They’re no 6-foot-6, 310-bound right tackles who played in the prestigious SEC, and they certainly aren’t products of Laval, but versatile offensive lineman Michael Couture and Brandon Revenberg could be sky-rocketing up draft board’s ahead of the CFL draft.
Prior to the combine, neither were notable prospects. Couture, a product of Simon Fraser University, was an undersized player, and Revenberg, who was likely much more favored by CFL scouts than by league pundits, hadn’t garnered much attention being from a lesser-known Division II school, Grand Valley State. Fast forward two months, and it’s easy to see both big-men as blue-chip prospects destined to be selected in the inaugural round of the 2016 CFL Draft.
Couture’s draft-stock likely took a turn for the best the moment he stepped on the weight scale at the combine. The 6-foot-4 native of Burnaby, B.C. weighed in at a healthy 292-lbs, dispelling any questions about his lack of size. Couture played the 2015 season at around 275-pounds, which is far too light for professional football, but put on a lot of weight during the winter months and, as a result, boosted his draft stock tremendously.
Couture evidently already had the athleticism and the technique to worthy an early-round pick, but size was enough to write him off until the middle rounds. And while he should certainly continue to bulk up, size is no longer a glaring issue anymore, and after a tremendous performance in the combine one-on-ones, Couture very well could be a top-5 pick this May.
Revenberg, meanwhile, does not have a dominant combine performance to boost his stock – he opted instead to participate in GVSU’s pro day that weekend – but his game film at Grand Valley State is already enough. A three-year starter with the Lakers, Revenberg might have better natural pad-level than any other offensive line prospect in the draft. He has really smooth feet, and a strong enough punch to give defenders issues with using finesse moves to disengage. Revenberg, a two-time Great Lakes Conference All-Star, played several positions along the offensive line, offering highly-valued versatility at the next level.
Couture also offers versatility – he has game experience at centre, left guard and right tackle with the Clan – and displayed it at the combine, taking reps at all five positions. Couture, who’s well coached in a sense that he sets up quickly after the snap and remains patient, has a great balance of technique and athleticism. He has quick, nimble feet – his kick steps are very fundamentally sound – and appears to be very alert and aware with his responsibilities. He’s not the most powerful player – his technique allowed him to move defensive lineman around in the GNAC conference – and, similarly to most – if not every – draft-eligible offensive lineman this year, is not at all pro-ready. But Couture is certainly talented enough to contend neck-and-neck with Revenberg as the draft’s top blocker behind the consensus big-two, Charles Vaillancourt and Josiah St. John.
After flying under-the-radar all winter, Couture and Revenberg could be the draft’s best blockers outside of the pair in the top-tier. And while Laval’s Phillippe Gagnon is right there with them, there is at least a case to be made for one of the NCAA Division II products – if not both – to be drafted ahead of the ninth-ranked player on the CFL scouting bureau.
Couture and Revenberg are now blue-chip prospects – a far-cry from where their stocks at least appeared to be a couple months ago – and will have made themselves a lot of money recently should they be fittingly drafted where they belong – the first round.
Quality Canadian offensive lineman are paramount to success in the CFL, and the best teams will continually draft at least one – and sometimes up to three – each and every year.
Continually drafting Canadian offensive lineman in bulk every year is crucial, as the CFL draft is, in many ways, a crap-shoot – some picks will pan out, others will flop. Injuries take a toll and make careers short for many offensive lineman, the best of which will depart for the NFL.
With CFL success often being directly affiliated with Canadian content along the offensive lineman, the best teams will often draft one early every year regardless of their needs, and another later on. This year’s class of offensive lineman, however, is not particularly deep. There’s a strong top-tier of offensive lineman, which can now be divided into two tiers with the emergence of Grand Valley State’s Brandon Revenberg and Simon Fraser’s Michael Couture, but it falls off after that.
One player who could be a nice late-round find is York offensive tackle Jamal Campbell, a testing monster at the CFL combine.
Campbell will be a large project for whichever team takes a flier on the 6-foot-5, 292-pound book-end, but it only takes one team to look past the glaring technical issues and see Campbell for the prospect he really is: an athletic freak with a ton of potential.
As the great coach Bill Walsh once said, “You can teach an athlete to be a technician, but you can’t teach a technician to be an athlete.”
Campbell’s testing numbers were off the charts at the CFL combine, as the Toronto, ON. native clocked a mind-blowing 4.984-second 40-yard dash, 31-inch vertical and 7.41-second three-cone time. And while testing numbers are a poor way to evaluate offensive lineman, they can somewhat be an indication of the ever-important athleticism factor, particularly for offensive tackle prospects.
Campbell’s athleticism, the most important piece of playing offensive tackle, is noticeable not only during tests, but also on the field. His short-area quickness is apparent in his kick steps, which requires quick, nimble feet to mirror and contain outside pass rushers while recovering inside to wall-off stunts and twists – Campbell’s natural abilities allows him to do that.
Campbell is also extremely powerful in his upper-body, displaying a powerful punch. He can shock the defender with his initial punch, latch on and not be easily swatted away once engaged. Campbell, evidently, has a lot of natural ability, which can’t be coached at the next level. Natural ability often is a sign of potential, and with the right coaching, Campbell could become an excellent late-round draft pick in the future.
Of course, it’ll take a team willing to invest a lot of time into Campbell. He’s very raw and lacks a lot of fundamental technique, stemming from a lot of different areas. There’s obviously not a lot of film out on the York product, but I found that his eight reps during one-on-ones at the CFL combine showed both the good and the bad of his game.
Balance is very important for offensive lineman, and Campbell often gets too upright in his stance. He’ll often over-extend and reach for the defender, leaving himself susceptible to finesse moves or underneath cuts. His footwork is another issue, and while it’s good to have a wide stance, he can reach too far out wide with his kick steps rather than taking shorter, quicker steps, which he’s quite capable of.
While these are all fixable issues, this doesn’t mean Campbell is a home-run pick, of course, as some of his flaws are quite detrimental if he isn’t able to compensate using some of his strengths.
Campbell still needs to develop his lower-body and add muscle, and as I touched on earlier, he lacks patience. He’ll often rely too much on his athleticism rather than his technique, which will need a lot of work. And as a Canadian offensive tackle who probably doesn’t fit the mold as a guard, the odds become increasingly low for Campbell – many blue-chip, first-round picks who were book-ends in college must move inside to play in the CFL.
But with his freakish athleticism, Campbell has potential. He’s going to be a huge project, and perhaps some teams don’t have the time or the patience to invest into the development of an offensive tackle who, even with seasoning on the practice roster, may never develop into a legitimate professional offensive lineman.
Campbell should still be worth a late-round pick, and while it’s ludicrous to project him as the next Jon Gott (fifth-round pick in 2008) or Chris Greaves (sixth-round pick as a defensive lineman in 2010), he’s shown enough upside to maybe think he could become a solid depth player after some grooming, which would be exceeding expectations for a late-round pick at offensive tackle.
All that’s apparent is that Campbell has potential, and in a draft class of offensive lineman that isn’t very deep, the York product is likely the best developmental offensive lineman in the draft. He has a lot of glaring issues and is far from being any-sort of a technician out wide, but with off-the-charts athleticism, he’ll be in many ways a blank canvas for offensive line coaches to paint into the player they want.
A sunny afternoon session at Investors Group Field concluded day two of the Blue Bombers’ offensive mini-camp. Here are some thoughts from section 129.
1. It was another efficient morning for the Lapolice Academy. As per usual with Lapolice, the Bombers started with some light work, getting the footwork of the quarterbacks and timing of the receivers’ motion down with their reverse/ghost motion inside zone runs. Although they’re only barely scratching the surface of the offensive playbook, it seems as though Lapolice’s offense will be very, very full of misdirection.
2. Jeff Keeping – yes, that Jeff Keeping – was on the receiving end of two passes in the flats today. The Bombers began installing their short-yardage set, which already has a play-action pass to a lineman built in.
3. Receiver groupings were the same on day two. Former Baylor pass-catcher Ernest Smith, who brings great size to the receiving corps at 6’5″, 210-lbs, remained at the Y-position with the “starters”. The second-team remained the same, with Spencer Davis on the boundary, Quincy McDuffie, Ricky Collins and Julian Talley in the slot, and Kris Bastien at field-side wide receiver. And although non of these groupings really mean anything, there were no changes on the third team, with Larry Pinkard (boundary) and Justin Veltung (field) at wide receiver, and Soloman Patton, Julian Feoli-Gudino and Jhomo Gordon in the slot. Former UTEP pass-catcher Kris Adams, meanwhile, rotated in where ever he could. Take all this with a grain of salt, however, as groupings in mini-camp really mean nothing heading into main camp. Everyone has an equal opportunity to crack the lineup.
4. Big Travis Bond (6’6″, 329-lbs), who took the second-team reps at left tackle yesterday, worked with the starters today at left guard. Lawrence Martin, who took took the starting reps at left guard yesterday, was on the second-team, while Manase Foketi replaced Bond at left tackle on group two. Expect Jamarcus Hardrick, currently playing right guard on group-two, to get the starting reps at left guard tomorrow as the Bombers look to get all the candidates some reps with the starters to develop some chemistry ahead of training camp.
5. It’s hard – and rather pointless – to try and evaluate the talent of the players at this mini-camp without pads or a defense, but Andrew Harris is looking very explosive. I know, that’s a fairly pointless statement since everyone looks good/explosive with no defense, but Harris is demonstrating deceptive speed and smooth, natural looking cuts – it’s a sight to behold. Harris has been very vocal so far, demonstrating his experience while communicating with the offensive line at the line of scrimmage. Unlike several CFL teams, the Bombers are going to heavily include their running backs as much as possible, and I really do believe that Andrew Harris has a big season ahead of him – if he can stay healthy, that is.
6. Another player that could be in for a big season is Rory Kohlert. The CFL’s best offenses in the East Division include their field-side wide receivers in the offense, and seeing as how Paul Lapolice seems to be taking a lot of pages out Marcus Brady’s play-book out in Toronto, an individual season like 2014 could be ahead for the University of Saskatchewan alum. Bomber quarterbacks were reading the wide-side first on multiple route combinations, where the coverage responsibilities of one defender could mean Kohlert is getting a target.
7. It’s hard – and rather pointless – to try and diversify the players at mini-camp with no defense out there, so you can expect all the players at mini-camp to be at training camp. Although every rep will be evaluated, don’t expect the coaches to put much stock – if any – into anything seen at this mini-camp except attitude and the ability to learn the system. There really aren’t any players standing out simply because everyone looks good, for the most part, against air. The real evaluating will be done when main camp opens in June.
The Bombers hit the field for the first time in 2016 for their offensive mini-camp. Here are some observations after our first look at the new-and-improved 2016 Blue Bombers.
1. The first thing that stuck out to me was just how animated newly-hired offensive coordinator Paul Lapolice was. Everyone in the stadium could hear him coaching loud and clear, as Lapolice, who’s clearly excited to be back coaching after three seasons, was vocal, animated and full of enthusiasm. Lapolice, still young at 45-years-old, was even demonstrating drills himself – he doubles as receivers coach – and I wouldn’t be shocked if he ended up losing his voice after two hour-long practices today. The Bombers were up-tempo all practice, maximizing the short amount of practice time.
2. The Bombers had installed a handful of basic plays – no more than seven – which they ran through today as a unit after some quick individual work. It was all three-step, short route combinations, for the most part, as well as some reverse and ghost-motion misdirection runs, and basic zone runs. The quarterbacks and receivers worked a lot on bubble screens in individual time as well as in team, which Lapolice could be rely on this season, similarly to the Eskimos in 2015. The quarterbacks were getting the ball out their hands early today with a lot of quick throws being called.
3. Back under center after recovering from a season-ending knee injury, Drew Willy didn’t have his best day throwing the football, at least in the second session. His accuracy was relatively erratic at some points, and the ball hung in the air on a couple deep throws – there was a breeze, though. Of course, this is nothing to be worried about. Willy’s knee is 100% healed up, and it’s exciting to see no. 5 back at the controls.
4. Even though arm strength/accuracy is only one piece of the puzzle, it’s always interesting – but totally pointless – to compare the quarterback’s arms to each other. Last training camp, it was Robert Marve clearly dominated this power ranking, followed by Jordan Yantz, Josh Portis, Willy and then Brian Brohm. Who throws the best ball out of this year’s signal-callers? To me, it’s unquestionably Dominique Davis, followed by a close tie between Brian Bennett and Drew Willy, and then Matt Nichols.
5. Former Baylor receiver Ernest Smith, who was signed last week, worked with the “starters” today at the Y-position, formerly occupied by Julian Feoli-Gudino. Smith has been out of football for a long time, but at six-foot-five and 210-lbs, he brings some much-needed size to the Bombers’ aerial attack.
6. It’s quite possible that Smith was moved into a role with group one as a result of Jerrell Jernigan being a no-show. According to Ed Tait, Jernigan (5’9″, 189-lbs) did touch down in Winnipeg but had to return home for family reasons. Here’s to hoping the Troy alum, who spent four seasons with the New York Giants after being drafted in the third round, shows up to main camp, as he’s certainly is a promising player. In 2013, Jernigan recorded 19 catches in 3 games while Victor Cruz sat out with an injury.
7. Weston Dressler received the majority of his snaps at boundary wide-receiver, as Darvin Adams moved into Clarence Denmark’s vacated slot-back position. Ryan Smith was in Nick Moore’s boundary slot-back position – looking explosive there, too – and Rory Kohlert was at his regular position at field-side wide receiver. Second-year player Spencer Davis lined up at boundary slot-back on the second-team, with Quincy McDuffie, Ricky Collins and Julian Talley in the slot, and Kris Bastien out wide. On the third team, Larry Pinkard manned the boundary at wideout, while Julian Feoli-Gudino, Jhomo Gordon and Soloman Patton worked the slot, with Justin Veltung out a field-side wide receiver. Take all this with a grain of salt, as it’s only the first day of mini-camp, and there’ll be many changes to the groupings by as early as tomorrow.
8. The club seems serious about starting Patrick Neufeld at right tackle this season. And while I feel as though the club should exhaust all their options with American rookies at right tackle, I am not against the idea of Neufeld playing there. Although he’s about a middle-tier right tackle at his best – and a below-average player at guard – that is a significant upgrade over Jace Daniels and Selvish Capers. Daniels, who is still recovering from off-season ankle surgery, will compete at left guard should Neufeld remain a book-end. Lawrence Martin took the first-team reps at left guard today, while Manase Foketi worked with the two’s.
9. The favorite to win that job at left guard in training camp might just be Jamarcus Hardrick, however. Hardrick, who spent 2015 with Saskatchewan, is a natural right tackle, but he’s a mauler in the run-game. A powerful technician, I always thought his footwork was too questionable to play tackle, and unsurprisingly, the Bombers had him taking second-team reps at right guard behind Sukh Chungh today. It could only be a matter of time before he sees reps at the vacated left guard position.
10. The updated helmets with the royal blue face-masks are still as sharp as ever, and are now full-time. The team still practiced with the old Reebok practice jerseys, but we can expect that to change in time for training camp when the club’s new digs are unveiled.
11. It was simply mind-blowing to see Weston Dressler, Ryan Smith and Andrew Harris in the Blue & Gold, which, let me add, looks much better on them than any other color combination.
12. Practice tomorrow is once again scheduled for 10:30am and 12:30pm at Investors Group Field.
Receivers are often an easy position group to differentiate into different tiers at the CFL draft, but the 2016 class apparently didn’t get the memo.
This year’s group of draft-eligible receivers is, quite honestly, relatively mediocre. A very deep class that lacks star-power, there is very little separating, for example, the ninth best receiver from the fourth-best receiver – it’s that close.
With the no. 1 ranked pass-catcher destined for the NFL in 2016, there are no blue-chip, home-run prospects like 2015 draftees Lemar Durant and Nic Demski. Instead, special-teams value has sky-rocketed within this draft, as it’s already difficult enough for 1st-round draft picks to develop into starting receivers in their career. And, evidently, this class doesn’t boast a 1st-round receiver anymore.
And while it lacks the big names, given how deep it is, this class of receivers certainly must have a diamond-in-the-rough (or two) just waiting to be uncovered. CFL clubs will be finding excellent value from receivers in the late rounds of the draft, and it would not surprise me if every team’s draft-board for receivers was drastically different.
Right or wrong, here are my top-10 receiver prospects for the 2016 CFL draft.
1. Tevaun Smith, Iowa (6’0″, 205-lbs)
The unquestioned top receiver in the entire draft, Smith could still be available at the top of the third round as a result of the interest he’s receiving from NFL teams. He’s a blue-chip prospect, and there’s no doubt he’d be contending for the first-overall pick in the CFL draft had NFL teams not been knocking down his door following an unbelievable pro day performance.
Strengths: Smith really is the total package. A well-built receiver from a physical standpoint, Smith is easily the best and most natural route-runner in the class. He is able to control his blazing speed – he clocked at 4.33 40-yard dash at his Pro Day – to be super smooth in and out of his breaks. His footwork is top-notch, as he has the ability to get in and out of his cuts without wasted movement or stiffness. He doesn’t always need to always sink his hips, restart and go find the football – it’s all one smooth, compact transition.
With a 38-inch vertical jump, Smith can jump out of the gym and be an effective red-zone target. He has excellent ball-tracking skills, excelling at winning contested catches in traffic. After the catch, Smith shows good vision and is great in space.
Weaknesses: Consistency is the biggest area of improvement for Smith. He will occasionally give away his route with his shoulders, and may sometimes fail to maintain his pad-level. When releasing off of jams at the line of scrimmage, he can miss his swat with his hands or can step outside of his halo with his feet. And while he does a good job catching the ball away from his body, there have been a few ‘concentration’ drops in his junior and senior seasons.
2. Llevi Noel, Toronto (6’1″, 202-lbs)
Noel’s rare combination of craftiness in his route-running, dynamic after-the-catch ability and special-teams value could be enough to make him the first receiver off the board. Although I think the next handful of players could develop into better receivers, it’s special-teams value that has Noel, who has some intriguing potential on offense, himself, at the top of the list behind only an NFL-bound pass-catcher.
Strengths: The Toronto, ON. product was a dominate special-teams player in the amateur ranks, contributing in the 2015 season as a returner – he had a punt return TD, kickoff return TD and missed field goal return TD in 5 games – and as a gunner on the punt team, demonstrating great open-field tackling skills for an offensive player.
Noel uses that vision he’s shown as returner on offense, making him a thrill to watch with the ball in his hands. He takes long, powerful strides and does not lack the physicality of a professional receiver.
Weaknesses: Although he doesn’t lack craftiness, Noel is far from a complete route-runner. He has solid short-area quickness, but is still developing his footwork. He sinks his hips and has good pad-level, but must refine the technique in his head and shoulders, which will improve his ability to remain unpredictable and sell the deep route. Noel doesn’t seem to drop the ball a lot, but could benefit from extending his arms and catching further away from his body to prevent defensive backs from making plays.
3. Mike Jones, Southern (5’11”, 178-lbs)
Jones might just be this draft class’ hidden gem at the receiver position – he’s that good. And while I think he might develop into the best pass-catcher of this underwhelming class, his ability to contribute on special-teams could affect his draft stock. Jones is a little bit of a risky pick without having special-teams value to fall back on.
Strengths: Jones combines natural, dynamic speed with stop-on-a-dime ability to form spectacular route-running skills by this class’ standards. He’s the best in this year’s draft at remaining unpredictable in his routes, pressing deep each and every route by driving off pf the line-of-scrimmage with his shoulders square, pads over his knees and legs in full stride all the way into the top of his route. He’s smooth, light on his feet and puts on a clinic with his releases off the line of scrimmage, displaying the ability to use his quick stutter, explosiveness, and also, to a lesser degree, his hands. Jones also supplies some craftiness as a route-runner, using that wiggle he has to step outside his halo at the stem of the route to stutter without losing balance or burst.
He has solid ball-tracking skills in the air and serviceable hands, catching the ball away from his body and with natural form. He runs a full-route tree and is adequate at reading zone coverage and maintaining spacing in his routes, which was important for Southern’s Air Coryell offense.
Weaknesses: Although he’s found a way to compensate for his lack of size in his releases, Jones still noticeably lacks physicality and, as a result, some after-the-catch ability. He doesn’t have a lot of fight in contested-catch situations, and is easily brought down in the open-field. Jones’ vision, meanwhile, doesn’t help his after-the-catch ability, and can affect his abilities as a returner, which is really the only aspect of special-teams that the diminutive speedster could play. And while he’s one of the best route-runners in the class, he’s far from a polished receiver, as he needs to continue to work at bursting out of break and coming back to football.
A three-year starter at Norther Illinois, there’s no questioning Brescacin’s level of competition at the collegiate level. As a sophomore in 2013, he posted career highs in catches (33), yards (499) and touchdowns (6) while playing with QB Jordan Lynch, who’s currently a member of the Edmonton Eskimos.
Strengths: Brescacin is able to compliment his huge frame with solid feet, allowing him to run crisp, sharp routes. He effectively uses his large frame to win contested catches in the end-zone and along the sidelines, boxing out defenders and catching the ball at it’s highest point. Although he’s not exactly fast, Brescacin is a long-strider that can stretch the field down the seam. He projects as essentially a tight-end playing out wide at the Z-position.
Weaknesses: Brescacin, who clocked a respectable 4.62-second 40-yard dash, doesn’t play with a lot of burst or acceleration. He clearly has excellent size, but really lacks short-area quickness and hasn’t found a way to compensate for that. He’s fairly slow in and out of breaks, and also isn’t very fundamentally sound with his hands at the line of scrimmage or his head and shoulders in his route-running.
5. Felix Faubert-Lussier, Laval (6’0″, 216-lbs)
A testing monster at the CFL draft, I see a lot of upside in Faubert-Lussier. He has a lot of the traits to potentially develop into a rotational slot-back, and if he adds weight, he could be converted into more of an H-back role. But special-teams is where his true value lies, and as a large, physical player with exceptional athletic abilities, he could be a versatile, dynamic special-teamer. Faubert-Lussier is one of the draft’s biggest sleepers, and if it wasn’t so difficult to compare evaluating play at the top NCAA level versus the CIS level, he might be ahead of the fourth-ranked receiver on this list.
Strengths: Faubert-Lussier is not just an athlete at receiver that can’t put it together into a route – he’s actually really underrated as a route-runner. He’s disciplined with his pass-patterns, running sharp routes and, most surprisingly, offering some craftiness at the top of his stem, too. Faubert-Lussier has surprisingly deceptive speed – he clocked a 4.58-second 40-yard dash at the combine – and actually has some wiggle in his step. He has experience making difficult catches, and also does a good job attacking the ball on short throws.
Weaknesses: The Laval product, like every prospect, has some flaws as a route-runner. Although I did mention his footwork above, he takes an awful lot of steps while breaking down. Faubert-Lussier can also improve his head and shoulders during his stem to remain unpredictable, which could cover up some of his other flaws. Depending on how teams think they can maximize his potential, Faubert-Lussier will need to put on weight if teams view him best as a fullback, which could take away from some of his abilities.
6. Brian Jones, Acadia (6’4″, 230-lbs)
Jones is a small-school product who garnered a lot of hype at the CFL combine. But don’t add me to the bandwagon yet, as I’m not quite buying it. Understandably, Jones could be drafted higher than others as a result of his special-teams value, but I don’t see a ton of potential as a receiver at the next-level. He could be a better fit as a more athletic H-Back, similarly to Spencer Moore in Saskatchewan.
Strengths: Jones has a large frame and knows how to use it to his advantage. He’s a physical, willing blocker, and can box out defenders when going up for the jump-ball, catching the pass at it’s highest point. Jones also has very reliable hands as well as a noticeable tendency to explode out of his breaks at the top of his route.
But Jones’ best value comes from special-teams, where he’ll offer much versatility at the next level. Unlike most receivers, with the size and power of a linebacker, he can play on all four units and at many different positions.
Weaknesses: Jones is a fairly poor route-runner at this stage, lacking short-area quickness and several fundamentals. He’s far from a smooth route-runner, as he can be too stiff and really has to sit deep into his breaks for us to see his explosion, which can be considered a wasted movement. Jones tends to round his routes too much – an issue stemming from a combination of hip mobility and footwork – and doesn’t always maintain his head and shoulders running into his cut.
7. Doug Corby, Queens (6’1″, 187-lbs)
Corby, the CFL scouting bureau’s no. 18 ranked prospect, is a boom-or-bust player in my eyes. He poses some interesting traits on offense, but could fall as a result of his special-teams value.
Strengths: Recording the fastest 40-yard dash at the CFL combine with a 4.5-flat, Corby certainly doesn’t lack speed. He pairs that with excellent acceleration and quickness, forming a shifty combination. He explodes off of the line of scrimmage, reaching top speed faster than many receivers, and limits his steps while breaking down. He has a soft pair of hands and catches the ball away from his body.
Weaknesses: While he has very few glaring holes, which is obviously welcomed, Corby also simply fails to stand out in many areas. The biggest area of concern is how he tends to round his routes – that’s a huge flaw, don’t get me wrong – but he’s mediocre-to-okay with his hips and ability to press deep. He does lack physicality though, and may be limited to spot-duty on the kick return team in the professional ranks.
8. Brett Blaszko, Calgary (6’4″, 204-lbs)
Reeling in 10 TD passes in 2015, all Brett Blaszko does is catch touchdowns. The Burlington, ON. native has a lot more potential than people realize, but CFL teams are reportedly questioning his preparation, which I’m not sure – actually, I have no idea – if that’s fair/true. Regardless, I would also not be shocked if a team really reached for Blaszko in the draft given some of his natural abilities.
Strengths: Blaszko has good size and speed at 6’4″, 204-lbs with a 40-yard dash at 4.54-seconds. He has a lot of natural talents, such as smooth hips, great hands and excellent acceleration. He really explodes out of his breaks and also offers a large catching radius. With his size, Blaszko could fill a few different roles on special rules, but don’t overlook his potential to possibly play offense in a few years – he at least has the athleticism.
Weaknesses: Blaszko has a lot of room to improve with many different techniques. As a route-runner, his pad-level, footwork and upper-body can all use fixing – thankfully, they can be fixed. He’s still very much a raw receiver, but with dedication and good coaching, Blaszko has a decently high ceiling.
9. Shaquille Johnson, Western (5’11”, 178-lbs)
The CIS record-holder for receptions by a freshman in single-season, Johnson 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 then to the national event. As a prospect, at this point I mostly view him as a poor-man’s Mike Jones, which makes him a riskier pick without the ability to really contribute on special-teams.
Strengths: An extra shifty pass-catcher, Johnson has great short-area quickness and natural speed, clocking a 4.391-second 40-yard dash at the Toronto regional combine. His footwork is surprisingly really, really solid, and he showed the ability to run a full route tree at the national combine one-on-ones. He has the quick twitch needed to win on underneath routes.
Weaknesses: Johnson has less-than-ideal size at 5-foot-11, and doesn’t offer much physicality. Although he evidently has great feet, Johnson must continue to refine his techniques as a route-runner into a more compact sequence of events. Johnson, who has all the physical traits, tested quite well at the combine but still needs to put it all together to become a professional receiver.
10. George Johnson, Western (6’2″, 206-lbs)
Johnson, a player I was particularly excited to see, saw his draft-stock take a significant hit at the CFL combine, where he tested poorly and was one of the least eye-popping receivers during one-on-ones.
Strengths: Johnson has a few nice techniques, such as the ability to change gears to create separation from the defensive back and the ability to keep his shoulders square to not give away his route. He was a really exciting player after-the-catch with Western, showing off a good balance of finesse and power. Johnson has a reliable set of hands, catching the ball away from his body, which he also effectively uses to box-out defenders.
Weaknesses: Johnson isn’t a very fluid route-runner at this point. His footwork is rather suspect, surprisingly, and his hips can be too stiff at times. He doesn’t explode out of his breaks like I’d like to see, and his shuttle and 3-cone times, which he really needed to do well on at the CFL combine, only confirmed this. At this point, it’s easy to wonder about Johnson’s overall athleticism at this point, as he only ran a 4.78-second 40-yard dash and recorded an ultra-disappointing 25.5-inch vertical.
Best of the rest: Joshua Stanford (6’0″ – 189-lbs – Kansas), Jamal Kett (6’4″ – 208-lbs – Western)
In a league where only a fraction of the receivers drafted go on to become full-time starters, the ability to contribute on special-teams is what earns many of these players their paycheck.
Even many of the most highly-touted receiver prospects fail to cement themselves as starters in their career, and in a draft-class that already lacks star-power at the receiver position, how a player projects as a special-teamer in the 2016 class, where little separates each receiver from another, could be the difference between a second-round pick and a sixth-round pick.
Aside from Iowa’s Tevaun Smith, who’s likely NFL-bound as an undrafted free agent after a spectacular pro day, there are no blue-chip receiver prospects in this class quite like 2015 draftees Lemar Durant and Nic Demski, both of whom project as future starters in the league. Even Durant, who’s one of the best receiver prospects in a long time, fell all the way to the bottom of the second round as a result of teams possibly worried about his ability to contribute in the ever-important phase of the game, special-teams.
Evidently, special-teams are extremely important when evaluating Canadians at the receiver position, and in a draft class that likely won’t boast a first-round receiver – or one that’s as promising on offense as Durant or Demski – special-teams are more valuable than ever.
Perhaps no other pass-catchers are expected to move up on draft-boards strictly due to how they project on special-teams quite like Acadia’s Brian Jones and Laval’s Felix Faubert-Lussier. Both Jones (6’4″, 230-lbs) and Faubert-Lussier (6’0″, 216-lbs) are big, filled-out bodies, and could become situational H-Backs on offense in the future if they add some weight. Unlike most receivers, these two can play on all four units as punt protectors, kickoff return front-line blockers and on kick coverage teams.
Many other receivers are limited to being kick returners and, sometimes, gunners on punt coverage, but Jones and Faubert-Lussier offer much more versatility – and they could probably be gunners on certain punt sets, too.
Although Jones and Faubert-Lussier both tested very well at the combine, it’s still perhaps far-fetched that they’ll ever become full-time starters on offense. Regardless, that doesn’t mean that they’ll each fall below all the better route-runners and pass-catchers in the draft, though; several players project as better receivers than Jones and Faubert-Lussier – that doesn’t say much – but very few, if any, have quite the same odds as, say, Durant or Demski at becoming starters in the future. In this case, they’d have to make it on their special-teams abilities, and perhaps only one other receiver is expected to excel in this area like Jones and Faubert-Lussier.
Will Jones and Faubert-Lussier be the first two receivers off the board because they’re versatile on special-teams? Of course not, since there are some receivers that have a chance at becoming future starters. (And one receiver that could develop into a starter and serviceable special-teams player). But should they be taken ahead of some receivers that, despite having better skills as a route-runner than Jones and Faubert-Lucier, still likely don’t have what it takes to develop into a future starter? Absolutely.
Receivers do not need to be 6-foot-4, 230-pounds to excel and be versatile special-teams players, of course, and Toronto/Windsor AKO’s Llevi Noel is walking proof. The 6-foot-1, 202-pounder was a dominate special-teams player in the amateur ranks, contributing in the 2015 season as a returner – he had a punt return TD, kickoff return TD and missed field goal return TD in 5 games – and as a gunner on the punt team, demonstrating great open-field tackling skills for an offensive player.
Not only does Noel have equally as promising of a future on special-teams as Jones and Faubert-Lussier, but he also has some of the best chances of any receiver at developing into a future starter, as well.
Noel’s potential as both a receiver and special-teams player could make him the first receiver off the board in the draft. It’s a close competition between three players – Noel, Southern’s Mike Jones and Northern Illinois’ Juwan Brescacin – but neither of the last two have nearly the same potential as Noel on special-teams. And since none are sure-things when it comes to their chances of becoming starters, it might be in the best interest for teams to draft Noel, as he could remain on a roster as special-teams player and rotational receiver if he doesn’t develop into a starter – unless they’re fully sold on a riskier pick, Mike Jones.
And although Mike Jones is a guy who I’m most confident can develop into a starting receiver down the road, he’ll still need to maintain a roster spot in the meantime – and even when he does secure a starting job in the future – on the ‘teams. And Jones, who’s undersized and lacks physicality at 5’11”, 187-pounds, may struggle to find a role even as a returner, though it’d be worth a shot.
Even if CFL teams project Jones to be the best straight-up receiver in the future, they may elect to draft another pass-catcher who can be an effective special-teamer ahead of the diminutive speedster from Texas. If worries about special-teams can drop a prospect such as Lemar Durant, who strongly projected as a future starter, into the second round, it will surely affect the stock of Jones, who is a solid receiver prospect, himself, but not quite like the now-Calgary Stampeder.
There’s no telling how much this will affect the draft stock of other draft-eligible receivers such as Queens University’s Doug Corby, Calgary’s Brett Blaszko or Western’s Shaquille Johnson. Similarly to Mike Jones, Brescacin and Noel, all three are better route-runners than Brian Jones and Felix Faubert-Lussier, but none have the same potential on special-teams. They each have the speed to be returners and, maybe, gunners – particularly Blaszko – but none bring as much to the table on special-teams as Brian Jones or Faubert-Lussier, or as a receiver like Noel, Brescacin or Mike Jones.
Sure, Corby, Blaszko and Johnson all have better chances of becoming starting receivers than the big guys, Jones and Faubert-Lussier, but since the chances for all five of these players are minimal, teams will be wise to form their draft boards based on special-teams.
Special-teams are an extremely crucial element to the game, and the key to a paycheck for many Canadian players in the league. Although most of these receivers seem all bunched together in mediocrity, we can use special-teams to differentiate the players and uncover the top prospects in the 2016 CFL draft class – it’s where they’ll make their money.
There’s no telling how much more attention Mike Jones would’ve garnered following the CFL combine had his 40-yard dash time accurately depicted the true speed of the Southern University wide receiver.
Jones is a speedster, and his 4.62-second 40-yard dash at the combine, as a result of the laser timer undoubtedly being inaccurate, was a disappointment. He did, however, clock a 4.43 later at his pro day, and although that time is much better, a 40-yard dash time doesn’t justify just how exceptionally fast the diminutive, 5-foot-10 receiver really plays on the field.
In a class of receivers where no one has really stood out from the rest, the 40-yard dash was Mike Jones’ opportunity to differentiate himself from the pack of receivers and create some pre-draft hype of his own – at least to CFL fans and pundits, that is. CFL scouts know what he’s about, and whether or not he’s the first pass-catcher to hear his name called in the CFL draft, Jones could be the draft’s hidden gem at receiver this year.
If Jones isn’t the first or second receiver on team’s draft boards – excluding Tevaun Smith, who’s NFL bound – then he’s being underrated.
Simply put, Jones is a threat on every play, and that’s not just attributed to his lightning-fast speed. He’s constantly a threat because of his ability to take full advantage of his speed on every play to set defensive backs up in his route, something no other receiver can do as well as Jones, and something many really struggle with. The Bryan, Texas native drives off the line of scrimmage with his pads over his knees all the way into the top of his route, making himself completely unpredictable and constantly a threat to run a deep route.
Jones is able to do this better than any receiver due to his ability to stop on a dime. He’s extremely light on his feet and can break down from top-speed and into his cut in very, very minimal steps. Therefore, he doesn’t need to cheat into his route, and can press deep each and every time.
Jones threatens the deep route by keeping his shoulders square and legs in full stride all the way into the top of the route before breaking down faster than any receiver in this draft class. These abilities, combined with the craftiness of fellow draft-eligible receiver Llevi Noel in his route-running to step outside his halo and punch, makes him the best route-runner in the class. He’s not quite a complete route-runner – I’d like to see him show more burst out of his break among a few other nuances – but the closest there is in the 2016 draft class.
Despite missing most of his senior season with lingering injuries, Jones has ascended as potentially the first receiver off the board when the time comes at the CFL draft. His combine performance was excellent, as the track-star displayed all of his strengths as a route-runner, as well smooth running, good burst and a particular wiggle in his step.
It’s hard to find a knock on Jones before the ball is thrown, but he does lack an element of physicality and after-the-catch ability. Jones is easily brought down in the open field and doesn’t have the strength to fight for the ball in the air. But like a certain Chris Williams, he’s found a way to compensate for a lack of size at 5-foot-11, 178-pounds.
Jones puts on a clinic with his releases at the line of scrimmage, covering up for a lack of strength. He’s unpredictable and displays exceptionally quick footwork from a narrow stance. He influences defenders with his shoulders and shows a great burst out of his stutter-step, leaving poor defensive backs in the wind. He’s so fundamentally sound in his footwork, and in translates clearly into his routes and releases, which can seriously be clinics at times.
Jones has found a way to compensate for a lack of size when catching the ball, too. He has really solid ball-tracking skills in the air, and in short and intermediate patterns, he attacks the ball away from his body to prevent defensive backs from making plays. His hands aren’t the best in the class, but they’re good enough.
In a class of receivers with no bona-fide, blue-chip prospect with no NFL interest that’s a lock for the first round, the ability to play special-teams will have extra emphasis when evaluating receivers this year. While Jones lacks strength and physicality, he could still project as a situational punt returner, though his vision needs some coaching assistance.
That’s not to say he’s not a smart football player, though, as Jones has demonstrated the ability to read zone coverage in his routes and find soft spots. He understands route spacing, and was depended on to be in the right spot at the right time in Southern’s Air Coryell scheme. He’s more than a one-dimensional player, and despite his effectiveness on go-routes, runs a full route tree.
Although the hype isn’t there, Jones could be the drafts best-kept secret at receiver in a class of pass-catchers that’s far from being differentiated. And although he might not be the first, second or third receiver taken off the board, he has the potential to make the most impact on offense in his CFL career.
No receiver in this class is as good of a prospect as Nic Demski or Lemar Durant, but Mike Jones, who’s versatile in his sharp, clean route running, combines the skills of several of this year’s draft-eligible receivers to form perhaps the best, straight-up receiver in the 2016 CFL draft class.
If there’s one sleeper to keep an eye on, it’s Southern University’s Mike Jones.
Mike O’Shea put one topic of discussion to bed for now when he announced at Wednesday night’s fan forum that Maurice Leggett will make the full-time switch to strong-side linebacker this season while Chris Randle moves back to corner back.
Leggett originally took over the position after Randle suffered a torn ACL in the Labour Day classic. Although, similarly to Randle, he struggled at first in the new role, Leggett eventually really settled in and even became an upgrade over Randle at the strong-side linebacker position. While the Bombers are fortunate to have two solid options to play one of the most important positions in the game, the decision to continue with Leggett at strong-side linebacker was likely a no-brainer.
Although Randle is an upgrade in pass-coverage, Leggett is significantly better as a run-stopper. He is far more aggressive at the point of attack, shedding off blocks and delivering better open-field tackles. Randle, meanwhile, does a good job reading the play and flowing to the ball carrier, but he simply does not attack with the aggressiveness that Leggett does. As a result, defensive coordinator Richie Hall used the former Kansas City Chief closer to the box and in the blitz, which we didn’t really see with Randle.
Leggett isn’t far behind Randle in pass-coverage, either. The strong-side linebacker spot is essentially a strong-safety position, anyway, and we already know Leggett is an elite safety. The 29-year-old shows great awareness in zone coverage, quick-hips, ball-skills and an overall knack for reading the play as both a safety and strong-side linebacker, where the coverage responsibilities are actually very similar in many CFL defenses.
While Randle is, indeed, quite better in man-coverage, Leggett isn’t that terribly far behind, and you could technically point to a lack of experience as a reason. Also, many of the man-on-man assignments for SAM linebackers are against fullbacks and no. 3 slot-backs, anyway – not elite, go-to receivers. And it’s not like Leggett is a liability in man-defense – see Washington, Demond – but perhaps just not the guy you’d want covering no. 1 receivers on a consistent basis.
Randle, on the other hand, is an elite cover-man, and would immediately become the league’s best wide-side corner. The Bombers may look at playing him at the vacant boundary halfback position, but with his press-technique – and also lack of aggressiveness in the run game – he could be best suited for the wide-side position, with Johnny Adams firmly entrenched in the boundary. The Bombers also already have some promising candidates to play boundary halfback in Louisville’s Johnny Patrick – seriously, keep an eye on this guy in training camp – and Ohio’s Julian Posey, who looked more than serviceable in his week 20 start against Toronto.
Although the Bombers could still be tempted to keep Randle at SAM linebacker and Leggett at safety since it would only create one position to fill – Washington’s boundary halfback position – the Bombers should feel confident in the players they have brought in to compete for that safety spot. Former Detroit Lion Jonte Green is a natural corner, but could be better suited to play safety in the CFL with his tackling skills and ability keep the action in front of him and react in zone. The Bombers also signed Macho Harris in January, supplying a veteran presence and fall-back option if training camp doesn’t uncover a solid, rookie safety.
Regardless, it’ll be hard to not play Leggett at strong-side linebacker this season, as he’ll still get to roam the secondary often as the Bombers run plenty of cover-4, and will be closer to the action in the run-game. And this move will allow the Bombers to play Randle at field-side cornerback, which isn’t fair for opponents – he’s far too good for that position. The idea of having Randle as the wide-side corner must have Richie Hall salivating at the mouth over Winnipeg’s loaded secondary, which will be even better as a result of having anyone but Demond Washington at halfback, and perhaps spectacular if Washington’s replacement, Johnny Patrick, is as good as advertised.
But a secondary can sometimes only be as a good as the strong-side linebacker, and the Bombers are fortunate to have two excellent options to fill that spot. And while playing Randle at SAM linebacker does have it’s own advantages for filling out the rest of the secondary, Maurice Leggett remains the best option.
Less than 24 hours after Baylor WR Tevin Reese notified the club of his intentions to retire before ever sporting a Blue & Gold jersey, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers announced the signing of a new hopeful in former New York Giants receiver Jerell Jernigan.
Jernigan, 26, comes to the Bombers after four years with the New York Giants, who selected him in the third-round of the 2012 NFL draft, and a Super Bowl ring. In 34 career games, the 26-year-old recorded 38 catches for 391 yards, 3 receiving touchdowns and a rushing touchdown before being released last August. He has experience as a return specialist, and ran a 4.46 40-yard dash at the NFL combine after an illustrious career at Troy University.
Jernigan starred in a three game stretch to close out the 2013 regular season as a starter for the injured Victor Cruz, recording 19 catches. In week 17 against the Redskins, the 5-foot-8, 189-pound speedster had the greatest game of his young career with 6 catches for 90 yards, a 29-yard TD catch and a 49-yard TD run.
Although we’ve seen several players with excellent NFL pedigrees flop in the CFL before, Jernigan should be viewed as the favorite to start at Julian Feoli-Gudino’s slot-back position – ahead of Ricky Collins and Justin Veltung – heading into mini-camp with the Bombers expected to start four international receivers in 2016. And, in this case, the Bombers would easily boast the smallest receiving corps in the CFL with three starting slot-backs listed around 5-foot-7 in Jernigan, Ryan Smith and Weston Dressler – all of whom have been acquired during the Paul Lapolice era.
The Bombers have signed seven receivers (including Tevin Reese) this off-season that stand under six-feet – six of which fail to exceed 5-foot-9 – and it’s become apparent that offensive coordinator Paul Lapolice doesn’t value size like Chris Jones and Stephen McAdoo do in Saskatchewan. Lapolice is evidently bringing in players that are fits in his scheme, and having only signed two receivers that stand over six feet (Jace Davis, 6’1″, 210-lbs; Ricky Collins, 6’0″, 198-lbs) and re-signed two others of similar, larger statures – Kevin Cone (6’2″, 215-lbs) and Jhomo Gordon (6’1″, 198-lbs) both made starts for the Bombers in 2015 – a trend has certainly developed.
Lapolice is looking for shifty, explosive receivers that supply great speed and yards-after-catch ability. Building an offence that accommodates franchise QB Drew Willy’s strengths – as well as keeps him off of his back – is paramount. As an excellent deep-ball thrower who’s not the greatest under pressure, Lapolice’s idea to bring in quicker receivers that can use their shiftiness to both take the top off of defenses, and also make big gains from innocent speed-outs, makes a lot of sense for a team looking to get the ball out of the quarterbacks hand fast while still capitalizing on his comforts and strengths in the medium and deep passing game.
Saskatchewan, meanwhile, has a different idea in mind, bringing in tall, possession receivers to form a clock-managing, ball-controlling offense similar to that of Jason Maas’ offense while in Ottawa. Instead of being a run-heavy team, Saskatchewan will use the passing game in a similar fashion to control the clock with short, high-percentage completions to big, reliable targets. Ideally, with bigger receivers, there will be fewer incomplete passes and interceptions as a result of the routes called and the receivers’ large frame that shields defensive backs from making a play on the ball, even when the quarterback is less accurate.
The tactics of both Lapolice and McAdoo are completely conflicting, and while both have their advantages and disadvantages, even in Lapolice’s scheme, the possibility of having three starting slot-backs that are around 5-foot-7 isn’t necessarily ideal – and I’m under the belief that size for CFL receivers is vastly overrated by fans and pundits.
Now, Ricky Collins or any of the other aforementioned pass-catchers that stand over 6-foot could still win the final starting job in the receiving corps over Jernigan all the while being equally good fits in the scheme – it’s about the traits of the receiver, not the actual size – but, difference is, the larger players offer traits that can’t be supplied by a 5-foot-7 player, such as a larger catch-radius to haul in less accurate passes, jump-ball abilities and different release techniques off of the line of scrimmage. Darvin Adams, who’ll start again at boundary wide receiver, makes up for some lack of size at 6-foot-2, but doesn’t necessarily play like a bigger receiver in all aspects. Adams can effectively use his big body to shield defenders while catching the football and while releasing off of the line, but isn’t as much of a threat as someone like Jeff Fuller, Terance Toliver or Tori Gurley on fade-routes against cover-0 blitzes, a route that gives defensive backs another threat to defend in heavy-blitz, man-on-man situations rather than just quick slants and speed-outs.
Even as someone who believes height is overrated for slot-backs in today’s CFL – they are rarely jammed at the line and can no longer push defensive backs off to gain separation without being flagged – the possibility of starting three ultra-short receivers at slot-back is still somewhat disconcerting. While there is a silver-lining in a sense that it is also advantageous, the Bombers still could be missing a piece in the offense without any bigger bodies, failing to reach their full potential as a receiving corps.
Nonetheless, Jernigan has tremendous upside and, going off what he demonstrated in the NFL, could give the offense another incredibly dangerous weapon. It would be up to Lapolice, himself, to compensate for the lack of size in the offense and take full advantage of having three dynamic, shifty receivers at the slot-back position.
It turns out we will never get to see former Baylor standout Tevin Reese in the Blue & Gold, as the 25-year-old receiver has informed the Winnipeg Football Club of his intention to retire.
A seventh-round draft pick of the San Diego Chargers, Reese, who was signed last month, was the favorite to take over Clarence Denmark’s vacated spot in the starting lineup heading into training camp. Reese had a formidable career at Baylor, catching 187 passes for 3,102 yards and 24 touchdowns as a four-year starter. He had an excellent rapport with QB Robert Griffin III, accumulating 979 yards-from-scrimmage and 7 touchdowns in 7 starts as a sophomore in 2011.
The departure of Reese leaves the Bombers with American receivers Justin Veltung, Quincy McDuffie, Jhomo Gordon, Kevin Cone, Ricky Collins, Jace Davis, Spencer Davis and Soloman Patton to battle in training camp for the final starting spot in the Blue Bombers’ receiving corps.
While the loss of Reese is certainly disappointing, unlike last season, when none of the international scouting department’s receiver signings really stood out to me around this time, there are other first-year import receivers that I’m excited to see.
The no. 1 guy on that list is Ricky Collins, 6-foot, 198-lbs, out of Texas A&M Commerce. After making many sacrifices in a matter of years, Collins finally got on the field for the Lions in his senior season and recorded 71 catches for 1,187 receiving-yards and a school-record 14 touchdown receptions, booking Collins a ticket to the Green Bay Packers’ 2015 training camp.
Justin Veltung, meanwhile, can’t be written off in this upcoming training camp competition, as he looked great as a returner last season in Winnipeg and could breakout in year two. And then there’s 22-year-old Jhomo Gordon, who did enough on the practice roster throughout 2015 to earn another invite to training camp this season.
It’s too late to keep Clarence Denmark, and with Tevin Reese unfortunately out of the picture, Bombers fans might want to pay extra attention to the open training camp battle at the Y-receiver position – and put their money on Ricky Collins – this coming June.