CFL Draft 2017: Big Board Version 2.0 (Top-30 Prospects)

I’ve long expressed my uneasiness towards the Winnipeg Blue Bombers possibly making Iowa nose tackle Faith Ekakitie the first overall pick in tonight’s draft. Most mock drafts around the CFL-realm, however, have Ekakitie going number one, and based on reports that Ekakitie and the Bombers have begun contract negotiations, I’d have to say the consensus belief among pundits is likely spot-on.

This doesn’t mean I agree with taking Ekakitie with the first overall pick, though. And that’s where the big board comes in.

Here are my top-30 prospects ahead of the 2017 CFL Draft.

RANK

PLAYER POS SCHOOL

1.

Justin Senior OT Mississippi State
2. Eli Ankou NT

UCLA

3. Geoff Gray OG

Manitoba

4.

Antony Auclair TE

Laval

5.

Mason Woods OG

Idaho

6.

Danny Vandervoort SB

McMaster

7.

Christophe Mulumba Tshimanga LB

Maine

8. Dondre Wright DB

Henderson State

9.

Nate Behar WR Carleton

10.

Braden Schram OG Calgary
11. Robert Woodson FS

Calgary

12.

Jordan Herdman LB

Simon Fraser

13.

Faith Ekakitie NT

Iowa

14.

Kwaku Boateng DE

Wilfred Laurier

15.

Qadr Spooner OG

McGill

16.

Dariusz Bladek OG

Bethune-Cookman

17.

Junior Luke DT

Montreal

18.

Randy Colling NT

Gannon

19.

Kay Okafor DT

St. Francis Xavier

20.

Cameron Judge LB

UCLA

21.

Johnny Augustine RB

Guelph

22.

Connor McGough DE

Calgary

23.

Mitchell Picton WR

Regina

24.

Evan Johnson OL Regina
25. Justin Vaughn DT

Fordham

26.

Nate Hamlin FS

Carleton

27.

Fabian Foote DT

McMaster

28.

Jean-Simon Roy OG

Laval

29.

Tunde Adeleke FS Carleton
30. Nakas Onyeka LB

Wilfred Laurier

2017 CFL Draft: Mock Draft Version 2.0

With the CFL combine in the rear-view mirror, we’re officially in the home-stretch of the journey towards the 2017 CFL Draft.

Here’s my second mock draft of the 2017 class.

Round One

1:1 – Winnipeg Blue Bombers: NT Eli Ankou, UCLA

Photo Credit: Steve Cheng

Ranked no. 4 on my big board, Ankou is arguably the best player available sans serious NFL interest. Kyle Walters will likely heavily consider University of Manitoba product Geoff Gray here – the Bombers have two first round picks, and can afford to wait a year while Gray tests his luck down south – but Ankou’s talents may be too good to pass on. A two-gap nose tackle in UCLA’s 3-4 defense, Ankou also fills a positional need for the Bombers. Despite releasing Keith Shologan to save money, Kyle Walters has built a roster that requires a Canadian defensive tackle to enter the starting lineup if an injury to a national starter elsewhere occurs. The Bombers need to have a quality defensive tackle ready, and I’m not sure Jake Thomas can consistently be that guy.

Being a fringe starter in his early years is not all Ankou offers, of course. Ankou has all the traits to develop into an elite Canadian gap-plugger. Coming from the scheme that UCLA ran, Ankou is going to need time to develop his pass-rushing skills, but he already possesses the needed first-step, hand speed and pad level to excel. As a run defender, Ankou has excellent vision of the backfield and, with 91 tackles in 22 games as 0-tech who is responsible for stacking guards and reacting to the running back, he’s proven to have the upper-body strength and the technique to shed linemen and make a play on the ball. He’s going to be a good one for the blue and gold.

READ MORE: Eli Ankou Scouting Report

1:2 – Saskatchewan Roughriders: OG Mason Woods, Idaho

Photo credit: Idaho athletics

The Riders have plenty of holes to fill in terms of Canadian content, but none more pressing than along the offensive line following the retirement of Chris Best. Veteran guard Brendan LaBatte, meanwhile, has also been rumored to have recently contemplated retirement. Longtime backup Matt Vonk would start at guard if the season started today, with last year’s first-overall pick, Josiah St. John, as all the Riders really have for depth.

Second overall is a slight reach for a player of Mason Woods’ caliber, but he fills a huge positional need for the Riders and has less NFL interest than Manitoba’s Geoff Gray. At 6’9″ and 324-lbs, Woods is a mountain of a man with decent movement skills as well as strong arms and hands. He has obvious issues in the bending of his waist and reliance on reach. Though his bench press numbers don’t show it because of his long arms, Woods has excellent upper-body strength. Woods’ technical issues are largely coachable, and as a mountain for a man with above-average athleticism, the Idaho product has a large ceiling.

READ MORE: Mason Woods Scouting Report

1:3 – BC Lions: LB Christophe Mulumba Tshimanga, Maine

With WR Shawn Gore nearing retirement due to concussion issues, BC will likely consider McMaster’s Danny Vandervoort here. The potential that Mulumba Tshimanga offers the Lions, however, could be too much to pass up. With David Foucalt and and Brett Blaszko in the pipeline, the Lions can afford to pass on an offensive lineman, and there’s no defensive tackle that warrants a top-3 pick with Ankou off the board. With Adam Bighill now in the NFL, there’s a long-term opening at weak-side linebacker for the Lions.

Mulumba Tshimanga has the traits to develop into a starting linebacker. Despite weighing in at 237-lbs, the Montreal native put up some impressive numbers at his pro day, including a 4.77 40-yard dash and 9’9″ broad jump. He’s an incredibly instinctive linebacker, reading the offensive backfield at high speed and reacting on time. Mulumba Tshimanga is one of the more pro-ready players in the class, and will dominate on special-teams in his first season.

READ MORE: Christophe Mulumba Tshimanga Scouting Report

1:4 – Hamilton Tiger-Cats: SB Danny Vandervoort, McMaster

The Ti-Cats will jump for joy if Vandervoort is still available when they are on the clock at fourth-overall. He’s a top-tier talent, a local kid and makes the most sense from a positional stand-point for Hamilton in the first round. Hamilton, who’s in the same class as Calgary when it comes to Canadian content, are without one pressing need, but let Matt Coates walk in free agency and have still not re-signed Andy Fantuz.

Vandervoort compensates for a lack of blazing speed with refined route-running skills and reliable hands. He uses the density of his 6’1″, 203-lb frame to out-leverage defensive backs on in-breaking route and will dominate at the catch point. Vandervoort would be a home-run pick for the Ti-Cats.

1:5 – Edmonton Eskimos: OG Geoff Gray, Manitoba

Photo via Bison Athletics

The Eskimos can afford to wait a year for Gray, who’s easily the best player available here, as veteran guard Simeon Rottier likely has one more season in him – even as just a backup – before hanging ’em up. The Eskimos have Danny Groulx waiting in the wings, but will need to add another top-end prospect to their cupboard for when Rottier departs.

There’s no denying Gray’s evident elite-level strength and athleticism – he’s an Olympic lifter and posted some eye-opening testing numbers at his pro day. He does, however, have some glaring technical issues, particularly in regards to his pad level and hand usage, but has elite athleticism as a base for coaches to work with. Henderson State’s Dondre Wright makes sense from a positional stand-point, but Gray is absolutely worth the risk, and the Esks may be able to pickup Calgary’s Robert Woodson in round two.

READ MORE: Geoff Gray Scouting Report

1:6 – Winnipeg Blue Bombers: WR Nate Behar, Carleton

Ashley Fraser/Postmedia News

The Bombers once again reach for positional need at six, but Behar is a first-round talent who offers a long-term solution for the blue and gold at Z-receiver. The Bombers’ biggest hole in their Canadian content comes at receiver, where after years of mediocrity with the likes of Rory Kohlert and Julian Feoli-Gudino, the Bombers still lack a starting-caliber national pass-catcher.

Behar is a high character, well-rounded receiver who could dominate on special-teams early in his career. At 5’11.3″ and 204-lbs, Behar is built nicely and has 4.61 speed. Behar has the potential to be the wide-side deep-threat the Bombers hoped Addison Richards would become.

1:7 – BC Lions: DE Kwaku Boateng, Wilfred Laurier

Kha Vo/Laurier Athletics

This pick makes all kinds of sense for Wally Buono and the BC Lions. In my first mock, I had the Lions taking Boateng at three, but there’s now a possibility they’re able to snatch him off the board at six. The Lions have a massive need for Canadians along the defensive line, and with David Menard penciled in to start at defensive end for the Lions to meet ratio requirements, they especially need depth at rush-end. The Lions are evidently still mourning the loss of 2015 first-round pick Ese Mrabure-Ajufo.

Boateng’s stock took a hit at the combine when he weighed in undersized at just 233-lbs, but the Wilfred Laurier is still a pass-rushing specialist who can bend and possesses a broad repertoire of pass-rush moves. Boateng could be a slight liability against the run early in his career, but could contribute as a pass-rusher in BC’s second-and-long personnel grouping a la Trent Corney early in his career.

READ MORE: Ranking, Evaluating the 2017 Defensive Ends

1:8 – Calgary Stampeders: FS Dondre Wright, Henderson State

photo via CFL.ca

The only hole in Calgary’s Canadian content comes at defensive back. Every year the Stamps allow a Canadian defensive back to walk in free agency – Adam Berger was the most recent – and while they brought in Chris Rwawakumba and re-signed Matt Bucknor, both players feel like temporary place-holders.

Wright would be an excellent selection for the Stamps. He’s equipped to come downhill against the run as a free safety on defense, and is one of the smartest, most instinctive defenders in the class. He inexperienced as a true center-fielder – Wright played in the box as a strong safety or at nickel corner for the Reddies – but will be given the time to develop and the elite-level coaching to acquire the needed knowledge to play free safety in the professional ranks. He’ll be a dominant special-teamer in the meantime.

READ MORE: Ranking, Evaluating the 2017 Defensive Backs

1:9 – Ottawa Redblacks: LB Jordan Herdman, Simon Fraser

Herdman’s fall to the bottom of the first round has much to do with both his NFL interest and his testing results. Although NFL teams will be grossly turned off by his 5.16 40-yard dash, the combination of his Senior Bowl performance and his game tape – that of which suggests no issues with his testing numbers – should result in Herdman getting an opportunity down south as an undrafted free agent.

For Ottawa, while a plethora of defensive tackles and offensive linemen remain available, they saw strong seasons from Connor Williams and Ettore Lattanzio in 2016, while Zack Evans has became a menace in the middle. Based on the players still available versus Ottawa’s team needs, they’re in a position to invest in a player like Herdman. Regardless of his testing numbers, Herdman will one day be a starting inside linebacker in this league.

Round Two

2:1 – Toronto Argonauts: DT Junior Luke, Montreal

Adding Luke would form a nice Canadian duo inside for the Argos with Daryl Waud. The Argos could go offensive line here – it was not, after all, this regime who shockingly spent early-round picks on DJ Sackey and Jamal Campbell less than a year ago – but recently added J’Michael Deane to solidify the Argos’ interior. Luke requires a ton of coaching on gap discipline and technique, but boasts an exceptional first-step and raw athleticism. He’s a high risk, high reward player at tenth overall.

2:2 – Saskatchewan Roughriders: DT Justin Vaughn, Fordham

Image result for justin vaughn fordham

In comparison to Luke, Vaughn is currently more pro-ready but has a lower ceiling than the Argos’ second-round pick. Vaughn has the ideal build for a three-tech at 6’5″, 276-lbs and is a fairly flexible athlete, but has a slow first step that could hurt his effectiveness gaining leverage against the run. He does, however, slot in nicely behind Eddie Steele in Saskatchewan as a pass-rusher. Vaughn had a productive career at Fordham, amassing four sacks and 11 tackles-for-loss in his senior season. He’ll likely become a rotational pass-rusher early in his career if he ends up in the RiderVille.

With Woods and Vaughn, Chris Jones will have addressed his two biggest needs early in the draft.

2:3 – Montreal Alouettes: OG Qadr Spooner, McGill

For his first ever draft pick as a general manager, don’t expect Kavis Reed to stray from the consensus of investing early-round picks in local offensive linemen. Furthermore, the Alouettes will soon be without 34-year-old Luc Brodeur-Jourdain, who’ll likely serve as their fifth offensive lineman in 2017. Spooner comes with a mean-streak and a massively strong upper-body – he recorded 31 bench press reps – and tends to “finish” his blocks. Spooner has a perfect build guard build at 6’3″, 312-lbs, and comes with well-refined interior pass-block footwork.

2:4 – Hamilton Tiger-Cats: OG Braden Schram, Calgary

With the unexpected retirement of Mathieu Girard, expect the Ti-Cats to look at offensive linemen early in the draft to fill one of very few holes on their roster. Kent Austin has recently displayed a tendency of prioritizing the especially athletic offensive linemen, such as Ryan Bomben, Brandon Revenberg and Jeremy Lewis. Schram fits the bill. Schram, who played right tackle for the Dinos, is quick out of his stance and rolls his hips underneath him to drive through defenders. He strikes quickly with his hands and consistently arrives on time in pass-protection. Schram has excellent size at 6’3″, 306-lbs and warrants a top-15 pick. He’s my third-ranked offensive lineman in the class, sitting behind just Geoff Gray and Mason Woods.

2:5 – Edmonton Eskimos: FS Robert Woodson, Calgary

Free safety has long been a position of issue for the Eskimos. Neil King settled into the role last year, but the 28-year-old didn’t show anything special in his first real starting opportunity. Edmonton would be foolish to pass on Woodson here, as he’d fill a positional need and has the potential to be a long-term, above-average starter on defense, whether that’s at free safety or field corner. Woodson is the best cover-half coming out of Canadian university ball I’ve seen in awhile, and has the best feet of any defensive back in the class, translating into spectacular change-of-direction skills. Woodson couples this with above-average ball skills and refined technique. He has a future at both field corner and free safety in the CFL.

2:6 – Winnipeg Blue Bombers: C Dariusz Bladek, Bethune-Cookman

Having released National starter Keith Shologan, the Bombers will likely have to resort back to starting three Canadian offensive linemen in 2017. With Patrick Neufeld back in the starting lineup, that leaves Michael Couture, the Bombers’ second-round pick in 2016 who struggled mightily as a freshman, as all they have for depth. Bladek’s fall to being the fifth offensive lineman off the board has to do with his lack of foot speed, a trait that dropped Laval offensive linemen Charles Vaillancourt to being the fourth hog off the board last year. Although Bladek also doesn’t have the strongest of hands, he’s otherwise a strong, top-heavy interior offensive lineman with good vision.

2:7 – BC Lions: NT Faith Ekakitie, Iowa

Although I have a very hard time believing Ekakitie is a top-15 prospect, there seems to be a lot of buzz surrounding the Iowa product’s name, and the Lions are currently without a single national defensive tackle under contract. Even with two American defensive tackles, it’s important to have a Canadian to rotate in. Ekakitie, who never really settled into a starting role at Iowa, certainly shouldn’t be expected to enter that role early in his career, though. The Brampton, ON native has plenty of technical issues, such as stopping his feet when playing the run and leaning into the block or double team. Ekakitie must learn to keep his feet churning against contact and locate the ball-carrier in the backfield. I’ve also noted a lack of active hands and inconsistent pad level. On the other hand, Ekakitie is relatively quick and flexible, while also possessing a solid get-off. He has experience against top-flight competition and could be molded into a decent rotational nose tackle with development.

2:8 – Calgary Stampeders: OT Justin Senior, Mississippi State

Senior’s draft stock took a huge hit at the 2017 Senior Bowl, as he is now projected to go undrafted after initially being expected to be a 6th-round pick in early January. The Stamps would be wise to invest in a future’s pick that could be worth significant value in a couple years. Senior, with an NFL-tackle frame and excellent movement skills, would quickly become a CFL All-Star tackle.

READ MORE: Justin Senior Scouting Report

2:9 – Ottawa Redblacks: WR Mitchell Picton, Regina

With J’Michael Deane now in Toronto, the Redblacks will be looking to invest an early-to-mid-round pick in an offensive lineman to add to their cupboard. They may consider Johnny Augustine here as a replacement for Kienan LaFrance, who landed in Saskatchewan in free agency, but recently brought in Pascal Lochard and also have Brendan Gillanders under contract. Instead Marcel Desjardins and co. would be wise to bring in more competition for third-year pass-catcher Jake Harty, who, with that being said, has come along nicely himself. Picton is quite raw but was extremely productive for the Rams in 2016, amassing 58 receptions for 834 yards and 11 TDs in just 8 games. Though his route-running needs a ton of development, Picton is a quietly crafty route-runner, using subtle head and shoulder fakes to open up defensive backs. He projects as a 2014/2015 Rory Kohlert clone, sitting in zones on the wide-side of the field, but it’ll be several years until he’s ready to contribute.

Round three

3:1 – Toronto Argonauts: RB Johnny Augustine, Guelph

Jim Popp has a history of drafting running backs early after a great combine performance, as he spent a first-round pick on McMaster RB Wayne Moore last year who, identically to Augustine, dominated the receiving and pass-blocking one-on-ones. Augustine has a higher ceiling than Moore – the latter having clocked a 4.92 40 time – but still projects as special-teamer. Having parted ways with linebackers Thomas Miles and Chris Greenwood, the Argos are in need of bigger special-teamers.

3:2 – SASKATCHEWAN PICK FORFEITED

3:3 – Montreal Alouettes: DE Connor McGough, Calgary

With Mike Klassen and Don Oramasionwu, the Alouettes already have solid depth behind starting Canadian defensive tackles Keith Shologan and Jabar Westerman. The Als could instead use another big-bodied special-teamer, which is exactly how University of Calgary defensive end Connor McGough will make his money in the CFL. At 247-lbs, McGough ran a 4.74 40-yard dash at the Combine, and served as Calgary’s up-back on their punt team, a role often reserved for running backs and linebackers. McGough’s an athletic specimen that could contribute as a rotational pass-rusher in the future.

3:4 – Hamilton Tiger-Cats: DT Kay Okafor, St. Francis Xavier

With Evan Gill’s status still somewhat in the air, Hamilton wouldn’t be wrong to add another national defensive tackle to the group. Okafor is built perfectly for a three-tech at 6’3″, 273-lbs, and possesses the explosiveness and bend that often translates well to the CFL. Okafor is still quite raw but will be brought along slowly behind Ted Laurent, Michael Atkinson and Evan Gill.

3:5 – Edmonton Eskimos: DT Fabion Foote, McMaster

By letting Don Oramasionwu walk in free agency and then releasing Eddie Steele, it’s clear the Eskimos intend on playing with an all-american defensive line. It’s still important to have a Canadian to rotate in, though, and especially one that comes for cheap. Foote is an exceptionally athletic defensive tackle, posting a 9’11” broad jump and 34.5″ vertical jump at the national combine.

3:6 – Winnipeg Blue Bombers: FS Nate Hamlin, Carleton

With Brendan Morgan and Derek Jones entering contract years, the Bombers would be wise to bring in reinforcements behind Taylor Loffler at free safety. Hamlin is a high-character guy with a hard-hitting streak. He showed excellent range and instincts at boundary corner for the Ravens, projecting as a solid depth piece at free safety in the CFL. He’d be an upgrade over Brendan Morgan on special-teams almost immediately for the blue and gold.

3:7 – BC Lions: OG Jean-Simon Roy, Laval

The Lions have a nice core of Canadian offensive linemen in Hunter Steward, Charles Vaillancourt, Kirby Fabien and Cody Husband, but won’t be able to keep all four interior linemen forever. With David Foucault and Brett Blaszko in the pipeline, it wouldn’t the Lions to bring in a depth piece that has experience at tackle to step in if need be. In the meantime, Roy must add weight to his 287-pound frame. He has a lot of good traits, but as teams saw with Michael Couture in his rookie season, its very tough to contribute at below 295-lbs.

3:8 – Calgary Stampeders: LB Nakas Onyeka, Wilfred Laurier

I don’t know if Onyeka is an inside linebacker, SAM or free safety, but it’s not really important – he’s going to be an effective special-teams player. The 2016 OUA defensive player of the year has an uncanny nose for the football, and that will continue on special-teams in the professional ranks. The Stamps have shown in the past that they still value undersized Canadian linebackers that play like wrecking-balls.

3:9 – Ottawa Redblacks: FS Tunde Adeleke, Carleton

Similarly to Ottawa’s second-round pick in 2015, Jake Harty, Adeleke was a dynamic returner in university who possesses the required athleticism to carve out a fringe starting role, too. Adeleke, who ran a 4.58 40-yard dash at the combine, comes downhill hard and hits with a purpose, which should translate well as a gunner on special-teams. Ottawa would be wise to keep this local product in town.

Round Four

4:1 – Toronto Argonauts: DE Mark Mackie, McMaster

With Ricky Foley now gone, Cam Walker remains as the Argos’ only Canadian defensive end on the roster. Mackie, meanwhile, has a low center of gravity and is the most explosive defensive end in the class. For reference, he recorded a 9’5.75″ broad jump at the Toronto regional combine at 255-lbs. Mackie should find a role a role on special-teams with the Argos.

4:2 – Calgary Stampeders: OG Evan Johnson, Saskatchewan

No matter how well-stocked they are on paper, it would be so unlike the Stampeders to not take an offensive lineman in the first 30 picks. (Excluding Justin Senior, that is, who’s NFL-bound at the moment). Johnson is an athletic 300-pounder, leaping a whopping 31″ in the vertical jump. He has some nice development traits as a guard.

4:3 – Montreal Alouettes: WR Malcolm Carter, Ottawa (CJFL)

Carter enters with a low floor but when a 22-year-old pass-catcher is 6’6″ and can jump 40″, he’s worthy of an early fourth-round pick. The Alouettes will need someone to replace Sam Giguere in the coming years, and while Carter is years away from contributing, the former Carleton Raven is loaded on potential.

4:4 – Saskatchewan Roughriders: RB Sean Thomas-Erlington, Montreal

Whether or not Saskatchewan proceeds with a Canadian backfield, running backs with special-teams upside are typically good value picks in the middle rounds.

4:5 – Edmonton Eskimos: TE Antony Auclair, Laval

Auclair will shoot up draft boards if he goes undrafted down south, but at the moment he’s projected to go in the seventh-round despite being apart of an extremely deep tight end class in the NFL. If Auclair does ever come south, though, the Eskimos will have a unique player on their hands to work with.

4:6 – Saskatchewan Roughriders: FS Jordan Hoover, Waterloo

Saskatchewan only has Jeff Hecht behind Marc-Olivier Brouillette at free safety, and need to add some athletic prospects to develop. Hoover fits the bill.

4:7 – BC Lions: OG Jeremy Zver, Regina

Zver is an easy mover with heavy hands and good hand placement. A highly-touted university basketball player, Zver has many of the desired athletic traits in a tall guard prospect.

4:8 – Calgary Stampeders: WR Alex Morrison, UBC

Morrison will likely return to UBC for his fifth season – he missed almost all of 2016 with an arm injury suffered in week two, while the Stamps are already absolutely loaded at receiver – but at 6’4″, Morrison’s size and smoothness as a route runner would make him worthy of an investment in the fourth-round, even for the receiver-heavy Stampeders.

4:9 – Ottawa Redblacks: OG Jordan Filippelli, Calgary

It’s possible the Redblacks go four rounds without picking an offensive lineman, but picking up a developmental prospect to take J’Michael Deane’s roster spot wouldn’t hurt. With poor movement skills, Filippelli has a low ceiling but has some traits to work with, such as quick hands that deliver a strong punch. Filippelli shows a strong torso on film to relocate defensive linemen to open running lanes but struggled with inside moves as a left tackle.

READ MORE: Jordan Filippelli Scouting Report

2017 CFL Draft: Big Board Version 1.0 (Top-30 Prospects)

Fans are routinely reminded that mock drafts are largely constructed around the basis that the picks are made based on how the draft analyst believes each general manager and coaching staff will approach their picks, and not what the draft analyst would do if they were making the calls.

Big boards – otherwise known as player rankings – are where one can share their true evaluation of the draft. My upcoming mock drafts will not mirror my big board due to the extreme subjectiveness of this process. Here, however, we get a look at how I’d approach the draft as a general manager.

Overall, the 2017 draft features the best prospect class in years. It’s a deep offensive line class, and unlike most years, there’s more than one blue-chip prospect in every position group, even when excluding those with NFL interest. Ranking the middle-tier of offensive linemen – Laval’s Jean-Simon Roy, Bethune-Cookman’s Dariusz Bladek, McGill’s Qadr Spooner and Calgary’s Braden Schram – created the toughest decisions when forming the list, while finding an appropriate placement for prospects such as Kwaku Boateng (weight) and Justin Herdman (times), both of whom have great film but poor measurables, also caused headaches.

It’s certainly a flawed process, as is the draft in general, and expect my next big board to look drastically different. Look for a top-50 in 7-10 days, with my second mock draft in between.

1. Justin Senior OT  Mississippi State
2. Jordan Herdman LB Simon Fraser
3. Antony Auclair TE Laval
4. Eli Ankou NT UCLA
5. Danny Vandervoort SB McMaster
6. Geoff Gray OG Manitoba
7. Christophe Mulumba Tshimanga LB Maine
8. Mason Woods OG Idaho
9. Kwaku Boateng DE Wilfred Laurier
10. Justin Vaughn DT Fordham
11. Nate Behar WR Carleton
12. Dondre Wright DB Henderson State
13. Junior Luke DT Montreal
14. Braden Schram OG Calgary
15. Robert Woodson CB/FS Calgary
16. Qadr Spooner OG McGill
17. Jean-Simon Roy OG Laval
18. Mitchell Picton WR Regina
19. Dariusz Bladek C/OG Bethune-Cookman
20. Connor McGough DE Calgary
21. Kay Okafor DT St. Francis Xavier
22. Fabion Foote DT McMaster
23. Johnny Augustine RB Guelph
24. Malcolm Carter WR Ottawa (CJFL)
25. Nate Hamlin FS Carleton
26. Faith Ekakitie NT Iowa
27. Justin Herdman LB Simon Fraser
28. Nakas Onyeka LB Wilfred Laurier
 29. Tunde Adeleke FS Carleton
30. Jeremy Zver OG Regina

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.

 

CFL Draft 2017: Mock Draft Version 1.0

With college All-Star games all wrapped up, as well as the CFL combine being just a couple of weeks away, it’s time to start back up the mock draft machine.

This is an outstanding draft class. I’ve been really digging into the CFL draft for three years now, and this is the best prospect pool I’ve seen yet. It’s especially top-heavy, featuring a plethora of NCAA athletes and better talent than usual at skill-positions. It’s possible only two offensive linemen are selected in the first round come draft day in May.

This is the first of three 2017 mock drafts.

ROUND ONE

1:1 – Winnipeg Blue Bombers: NT Eli Ankou, UCLA

Photo Credit: Steve Cheng
Photo Credit: Steve Cheng

Ankou fills a positional need for the Bombers and has the tools to justify being selected with the first overall pick. The Bombers cut ties with starting nose tackle Keith Shologan prior to free agency, and considering the team would likely prefer to continue to start three American offensive linemen, Mike O’Shea and Co. will be forced to start a Canadian along the interior of the defensive line. The Problem? Five-year veteran DT Jake Thomas isn’t starter quality. With Ankou pushing him, however, the Bombers could get by in 2017. Free agent acquisition Drake Nevis, an international, will start at nose tackle this season, and although Thomas is strictly a defensive tackle while Ankou is, at this point, strictly a nose tackle, Nevis will see plenty of time as a three-technique as well in order to get Ankou on the field.

Ankou comes from a traditional two-gapping 3-4 defense at UCLA, where he took on an important role as the team’s starting nose tackle. He amassed ridiculous tackle numbers  – 91 in 22 appearances – despite playing a position that’s not supposed to generate statistical production. This can be attributed to the Ottawa native’s spectacular vision. Ankou finds the football early in the play and uses his technique to stack offensive linemen and free himself to make the tackle. Although he checks the majority of the boxes in terms of player traits, the 6’3″, 325-pounder has room to grow as a pass-rusher.

READ HERE: Eli Ankou Scouting Report

1:2 – Saskatchewan Roughriders: OL Mason Woods, Idaho

Photo credit: Idaho athletics
Photo credit: Idaho athletics

Following the retirement of 10-year vet Chris Best, the Riders are once again starving for Canadian offensive linemen. The Riders also have a huge need for Canadian defensive tackles and defensive backs, but selecting a player of either of those positions with this pick would be a massive reach. Plus, at this stage, Matt Vonk is slated as the starter at right guard, with only two second-year linemen – last year’s 1st overall pick, Josiah St. John, and Dillon Guy – as depth. Ouch. Brendan LaBatte may only have one more season in him, too. It was rumored early in the off-season that he was considering retirement due to concussions.

Selecting Woods no. 2 slight might be a slight reach in terms of other players available, but considering the value of his position, this would be a good pick for Saskatchewan. Woods is a mountain of a man, standing 6’9″ and weighing in at 325-pounds. He was a three-year starter in the Sun-Belt conference, playing strong-side guard for the Vandals. The B.C. native has quick, heavy hands to deliver a sharp punch. He does a good job getting his hands high and tight immediately following the snap of the ball. Woods has similar strength to Manitoba guard Geoff Gray but comes without the glaring technical flaws. He compares to Edmonton right guard Matt O’Donnell.

READ MORE: Mason Woods Scouting Report 

1:3 – BC Lions: DE Kwaku Boateng, Wilfred Laurier

Kha Vo/Laurier Athletics
Kha Vo/Laurier Athletics

Rashuan Simonise is a better prospect than Boateng, and since Shawn Gore may retire sooner than we think, the Lions will probably heavily consider the fast, lanky receiver here. Boateng, however, fills a massive need for Wally Buono’s team, as the Lions have just three Canadian defensive linemen under contract. To make matters worse, David Menard will likely be forced to start at DE for ratio implications, and BC has no depth behind him – Dylan Ainsworth is nothing more than a special-teamer, and the jury is still out on 2015 7th-round pick Maxx Forde.

The loss of recent first-round pick Ese Mrabure-Ajufo surely still stings, but the Lions can fill the void with another Wilfred Laurier pass-rusher in Boateng. Boateng has shown the impressive flexibility to really bend on pass-rushes and run the arc. He also posses a large and developed pass-rush repertoire. He’s slightly lacking in the quickness department, but Boateng has the size (6’2″, 250-lbs) and production (Wilfred Laurier’s all-time sack leader) to warrant this pick.

1:4 – Hamilton Tiger-Cats: WR Rashaun Simonise, Calgary

rashaun_simonise
Photo by Josh Schaefer (getmyphoto.ca)

The Ti-Cats won’t pass on this talented of a receiver again, right? (See Durant, Lemar). With excellent Canadian content and only depth needed, Hamilton should select easily the best player available in this scenario – Rashaun Simonise.

Simonise is an absolute freak athlete. At 6’5″, he ran a 4.42 and 4.48 40-yard dash at his Pro Day last year. Simonise, who left the University of Calgary to declare for the NFL supplemental draft after being ruled academically ineligible, already has NFL experience – he was a late training camp cut of the Cincinnati Bengals last August. NFL opportunities will certainly come into play in terms of Simonise’s draft stock, but after playing last season for the CJFL’s Okanagan Sun, it could be harder for Simonise to land another shot without getting some better game tape against increased competition.

1:5 – Edmonton Eskimos: LB Christophe Mulumba Tshimanga, Maine

mulumba
Peter Buehner Photo

The Eskimos will likely consider University of Manitoba guard Geoff Gray here, as the days in the CFL for long-time guard Simeon Rottier are numbered, but Mulumba Tshimanga would be the best player available. Having brought back Shamawd Chambers from Saskatchewan, the Eskimos can wait until a later round to fill the loss of receivers Devon Bailey and Chris Getzlaf.

Mulumba Tshimanga is one of the most pro-ready players in this draft class. He’s a smart, instinctive linebacker that’s often one step ahead of the offense. He’s nearly reached his athletic potential, with NFL-size physical attributes at 6’1″, 245-lbs. He’ll be asked to drop some weight, but the fact that he’ll likely run around a 4.84 40-yard dash at his current weight is eye-opening for CFL talent evaluators. Considering the Eskimos will roll with four Americans on the defensive line following the release of Eddie Steele, Mulumba Tshimanga may need to contribute in some capacity as early as next season, as head coach Jason Maas would certainly rather not start three Canadians at receiver.

READ MORE: Christophe Mulumba Tshimanga Scouting Report

1:6 – Winnipeg Blue Bombers: WR Danny Vandervoort, McMaster

vandervoort-one-hander

Receiver is the Bombers’ biggest need heading into the draft. Fortunately for Kyle Walters and the blue and gold, the receiver position is a massive position of strength in this class. After years of mediocrity with the likes of Rory Kohlert and Julian Feoli-Gudino, the Bombers may finally land a high-end receiver prospect in the first round.

Vandervoort has a coveted combination of size and speed at 6’2″, 205-lbs. He pulls away from defenders on deep crossers, fades, etc., and displays a massive catch radius on 50/50 balls. Like most receivers who enter the CFL draft, the Barrie, ON. native must sharpen his route-running. Vandervoort, who’s third all-time in Canadian University Football touchdown receptions, has all the tools to become a dynamic CFL receiver.

1:7 – BC Lions: OL Geoff Gray, Manitoba

Photo via Bison Athletics
Photo via Bison Athletics

The Lions have a nice core of Canadian offensive linemen in the likes of Hunter Steward, Cody Husband, Kirby Fabien and Charles Vaillancourt, but Wally Buono won’t be able to keep all four forever. While the Lions have a greater need for a pass-catcher and a defensive tackle, it’d still be a wise move for Buono to invest in another high-end offensive line prospect.

Considering the current state of the Lions’ offensive line, Gray would be granted the time he needs to develop in order to reach his maximum potential. Gray, an olympic lifter, is an absolute bulldozer on the field. He’s fairly agile and has excellent size at 6’5″, 319-lbs. Gray has obvious technical issues that will keep him from seeing the field without seasoning first –  the Winnipeg product struggles with pad level and hand usage – but the pick could pay off hugely in the future for BC. Just envision, if all goes well, Charles Vaillancourt and Geoff Gray would form an exceptional duo for the future.

READ MORE: Geoff Gray Scouting Report

1:8 – Calgary Stampeders: TE Antony Auclair, Laval

auclair

As usual, the Stamps have the best Canadian content in the league. (I know, what else is new?). They’ll pick up some depth nationals in the later rounds to replace some losses in free agency, but have absolutely no pressing needs in the first round. They’re astronomically loaded along the offensive line, with Canadians Pierre Lavertu, Spencer Wilson, Dan Federkeil, Shane Bergman, Karl Lavoie, Brad Erdos, Roman Grozman and Cam Thorn. Calgary’s in perfect position to invest in an NFL-bound player, and who better than Laval TE/SB Anthony Auclair, a truly unique prospect to the CFL Draft.

Auclair, who impressed at the East-West Shrine Game, possesses NFL-wanted TE size at 6’6″, 254-pounds. When watching him at the Shrine as well as during his time at Laval, I was shocked by just how comfortable and smooth he seemed running and catching the football. He’s going to get an NFL opportunity, but if he comes north, the Stamps will have a seriously interesting player on their hands. There’s truly no current CFLer to compare with Auclair – he’s a unicorn. I envision Auclair as an F-receiver that doesn’t need to be subbed out for a fullback in those personnel groupings. The Stamps would be able to get incredibly creative with their offense if they ever landed Auclair on a CFL contract.

1:9 – Ottawa REDBLACKS: WR Nathaniel Behar, Carleton

Ashley Fraser/Postmedia News
Ashley Fraser/Postmedia News

Although the Redblacks could go many different routes with the last pick in the first round, selecting Behar makes a lot of sense. It fills a need – Ottawa has suspect depth behind Brad Sinopoli – and adds another local product to the team’s receiving corps. Behar is a London, Ontario native but, of course, played college ball in Ottawa. The Redblacks could use another offensive lineman – McGill’s Qadr Spooner will be considered – as well as a defensive tackle, however a DT such as Idaho’s Faith Ekakitie or Montreal’s Junior Luke would be a reach in the first round. Behar’s local ties edge out Spooner.

Next mock draft: 3 rounds following the Combine.

CFL Draft 2017: Mason Woods (OG, Idaho) Scouting Report

At this point in preparation for the 2017 CFL draft, the crown as the number one offensive lineman in the class is still up for the taking. Idaho’s Mason Woods, though, may be the one to emerge atop everyone in the end.

Excluding Mississippi State OT Justin Senior, who’s NFL-bound, Manitoba’s Geoff Gray has been heralded as the top offensive lineman in the class. A participant in the East-West Shrine Game, Gray possesses otherworldly strength and ideal size. Woods, however, possesses some elite traits of his own and comes without as many technical flaws.

Woods was a three-year starter for the Vandals in the Sun-Belt conference. He played strong-side guard in Idaho’s pro-style offense, meaning on any given play he could be the left guard, right guard, or offensive tackle.

Measurables

Woods is a mountain of a man standing six-foot-nine. Despite his height, he’s able to bend his knees and out-leverage defensive linemen, similarly to Matt O’Donnell. Woods carries his weight healthily at 320 pounds.

Footwork, Agility

Woods is quite nimble for a man of his size. He consistently arrives on time in pass-protection, mirroring pass-rushers with ease. He does sometimes lack quickness to recover against hump-moves, or other sudden needed changes of direction. Despite being the puller on Idaho’s trap and counter runs, he’s not particularly fast getting out of his stance and into open space. He stands straight up on fold blocks, resulting in a fairly soft block on the edge defender. Woods’ footwork needs plenty of development. I’ve noted a plethora of over-sets and under-sets from the Port Coquitlam, B.C. native, while in the run game, Woods will often take work poor angles on fan blocks.

Hands

Woods’ hands are a strong-point for the 22-year-old. He’s the first to get his hands up upon the snap of the football, bringing them high and tight like a boxer, ready to punch at any given moment. He’s able to establish inside hand placement before his opponent. Woods’ arms are like a steel barricade for defensive linemen. If he’s able to reach an arm out, even just in desperation, Woods has a chance to stop the defender without drawing a flag. He possesses heavy hands to lock onto defenders and control their movements.

woods-active-hands
Woods’ fast, active hands in use.

Strength

Woods has remarkable bench-press-like strength. He’s able to use his upper-body strength to relocate defenders with force, whether they’re blitzers from depth or head-on defensive tackles. Woods is able to anchor against bull-rushes, as with his combination of lower-body strength and simply being a sheer mountain of a man, he’s tough to move backwards. He has the ability to stonewall inside rushes with strength, which is one way he compensates for his over-sets. Woods’ run-blocking is inconsistent at times, and it almost seems as though he’s wearing out throughout the game. At times, he’ll drive a defensive tackle off the ball, while other times he’s simply shield-blocking at the point of attack.

Woods (LG, 67) showing that bench press.
Woods (LG, 67) showing that bench press.
Now at RG, Woods shows off the bench-press-like strength again.
Now at RG, Woods shows off the bench-press-like strength again.

Pass Block Technique

Woods maintains solid pad level for a man of his size in pass-protection. He keeps a flat back throughout the block, but doesn’t always maintain a nice forward lean. He’s able to time his punch nicely. He gets his hands high and tight off the ball but, as mentioned, will over and under-set.

Run Block Technique

As mentioned, Woods works some poor angles as a run defender; he’ll sometimes step too flat on a fan block, allowing the defender to rip and come free, or sometimes too sharp, giving the defender the opportunity to run around his block. When blocking in the second level, Woods must become more consistent at rolling his hips underneath him to move the ‘backer, as well as breaking down in space. This goes hand in hand with Woods needing to keep his feet moving during blocks more often. Overall, Woods is a good run-blocker but lacks consistency.

The Skinny

Beyond both being 6’9″ and 6’10”, Woods reminds me Edmonton Eskimos RG Matt O’Donnell. Both players can bend their knees and use their size to their advantage. They have tackle size and quick enough feet – O’Donnell spent 2016 training camp as a right tackle with the Cincinnati Bengals – but will play their careers along the interior of the offensive line. Woods has elite strength and good technique, and his issues are all coachable. He comes without little red flags, and should be a highly sought-after prospect come draft day.

Grade: 4.45 (out of possible 6.5)
Projected round: One

Draft Notebook: Combine Rosters Revealed, Mulumba Tshimanga Scouting Report

Draft notebook is a weekly series where I share my thoughts from the past week of watching film, hearing what CFL Draft sources are reported to be saying, and general CFL Draft tid-bits. An idea from Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller, ‘Draft Notebook’ will hopefully be a good way for those interested in the draft to follow closely along as I comb through the tape of dozens and dozens of Canadian prospects in this year’s class. 

We’re now one month away from the national CFL combine.

The combine rosters have been announced and, although preliminary – there are only 35 participants listed so far compared to 51 players last year – some notable names have been announced.

Some notable names include NCAA athletes Christophe Mulumba Tshimanga (LB, Maine), Mason Woods (OG, Idaho) and Faith Ekakitie (DT, Idaho), as their schools will likely be hosting Pro Days, and as we’ve seen, few prospects partake in the Combine if their school hosts a Pro Day for NFL/CFL scouts. For a league using CFL Week in Regina, Saskatchewan to help draw more interest to the Combine, successfully recruiting more NCAA athletes to the Combine is good news.

THREE DOWNS

1. It’s hard to understate just how good Simon Fraser LB Jordan Herdman is. Despite being inexplicably unranked in the September Scouting Bureau, and then only being ranked no. 16 on the next, the Winnipeg native is likely the second best player in the class, with the ceiling to be the best. Herdman did better than anyone would have imagined at the Senior Bowl for a Division-II GNAC conference player, often catching the attention of NFL Network draft guru Mike Mayock. Herdman is a freak athlete that does not come around often. Look for the 5’10”, 238-pounder to sneak into day-three of the NFL draft.

2. As I watch the games of more and more highly-touted offensive line prospects, the less infatuated I become with Manitoba Bisons’ right guard Geoff Gray, who’s the top-ranked lineman on the Scouting Bureau besides NFL-bound OT Justin Senior. Gray has obvious technical issues, and while teams will always value athleticism ahead of any other on-field trait, this class has other offensive lineman that possess similar strength with less technical concerns. One of those players is Idaho’s Mason Woods.

3. Wilfred Laurier pass-rusher Kwaku Boateng is an awfully intriguing prospect at defensive end. He has ideal size, with a rare ability to bend around the edge, displaying a low center of gravity and flexibility in his knees. This trait alone will sell some teams. His testing numbers will be interesting. I’d like to see his 3-cone time before coming to any conclusions.

SCOUTING REPORT

LB Christophe Mulumba Tshimanga, University of Maine

mulumba

Height: 6’1″
Weight: 245-lbs
Eligibility: 4th

Positives

Simply put, Mulumba has a nose for the football that every football coach desires from their middle linebacker. He’s a physical, violent play-maker that always finds a way to get his hands on the ball-carrier at the end of the play. A four-year starter at a Division-I FCS program, the Laval, Que. native accumulated 347 tackles, 20 tackles-for-loss and 4 interceptions in 42 career starts. He’s noticeably good at sifting through the trash to find the ball.

Mulumba is an incredibly instinctive linebacker. At times, it seems as though he knows what play the offense is running before they even do. Mulumba, the leader of the Maine’s defense, signaling and directing traffic in the defensive backfield, is exceptional at recognizing formations and quickly reading his keys. He’s rarely a victim of play-action and misdirection. Mulumba works from depth nicely in pass-coverage, jumping on shallow crosses. He uses a quick first step to his advantage after diagnosing what he sees from the offense as an off-ball player.

Mulumba tackles ball-carriers with a purpose. He was often used as a pass-rushing OLB on third-down, and displayed a good get-off coupled with surprising efficiency working with his hands. Scouts will value Mulumba’s production in a 2-gap defense, as he’ll be free to be more aggressive in a one-gap CFL scheme.

Negatives

Granted, he is 20-25 pounds heavier than the average CFL linebacker, Mulumba doesn’t possess sideline-to-sideline speed, and he will be asked to drop some weight. Expect Mulumba to run around a 4.84-second 40-yard-dash at his Pro Day, which, while above-average, isn’t elite speed.

Mulumba’s change of direction abilities also have room to improve. He can be just a split-second behind at times. While playing in an overwhelming scheme for college blocking schemes to handle, Mulumba also benefited plentifully from a strong front-seven around him. Scouts may also be worried that a player they’d be drafting to be a starter in the future had minimal pass coverage responsibilities.

Mulumba will at times mistakenly get caught on the shoulder of a pulling guard, opening a large rushing lane for the ball-carrier when he’s responsible for two gaps. He wasn’t a reliable TED linebacker for Maine’s 3-4 when asked. (Think of the MIKE linebacker in Richie Hall’s defense, eating blocks to free up the WILL). Mulumba must work at staying square at the point of attack. He seemed to burn out in the fourth quarter of Maine’s week one match-up against UCONN.

The bottom line: Mulumba is a first-round talent with the traits to be a long-time starter at middle linebacker.

Projected round: First round.

CFL Draft 2017: Eli Ankou (NT, UCLA) Scouting Report

The 2017 CFL draft class boasts a ridiculously talented top-5, and although much of the attention has been focused on names like Justin Senior, Antony Auclair, Rashaun Simonise and even Geoff Gray, UCLA nose tackle Eli Ankou could very well be the first overall pick come May.

The Ottawa, ON. native started his junior and senior seasons for the Bruins, impressively amassing 91 total tackles in 22 games. Ankou filled an uber-important role as the two-gap nose tackle in UCLA’s 3-4 defense, allowing elite NFL prospects such as Eddie Vanderdoes and Takkarist McKinley to flourish. Ankou battled an elbow injury in his senior year sustained in week 4, causing him to miss 2.5 games and play the rest of the season with a restrictive elbow brace. He put together an impressive season nonetheless, but was surprisingly not invited to the 2017 East-West Shrine Game, instead settling for the NFLPA collegiate bowl.

Part of this could be attributed to the fact that he only recorded 1.5 sacks in his college career, although I’d like to point out that he was rarely used as a pass-rusher, which is typical for true 0-techs that align head-up on the center, and will often be asked to QB spy in obvious passing situations.

Measurables

Ankou has a great build, especially to play in Noel Thorpe’s or Devone Claybrooks’ defense. While perfect for his position at UCLA, 325-lbs may seem slightly heavy for the CFL, but considering he’s also 6-foot-3, Ankou carries his weight healthily. He has a bulky build, carrying a lot of it in his legs.

Quickness/Explosiveness

Ankou has a solid get-off, whether he’s timing the cadence or watching the ball. His first step isn’t consistently strong enough to withstand double teams, but he’s shown the ability to shoot gaps as a one-tech. For this reason, he’s scheme versatile. For example, Ankou could play the 0-tech in Montreal’s 4-3 shift defense, or the 1 and 2i-tech in Hamilton’s base 4-3 even.

ankou-get-off-0-tech
Ankou (#96 – aligned head-up on center) gains three yards of leverage immediately due to his quickness. Center recovers and sets the anchor because Ankou’s pad level was poor in this instance.
Ankou (#96) is aligned as a 2i tech and splits the gap.
Ankou (#96) is aligned as a 2i tech and splits the gap.

Vision/Awareness

Vision is one of the most important traits to look for in a nose tackle, and it happens to be Ankou’s best skill. Although he wasn’t the most physically dominant player, the Ottawa product amassed monstrous tackle numbers due to his ability to quickly locate the ball-carrier and adjust accordingly. His awareness wasn’t as good – I found multiple examples of Ankou falling for trap blocks, as well as being cut-blocked on zone runs – but the mental aspect of the position is a strength for Ankou regardless.

Despite a
Ankou (#96) is responsible for the A and B gaps and does a great job reacting to the running back. The play is designed to go to the left, and the running back’s shoulders are initially pointing that direction, so Ankou places his head on the inside shoulder of the guard. The RB cuts back and Ankou reacts well, getting his head to the outside of the guard, coming off the block and making the play.

Strength

Ankou isn’t necessarily a consistently powerful player. His strength shows up in flashes, typically when his technique is sound. If his knees are bent and his hands are placed in the strike zone of the offensive lineman, he’s going to move people. He’s strong enough to keep his feet moving through contact, but didn’t always anchor down on run plays against double teams. In regards to his upper-body strength, it shows flashes as well. Ankou uses his torso strength to keep offensive linemen at a distance in one-on-one rushes, but didn’t display overwhelming block-shedding ability through his torso and hips to rag-doll offensive linemen.

Ankou shows strength in upper-body using a one-arm technique.
Ankou shows strength in upper-body using a one-arm technique.

Hand use

3-4 nose tackles generally aren’t supposed to use finesse moves in one-on-one pass rushing match-ups, so its unclear whether or not he has the ability to consistently beat CFL offensive lineman with rip, club and swim moves. He has, however, proven to have quick, strong hands to get inside hand positioning on offensive lineman on bull-rushes. The battle of quickness and accuracy between offensive and defensive linemen to be the first to get their hands in the strike zone first on every snap is key to gaining leverage and winning the rep – Ankou excels in this.

Despite poor pad level, Ankou bull-rushes the LG back because he wins the battle for hand positioning.
Despite poor pad level, Ankou bull-rushes the C into the QB because he wins the battle for hand positioning.
The ability for linemen to quickly reset their hands after a poorly aimed initial punch is key. Ankou is only spying the QB here, but fights for hand placement to be able to displace the OL if the QB starts to scramble.
The ability for linemen to quickly reset their hands after a poorly aimed initial punch is key. Ankou is only spying the QB here, but fights for hand placement to be able to displace the OL if the QB starts to scramble.

Leverage

Ankou’s pad level isn’t as consistent as scouts would like it to be, but he has shown the ability to really bend his knees, get lower than the offensive lineman, and power through. He didn’t have the raw strength to over-power PAC-12 offensive lineman when his pad level wasn’t good, but he won’t need to be as powerful in the CFL as he needed to be as a 0-tech in a 3-4 scheme in a tough conference. Ankou’s still very much welcome to use this off-season to get stronger in his lower-body, of course.

Pass-rush technique

Ankou’s role in college was simple – gain control of the center on run plays to control both A-Gaps, and provide interior pressure on pass plays by bull-rushing or spying the quarterback on passing plays. In the CFL, he’ll have to run twists far more often – he almost never did with UCLA – and align in several different techniques along the inside of the defensive line. A dominant CFL defensive tackle must have a variety of pass-rushing moves in his repertoire – think of the spin, arm-over swim, rip, club and regular swim move – as well as the athletic ability to pull them off. There are a plethora of good scrambling quarterbacks up north, so tackling and closing speed is important, too. It’s not the same as closing speed, but Ankou’s raw speed to chase down quarterbacks or running backs from the back-side isn’t great. With that being said, I think he’s athletic enough to effectively run twists at the professional level. He’ll require good coaching to expand his pass-rushing repertoire, though, as he was simply not asked to do very much at all in these situations while with the Bruins.

Ankou (#96) twists and bends around the edge. For a 325-pounder, this as good as he needs to be on a twist.
Ankou (#96) twists and bends around the edge. For a 325-pounder, this as good as he needs to be on a twist.

Conclusion

Its easier than ever to get on an NFL training camp roster – see Lefevour, Dan – but especially for those fresh out of college after starting two seasons in the PAC-12. Boston College defensive end Mehdi Abdesmad, who was drafted in the third round by the Ottawa Redblacks in last year’s draft, spent all of 2016 with the Tennessee Titans, but there’s always a chance Ankou makes it no further than an NFL rookie mini-camp, similarly to Trent Corney in 2016 as well.

Ankou has the talent worthy of a top-2 pick, but don’t be surprised if he goes unselected until the second or third round because of NFL interest. At this point, though, its hard to say.

Grade: 4.85
Projected round: Early First*

 

*Subject to pending NFL interest

Photo Credit: Steve Cheng
Photo Credit: Steve Cheng