top receiver prospect on some team’s draft board, would be an excellent selection in the third round. The 6-foot-1, 187-pound speedster, who’s a Burlington, ON. native, clocked the best 40-yard dash at the combine with his 4.505 time and was one of the sharpest route-runners on the field in one-on-ones. His shuttle and 3-cone times in correlation with his straight-line speed were very good, and he managed to catch the ball very well in pads.

3:7 Saskatchewan Roughriders – SB Brett Blaszko, Calgary

Saskatchewan has a nice trio of Canadian receivers in Rob Bagg, Shamawd Chambers and Nic Demski, but start two and need additional depth for now and the future. Blaszko, meanwhile, has great size and speed at 6-foot-4, 204-pounds with a 4.54 40-yard dash, and had a solid one-on-one session.

3:8 Ottawa REDBLACKS – NT Quinn Horton, SFU

Ottawa is sorely lacking depth behind national NT Zack Evans, and in this case, they would not at all be reaching for Horton simply to fulfill a team need. Although he wasn’t necessarily a testing monster, Horton was very productive in one-on-ones at the combine, demonstrating good hands and quickness while winning three reps cleanly with rip and swim moves. While not necessarily penetrating into the back-field, he pushed the pocket on bull-rushes enough to be effective in a game situation.

3:9 Saskatchewan Roughriders – LB DJ Lalama, Manitoba

Saskatchewan is ultra-thin regarding Canadian linebackers, the life-blood of CFL special-teams, and will likely draft one or two more after selecting Lalama, who could be an excellent special-teams player in the CFL, himself. Lalama dominated in that aspect of the game with Manitoba, showing excellent down-field speed, open-field tackling and physical striking ability.

Best remaining: LB Doug Parrish (Western Oregon), WR Mike Jones (Southern), RT Jamal Campbell (York), LB Shayne Gauthier (Laval), DB Dominique Termanson (UBC), LB Daniel Tshiamala (St. FX), DE Denzel Philip (Eastern New Mexico), WR Shaquille Johnson (Western), RG Sean Jamieson (Western), RB Wayne Moore (McMaster)

colquhoun
Photo credit: Michigan State Athletics (I DO NOT OWN THIS PHOTO)

Draft Stock Report: CFL Combine Edition

With the national combine officially in the books, the top prospects have now done all they can do to sell themselves to CFL clubs around the league. It was a great weekend for some, with their draft stocks soaring after testing, interviewing and competing well in one-on-ones. But for others, the flight home could be a long one knowing they could’ve done better.

So who earned themselves a blue-chip stock in Toronto, and who’s stock took a hit? Let’s check the stock market itself: CFL Combine 2016 version.

Blue-Chip Stocks: 

NT Rupert Butcher, Western

Butcher had a dominant 1-on-1 session, scoring a +18 in my grading system. The 6-foot-4, 327-pounder displayed fantastic hands – he had three clean swim moves that earned +3 grades – as well as good explosion out of his stance and power, earning two +3 grades and a +2 grade for three dominant bull-rushes. Butcher was unstoppable the entire session, improving his draft stock drastically. Butcher could become an even better player if he loses some weight and gains some shiftiness.

DB Taylor Loffler, UBC

Loffler established himself as a late-first, early second-round pick with an all-around solid weekend. He weighed in at 220-pounds, leading teams to believe he could also play weak-side linebacker along with safety. He tested very well in the ever-important 3-cone and shuttle drills for defensive backs with 6.91 and 4.19 times, respectively. More importantly, he was the best defensive back in 1-on-1 ones, recording one interception and one pass break-up.

SB Felix Faubert-Lussier, Laval

Faubert-Lussier is one of the best utility guys we’ve seen come through the draft in recent years. He has the size and build to play fullback at six-foot, 220-pounds, and the speed and agility to play slotback. The Laval star was a testing monster, running a 4.58 40-yard dash; a 34.5 inch vertical; a combine-leading 6.73 3-cone time; and 4.19 shuttle time. He ran really good routes in one-on-ones, catching the ball well and getting in and out of his breaks fast while demonstrating a good use of leverage. Faubert-Lussier is looking like a top prospect in the 2016 draft class.

WR Brian Jones, Acadia

Top receiver prospects who have the size to be dominant players in all phases of special-teams as well as the skill to be a future starting receiver don’t come around very often, giving Jones and Faubert-Lussier the advantage over other pass-catchers in the draft class. Jones, who I wasn’t really high on as a slotback/wide receiver heading into the combine, had a great weekend, running a 4.69 40-yard dash as a 6-foot-4, 233-pound behemoth, and being virtually unstoppable in one-on-ones. The Acadia product posted spectacular testing numbers all across the board and has me sold on his chances of being an impactful Canadian player in the future.

C Michael Couture, SFU

Couture’s draft stock took a turn for the best the moment he stood on the weight scale on Friday. The main concern scouts had with Couture heading into the combine was his weight, as he often played at 275-pounds with the Clan, which is far too light for the CFL. But the Burnaby, B.C. native, who we already knew had the technique, depth of knowledge and talent to be a first-round pick heading into the combine, weighed in at a healthy 292-pounds and counting. Couture had a very strong showing in the one-on-ones, playing all five positions to great success. He’s versatile and finally has the relative size to warrant a high pick in the draft.

SB Doug Corby, Queens

Corby, my no. 1 ranked receiver prospect heading into the weekend, didn’t disappoint. The 6-foot-1, 187-pound speedster clocked the best 40-yard dash at the combine with his 4.50 time and was the sharpest route-runner on the field. His shuttle and 3-cone times in correlation with his straight-line speed were very good, while he managed to catch all but one ball thrown his way in one-on-ones. The Burlington, ON. native looked similar to Hamilton’s Luke Tasker with his creative route-running and soft, reliable hands.

Others: Laval’s trio of top-tier offensive lineman – RG/C Charles Vaillcourt, LG Philippe Gagnon and RT Jason Lauzon-Seguin showed scouts what they wanted to see and did nothing to damage their draft stock; putting up solid times in the 40-yard dash and all around solid testing numbers, Montreal’s Maiko Zepeda and Concordia’s Mikael Charland still both look like future special-teams demons; arguably the best LB heading into the combine, UBC’s Terrell Davis ran a 4.78 40-yard dash and was the best linebacker in one-on-ones.

Trending Up:

WR Llevi Noel, Toronto

Noel proved he can run the entire route-tree in one-on-ones despite tweaking his hamstring earlier. He also tested very well, running a 4.6-second 40-yard dash, recording a combine-leading 36-inch vertical and also a combine-leading 129.5-inch broad jump. Noel evidently displayed his explosiveness and reportedly interviewed very well despite having to answer a lot of questions about school issues.

DB Brennan Van Nistlerooy, Okanagan Sun

Van Nistlerooy quietly had himself a solid combine, turning in a 4.63 40-yard dash while appearing close to the top of the leader-board on most other tests as well. He was perhaps the second or third best defensive back in one-on-ones, breaking a couple passes up and ultimately proving that the stage wasn’t too big for this Junior football player. Van Nistlerooy can go home knowing he’ll hear his name called at some point in the CFL draft.

NT Quinn Horton, SFU

Although he wasn’t necessarily a testing monster, Horton was very productive in one-on-ones, demonstrating good hands and quickness while winning three reps cleanly with rip and swim moves. While not necessarily penetrating into the back-field, he pushed the pocket on bull-rushes enough to be effective in a game situation. Horton stood upright off the snap on a couple snaps, however, and can sometimes rely on upper body power and his hands instead of using leverage and knee bend. Regardless, I think Horton, who’s looking like he could be a third-round pick, really helped himself this weekend.

RB Wayne Moore, McMaster

Moore did a great job in pass-protection and really lit it up in RB/LB one-on-ones. He took accurate first steps and showed lower body strength, stopping several linebackers directly in their tracks. He ran really clean routes, caught the ball well and looked far faster than the 4.92 40-yard dash time he recorded. Moore also showed up in great shape, coming in at 5-foot-11, 220-pounds, and has a really good build.

Others: DE Michael Kashak out of McMaster was solid in one-on-ones and tested very well, clocking a 4.88 40-yard dash; York RT Jamal Campbell proved he’s the best developmental offensive lineman available with crazy testing numbers and glimpses of potential in one-on-ones; WR Mike Jones out of Southern, who I questioned heading into the combine as a speedster who can only run go-routes, might’ve had the fastest cuts of any receiver; St. FX MLB Daniel Tshiamala also took reps as a DE and held his own. Scouts love versatility.

Plummeting South:

WR Joshua Stanford, Kanas

One personnel man told Justin Dunk on Saturday that Stanford was a “train-wreck” and didn’t understand why he even bothered to show up. It was especially disappointing to see Stanford written off before the combine had even really started, as he clearly has the talent to make it in the CFL, just not the work-ethic or the attitude. He had an exceptional freshman season with Virginia Tech, but injuries and off-field injuries have kept him off the field for most of the past two seasons. Stanford could’ve put himself back on the radar with a great combine, but his hiatus from football hurt him as he was mediocre in one-on-ones and tested rather poorly.

DT Tarique Anderson, Delaware State

Anderson was easily the most ineffective of all defensive lineman in one-on-ones, confirming his flaws that appear on tape. He struggles mightily to block-shed or perform moves with his hands, and hasn’t figured out a way to compensate for that. He’s a stiff athlete that can’t really control his movements or be agile. Scouts will like the fact that he took 11 reps, but he ultimately didn’t manage to do anything with the additional opportunities. He tested poorly, displaying a lack of athleticism and explosiveness.

RG Zachary Intzandt, McMaster

One of my sleeper prospects entering the combine, Intzandt, who has limited offensive line experience, looked raw and was very disappointing. Although the 6-foot-5, 300-pounder shows a lot of upside on tape, he looked out of place in one-on-ones. His hand placement was terrible, making himself vulnerable to all kinds of pass-rush moves. He gifted Philip Denzel the easiest swim-move of his career on one play. Intzandt simply wasn’t physical enough.

LG Roman Grozman, Concordia

Although he put up decent testing numbers, Grozman had a relatively poor one-on-one session. He was one of two offensive lineman that took reps at every position, and while scouts love versatility, that decision may have hurt his draft stock more than it helped. Grozman excels at winning battles with raw strength once engaged with the defender, but it’s putting himself in a position to engage that is the Concordia product’s issue. He was burned on four occasions: twice by swim moves as a guard and twice with speed rushes as a tackle. The upside is there, by Grozman’s draft stock still took a hit.

40-yard dash laser:

The 40-yard dash laser timer was undeniably off at the CFL combine, as not one player ran in the 4.40s or better. WR Shaquille Johnson, who ran a 4.39 at the Toronto regional, clocked a 4.6; WR Mike Jones, who scouts thought could’ve been the fastest Canadian prospect they’ve ever seen, also clocked a 4.6; Calgary RB Mercer Timmis somehow only ran a 4.7 despite playing much, much faster on tape. Technical difficulties were likely the case.

Others: Western WR Jamal Kett tested poorly once again and did nothing special in the one-on-ones; Western CB Josh Woodman was far too aggressive in one-on-ones and completely abandoned his technique; St. FX fullback Donald Tabor is a proven pass-catcher with the X-men, but needed to prove he could block well enough to play fullback in the CFL and did anything but; Western DE John Biewald needed to bulk up and it was disappointing to see him weigh in at 226-pounds. He’s a productive player but scouts won’t be able to overlook his weight.

Johany Jutras/CFL (I DO NOT OWN THIS PHOTO)
Johany Jutras/CFL (I DO NOT OWN THIS PHOTO)

OL/DL Scores: Western DT Rupert Butcher Dominates One-On-Ones

While game film trumps all, the one-on-one compete sessions at the CFL Combine are the last opportunity for prospects to sell themselves to CFL teams. They absolutely can be valuable to the scouting process.

The most even compete session was between the offensive lineman and defensive lineman, and in hopes of getting the most accurate idea of how each prospect performed in this competitive environment, each individual was graded on a scale of -3 to +3 on each play. The results show you who, exactly, helped their draft stock with a positive one-on-one performance.

Offensive Line:

1. RG Charles Vaillancourt, Laval (+6 in 7 reps)

Vaillancourt quietly went among his business, grading negatively on just one play. He took snaps at each position along the interior, including three at centre, and showed off his ability to be powerful while going backwards in pass-protection. His hand-placement was exceptional, as he didn’t allow one tackle to even get in position to try to use a swim or rip move, and he managed to keep his feet in good position against stunts/speed rushers. The big, 325-pounder was a little slow out of his stance, but has learned over the years how to compensate for that by staying balanced and sinking his hips at the point of attack.

2. C Michael Couture, SFU (+4 in 6 reps)

Taking reps at all five positions, Couture likely had the best one-on-one session of all offensive lineman. Scouts were concerned with his weight heading into the combine, as he regularly played at 275-pounds at Simon Fraser, but weighed in at a healthy 292-pounds on Friday. Couture showed off his versatility in one-on-ones, which coaches will love, as well as good footwork and exceptional hand placement. He was fast out of his stance, quickly proving that he might just belong in the top-tier of offensive lineman in the draft class.

3. LT Jason Lauzon-Seguin, Laval (+2 in 8 reps)

Lauzon-Seguin took the majority of his snaps at left tackle and was essentially immune to bull rushes, handling the power move handily. It was disappointing to see the 26-year-old, who’ll be an interior offensive lineman in the CFL, only get one snap where he wasn’t playing tackle, lining up in an unfamiliar center position and getting dominated by Rupert Butcher. His footwork needs improvement but he showed off accurate first steps and a lot of power as a run blocker.

4. RT Jamal Campbell, York (+1 in 8 reps)

Campbell, who has the size to be a professional offensive tackle, had a streaky performance with some dominant plays and some disastrous plays. Campbell’s inconsistency is an indicator that he needs work on his technique, but the raw talent is absolutely there. He’s powerful, quick with his kick steps and demonstrates patience, particularly on a rep where UBC DE Boyd Richardson tried to rush inside with a swim, which Campbell stopped with a shot to his ribs. Campbell, who ran a fantastic 4.98 40-yard dash, could be the best developmental offensive lineman in the draft.

5. RG Sean Jamieson, Western (-1 in 7 reps)

Jamieson confirmed he’s the stout run blocker that he is on tape, dominating his defender as a right guard and right tackle to open the one-on-one session. Despite being unfamiliar with the position, Jamieson was most effective with the angles from playing tackle. He was beat badly on two separate reps by a rip and a swim move at guard but held his own against bull-rushes. Overall, stock down for the 2014, 2015 first-team All-Canadian.

6. LG Phillippe Gagnon, Laval (-2 in 8 reps)

Despite a couple bad reps, Gagnon showed scouts what they wanted to see and didn’t do anything to hurt his stock. The Laval product squared up well his defenders and rode them away from the quarterback. The player who had Gagnon’s number was Western nose tackle Rupert Butcher, who was unpredictable and dominated every offensive lineman with a variety of different moves.

7. LT/LG Roman Grozman, Concordia (-9 in 8 reps)

Grozman was the only other offensive lineman who took reps at every position, and that decision may have hurt his draft stock more than it helped. Grozman excels at winning battles with raw strength once engaged with the defender, but it’s putting himself in a position to engage that is the Concordia product’s issue. He was burned on four occasions: twice by swim moves as a guard and twice with speed rushes as a tackle. Grozman clearly has a lot of room to improve as a pass-blocker.

8. RG Zachary Intzandt, McMaster (-12 in 7 reps)

Simply put, Intzandt had a very disappointing session, and his lack of experience as an offensive lineman really showed up. Although the 6-foot-5, 300-pounder shows a lot of upside on tape, he was dominated on Sunday. His hand placement was terrible, making himself vulnerable to all kinds of pass-rush moves and giving Philip Denzel the easiest swim-move of his career. Intzandt simply wasn’t physical enough.

Defensive Lineman: 

1. NT Rupert Butcher, Western (+18 in 9 reps)

Butcher had one of the most dominant performances in CFL combine history. The huge, 6-foot-4, 327-pound Western product displayed fantastic hands – he had three clean swim moves that earned +3 grades – as well as good explosion out of his stance and power, earning two +3 grades and a +2 grade for three dominant bull-rushes. Butcher was unstoppable the entire session, improving his draft stock drastically. Butcher could become an even better player if he loses some weight and gains some shiftiness.

2. DE John Biewald, Western (+6 in 4 reps)

Although Biewald had a productive session, he likely didn’t do anything for scouts to overlook how undersized he is at only 225-pounds. It also didn’t help that he took only four reps, which can raise questions about his competitiveness. Biewald’s lack of size limits him to being strictly a speed-rusher, something you simply cannot get away with at the professional level. His lone non-speed rush was a spin move, which Jamel Campbell handled perfectly.

3. NT Quinn Horton, SFU (+4 in 8 reps)

Horton won three reps cleanly with rip and swim moves, demonstrating good hands and quickness around the guard/center. While not necessarily penetrating into the back-field, he pushed the pocket on bull-rushes enough to be effective in a game situation. Horton stood upright off the snap on a couple snaps, however, and can sometimes rely on upper body power and his hands instead of using leverage and knee bend. Regardless, I think Horton, who’s looking like he could be a third-round pick, really helped himself this weekend.

4. DE Daniel Tshiamala, St. FX (+4 in 5 reps)

Similarly to Ron Omara last season, Tshiamala, a natural middle linebacker, showed off his versatility by taking snaps as a defensive end. He showed a lot of upside in the process, winning three reps with speed rushes, demonstrating a good jump off the ball, agility and use of leverage.

5. DE Michael Kashak, McMaster (+3 in 6 reps)

Kashak had himself a solid day, displaying great burst, speed off the edge and use of leverage, which was a pleasant surprise as he was seen as more of a power-rush player before. He’s an agile, fluid runner with a relentless motor and received a positive grade on every speed-rush. Kashak’s stock has risen drastically today, proving he’s not a one-dimensional pass-rusher.

6. DE Boyd Richardson, UBC (Even in 5 reps)

Richardson got off the ball fast and demonstrated a great speed-rush. His best play of the session showed off all his athletic traits; Richardson jab-stepped to the inside of LT Jamel Campbell, used a rip move to get back to the outside and then blew by the helpless lineman with speed. Richardson still needs to bulk up and gain strength, which could effect his quickness.

7. DT Donnie Egerter, Guelph (-1 in 4 reps)

We needed to see more from Egerter, who was dominated by the top-tier of offensive lineman on bull-rushes. He graded positively on two plays, but both were bull-rushes on McMaster RG Zachary Intzandt, who had a rough day. Egerter, who took a rep as a left guard, didn’t display the athletic traits needed to be successful in the CFL in the four reps he took.

8. DT Tarique Anderson, Delaware State (-2 in 11 reps)

Anderson was easily the most ineffective of all defensive lineman, confirming his flaws that appear on tape. He struggles mightily to block-shed or perform moves with his hands, and hasn’t figured out a way to compensate for that. He’s a stiff athlete that can’t really control his movements or be agile. Scouts will like the fact that he took 11 reps, but he ultimately didn’t manage to do anything with the additional opportunities.

9. DE Denzel Philip, Eastern New Mexico (-4 in 8 reps)

Although he had the worst grade, Philip really didn’t do anything to hurt his stock and he certainly is not the worst of this defensive line group. He was arguably the fastest defensive lineman out of his stance and is clearly very competitive. But he was largely ineffective on his bull-rushes despite that being his trump card as a large, powerful defensive end. As a tight athlete who also lacks the lateral quickness to play defensive end, Philip is projected as a three-tech DT in the future. He beat Roman Grozman and Zach Intzandt cleanly with swim-moves in two of his three reps at defensive tackle.

Johany Jutras/CFL (I DO NOT OWN THIS PHOTO)
Johany Jutras/CFL (I DO NOT OWN THIS PHOTO)

Combine Preview: Running Backs and Linebackers

When Sunday rolls around and CFL scouts assemble to watch the running backs take on the linebackers in one-on-one compete sessions, one position will receive all the attention: Linebacker.

The 2016 CFL combine is loaded with intriguing linebacker prospects, and little separate the consensus top-4 heading into the weekend. And while those four are coincidentally all different styles of linebackers, the overall talent-level between them all is really close.

On the other side, one player will do the heavy-lifting for the running backs: Mercer Timmis. One of the best running backs to enter the CFL draft in a long time, Timmis headlines an otherwise underwhelming positional group.

The following is brief run-down of each running back and linebacker that’ll be in attendance at the CFL combine, with some questions about each player that could receive some answers over the weekend.

Running Backs: 

1. RB Mercer Timmis, Calgary (6’1″, 220-lbs)

It’s only right that potentially the next generational Canadian running back enters the CFL the same off-season Jon Cornish retires. With great size, vision, power and a second-gear to destroy pursuit angles in the open field, it’s hard not to draw comparisons between the two. Timmis is undoubtedly going to test very well, cementing himself as a first-round pick.

2. FB Declan Cross, McMaster (5’11”, 232-lbs)

Cross enjoyed a large role in McMaster’s offense and developed into a very versatile fullback. He’s an absolute wrecking ball, no doubt, and also showed flashes of rushing and receiving capabilities that could keep him in the CFL for a long time. Cross is well-coached and could actually compete for a roster spot in year one.

3. FB Devon Stewart, McGill (5’11”, 245-lbs)

Stewart, who also plays defensive end, has the size to become a fullback full-time, but maybe not the athleticism. Although he could shed some pounds, Stewart has a nice build and is a long, rangy athlete, which some teams like.

4. FB Donald Tabor, St. FX (n/a, n/a)

Tabor has excellent pass-catching abilities and proved to be a viable asset out of the backfield while at St. Francis-Xavier, but he’d likely be a long developmental project in the CFL. Tabor has work to do in terms of his blocking skills, which will be put to the test in one-on-ones. I want to see his knees bend and his feet keep moving on Sunday, as it really might just be his technique that’s holding him back.

5. RB Wayne Moore, McMaster (6’0″, 220-lbs)

Moore is short of elite speed or power, but is a well-rounded prospect that could be a late-round pick. He’s a well-balanced, tough runner that has some quickness to get through the hole and can also protect the quarterback. Moore isn’t going to create on his own, but can surge for a few extra yards if he doesn’t hesitate before hitting the hole.

6. FB Nathan O’Halloran, Windsor (6’1″, 226-lbs)

Another developmental player, O’Halloran was an adequate blocker and pass-catcher for Windsor, appearing to be a very smart player. He’s a stiff athlete, however, and will need more power and quickness to last in this league.

Linebackers: 

1. OLB Terrell Davis, UBC (6’0″, 220-lbs)

Davis, a former running back for Arizona State, was converted to linebacker prior to 2015, his first season at UBC. It turned out to be a great move by the Thunder Bird coaching staff, as Davis turned out to be everything they’d hoped to be – an athletic, sideline-to-sideline linebacker that excels in coverage and gets to the quarterback quickly on blitzes. Given his athleticism as a former running back, Davis is going to have a great combine. The competitive drills – one-on-ones against RBs in routes/coverage and blocking/blitzing – are made especially for players like Davis to shine.

2. MLB Daniel Tshiamala, St. FX (6’1″, 235-lbs)

Tshiamala is simply a play-maker, recklessly going sideline to sideline and single-handedly causing fits for offenses. He’s a well-rounded player that can shed blocks, chase down pursuit angles, cover space in pass defense and deliver huge hits. His testing numbers will be very important in determining his draft-stock, as there are some plays where he’s seemingly shot out of a cannon and others where he seems to be all power, no quickness. In terms of play-style, Tshiamala is an exact reproduction of another St. Francis-Xavier alum, Henoc Muamba.

3. MLB DJ Lalama, Manitoba (6’1″, 230-lbs)

Lalama is big, smart, tough and absolutely should not have had to go through the Edmonton national combine to make it here. On film, Lalama showcases a blend of size, aggression, instincts and reliable open-field tackling skills to project well as both a MIKE and WILL linebacker. He takes accurate first steps and shows excellent closing burst to arrive with force at the point of attack, creating lanes to the ball carrier for himself and for his teammates. As a physical striker with reliable breakdown skills in the open field, Lalama has been an excellent special-teams player with Manitoba as well.

4. OLB Shayne Gauthier, Laval (5’11”, 218-lbs)

Gauthier is your traditional, throwback middle linebacker that plays simply off instincts and doesn’t need to be an athletic, quick player. He reads plays well, flows to the ball and meets runners in the hole with authority. He rarely over-pursues and consistently beats oncoming blockers with a plethora of different moves. His pass-coverage skills remain a question, but similarly to Montreal’s Byron Archambeault one year ago, could help his draft stock even more with a good shuttle time.

5. OLB Curtis Newton, Guelph (6’2″, 220-lbs)

Newton has been the fantastic pass-coverage linebacker in his tenure with Guelph that scouts so desperately covet. And while he weighs a respectable 220-pounds, Newton isn’t built very big and doesn’t play with much raw strength on the football field, projecting more as a safety in my eyes. Newton, who struggles to shed blocks with his hands or with power, doesn’t consistently meet at the point of attack with force, as a linebacker should.

6. MLB Kevin Jackson, Sam Houston (5’11”, 230-lbs)

Jackson tested very well in Toronto, clocking a great 4.75 40-yard dash and 4.37 3-cone time for a 230-pound middle linebacker. Coming from a great program in Sam Houston State, Jackson was poised for a breakout senior campaign until injuries limited him to one game in 2015. It comes down to this weekend for Jackson, as scouts essentially have no game tape of him on defense to evaluate.

7. MLB Alex Ogbongbemiba, Calgary Colts (6’1″, 238-lbs)

Ogbongbemiba tested well in the vertical and the shuttle at the Edmonton regional, earning himself an invite to the big show this weekend. A productive, smash-mouth Mike LB with Calgary, Ogbongbemiba recorded 23 tackles, 1 sack and 1 INT in six games last season, and scouts are certainly interested to see how he’ll look surrounded by blue-chip CIS prospects at the national combine.

8. MLB Doug Parrish, Western Oregon (6’1″, 235-lbs)

Parrish, a former San Jose State commit, has great middle LB size if he can watch his weight. Watching parts of several of Western Oregon’s 2015 games, I don’t believe he was even a starter, which is obviously a huge red flag. He could be a late round pick if he performs well enough at the combine.

9. OLB Marc-Antoine Laurin, Ottawa (6’1″, 222-lbs)

Although he didn’t stand out on defense with the Gee-Gees, it’s possible that a CFL team takes a late-round flier on Laurin after he tested decently in Toronto. At this point, he simply doesn’t seem to have the athleticism or raw football talent to become a future CFL player.

Photo courtesy of University of Calgary Dinos. I DO NOT OWN THIS PHOTO.
Photo courtesy of University of Calgary Dinos. I DO NOT OWN THIS PHOTO.

Combine Preview: Defensive Backs Outshine Receivers

The tables have turned since the 2015 CFL combine.

Last year’s combine saw a loaded group of receiver talent give the defensive backs everything they could handle, as names like Nic Demski, Lemar Durant and Jake Harty auditioned in front of dozens of CFL scouts. This season, however, the tale of the tape seems to favor one of the best defensive back classes in awhile.

The following is a brief run-down of each receiver and defensive back at the national scouting combine, with some questions about each player that could be answered over the weekend.

Receivers: 

Missing: WR Tevaun Smith, Iowa (declined invite), WR Juwan Brescacin, Northern Illinois (declined invite)

1. SB Doug Corby, Queens (6’3″, n/a)

Corby is likely the most pro-ready receiver at the combine with his clean route-running ability and soft hands. He uses his size to his advantage and could really catch a lot of scouts attention with his shuttle time. Despite only playing in five games due to injury, the Burlington, ON. native caught 30 passes for 592 yards, 5 TDs and an OUA-leading 19.7 yards/catch.

2. WR George Johnson, Western (6’3″, 188-lbs)

Johnson’s expected to test well in the 40-yard dash and in one-on-ones, but a solid shuttle drill time could really see his draft stock improve. Johnson already has great explosion, control and agility, and if just breaks down on his routes a little faster, he could be viewed as a top-3 receiver in the draft. He’s already dynamic after the catch and sound at creating space in zones and finding soft spots in coverages, as well as using change of speed to create leverage against the DB to run his route.

3. SB Joshua Stanford, Kansas (6’1″, 200-lbs)

Injuries have hampered Stanford’s college career after a promising start as a freshman. With Virginia Tech in 2013, Stanford had 40 catches for 640 receiving yards and a TD, but took a 4-game leave to attend to off-field issues in his sophomore campaign and struggled to get back on the field after that, transferring to Kansas for his junior season, where he only appeared in two games.

He displayed great yards-after-catch ability as a freshman as an elusive runner that’s hard to bring down. He has tons of football smarts, creating space in zones and finding soft spots in coverages, but he has some flaws, such as a small catching radius, limited route running ability and release off the line-of-scrimmage. This is all based off his redshirt freshman campaign, however, exemplifying exactly how crucial this upcoming weekend is for Stanford to show that his hiatus from game action hasn’t stunted his growth as a football player.

4. SB Brett Blaszko, Calgary (6’4″, 215-lbs)

Blaszko has a rare combination of size and speed that is highly coveted at the professional level. Averaging only 56.0 yards-per-game, Blaszko had a disappointing season for the Dinos, but there’s only one football to go around in an offense loaded with talent. I really think he’s going to surprise a lot of people with his testing numbers at the combine.

5. WR Llevi Noel, Toronto (6’2″, 200-lbs)

Noel supplies great speed from the outside and big-time yards-after-catch ability. In terms of running a full route-tree, he appears to be far from a complete receiver, but it should be noted that he didn’t have, for example, Andrew Buckley or Will Finch as his Quarterback. He appears to be incredibly athletic on tape with good hands, but we’ll see how he fares after spending the 2015 season with the Windsor AKO Fratmen.

6. SB Mike Jones, Southern (6’0″, 185-lbs)

I still don’t know if Jones can run half of the route tree to save his life, but he can sure fly. Jones has the ability to take the top off any defense with phenomenal speed and can track the ball well in the air. While his 40-yard dash time will be something very, very special, I’m more curious to see his 3-cone shuttle time. All that speed isn’t as useful if his ceiling is as a wide-side WR – a position he’s undersized to be play given his style – because he can’t get in and out of breaks fast enough to play slot.

7. WR Shaquille Johnson, Western (6’0″, 195-lbs)

Johnson, who broke Andy Fantuz’s CIS record for receptions as a freshman with McGill in 2013, has taken quite the path to the national combine. He spent the 2015 season with the London Beefeaters, earning himself an invite to the Toronto regional combine. And although he posted a 4.39 40-yard dash time in Toronto, Johnson certainly doesn’t play like a 4.39 guy, but has some nice attributes like tracking the ball in the air and soft hands. Johnson, who ran a 4.83 40-yard dash time in December, has his work cut out for him at the combine. The interview process will likely be hard on him, and he also needs a strong performance in one-on-ones after playing Junior Football last season.

8. SB Brian Jones, Acadia (6’4″, 230-lbs)

Jones projects more as an H-Back in my eyes, as he has the size and athleticism that you want him on the field and to get touches, but not as a slot-back – he’s far too slow in and out of his breaks for that. Jones could line up all over as a tight end, full back, slot back and running back with the skills he possess’ while being a solid special-teams player.

9. WR Jamal Kett, Western (6’5″, 215-lbs)

Kett, a transfer from Simon Fraser University, managed to get an invite to the national combine despite mediocre testing numbers at the Toronto regional combine. CFL scouts are clearly enamored by his size, as he only ran a 4.87 40-yard dash, jumped 27.5″ in the vertical and had a three-cone shuttle time of 7.37 seconds. While only recording just 331 yards and 2 TDs with Western in 2015, Kett productively put up career totals of 85 catches for 1004 yards and 10 TDs with SFU.

10. SB Felix Faubert-Lussier, Laval (6’0″, 215-lbs)

Faubert-Lussier is just a smaller version of Acadia’s Brian Jones – a guy you hope can add some mass and transition to more of a fullback, as long as he remains athletic enough to play special-teams.

Defensive Backs:

Missing: CB Arjen Colquhoun, Michigan State (declined), HB Elie Bouka, Calgary (injured)

1. S Taylor Loffler, UBC (6’3″, 220-pounds)

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. He has a fantastic combination of size and speed – remember, he’s pushing 220 pounds – and is an excellent, sound tackler. Loffler has future-starter written all over him after a dominant, All-Canadian “rookie” campaign.

2. S Anthony Thompson, Southern Illinois (6-1″, 208-lbs)

Thompson is more of a raw, developmental safety with pro-calibre speed and agility. He’s displayed poor awareness in zone-coverage as a safety, but was able to make up for it in college with his athleticism. Thompson is, however, an big hitter – he really needs to wrap up more, though – and has so much talent in terms of his speed, quickness and ball skills that he could warrant a top-15 selection.

3. S Mikael Charland, Concordia (6’4″, 215-lbs)

Charland, an absolute tackling machine, was extremely productive with Concordia, amassing 52.5 tackles and three interceptions last season. With his football I.Q. and terrific speed, Charland is projected to be a great special-teams player for years to come.

4. DB Maiko Zepeda, Montreal (5’8″, 200-lbs)

While scouts probably wish Zepeda stood taller than 6’0″, he’s still 200-lbs, runs a 4.57 40-yard dash and hits like a missile. Zepeda, who displayed excellent football I.Q. with Montreal, should development into a real solid special-teams players with his athletic gifts.

5. CB Josh Woodman, Western (6’1″, 195-lbs)

As an overall pass defender, Woodman is probably better than Anthony Thompson, but still doesn’t have Thompson’s raw athleticism. But he’s still 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.

6. DB Dominique Termansen, UBC (5’11”, 180-lbs)

Termansen reassured just how athletic he is with great numbers at the Edmonton regional combine, posting a 4.65 40-yard dash, 39.5″ vertical jump and a 7.24 3-cone time. He’s a surprisingly physical player, but is still undersized. Termanson was still a great special-teams player with UBC that should be a mid-to-late round pick. And if he tests as good as he did in Edmonton for a second time, as well as holds his own in one-on-ones, Termansen’s draft stock could keep climbing and climbing.

7. S Malcolm Brown, Western (6’0″, 190-lbs)

Brown is very gifted from an athletic standpoint, with great hips and quick feet. He might not run super well in the 40-yard dash, but change of direction skills are what matters most, and Brown possess’ the needed attributes. He’s also a very strong zone-coverage player, but I have big questions regarding his physicality to handle big receivers and his tackling skills.

8. DB Brennan Van Nistelrooy, Okanagan (6’0″, 200-lbs)

Van Nistelrooy tested very well at the Edmonton regional, posting above-average results in every category. He still doesn’t impress me at all on tape as a safety, but, for what it’s worth, can also punt.

loff-guns
Richard Lam: UBC Athletics (I DO NOT OWN THIS PHOTO)

Combine Preview: The Trenches (Offensive and Defensive Lineman)

Football games are fought and won in the trenches, and in the CFL, it just so happens that such crucial positions on the offensive and defensive lines are commonly filled by Canadians.

As the CFL ascends in Toronto for the national scouting combine, no position group will receive more attention than the offensive lineman. Of course, Canadian offensive lineman are the lifeblood of the CFL draft, and this year’s class is very talented.

Conversely, it’s a weak year for defensive lineman. The consensus top-two, Manitoba’s David Onyemata and Virginia’s Trent Corney, will not be in attendance at the scouting combine. When the pads are put on and the one-on-ones begin on Sunday, don’t be surprised to see the 2016 class of offensive lineman walk all over these defensive lineman.

The following is brief run-down of each offensive and defensive lineman that’ll be in attendance at the CFL combine, with some questions about each player that could receive some answers over the weekend.

Offensive Lineman:

Missing: RG Dillon Guy, Buffalo (Injured)

1. G Charles Vaillancourt, Laval (6’4″, 325-lbs)

Vaillancourt is likely the most pro-ready offensive lineman at the combine. He doesn’t need to do anything special over the weekend – his tape speaks for itself – but show up in shape and compete with a nasty edge. With four years of full-time starting experience on one of the greatest offensive lines in CIS history, Vaillancourt, a four-time All-Canadian, is firmly entrenched as a top-3 pick in the draft.

2. OT Josiah St. John, Oklahoma (6’6″, 308-lbs)

I really like the decision of this NCAA athlete to attend the CFL combine, as a strong performance in the one-on-one sessions as a right tackle would even further increase St. John’s draft stock. Despite five years at Oklahoma, St. John never established himself as a starter, only playing in four games in 2015. Canadian offensive tackles, meanwhile, are extremely valuable with how rare they are to find. St. John, who could still be a top-5 pick if team’s still view him as a guard after the combine, is the lone legitimate tackle prospect in the draft, but after a shaky senior season, still has much to prove.

3. G Phillippe Gagnon, Laval (6’4″, 311-lbs)

Gagnon, a two-time, second-team All-Canadian at right guard for Laval, is currently projected as a top-five pick, but it’s not guaranteed. Used often as a puller and in the screen game, Gagnon is viewed as a smart, athletic player. His stock will likely be decided in the interview room, however, with little questions remaining on his skill level.

4. G Sean Jamieson, Western (6’7″, 315-lbs)

Jamieson has CFL size and the accolades – he’s a two-time, first-team All-Canadian – to be a late first, early second round pick. He has a natural knee-bend, hits with power and sure can move around really well for a big dude. He’s also very consistent and is more pro-ready than most lineman coming out of University.

5. RT/G Jason Lauzon-Seguin, Laval (6’4″, 295-lbs)

Lauzon-Seguin, admittedly, is a guy who I haven’t watched closely. 2015 was his first year as a starter, which is concerning, but he clearly didn’t disappoint, earning first-team, All-Canadian honors. I don’t view him as a tackle prospect.

6. G Zachary Intzandt, McMaster (6’5″, 300-lbs)

Despite only playing one year on the offensive side of the football, Intzandt has a lot of upside. He’s a quick, athletic player who, according to the into in his highlight package, runs a 5.17 40-yard dash. Intzandt is a surprisingly well-rounded prospect, as he’s adequate as a man or zone scheme run-blocker, a 30 or 50 pass-blocker, and as a puller. He just needs to be more consistent, which could come with more experience as an offensive lineman.

7. C Michael Couture, SFU (6’4″, 276-lbs)

Right away, what sticks out with Couture is his size – or lack thereof. 276 pounds is simply too light to play in the CFL, particularly at center. If he can bulk up without losing his athleticism, Couture could become a blue-chip prospect, as he clearly already has the depth of knowledge and the technique to be a center in the professional ranks. But that’s a very, very hard thing to ask.

8. RT/G Kadeem Adams, Western (6’4″, 290-lbs)

As shown by the opening play in his highlight reel, Adams has some wheels for an offensive lineman. He’s not an offensive tackle in the CFL, but with some development, has a future as an interior guy.

9. RT/G Jamal Campbell, York (6’7″, 300-lbs)

Campbell is solid against speed-rushers on tape, displaying excellent kick steps off the line and abilities to use leverage to his advantage, but I want to see him be effective against the power rushers at the combine, proving to teams he can convert to guard to play in the CFL. Campbell, who didn’t face the best competition at York, is a mauler in the run-game, but that doesn’t mean he can be powerful going backwards in pass protection like a guard needs to be.

10. LT/G Roman Grozman, Concordia (6’4″, 310-lbs)

Grozman’s tape from Concordia is rather underwhelming and doesn’t paint a clear picture of his strengths and weaknesses. It is, however, easy to tell that while he doesn’t have the quickness to play tackle in the CFL, he’s very effective once engaged with defensive lineman with raw strength. Grozman is still, overall, a raw prospect.

Defensive Lineman: 

Missing: NT David Onyemata, Manitoba (declined), DE Trent Corney, Virginia (declined)

1. DE/DT Denzel Philip, Eastern New Mexico (6’1″, 250-lbs)

Too small to play 3-tech defensive tackle and not athletic enough to play defensive end, Philip is a tweener – even by CFL standards. Philip is comparable to Maxx Forde, a BC Lions draft pick out of Idaho, who fell all the way to the seventh round in last year’s draft for the same reasons. Philip will need to arrive at the combine with added weight or will otherwise need to test and compete very well as an edge-rusher.

2. DE Michael Kashak, McMaster (6’1″, 245-lbs)

Kashak lacks an element of speed-rushing, but he’s surprisingly shifty (not a stiff athlete) and is very impressive against the run, covering a lot of ground on the edge. The OUA’s leader in sacks with 8.5, Kashak ran an impressive 4.88 40-yard dash at the Toronto regional combine.

3. NT Quinn Horton, SFU (6’4″, 313-lbs)

Horton, who reminds me a lot of former Laval NT Brandon Tennant, Saskatchewan’s 2015 seventh round pick, will have pressure on him to perform at the CFL combine. Like Tennant, his draft stock is wildly hard to predict. He needs to show up in shape and would benefit from shedding a few pounds to move a little better. Horton has great hands and can use a bull-rush, but doesn’t always put it together at the same time. He did, however, consistently draw double teams and opened up lanes for his linebackers.

4. DE Boyd Richardson, UBC (6’3″, n/a)

I can’t explain his lack of overall production at UBC, managing to record only a pair of sacks in 2015, but he looks really solid on film. Richardson, who’s weight is not disclosed but looks well built, is quick out of his stance and has a nice swim-move. He can rush with speed and is effective on stunts – evidently Richardson is naturally athletic.

5. DT Tarique Anderson, Delaware State (6’5″, 270-lbs)

As a 3-tech defensive tackle who’s good at six-foot-five, but only 270-lbs, Anderson needs to bulk up to play in the CFL. He naturally has a good burst out of his stance and can move around decently, but really struggles with his hands, allowing lineman to firmly engage and put him in disadvantageous positions. He’s another guy that could really help himself if he tests well.

6. NT Donnie Egerter, Guelph (6’3″, 295-lbs)

Egerter has natural strength and is decent with his hands. His feet leave much to be desired, but the motor is there. The biggest concern with me is his explosion off the line, which could hurt him in run-blocking one-on-ones. Like the next player, his ability to push the pocket wasn’t always there.

7. NT Rupert Butcher, Western (6’5″, 296-lbs)

Butcher has ideal size to play nose tackle, but perhaps not the athleticism. He uses his hands well on rushes and gets real low for a player who’s 6-foot-5, but kind of underwhelms after that. He certainly doesn’t get moved backwards, but also doesn’t push the pocket much on pass-rushes.

8. DE John Biewald, Western (6’4″, 225-lbs)

Biewald, who was one of four Western players to advance from the Toronto regional combine, had a productive senior year, recording 23.5 tackles, 6.5 sacks and 2 forced fumbles. At 225-pounds, Biewald is vastly undersized and didn’t necessarily display fantastic explosion with his testing numbers.

Photo by Stephane Gaudreau (I DO NOT OWN THIS PHOTO)
Photo by Stephane Gaudreau (I DO NOT OWN THIS PHOTO)

Combine Risers: 5 Players Poised to See Their Draft-Stock Climb

While scouts will always gather the most information on a player from game tape, scouting combines are a great opportunity for players to prove – or confirm – what may not have appeared on film.

A great interview that reassures the player’s love of the game and depth of knowledge could see him shoot up team’s rankings. A solid performance in competition drills that allows a player to display skill traits that his college scheme restricted him from showing could do the same thing for a player’s draft stock.

For example, a receiver who played in an Air-Raid college offense, often running posts and verticals, could entirely change the way scouts view him by excelling within a full route-tree in one-on-ones. Similarly, a receiver who faced off-coverage and mostly quarters defense in college due to his team’s scheme could improve his draft stock at the combine by getting clean releases off the line in combine one-on-ones against press coverage.

Be it in interviews, testing or one-on-ones, CFL teams will be searching for whatever they can find on players that they can’t find on tape. Every draft sees numerous players burst onto the scene with fantastic scouting combines that puts to bed any concerns coaches could have with their tape. Here’s five that could be the combine winners this year.

Joshua Stanford: WR, Kansas

Injuries can often derail a player’s draft stock, limiting the amount of film on the player and ultimately creating concerns with the player’s durability. Stanford is a great example of this, as numerous injuries have hampered his college career after a promising start as a freshman in 2013. With Virginia Tech, Stanford had 40 catches for 640 receiving yards and a TD, but took a 4-game leave to attend to off-field issues in his sophomore campaign and struggled to get back on the field after that.

Shortly after, Stanford transferred to Kansas, but the injury-bug followed him. He only appeared in two games last year, merely accumulating 3 catches for 38 yards. His freshman season, however, was good enough for the six-foot-one, 200-pounder to earn an invite to the national CFL combine.

He displayed great yards-after-catch ability as a freshman as an elusive runner that’s hard to bring down. He’s sound in creating space in zones and finding soft spots in coverages, as well as using change of speed to create leverage against the DB to run his route. But he has some flaws, such as a small catching radius, limited route running ability and release off the line-of-scrimmage. This is all based off his redshirt freshman campaign, however, exemplifying exactly how crucial this upcoming weekend is for Stanford to show that his hiatus from game action hasn’t stunted his growth as a football player.

Zachary Intzandt: RG, McMaster

Similarly to former Michigan State right guard James Bodanis, who the Montreal Alouettes selected in the third round last year, Intzandt has garnered CFL interest despite only playing one year on the offensive side of the football. His film, however, would not indicate that whatsoever.

Intzandt is a polished prospect considering his lack of experience. 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, and he can play in multiple different schemes (but zone-blocking would probably suit him most).

According to the intro in his highlight video, Intzandt should test very well. He apparently runs a 5.17 40-yard dash, a number that’d draw a lot of attention if he runs similarly on Saturday. The combine will be a great place for Intzandt to assure scouts that his little experience at right guard should not be too much of a red flag.

Terrell Davis: LB, UBC

Davis, a former running back for Arizona State, was converted to linebacker prior to 2015, his first season at UBC. It turned out to be a great move by the Thunder Bird coaching staff, as Davis turned out to be everything they’d hoped to be – an athletic, sideline-to-sideline linebacker that excels in coverage and gets to the quarterback quickly on blitzes. Davis, who has the size to be a CFL linebacker at 6-foot, 220-pounds, would be a great fit for the Blue Bombers’ scheme.

Given his athleticism as a former running back, Davis is going to have a great combine. The competitive drills – one-on-ones against RBs in routes/coverage and blocking/blitzing – are made especially for players like Davis to shine.

Josiah St. John: RT, Oklahoma

Canadian offensive tackles are hard to find, but extremely valuable. St. John, who made four starts in 2015, could see his draft-stock sky-rocket if he excels in one-on-ones as a tackle. At 6-foot-6, 308-pounds, St. John is built like a right tackle, pending his wingspan measurements. He’s a better run-blocker than pass-blocker – St. John struggled with his 3-step in college – so he doesn’t project as a blind-side protector. Scouts will likely hope to see St. John show a mean streak, as well as use his leverage more to his advantage against certain rushers. St. John could still be a top-5 pick as a guard, but a solid workout at right tackle would push him into the conversation for the no. 1 and no. 2 overall selections.

George Johnson: WR, Western

Johnson’s expected to test well in the 40-yard dash and in one-on-ones, but a solid shuttle drill time could really see his draft stock improve. Johnson already has great explosion, control and agility, and if just break on his routes a little faster  – he already has the explosion out of his break and the route-running knowledge – Johnson could be viewed as a top-3 receiver in the draft.

Photo via OKLAHOMA ATHLETICS
Photo via OKLAHOMA ATHLETICS

Scouting Report: Arjen Colquhoun is a Top-3 Talent

With Free Agency in the books and June getting closer, it’s officially draft season in the CFL. The CFL combine begins this weekend, and with numerous top prospects choosing to skip the event, I’ve decided to gather and inform what I can on those prospects. Today’s draft eligible player is DB Arjen Colquhoun, from Michigan State. Special thanks to Chris Zorbas, a contributor to Michigan sports website http://www.isportsweb.com, for a lot of information. 

Name: Arjen Colquhoun
Position: Defensive Back
School:
Michigan State
Height: 6-1
Weight:
202

Already well-versed as the top defensive back available in the draft, all that’s left to prove for Michigan State CB Arjen Colquhoun, a native of Windsor, ON., is whether or not he’s the top defensive player overall.

Entering his senior season in 2015, it took several dominoes to fall into place for Colquhoun to get his shot as a starter in the Spartans’ aggressive, physical defense. With the loss of CB Trae Waynes to the NFL, Colquhoun entered the season as the third cornerback on the depth chart. But after Michigan State’s top corner went down with mono, and the second with a broken vertabrae, the 6-foot-one, 202-pounder was promoted to boundary cornerback and excelled, never relinquishing his role as the primary corner for one of the best schools in the nation at producing defensive backs.

Colquhoun, who won’t be attending the upcoming CFL combine, will be an enticing prospect for several teams with a seemingly high ceiling after showing such promise in his first year starting, albeit as a senior. At six-foot-one, 202-pounds, Colquhoun has ideal size to play numerous positions in the CFL and has been developed by a nationally-renown defensive coordinator, Harlon Barnett, who’s produced two first round NFL draft picks in consecutive years in Darqueze Dennard and Trae Waynes.

Production: 

I view Colquhoun’s lack of experience as a starter as a positive. He has untapped potential and given his constant improvement, he absolutely projects as a future CFL starter in the CFL – and I’m not just referencing as a field-side cornerback. Going from Canada directly to Michigan State, Colquhoun was evidently a late bloomer. But he really did come into his own, and it’s very, very evident later on in the season that Colquhoun was the most dependable part of an erratic, inexperienced Spartan secondary.

Against top competition such as Alabama and Michigan, Culquhoun wasn’t picked on by any means whatsoever. All was quiet on the boundary, with offenses targeting Michigan State’s poor safeties and nickel corners.

Playing the most difficult position in the secondary, Colquhoun recorded 45 tackles, 10 breakups (team-high), 12 passes defended, 2 forced fumbles and 2 interceptions – no lack of productivity, evidently. He started 11 games and continually improved as the season went on.

Technique: 

Although the Spartans are known for a stingy, physical defense with aggressive corners, against teams with elite speed like Alabama, Colquhoun tended to give deep-threat receivers far more of a cushion than usual. But that also says a lot about Head Coach Mark Dantonio’s confidence in the players around Colquhoun more than anything. Michigan State had two starting freshman at free and strong safety, as well as a converted safety at the no. 2 cornerback position opposite Colquhoun. He still has shown great capabilities as a press-corner, however, and the comfort in either situation, courtesy of great coaching, bodes well for his success in the CFL.

Colquhoun has fluid change of direction skills and sinks his hips low in his back-pedal. Coming from a system with so many different coverage looks, he’s developed excellent vision and spatial awareness. He anticipates routes well and, thanks to his sound technique, can read and react quick enough to not put himself in a position to have to take a pass interference or defensive holding penalty to stay in good position. This is huge for playing in the Canadian Football League, where contact on a receiver after five yards is prohibited. Colquhoun already plays a very clean game as a cornerback despite the constant press-coverage, which will translate very well to CFL. The importance of this cannot be understated.

Still a Michigan State corner, Colquhoun, as expected, is an excellent tackler and isn’t afraid to play near the box. He’s an effective run-stopper, taking on both running backs and tight ends despite the difference in size. He takes great pursuit angles and is quick to recognize and react to run plays. He’s far from a big hitter, but he’s not going to back down from any challenge.

Physical traits and athleticism: 

Colquhoun reportedly ran a 4.40 40-yard dash when he first arrived at Michigan State in front of Dantonio, but that doesn’t mean he plays like a 4.40 defensive back. Against higher competition, such as Alabama, Colquhoun brought up a lot of question marks regarding his speed and ability to cover fast receivers downfield. He also has suspect hands, even as a defensive back, and didn’t win on a lot of 50/50 balls. On film, he’s never blown anyone away with explosion, quickness or jumping ability, but if he was playing against CIS competition, that likely wouldn’t be the case. At Michigan State, Colquhoun is obviously being held to high, NFL draft standards, even by myself. It’s why his level of competition already gives him an advantage over other defensive backs available in the CFL draft.

Special-Teams: 

There are no red-flags for the fifth-year senior when it comes to special-teams, as Colquhoun spent four seasons as strictly a special-teams player. He’d unquestionably make a fantastic gunner and cornerback on punt and punt return teams with his size, speed and tackling ability. At the very, very least, Colquhoun will be a great special-teams player up north for years to come.

Overview: 

CFL.ca’s Justin Dunk, who released a mock draft of his own this week, has the Alouettes drafting Colquhoun at second overall. While I disagree with Justin thus far on some of his picks, I’ll admit that his belief in Colquhoun encouraged me to follow up with more research. After discovering – and re-watching – several Michigan State games that are posted on Youtube since my mock draft 1.0 was released, it’s very clear that Colquhoun is a top-3 selection. He’s undoubtedly a top-5 pick, and I’m sure the Riders, who desperately need Canadian defensive backs – will take a good, hard look at Colquhoun as the number one overall pick. The only reason he could fall out of the top-3 is because Canadian offensive and defensive lineman are much more valuable.

Versatility is highly sought after in the draft, and given his size, tackling ability and the scheme he comes from, Colquhoun could likely play strong-side linebacker in the CFL, too. He’s already potentially the best defensive player in the draft – it’s Colquhoun or Boston College DT Mehdi Abdesmad – and the ability to play multiple positions is simply a bonus.

Mike Carter: USA TODAY
Mike Carter: USA TODAY

Making the Leap: 16 Breakout Candidates for 2016

Every season sees a new wave of unknown, rookie players burst onto the scene and become stars. But every season, there’s also a wave of players with limited experience under their belt that breakout in a larger role further into their career.

We saw players like Emmanuel Davis, Jerrell Gavins, Abdul Kanneh, Eric Rogers, Freddie Bishop, Pierre Lavertu, Cleyon Laing, etc. become stars, making the leap last year. Here’s 16 candidates that could make the leap in 2016.

16. DB Chris Ackie, Montreal Alouettes

Although the fourth-overall selection in last year’s draft isn’t penciled in as a starter, as a result of Ackie’s versatility, he’ll likely see plenty more defensive snaps in his sophomore campaign. The Wilfred-Laurier product, who has experience at safety, linebacker and halfback, will get his chance to start sooner or later when injuries hit. If what he displayed in a preseason-esque, week 20 game against Saskatchewan holds true, Ackie shouldn’t be a liability.

15. HB Tyree Hollins, Saskatchewan Roughriders

Hollins, the lone returning international defensive back from last year’s Riders roster, played quite well in his rookie season despite his surroundings in Saskatchewan’s porous defensive backfield. He could excel in Chris Jones’ system with a year of CFL experience now under his belt, emerging as Saskatchewan’s best cover-man.

14. DE Justin Cole, Winnipeg Blue Bombers

Appearing in three games in 2015, Cole looked promising as an edge-defender, recording two sacks and an additional tackle-for-loss. He looked especially good in the Banjo Bowl, albeit against two struggling offensive tackles, notching a sack and numerous QB pressures. The 28-year-old will have to battle several other CFL rookies in training camp to be the successor of Greg Peach – a notable battle to watch at Blue Bombers training camp.

13. CB Brandon Sermons, Ottawa REDBLACKS

It’s no secret that I’ve thought highly of Ottawa’s secondary before last season even kicked off, going as far as claiming they had the league’s best defensive backfield only a couple weeks into the season. To the credit of their American scouting department, Ottawa has had a crowd of international defensive backs on their roster, plugging numerous different players into the starting lineup and not missing a beat.

Sermons, a UCLA star, made his first career start at short-side cornerback in the Grey Cup, containing one of the best receivers in the league, Derel Walker, all game until a late pass interference infraction lead to the game-winning touchdown a few plays later. With Jovon Johnson now in Montreal, expect Sermons to take over the field-side corner position this upcoming season.

12. SB Nic Demski, Saskatchewan Roughriders

Although he’ll start the season returning kicks with Kendial Lawrence, Demski will see plenty of time on offense in his sophomore campaign as the Riders are expected to start two Canadian pass-catchers in Rob Bagg and the oft-injured Shamawd Chambers. The former Manitoba Bison earned time as a starter last season, proving he can be an electric player in the pro-ranks, making numerous splash plays as a rusher, receiver and returner. Expect more of that in year two.

11. SB Diontae Spencer, Toronto Argonauts

There’s a new Chad Owens in Toronto; second-year slot-back/returner Diontae Spencer. He’s equally as shifty and could emerge as a reliable, possession receiver in year two after amassing 502 yards and 3 TDs in 10 games last season. But with Vidal Hazelton, Tori Gurley, Anthony Coombs and Kevin Elliott also being featured in Toronto’s passing attack, there’s only one football to go around. Spencer should see many reps as a punt returner.

10. DE Frank Beltre, Calgary Stampeders

If the Beltre can earn a starting spot out of training camp, he’s likely in for a big season. Starting defensive ends opposite of Charleston Hughes have accumulated 38 sacks over three seasons, with all three of those players – Cordarro Law, Shawn Lemon and Freddie Bishop III – earning NFL contracts. (Full credit to Scott Mitchell of the Calgary Sun for that stat). Beltre, who’s been hampered by injuries throughout his brief, two-year CFL career, has repeatedly flashed potential as an edge-rusher in limited playing time, just like the three to start opposite Charleston Hughes before him.

9. WR Greg Wilson, Calgary Stampeders

Like many Stampeder receivers before him, Wilson could make a huge leap in year two in an expanded role with the departure of several talented incumbents. Wilson delivered in year one when called upon, catching 20 passes for 190 yards and a TD. His finest hour, a three-catch, 26-yard outing on Labour Day, saw the 25-year-old make two clutch second-down grabs as well as a back-shoulder, fade-route touchdown catch against 6-foot-5, All-Star corner Pat Watkins, giving Calgary the lead.

Wilson, 6-foot-two, 205-pounds, could start at boundary wide receiver, field-side slot or field-side wide receiver depending on where Joe West and Bakari Grant play. Regardless, he’s expected to take build off his promising rookie campaign and produce wherever he lines up in 2016.

8. DB Forrest Hightower, Ottawa REDBLACKS

With HB Brandyn Thompson still unsigned – he’s likely testing the NFL market – Hightower is penciled in as a starter at boundary halfback after coming on real strong down the stretch for the REDBLACKS in 2015. He’s already proved that he has skills in man-coverage and in press on the line-of-scrimmage to excel within Ottawa’s scheme next season.

7. SB Naaman Roosevelt, Saskatchewan Roughriders

After binding his time on the practice roster, Roosevelt finally made his debut against Ottawa, catching four passes for 46 yards and a beautiful TD on a corner-route featuring a great, tip-toe catch. He went on to catch 25 passes for 488 yards and 5 TDs over 10 games, entrenching himself as a starting slot-back for the new-look Riders heading into 2016.

6. SB Lemar Durant, Calgary Stampeders

Durant, a steal in the 2015 draft who fell into the hands of the Stamps at nineteenth overall with most teams worried about his ability to play special-teams, earned more reps in Calgary’s offense as the season went on and didn’t look out of place. The Simon Fraser University product had 12 catches for 178 yards and three touchdowns – a 14.2 yards-per-catch average – with OC Dave Dickenson drawing up plays for the 6-foot-two, 231-pound exciting freshman on hitch screens and isolated quick-slants. Durant will likely get an opportunity to start in 2015 and show eight other CFL clubs why they were wrong to pass on him in the draft.

5. LB Alex Hoffman-Ellis, Hamilton Tiger-Cats

While I don’t think Hoffman-Ellis was quite as great last season as his gaudy tackle statistics present him to be, it was indeed only his rookie season, and the Ti-Cats’ decision to sign him, and let incumbent starter Taylor Reed hit the open market, indicates they believe the former BC Lion could take a huge step forward in year two. Hoffman-Ellis adds even more athleticism to Hamilton’s linebacker corps, and if his skill-set does translate into Hamilton’s scheme, year two could be a breakout season.

4. C/RG Alex Mateas, Ottawa REDBLACKS

With the loss of DE Justin Capicciotti in free agency, the REDBLACKS could look to starting a fourth national offensive lineman in last year’s first overall draft pick in order to meet the required seven starting Canadians. Canadian RG Nolan MacMillan, who played much of his rookie season in 2014 at tackle, could slide out to the now-vacated right tackle position with Colin Kelly inking an NFL deal, allowing Mateas to draw in at right guard (or at centre, with Jon Gott moving to guard). Mateas now has a year of experience under his belt and has hefty expectations to meet in what could be his first year as a full-time starter in the CFL.

3. DE Aston Whiteside, Ottawa REDBLACKS

In five games before suffering a season-ending knee injury, Whiteside established himself as a fearsome pass-rusher with seven sacks and thirteen tackles. At full strength with a training camp under his belt, Whiteside is expected to anchor Ottawa’s defensive line, who lost three starters in free agency in DE Shawn Lemon, DE Justin Capicciotti and NT Keith Shologan.

2. C Sean McEwen, Toronto Argonauts

Unless he lands an NFL deal, McEwen, the third overall pick in last year’s draft, should slide right into a starting role at centre for the Argonauts, replacing Jeff Keeping and pushing import Greg Van Roten to guard. While completing his education at the University of Calgary, McEwen had a dominant season, earning All-Canadian honors once again.

1. RB William Powell, Ottawa REDBLACKS

Taking over for an injured Jeremiah Johnson, Powell made an immediate impact and never relinquished the starting role. In seven regular season games, he averaged 5.9 yards-per-carry with 76 rushes for 447 yards and two TDs, while also proving himself as a receiving threat, adding on nineteen catches. Powell, 5-foot-9, 207-pounds, brings incredible versatility to Ottawa’s offense in terms of his multiple running styles, pass protection and receiving skills. Expect the REDBLACKS to feature the run game much more in 2016, fueling Powell’s true breakout season.

powell
Photo via ottawaredblacks.com (THE CANADIAN PRESS)