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: 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: 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

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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

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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.

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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

Bombers in Risky Business Dropping Johnny Adams for Rookie Corner

With halfback TJ Heath coming over two weeks ago from the Toronto Argonauts in the blockbuster trade of quarterback Drew Willy, it was only a matter of time before the Winnipeg Football Club shipped out one of their many defensive backs.

The Bombers traded former All-Star cornerback Johnny Adams on Wednesday to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats for the negotiation rights to 6’4″ receiver Mekale McKay – a late casualty in Indianapolis Colts’ training camp this summer.

The trade comes one day after Adams was relegated to the second-team defense. Rookie cornerback Terrence Frederick, who’s been a healthy scratch over the last two weeks, was already set to make his fifth start of the season on Friday against the Edmonton Eskimos’ power-house offense before the trade was announced.

For a plethora of reasons – one of them being that Frederick had simply earned the opportunity – there was no issue to take in that.

For his rough outing against the Calgary Stampeders – but, more specifically, mostly for not diving on a loose ball after Calgary fumbled in Bombers’ territory – Adams had been a recent scapegoat amongst the Bomber faithful. While there’s no denying that Adams hasn’t always resembled his former self in his sophomore campaign, he certainly hasn’t been all bad this season since returning from an injury that kept him out for all of training camp and the first nine weeks of the season, and the decision to give up on the 27-year-old after a couple poor games seems to be a little rash.

It’s clear the Bombers have a lot of confidence in Frederick despite repeatedly choosing to go with fellow rookie CJ Roberts, who’s now on the 6-game injured list after suffering an injury in the Labour Day Classic, instead of Frederick in the past. Frederick has certainly shown promise in the four starts he’s made, and although I had no problem with the Bombers benching Adams for this week, if the Bombers were really intent on dropping their former All-Star corner after a couple of poor games, it’d have been perhaps more assuring if Kyle Walters waited one more week before pulling the trigger on any potential trade – Frederick needs to prove he can play in Richie Hall’s current defense.

Hall’s system truly has changed rather dramatically over the last month. Previously a fairly mainstream system that relied heavily on the standard cover-3 and cover-4 zone coverages that every CFL defense instills, the Bombers have become considerably more aggressive on defense, placing their trust in an ever-talented secondary. Since around the exact week Adams returned from injury, the Bombers have undoubtedly called more man-coverage out of cover-1 and cover-2 than any team in the league. Hall’s added an exotic element to his playbook, relying on his secondary to hold their own in one-on-one match-ups while the Bombers blitz more frequently from different places and drop defensive lineman into coverage to create confusion. This new-found faith in the secondary grew when Adams was inserted into the lineup – whether he’s been a disappointment to some or not, that was no coincidence.

Although Frederick was sound in his first three starts of his career, his role will be much different now despite being at the same position at field cornerback. Almost always dropping into a deep-third from his wide-side cornerback position in his starts against Toronto, Hamilton and Edmonton, Frederick will now be asked be to play a lot more man-coverage and, specifically, some press-man, too.

The Texas A&M product has played one game in this expanded defense – he started at field cornerback in the Banjo Bowl. In what was Adams’ best game of the season – he didn’t allow a single catch all game on one target and had a pass break-up – Frederick had a solid game overall but gave up some plays in coverage, surrendering three catches on three targets for 24 yards.

With Adams having played 3.5 games at boundary cornerback this season and Frederick having played his first 3 games under very different – and, frankly, easier – play-calling, its difficult to do any statistical comparison without the numbers (and even, but to a lesser grade, their grades) being skewed at least somewhat. Regardless, 215 passing yards allowed is a considerable amount in five games even for a short-side cornerback, and Adams needed to be more consistent week to week.

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It’s really still unknown if Frederick will be an upgrade over Adams at field-corner. Heck, it remains to be seen if the Bombers will even trust their secondary as much without having both Adams and Chris Randle together. Though it’s possible that the Bombers have been such a man-coverage-heavy defense because, frankly, it’s when their defensive backs are at their best – which would make them an anomaly in today’s CFL with the current illegal contact rules – it was still a testament to Hall’s trust in his star-studded secondary.

Frederick appears to play with the same confidence that made Adams so dynamic in his rookie year. He stays square and poised in his back-pedal at the stem of the receiver’s route, possesses quick feet and good closing speed. Best of all – and this is a well-refined skill of Adams’, too – is his open-field tacking abilities. Frederick really revealed all these strengths in his first career start against the Edmonton Eskimos, which was also his best game of the season. On his interception that came late in the fourth quarter, Frederick under-cut a late throw to Derel Walker’s rounded deep-out-route to the wide-side, displaying his all his traits and the needed confidence to make that play.

Frederick also did a perfect job staying square in his back-pedal on this incomplete pass to Adarius Bowman. The Eskimos tried to test the rookie corner by attacking him with one of the more common route concepts in the football for defeating single-high coverages like cover-1 and cover-3 – the Post-Deep Cross Hi-Lo. Chris Getzlaf runs the high crosser to pull FS Taylor Loffler out of the middle, while Bowman, who needs to maintain inside leverage on the corner, runs the deep post. Frederick doesn’t bite in the least bit on Bowman’s stem to the corner, and then has the athleticism to quickly open his hips and run step-for-step with an explosive play-maker.

Though he wasn’t credited for allowing a catch, Frederick wasn’t perfect in his debut. Mike Reilly missed a would-be touchdown pass to Adarius Bowman in the second quarter, as Frederick, who had a deep-third in cover-3, was caught staring at the no. 2 receiver’s 10-yard-out, not even acknowledging Bowman’s seam-route. With Loffler favoring the boundary since the Eskimos were in trips to the short-side, Frederick needed to realize that he didn’t have immediate deep-middle help.

That’s more of a rookie mistake that has likely already been corrected. It was, after all, his first career start. Furthermore, with how much man-coverage the Bombers have used recently, his duties will be even more simplified at field corner.

If Frederick can actually prove to be an upgrade over Adams in man-coverage remains the question. Adams hasn’t been consistent this season, but its not as if his terrific rookie season was an anomaly. Frederick could continue to prove to be a keeper, but it’s hard not to think that the trade may have been made a week or two earlier than ideal, and its equally valid to question if the trade was really necessary at all. Dealing away a proven commodity late in the season after a couple bad games can be a risky business, especially when his expected successor is a rookie. Perhaps it’d have been wise to see more of Frederick in action first. Plus, it’s not as if there was a can’t-ignore trade on the table for a player with an expiring contract. Having traded Adams for a player who may never sign a CFL contract, the Bombers essentially outright released him.

The Bombers had an excess of defensive backs, indeed. But is departing with a young player who’s one year removed from a fantastic rookie season – and who has, at times, replicated that success in 2016 – really necessary? The Bombers could need Adams down the stretch, and he could have a bounce-back game any week. While I have no problem – and have confidence – in Frederick starting in his spot this week, it’d be good to have Adams waiting on the 1-game injured list if Frederick does struggle.

The Bombers still have TJ Heath waiting in the wings, but as long as they can stash him on the 1-game, it certainly can’t hurt having a player like Adams waiting for a chance to redeem himself, even if his contract is set to expire.

There was no rush for the Bombers to part ways with their former All-Star cornerback, but it feels as if they may have moved him a week or two early – another games worth of film on Frederick would only provide more clarity and assurance for parting ways with Adams.

And that’s if Mike O’Shea and Co. still felt the need to trade him at all.

Johany Jutras / CFL.ca (I DO NOT OWN THIS PHOTO OR CLAIM TO)
Johany Jutras / CFL.ca (I DO NOT OWN THIS PHOTO OR CLAIM TO)

Comprehensive Review of Stamps’ Aerial Assault of Blue Bombers’ Defense

Plenty was learned in the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ gut-wrenching loss to the Calgary Stampeders in week 13, particularly in regards to the legitimacy of both West Division franchises as the CFL season enters its final stretch.

In a game that saw Calgary’s hurt kicker, Rene Parades, boot a game-winning, 52-yard field goal for a final score of 36-34, there were still a few questions left unanswered, particularly of this sort: what in the world was going on with the Blue Bombers’ defense in the first half, and why did Calgary’s receivers also seem to have a five-yard halo around them?

The Stamps’ offense bullied the league’s second-best ranked defense to the tune of 280 first half net yards and 27 points on the scoreboard. With Mitchell having all day in the pocket to throw to consistently wide-open receivers, those numbers don’t even seem to do the Stamps justice for their absolute domination early on.

Things changed after halftime. Of course, the Bombers’ offense and special-teams began to show life, and the Stamps’ offensive play-calling became more conservative given their initial lead, but there were also obvious defensive improvements in the second half, no doubt.

Defensive coordinator Richie Hall made obvious halftime adjustments, while his players cut down on simple mental errors and actually showed up to play. As a result, the Bombers came within 15 seconds of completing a 24-point comeback in the home stadium of the league’s bench-mark franchise.

The Bombers will want to burn the tape, but that first half performance was far too awful to simply dismiss. These two teams could very well meet for a fourth-time this season in the playoffs, and considering the Stamps have scored over 30 points in all three of their meetings against the Bombers this season, Hall needs to re-evaluate his game-planning for Bo Levi Mitchell and Co.

It was certainly fascinating to see the game-planning of both Calgary’s Dave Dickenson and Winnipeg’s Hall come to fruition, particularly in tracking the success/failure of some of the more obvious adjustments they made to their systems to prepare for one of the most anticipated games of the season.

The Stamps had a plan, and most noticeable was how they seemed to intentionally attack the Bombers’ trips adjustments. Dickenson certainly planned to test the Bombers’ communication and recognition-skills in the assignment switches that are heavily involved in running Richie Hall’s man-coverage-heavy defense – and it payed off.

It’s why the Stamps seemed to find a lot of room for their receivers in the middle of the field, particularly early on. With one linebacker often responsible for spying the running back while the other blitzes, there’s naturally always going to be a weakness in the middle of the Bombers’ defense when the Bombers are in a variation of a man-coverage. For whatever reason, when he’s calls man-coverage, Hall loves blitzing his MIKE linebacker and aligning him near the line-of-scrimmage, while coaching his WILL to cautiously blitz from depth if the running back stays in the backfield to protect. Already the Bomber defensive backs are lacking that inside help from linebackers when covering receivers one-on-one.

Early on, the Stamps tested rookie free safety Taylor Loffler’s awareness, knowing the Bombers would shift him over towards the boundary if the Stamps had three receivers to the short-side. Though they’ll sometimes bring the nickel linebacker over and play straight man-to-man with a cheating safety giving help over the top as well (which, consequently, leaves the wide-side in cover-0, unless an extra safety – TJ Heath – is subbed in for a defensive lineman or inside linebacker – then cover-2), the Bombers will typically pattern-match 3-on-3 against trips in the boundary when the original play-call is either cover-1 or even cover-2. In the most common pattern-matching variations the Bombers utilize, the cornerback is responsible for the outside-breaking route, the halfback switches onto any vertical route and the free safety, though dropping deep, must switch onto any inside-breaking route at the intermediate level. Loffler was late recognizing the inside-breaking receiver a few times, and the Stamps made him pay early. Loffler was late reacting twice on these plays, getting beat across his face for gains of 30 and 19 yards to veteran receiver Marquay McDaniel.

Perhaps the most noticeable downfall of the Bombers’ defense was a completely ineffective pass-rush on Mitchell. The Bombers did not record a sack on Mitchell and, frankly, they hardly pressured the fifth-year passer, if ever. Although Mitchell plays the quarterback position with great anticipation and a quick release – and his offensive line is absolutely second-to-none – the Bombers’ pass-rush was inexplicably poor in Saturday’s showdown.

While, sure, the Bombers’ defensive backs truly did play one of their worst games of the season, they received absolutely no help from the front-seven. Mitchell took full advantage of his never-ending time in the pocket, playing pitch-and-catch against man-coverage  – and, in the process, taking advantage of some rather outrageous routes called that no defensive back should have to cover. Maurice Leggett stood no chance using trail-technique in man-coverage on Marquay McDaniel’s 15-yard juke-route, while Chris Randle’s first catch allowed – which didn’t come until the fourth quarter – occurred on a 20-yard corner-turned-out-route to the wide-side of the field. The defensive backs weren’t to blame in either of those situations – Mitchell cannot be afforded the time to throw those ridiculous routes.

Randle, meanwhile, was one of the lone bright-spots on the Bombers’ defense, however much of his success was simply based on scheme. The Stamps didn’t test Randle in coverage, as the boundary wide receiver spot – which was mostly occupied by Anthony Parker, though it didn’t really change with who was playing the spot – primarily ran different clear-out routes to assure Mitchell good spacing as he attacked the Bombers’ halfbacks and switches in man-coverage. In other words, the Bombers played far more man-coverage than zone, and Randle’s match-up was rarely used as anything more than a clear-out, decoy or check-down route to help diagnose the coverage, such as a short speed-out to keep the corner low while Mitchell threw to dig-routes over top.

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The Bombers continued with the strategy they introduced last week against Toronto, playing Randle exclusively at left cornerback and Johnny Adams exclusively at right cornerback as the two star defenders’ roles sort themselves out. Coincidentally, Randle and Adams each played an equal 28 snaps at boundary cornerback and 28 snaps at field cornerback against the Argonauts. As expected, that balance was not replicated against Calgary, however. Randle played 69.6-percent of the defensive snaps at boundary cornerback, though by virtue of the Stamps’ offensive game-plan, was not under siege very often.

The Bombers challenged the Stamps with basic cover-1 and cover-2 man-to-man all game long, calling significantly less cover-3 and cover-4 than they typically do. Of course, the Bombers have a few different variations of even basic cover-2. The two-deep zone players are occasionally Loffler and weak-side linebacker Tony Burnett, while other times it could be Loffler and Leggett – their nickel linebacker. The Bombers sometimes even bring in a second safety (TJ Heath) and play two-deep over standard man-coverage. Regardless, the Stamps’ won virtually all these man-to-man match-ups on Saturday – and quite handily, at that.

Boundary halfback Kevin Fogg struggled in his match-ups, as all of his catches/yards allowed came in standard cover-1 or cover-2 man-to-man with the exception of a 14-yard catch in the second quarter, which saw his flat-zone flooded with two curls at nearly identical depth, leaving the rookie halfback to choose one to cover in a lose-lose situation.

Field halfback Bruce Johnson was no better in coverage – too often did the three-year veteran allow receivers to dictate their release – while Leggett was, once again, heavily targeted and victimized. Leggett, who’s most commonly used as an underneath “rover” when aligned to the field-side – for reference, see his pick-sixes on Jeremiah Masoli and Kevin Glenn – or as a strong-safety in two-high deep alignments, had increased coverage duties with the Stamps intentionally drawing him to the boundary with their trips formation when the Bombers were in man. The aforementioned Marquay McDaniel, who’s had success against Leggett in the past, had another two receptions against the 29-year-old, taking advantage of no. 31’s trail-technique with crafty moves at the stem of his route.

The touchdown that Leggett allowed was largely just poor communication, but it’s worth noting that he did seem to allow Mitchell to freeze him with his eyes. Randle and Fogg both retreated into deep-zones – indicating cover-4 in the boundary – although that was likely a coverage adjustment they made pre-snap with Leggett following the receiver in motion to the short-side.

The original play-call certainly didn’t have both Randle and Fogg retreating into deep-quarters, but they likely made an adjustment with Leggett coming over to account for the third receiver. The Bombers seemed to make the exact same adjustment twice later in the game, and on both of those plays, Leggett correctly dropped low and underneath any potential 4-route from the no. 2 receiver. If he’d done that on the above play, Lemar Durant wouldn’t have had the easiest touchdown of his young career.

Halftime Adjustments

The Bombers continued to show trust in their defensive backs despite a brutal first half, continuing to call a lot of man-coverage in the third and fourth quarter. They found a way to compensate for the Stamps attacking the middle of the field, however, subbing a second safety in more frequently, and also having Loffler and Leggett – when he aligned as a strong safety – occasionally play the “robber” role.

Image result for cover-1 robber

Though I’d point to the sustained drives on offense  – as well as the Stamps’ own mistakes and conservative play-calling on offense – in the second half before crediting the Bombers’ defense, they did show some life in coverage at times. While the pass-rush remained invisible, the secondary seemed to communicate better, taking away the Stamps’ attempts to create confusion with the trips formation to the short side.

That led to the Stamps attacking the backside more often, with the Bombers sometimes sacrificing safety help over the top to bring Leggett or Loffler (or both!) over to the boundary against trips. Bruce Johnson and Johnny Adams mostly struggled, but with the Stamps failing to capitalize on some plays – as well as the Bombers’ run-defense stepping up – the Blue & Gold managed to hold the Stamps’ offense to merely nine second-half points.

Aside from not completely packing it in at halftime, there’s still not much for the Bombers’ defense, who’d been outstanding over the summer, to be proud of from this game. While they were undeniably out-schemed, even worse was the way they were out-played on the field. Sure, Richie Hall called an incredibly heavy dose of man-coverage and, at times, put his players in positions to fail, but the Bombers’ defensive backs have proven to be capable of holding their own in these match-ups at least somewhat. The defensive line, meanwhile, has no excuse for their performance. The Stamps’ offensive line simply outclassed them. Fortunately that doesn’t mean this otherwise rather stingy front-four can’t bounce back.

With tough upcoming in-division games, the Bombers’ defense needs to have a rather huge bounce back, in fact. The playoffs are near, and this unit cannot have peaked at the wrong time – summertime. It starts with defensive game-planning, but the players on the field must play better, too.

If the last seven games meant anything, Bombers’ fans should feel confident in this unit playing strong down the stretch despite the debacle that was their loss to the Stampeders and their prolific offense last week.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers' Brendan Morgan, left, looks on as Calgary Stampeders' Jerome Messam runs the ball during first half CFL football action in Calgary, Friday, July 1, 2016.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ Brendan Morgan, left, looks on as Calgary Stampeders’ Jerome Messam runs the ball during first half CFL football action in Calgary, Friday, July 1, 2016.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh