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: 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.

2016 CFL Mock Draft: Version One

The Canadian Football League’s free agent frenzy has come and gone, and teams have their full attention set on the Canadian College Draft, scheduled for May 10. But first comes the regional and national combines – the latter being scheduled for March 11-13 – where several players will see their draft stock fluctuate.

Here’s my first of three mock drafts.

First Round: 

1:1 Saskatchewan Roughriders – G Charles Vaillancourt, Laval

The ‘Riders essentially have needs for Canadians at every position, but none more than along their offensive line. Saskatchewan lost depth offensive lineman Corey Watman – a disappointing first-round pick from 2014 –  in free agency; Chris Best, 32, is ageing and is on the decline; and centre Dan Clark, who cooled off after an inspiring start, could use some serious competition in training camp. Vaillancourt, meanwhile, has fantastic size at six-foot-four, 325 pounds, and is one of the most decorated offensive lineman in CIS football history.

1:2 Montreal Alouettes – WR Tevaun Smith, Iowa

Recording only 563 receiving yards, Smith had a disappointing senior campaign for Iowa and, as a result, saw his NFL stock decrease dramatically. But the physical traits are there, as the six-foot-two, Toronto, ON. native has elite speed and jumping ability – he’s a legitimate deep-threat. The Alouettes aren’t exactly desperate for Canadian pass-catchers, but Smith’s talents could be simply too good to pass on.

1:3 BC Lions – G Josiah St. John, Oklahoma

Unlike last year, the Lions will start three Canadian interior offensive lineman next season, and drafting St. John could give them a solid sixth lineman and future All-Star. St. John couldn’t hold down a starting offensive tackle position with the Sooners – he started four games in 2015 – but at six-foot-six, 308 pounds, with great run-blocking skills, he could make a seamless transition to guard.

1:4 Toronto Argonauts – DT Mehdi Abdesmad, Boston College

Abdesmad was a solid defensive end at Boston College but projects as a three-tech defensive tackle in the professional ranks. He has phenomenal lower-body strength and was a productive player in the ACC, amassing a whopping 49 tackles and 15 tackles-for-loss in 2015. The Argos, who’s signing of Brian Bulcke indicates they’ll still start a Canadian DT despite Cleyon Laing leaving for the NFL, could have a fantastic defensive tackle rotation in the future with Abdesmad and 2015 second-round pick Daryl Waud.

1:5 Hamilton Tiger-Cats – RG Dillon Guy, Buffalo

Guy, a Hamilton native, was apart of Buffalo’s offensive line rotation since his true freshman season. He’s known as a smart, disciplined right guard, who isn’t overly athletic but, oddly enough, stands out more as a pass-blocker than a run-blocker. Guy has a recent injury history, however, as he missed much of the 2014 season with a foot injury as well as much of last year with an unfortunate season-ending knee injury. The Ti-Cats traded away 36-year-old Tim O’Neill to the Lions, all but guaranteeing that they’ll be using their first-round pick on an offensive lineman.

1:6 Calgary Stampeders – RB Mercer Timmis, Calgary

The Stamps have solid Canadian depth all through their roster – except at running back, that is. They recently cut Matt Walter, and while Jon Hufnagel says the Stamps don’t need a national RB, I’m not buying it. With unreal speed for a running back of that size (6’1″, 220), Timmis has big-time player potential.

1:7 Ottawa REDBLACKS – DB Arjen Colquhoun, Michigan State

Ottawa, who took centre Alex Mateas with last year’s first-overall pick, can afford to pass on an offensive lineman here and look to improve their National depth elsewhere. Strong-side LB is Ottawa’s lone defensive position that’s absolutely guaranteed to be occupied by a Canadian (Antoine Pruneau) due to free agent losses, and depth is needed behind the 26-year-old. Colquhoun, who’s redshirt senior season was his first as a starter at Michigan St., could be a gem.

1:8 Edmonton Eskimos – G Philippe Gagnon, Laval

With the midseason signing of Matt O’Donnell, the Eskimos, at one point, had 14 offensive lineman under contract last season. Injuries have decimated this unit recently, and after passing on early-round offensive lineman annually until last season, the Esks would be wise to invest a first-round pick in Philippe Gagnon. Gagnon would be reuniting with 2015 first-round pick out of Laval, Danny Groulx, potentially forming a formidable duo for the future.

Round Two

2:1 Winnipeg Blue Bombers – G Jason Lauzon-Seguin, Laval

Having traded Chris Greaves, released Dominic Picard and losing Tommy Griffiths to retirement, the Bombers only have four national offensive lineman under-contract, including recently signed, 33-year-old Jeff Keeping. Winnipeg has no choice but to spend one of their consecutive second-round picks on an interior lineman, and you can rarely go wrong with a Laval kid.

2:2 Winnipeg Blue Bombers – DT David Onyemata, Manitoba

This one could be a surprise to many. While Onyemata will surely sign a UDFA contract with an NFL team, there’s always a chance that he’s cut in mini-camp or training camp. The Bombers can afford to wait a year or two for Onyemata, the consensus top prospect, if necessary, with Jake Thomas and recently-signed Keith Shologan rotating at nose-tackle. And Onyemata, a Manitoba product from Nigeria, would surely be worth the wait.

2:3 Montreal Alouettes – RG Zachary Intzandt, McMaster

Some may view this as a reach, but Intzandt does nothing but impress me on film. He’s an athletic dude with great size, technique and a solid burst out of his stance. He’s also an effective puller, polished pass-protector and a solid run-blocker – the total package. He’s not great at anything, but more importantly, Intzandt has no glaring weaknesses. I wouldn’t be shocked if a solid combine sees McMaster’s anchor move into the first round on several team’s big-boards.

2:4 BC Lions – DE Trent Corney, Virginia

With Ese Mrabure-Ajufo only one year into his career, the Lions can’t be ready to give up on starting a Canadian defensive end after Jabar Westerman’s lackluster 2015 campaign. Corney, a high-motor rusher who reminds of Greg Peach, could give them another option for the future.

2:5 Toronto Argonauts – DB Elie Bouka, Calgary

Bouka, already my second-ranked defensive back, could see his draft stock improve even more after draft combine one-on-ones. Having played each position in the secondary as well as some linebacker, Bouka brings tremendous versatility to the table. As shown by several first-round selections in past drafts such as Chris Ackie, Antoine Pruneau and Mike Edem, CFL teams really value DBs who are able to play wherever needed. Don’t be surprised if Alquhoun and Bouka swap draft positions in the real thing, pending the CFL combine.

2:6 Hamilton Tiger-Cats – DB Taylor Loffler, UBC

While Loffler, a Boise State graduate, isn’t the most athletic safety available in the draft, he could be the most intelligent. He routinely reads route combinations, reacts quickly on the fly and isn’t easily fooled by any motion that offenses throw at him. The Ti-Cats, who could – but likely won’t – start three Canadian defensive backs if Craig Butler moves to linebacker, will need depth in the secondary after moving on from Neil King, Aaron Crawford, Mike Edem and Kyle Miller in free agency.

2:7 Calgary Stampeders – WR Juwan Brescacin, Northern Illinois

Brescacin wasn’t the most productive receiver during his time at Northern Illinois – his season totals have declined each year after putting up a career-high 499 yards and six touchdowns in his sophomore season – but he’s certainly showed flashes of potential as a red-zone threat with his massive build. Similarly to Lemar Durant last year, scouts may question the six-foot-four, 230-pound receiver’s ability to run an entire route tree.

2:8 Ottawa REDBLACKS – LG Sean Jamieson, Western

Ottawa really can’t go wrong with adding another young, Canadian offensive lineman to the cupboard for a future role as the sixth offensive lineman. Jamieson, a mean, nasty run-blocker, would be a safe pick.

2:9 Edmonton Eskimos – DB Anthony Thompson, Southern Illinois

Thompson, contrary to Taylor Loffler, is an extremely raw player with pro-calibre speed and agility. He’s displayed poor awareness in zone-coverage as a safety and far too often goes for the kill shot rather than the wrap-up tackle. But, again, he has so much talent in terms of his speed, quickness and ball skills that he could warrant a top-15 selection.

Round Three

3:1 Hamilton Tiger-Cats – LB Terrell Davis, UBC

Davis, a former running back for Arizona State, is a prototypical Ti-Cat linebacker with his athleticism. While he has the agility, blitzing ability and pass-coverage awareness to fit in well in Hamilton’s defensive schemes, he’s going to make his money on special-teams. It’s easy to envision the six-foot, 220-pounder as an excellent punt protector at the pro-level.

3:2 Winnipeg Blue Bombers – WR Llevi Noel, Toronto

Noel appears to be the complete opposite of Addison Richards, Winnipeg’s second-round draft pick in 2015, supplying fantastic speed from the outside and big-time yards-after-catch ability. Noel appears to be far from a complete receiver, however, and I’m interested to see if he lives up to the hype at the CFL combine.

3:3 Montreal Alouettes – DB Josh Woodman, Western

Woodman is a likely candidate to leap-frog Anthony Thompson in the DB position rankings. He’s a smart player who’s aggressive, yet fundamentally sound. He looked especially good at corner throughout his tenure at Western in their zone-heavy defensive scheme.

3:4 BC Lions – WR Doug Corby, Queens

Averaging 118.4 receiving yards/game, Corby’s 2015 season really put him on the map. The Lions are quite thin at national slot-back behind Austin Collie and drafting Corby is a low-risk move with the thin amount of talent remaining.

3:5 Toronto Argonauts – LB Curtis Newton, Guelph

Green is a fantastic pass-coverage linebacker with Guelph that, perhaps in the future, could become a situational weak-side linebacker. While I doubt the Argos start third-year linebacker Thomas Miles in the middle this year, Cory Greenwood will start the season at WILL. The latter suffered some major concussion injuries last season, however, giving the Argos even more incentive to draft Newton (six-foot-two, 220-pounds).

3:6 Hamilton Tiger-Cats – FB Declan Cross, McMaster

Cross enjoyed a large role in McMaster’s offense and developed into a very versatile fullback. He’s an absolute wrecking ball, no doubt, but shows flashes of rushing and receiving capabilities that could keep him in the CFL for a long time.

3:7 Saskatchewan Roughriders – G Kadeem Adams, Western

Adams displayed good feet and downfield blocking as a puller, but isn’t the biggest guy and will need to bulk up to move inside to right guard in the CFL. The ‘Riders could use another developmental project along the offensive line.

3:8 Ottawa REDBLACKS – K/P Quinn Van Gylswyk, UBC

Van Gylswyk connected on 20/24 field goals but, more impressively, averaged over 43.6 yards per punt last year with UBC. Having kicked the Vanier Cup-winning field goal, he already has experience making big kicks in big times. It sounds like Van Gylswyk, who evidently has a huge leg, has great accuracy, as well.

3:9 Saskatchewan Roughriders – WR Joshua Stanford, Kansas

The last pick in this mock is the wild-card. Stanford, once a break-out true freshman with West Virginia, who had over 600 yards in 2013, has been a disappointment ever since. Before transferring to Kansas, where he battled a hamstring issue among other things, in 2015, Stanford fell out of favor in his sophomore season with the Hokies, dealing with on-field, off-field and injury issues. But if he resembles anything like the dynamic player he was in 2013 at the CFL combine, Stanford could sky-rocket up the draft boards.

vaillancourt
Simon Clark: Agence QMI