Thursday, March 19, 2015

2015 CFL Mock Draft: Version One

After nearly a month of research, watching film and typing, I have finally finalized my first 2015 Canadian Football League mock draft. 

I will likely have two more mock drafts released (one after the combine and one after the NFL draft) as players' stocks tend to trend either way based on those two events. 


Round One, Pick one: Ottawa Reblacks
Alex Mateas: centre/guard, UCONN 

Mateas, an Ottawa native, could start right away for the Redblacks at either centre or guard. Ottawa lost Alex Krausnick-Groh to the Eskimos in Free Agency and will be looking to fill the void by either starting Mateas or veteran Jon Gott at centre, with the other playing left guard. 

Ottawa may choose to draft a different offensive lineman should Mateas' NFL draft stock rise with a solid combine or pro day. 

Round one, pick two: Winnipeg Blue Bombers
Sukh Chungh: left guard, Calgary

The Bombers have plenty of options with their second overall pick. They are most starved for Canadian talent at the receiver position, on the defensive line and of course, on the offensive line. Every one of those positions includes a can't miss prospect (Chungh, LeMar Durant, Daryl Waud), however I'm beginning to think the team that gave up a league high 71 sacks goes with the safe pick: Sukh Chungh from the University of Calgary.

The Bombers already have four possible starters for the three interior offensive line positions, but need to be prepared in case injuries pile up as they did in 2014. 

Chungh is a natural left guard that would slot in behind Chris Greaves. Chungh was especially dominant when run-blocking and has first overall pick talent with a scary combination of size, athleticism and strength. Whoever impresses Kyle Walters the most at the combine will be in Blue and Gold next season; don't be surprised if it's LeMar Durant or even Danny Groulx, which would throw off my entire mock draft.

Round one, pick three: Toronto Argonauts 
Daryl Waud: defensive tackle, Western

The Argos are aging along the offensive line, but are hoping 2013 first round pick Matt Sewell will break out in his sophmore season after he returned to McMaster for his senior season. 

That leaves defensive line as their biggest need for Canadians, which is an issue they addressed when they traded for defensive end Ricky Foley. But who do they have to step up should the soon-to-be 33 year old Foley, or another Canadian, go down with an injury? 

The next man up for the boatmen may end up being Waud, who is considered a CFL-ready prospect. 

Waud is an athletic down lineman that is particularly good against the pass. His height at 6'5 will also affect opposing quarterback's throwing lanes, and his weight at 285 pounds makes him a shiftier threat that makes guards move their feet. Waud will need to prove himself as a run-stuffer.

Round one, pick four: Montreal Alouettes 
Lemar Durant: wide receiver, Simon Fraser

Jim Popp won't even hesitate before selecting LeMar Durant if the talented wideout is available when the Alouettes are on the clock. 

The Alouettes boast the leagues oldest receiving corps after they signed two veterans in Nik Lewis and Fred Stamps. They're national receivers, Sam Giguere and Eric Deslauriers, will both be in their 30s once Giguere has his birthday on July 11th. Deslauriers, 33, has only averaged 166 yards per season but is a solid contributer as a blocker in the run game; a duty Nik Lewis make take over from the 8 year veteran.

Durant is viewed by many as the most talented player in draft and will surely not be available for Popp's taking if some of the top ranked lineman sign NFL contracts before the CFL draft. 

Round one, pick five: BC Lions 
Sean McEwen: centre, Calgary 

McEwen, who was a four year starter, may be the best centre former Calgary Dinos coach Blake Nill has ever produced. 

McEwen is a natural centre who reminds me a lot of former Stampeder centre Brett Jones. The Calgary Dino will likely replace centre Matt Norman in BC, who was underwhelming in his second season at centre. In such event, Norman would likely move back over to guard. 

Round one, pick six: Saskatchewan Roughriders 
Danny Groulx: offensive tackle, Laval

Saskatchewan lost Ben Heenan to the NFL this off-season and will be looking to replace the Indianapolis Colt with another national. 

The Laval product is a perfect fit in Saskatchewan. He brings more nastiness to a Rider offensive line that is already known for their mean streak. 

Groulx's footwork is good enough for professional football while his quickness and speed is also as good as any CFL prospect in the last few years. Groulx excels in both pass and run blocking and can make blocks downfield on screen passes. 

Round one, pick seven: Edmonton Eskimos
Jacob Ruby: offensive tackle, Richmond 

The Eskimos need to boast their national talent all over the offensive line. They ended up losing Matt O'Donnell to the NFL which leaves a big void to fill. Although he played tackle in university, that player can hopefully be Ruby by the 2016 season. If Ruby does manage to beat the odds and successfully transition to the CFL as a tackle, he could end up being one of the biggest draft steals in this class.

Unfortunately, I don't believe Ruby is quick enough to play tackle in the CFL against the speed rushes of most international pass rushers. 

I did, however, take notice of Ruby's aggressiveness and power as a run blocker. Given Ruby's excellent size (6'7, 315lbs), the University of Richmond star should smoothly transition over to guard with the Eskimos. Ruby will be a project, but is the most logical pick for Edmonton based on the remaining talent available. 

Round one, pick eight: Hamilton Tiger-Cats 
Nic Demski: slot-back, Manitoba 

The Cats have no shortage of offensive or defensive lineman, so I figure they'll take the best player available with the 8th overall pick. 

Demski has the talent to be a top-3 draft pick and will be given time to develop in Hamilton. Demski is essentially Chad Owens but with better size as he's always a threat to take the football to endzone whether he's punt returning or catching passes in the flats. The 6'0, 215 pound speedster can stretch the field as a deep threat and is underrated as a run-blocker. Demski could replace Andy Fantuz if he shockingly leaves as a free agent as Hamilton's number one national receiver. 

Round one, pick nine: Calgary Stampeders
Brett Boyko: left tackle, UNLV 

It may seem too early into the draft for the Stamps to pick up an NFL-bound player, but there's always a chance Boyko is one and done in the NFL and comes back north. In that case, the Stamps would get a sure starter at either tackle or guard with All-Star potential. 


Round two, pick one: Ottawa Redblacks 
Addison Richards: wide receiver, Regina

Ottawa signed Brad Sinopoli this off-season and also have Matt Carter as their second national receiver, however it's unknown if Sinopoli will ever emerge as a true number one Canadian slot-back. Richards has first round talent and could be that guy for Ottawa. 

Round two, pick two: Winnipeg Blue Bombers 
Jake Harty: slot-back, Calgary 

The Bombers need to boast their Canadian talent at the receiver position. Harty won't see the field in 2015, but can hopefully compete for a starting job come 2016. 

Round two, pick three: Toronto Argonauts 
Karl Lavoie: left tackle, Laval

The Argos could use some more youth along the offensive line, and the 6'4, 285 pound tackle from Laval could provide some depth in the future. 

Round two, pick four: Montreal Alouettes 
Kwame Adjei: defensive back, Mount Allison 

Montreal's lone defensive starter is the hard-hitting Marc-Olivier Brouillette at safety. Adjei plays a similar game to Brouillette and would help make an even stronger case that Montreal has the best Canadian depth in the league. 

Round two, pick five: BC Lions 
Brandon Tennant: defensive tackle, Laval 
The BC Lions let go of two starting defensive tackles from 2014 in Eric Taylor and Khalif Mitchell, meaning they are looking for some youth, and possibly a ratio change, to fill that position. Tennant is a big boy at 6'2, 309 pounds and is capable of plugging gaps as he did at Laval. 

Round two, pick six: Winnipeg Blue Bombers (from SSK) 
Adam Konar: linebacker, Calgary 
The Bombers recently picked up national middle linebacker Sam Hurl from Saskatchewan to start, and will need some depth behind him if that were to be the case.

Konar is a prototypical Canadian middle linebacker at 6'2, 225 lbs and racked up an impressive 40 tackles with an interception and forced fumble during his senior season at Calgary. Oddly enough, his old coach at Calgary Blake Nill compares his former All-Canadian middle linebacker to Sam Hurl. 

Round two, pick seven: Edmonton Eskimos 
Sean Smith: offensive tackle, McMaster

Fortunately for the Eskimos, they have great Canadian depth at the receiver and defensive line positions, thus are able to continue to draft and develop their offensive line. 

Smith is another offensive tackle but has better size than Ruby at 6'7 and 310 pounds. Smith will likely stay at offensive tackle and will develop for a few seasons. His ceiling isn't particularly high. 

Round two, pick eight: Hamilton Tiger-Cats 
Chris Ackie: defensive back, Laurier

Ackie is a lot like Hamilton's current national safety Craig Butler. Both can play either safety or linebacker and have similar body frames. The hard-hitting Laurier defensive back will likely play SAM linebacker at 210 pounds, but a solid 40-yard dash time at the combine may make team's re-think his ability to play safety, thus improving his draft stock. 

Round two, pick nine: Calgary Stampeders 
Nick Shortill: linebacker, McMaster

The Stamps lost Keenan MacDougall to the Riders this off-season and will need to replace his presence on special teams and on the defensive depth chart. 

Shortill's speed and open field tackling ability has me convinced he'll be a dominant special teams player in the CFL. Despite his body frame, he's best suited as a WILL linebacker in the Stamps defence. 

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Sheets Won't be Entering a Friendly CFL Running-back Market

"Holy Sheets!"

According to tweets on his official Twitter account, former Saskatchewan Roughriders running-back Kory Sheets will not be returning to the Oakland Raiders in 2015. 

It's also safe to say Sheets won't be returning to the NFL at all. The former 101st Grey Cup MVP is coming off a torn Achilles tendon suffered in the pre-season that sidelined him for the entire season. Sheets, who more than likely was going to get released from Oakland anyway, was placed on the injured reserve while the Raiders went 3-13. Fortunately for CFL fans, there is absolutely zero incentive for another NFL team to pick up any soon-to-be 30 year old running-back, especially one that is coming off a major injury and has five career rushing yards in the NFL.

Sheets may not attract a very large crowd of serious buyers when he hits the CFL open market either. Sheets will understandably demand a hefty salary, something teams typically don't give to running-backs in free agency, and particularly those coming off major injury. 

Since the running-back position is the easiest to fill in football, very few teams pay more than one running-back more than a rookie contract. The numbers on these rookie deals can vary, but are usually in the range of $51,000 to $80,000. To further prove that point, only four teams in 2014 had their starting tail-back on a regular contract; meanwhile Hamilton, Toronto, Edmonton, Winnipeg and Saskatchewan all had their main rusher on rookie deals, which vary based on the player's agent or even his NFL experience.

If Sheets were to join with a club that already pays their current starter a veteran starter's contract, that team would be forced to make certain roster changes. If we take the Alouettes for example, they would either have to release starter Brandon Whitaker, whom has had his own injury issues as of late, to take on Sheets' salary or keep Whitaker and cut another starting player from a different positional group. While both seem highly unlikely, Montreal would probably rather release Whitaker as, again: CFL clubs don't pay two 'backs starter's money. As demonstrated perfectly on the Alouettes roster, it makes far more sense for the Als to keep Chris Rainey and Tyrell Sutton, who signed a three year extension recently of likely around $80k, with their cheap contracts than Whitaker and his veteran contract, as the production is similar in a secondary role. 

Sheets' salary would also be larger than that of almost all other starting running-backs, and offering that to a player who's coming off a torn Achilles' tendon rather than a younger starter, like Whitaker, whose on a cheaper contract- or even in many other cases a rookie contact- doesn't make a whole lot of sense. 

But let's not forgot about who we're talking about here. Kory Sheets has an amazing 2,875 career rushing yards with 23 career rushing touchdowns in only two CFL seasons. Sheets had 1,598 rushing yards with a 5.6 yard average during Saskatchewan's Grey Cup winning year; and did that while missing four games! 

Kory Sheets is going to sign somewhere. Unless he suffers a major setback in his rehab that affects his play, he will most definitely reach 1000 yards on whichever team he signs with. 

Calgary, BC, Hamilton, Edmonton can automatically be eliminated from contention. Calgary already has the best 'back in the game with Jon Cornish, while BC also has themselves an elite national starter in Andrew Harris. The Tiger-Cats just gave CJ Gable & Nic Grigsby their first veteran deals and are excited to see what the two young backs can accomplish together. Edmonton, meanwhile, may have their own Kory Sheets in John White, who was on pace for 1,700 yards had he stayed healthy during his first year as the starter. White, who has no NFL experience, is likely making peanuts on his rookie deal while his back-up, Kendial Lawrence, just got first pay-cheque in an contract extension with the Eskies. 

That leaves Winnipeg, Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa and of course, Saskatchewan. 

For reasons mentioned above, and because they are already hard-pressed against the cap, Montreal does not look like Kory Sheets' next destination. Jim Popp already extended several key guys such as SJ Green, Chip Cox, Bear Woods and Geoff Tisdale in the re-signing phase, and also brought in 4 other Free Agents in February. His Quarterback will also be looking for a new deal next off-season. Montreal has had their fun (and they already have an expensive running-back), so they're out. 

The Argos are an interesting team. They went with Curtis Steele and Steve Slaton in 2014, whom were both on rookie contracts, but neither emerged as the starter. They recently gave Steele an extension that will probably pay him similar numbers to those on Sutton's deal. It would make perfect sense for Toronto to bring in Kory Sheets; he'd be a huge upgrade over Slaton or Steele and they have money to spend. 

Or do they?

Steve Slaton is definitely earning more than league minimum as the former 3rd round NFL draft pick of the Houston Texans played 5 years in the NFL before coming up north. The Argos also recently signed Bernard Scott, who also has 5 years of NFL experience, and would likely release at least one of these well-paid running-backs, which is no big deal in CFL, where contracts aren't guaranteed.

I think it comes down to David Braley's stubbornness as the owner. He has to be the reason the Argos didn't spend, or at least extend some contracts, in free agency. It could also be hard for Jim Barker to recruit Sheets due to stadium issues and other off-field problems the Argos sadly have. Don't write them off, but it's to envision the boatmen spending big money on Sheets. 

Winnipeg and Ottawa are in similar boats. Both have a starting running-back (Chevon Walker in Ottawa and Paris Cotton in Winnipeg) but neither are exactly cemented as the number one guy. They both also have money to spend, and wouldn't have to release their current starter (Cotton's entering year two of rookie deal). That being said, the Bombers won't sign Kory Sheets. They like what they've seen in Cotton and have already spent enough in free agency. While Sheets' is not a must-sign by any means for them, Ottawa is a more likely destination for Mr. #1Time. 

And of course, I can't forget about the Riders, who will certainly be in the thick of all negotiations. They probably have their running-back of the future in 26 year old Anthony Allen and also have a good, but expensive back-up in national bruiser Jerome Messam. In order to retain Sheets, Saskatchewan would have to release another starter under contract to free the cap space, similarly to what they had to do with now-Bomber centre Dom Picard. Sheets may grant Saskatchewan a "home-town discount", but nothing large enough to keep the Riders from having to chop Messam off the roster in favour of a rookie 'back's contract (Steven Miller?) as well as another well-paid player. Saskatchewan doesn't need Kory Sheets, but could make it happen if they so desire. 

While the market may not be as hot for his services as Kory Sheets may think, the 101st Grey Cup MVP will find a home in 2015; but with who? 

Sheets may be a bona-fide elite CFL running-back, but that doesn't necessarily mean he's as hot as a commodity for most teams as you may think. Despite it almost being a guaranteed that Sheets surpasses 1000 yards in 2015, he's still a risky signing, especially if you have to release another starter to afford him. 

Running-back's come a dime-a-dozen; it's always a risk signing one for big money who's on the wrong side of 30 and is coming off an Achilles injury, even if there name is Kory Sheets.

It's a risk some will be willing to take.  

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Alouettes Shouldn't Sell Themselves Short at QB

The biggest question mark regarding the Montreal Alouettes last off-season was that surrounding their Quarterback situation, where fans wondered and hoped that GM Jim Popp had found Anthony Calvillo's successor in Troy Smith, the 2006 Heisman Trophy winner from Ohio State University.

It would seem as though one year later, Alouettes fans find themselves in the exact same situation as the season prior; hoping another Quarterback who had a promising finish to his rookie season will take the next step in year 2 and replace Calvillo, with that new supposed successor now being former Tennessee Volunteer Jonathon Crompton.

As we all know, the Troy Smith era ended horribly. Smith, who was the unquestioned starter heading into training camp and the regular season, led Montreal to a 1-5 start while displaying terrible accuracy and high-school level decision-making. He was eventually benched in favour of Alex Brink (who was later passed over in favour of Crompton), and was released by week 17 after spending weeks burried on the 6-game injured list.

This time around, the Alouettes won't be making the same mistake they made with Smith; or at least I hope/ don't think they will.

GM Jim Popp decided to bring in some competition for Crompton in Free Agency, rather than naming him "The Guy" before the season like his team did with Smith one year prior.

The Alouettes inked former Tiger-Cat backup QB Dan LeFevour, who showed lots of potential during 4 starts with Hamilton in 2014 before suffering a torn ligament in his knee, to a one year contract. Popp isn't letting Crompton get too comfortable heading into his second season with the Als, a new approach the club seems to be taking with their Quarterback situation that I completely agree with.

Now I am by no means saying Jonathon Crompton will be a bust like Troy Smith. And while I'm also not necessarily sold on him either, I do believe he can be a serviceable Quarterback in this league, which compared to Troy Smith, is a huge improvement. 

So why should the Alouettes display what would seem like a lack of faith in Crompton, who has a playoff win under his belt, by making it an open QB competition in training camp come June? 

In short, I think the ceiling of Dan LeFevour's potential is higher than that of Crompton. 

We seem to have uncovered a lot on Jonathon Crompton during his 11 games with the Alouettes. Crompton seems like what coaches call a game-manager: which is a Quarterback who, despite relatively poor individual statistics such as passing yards and touchdowns, manages to perform well enough to win games. Game-managers often benefit from strong defences and rushing attacks on their team, or in Crompton's case, great play from a great receiving corps.

Crompton relied heavily on his big receivers to make plays for him, something that isn't always a bad idea when you have elite targets such as Duron Carter and SJ Green on the receiving end. However, this gutsy play-style Crompton displayed tends to be an unsustainable approach in football, and I don't expect Crompton to "revolutionize" the position with his top target Duron Carter gone to the NFL in 2015. 

In year one with the Alouettes, Crompton finished with an eye-opening 8-2 record, along with a huge blow-out playoff win over the BC Lions to boot. While a large majority of the those wins were mainly because of Montreal's great defensive play, Crompton undeniably did his part in turning the Alouettes season around. 

In essentially 11 starts, Crompton finished the year with 2,482 yards passing, 11 touchdowns, 8 interceptions, a 58.1 completion percentage and a Quarterback Rating of 85.2; below average, but serviceable stats for a starting QB. 

While it seems unfair to label Crompton as a "game-manager" so early into his career, it's who he has always been ever since his college days as a Tennessee Volunteer. Crompton never passed for more than 2,800 yards in a season with the Vols, and operated a run-heavy offence that saw the majority of Crompton's big plays come off play-action. 

A full training camp with Montreal and a new offensive coordinator in Turk Schonert will undoubtably help #18 out, and a competition with Dan LeFevour may even bring out the best of him. 

LeFevour, meanwhile, played tremendous for the Tiger-Cats in four starts while starting QB Zach Collaros was out with a concussion. 

Despite his 1-3 record that can primarily be blamed on poor defence and far too many penalties on all three sides of the ball, the former Central Michigan Star played very well, throwing for 1,276 yards, 4 touchdowns, 4 interceptions, a 67.8 completion percentage and QB rating of 92; which amount to an average of 319 passing and 78.5 rushing yards per game. 

Speaking of rushing yards, LeFevour's legs and presence in the ground game are one of the many differences between him and Crompton. In fact, it's safe to say the two 2010 NFL draft selections are basically complete opposites judging by their play styles. 

LeFevour is anything but a game-manager. As shown by his stats with the Tiger-Cats and while at Central Michigan University, LeFevour has always been the centre piece of the offence. While at CMU, LeFevour was a four year starter who put on a show; typically throwing around 3,300 yards per season and 27 touchdowns with an impressive 66.4 career completion percentage. He also had 2,948 career rushing yards and 47 touchdowns. Scarily, the former 6th round NFL draft pick's stats are nearly identical to those he posted with Hamilton. 

LeFevour's knee injury is one concern  regarding the third year pivot. Fortunately, he has no history of injuries and frankly, it's not 1985; modern medicine and technology has recovering from major knee injuries quicker and better than ever- unless of course your name is Robert Griffin III or Derrick Rose. 

LeFevour may also not seem like a perfect fit for Turk Schonert's offensive system. While I would expect the system to be slightly adjusted to LeFevour's mobility if he was named the starter, I would also like to point out that he has never had trouble as a drop-back passer before in his career. Not only that, but he'll be playing behind one of the league's best offensive lines, a huge bonus for the development of both LeFevour and Crompton. 

It may seem un-loyal to Crompton, who is 9-3 as a starter, to not have him number one on the depth chart on day one of training camp, but the Alouettes really can't afford to make the same mistake they made with Troy Smith in handing him the starting job. 

As I mentioned earlier, Crompton is already far better than Smith and won't be a bust like the former Buckeye, but the Alouettes should be careful with naming him the starter after only starting half the season. If Crompton truly is the better Quarterback, he'll prove it in the pre-season. Unlike last year, Coach Tom Higgins has the luxury of having two young talented Quarterback's and should give them both a chance to be "The Guy." 

If LeFevour isn't given a fair shot with split 50/50 reps in practice, the Als may be selling themselves short and wasting his talent, if in fact he is a better option at Quarterback than Jonathon Crompton. 

Dan deserves an opportunity to be "The Man" for Montreal, and should be given every opportunity to be successful and help the team. The Als have made it clear through Free Agency that they are going all out on a Grey Cup run in 2015, and should probably make sure they have their best option behind centre if they wish to make an appearance at Investors Group Field come late November. 

The best way to do that is with an open competition in training camp.