CFL Draft 2017: Ranking, Evaluating the Defensive Backs

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

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

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

1. FS Dondre Wright, Henderson State

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

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

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

2. CB/FS Robert Woodson, Calgary

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

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

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

3. FS Nate Hamlin, Carleton

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

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

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

4. FS Tunde Adeleke, Carleton

Image result for nate hamlin carleton

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

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

5. FS Jordan Hoover, Waterloo

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

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

6. CB Adam Laurensse, Calgary

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

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

7. FS Harland Hastings, Waterloo

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

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

8. FS Richard Gillespie, Toronto

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

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

 

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

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

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

Positives

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

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

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

Negatives

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

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

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

Bottom Line

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

CFL Draft 2017: Ranking, Evaluating the Defensive End Class

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

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

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

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

1. Kwaku Boateng, Wilfred Laurier

Kha Vo/Laurier Athletics

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

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

Positives

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

Negatives

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

Bottom Line

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

2. Connor McGough, University of Calgary

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

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

Positives

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

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

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

Negatives

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

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

Bottom line

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

3. Mark Mackie, McMaster University

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

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

Positives

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

Negatives

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

Bottom Line: 

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

4. Evan Foster, University of Manitoba

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

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

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

Positives

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

Weaknesses

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

Bottom Line

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