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.
4. Juwan Brescacin, Northern Illinois (6’4″, 230-lbs)
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)