Thursday, May 21, 2015

Roster Report Card: Winnipeg Blue Bombers

Another off-season has come and gone. The annual draft, mini-camps and roster transactions have all been completed as teams look to begin training camp. Some teams made clear improvements, while others lost some key players and did not. So how does your team look on paper? Today, I take a look at the Winnipeg Blue Bombers football club.

* denotes National player
# denotes 2015 draft pick

Quarterbacks: A-

Starter: Drew Willy 
Reserves: Brian Brohm, Robert Marve, Josh Portis, Jordan Yantz*

Oh, how times have changed. Not only do the Bombers now have a legitimate starting quarterback in Drew Willy, but they now also have great depth behind him. In his first season as a starting quarterback, Willy played solid football and showed great potential in the first half of the season before the team- and his body- broke down. Behind Willy, Brian Brohm and Robert Marve will hold the down the back-up positions for the second year in a row. Brohm, a second round draft pick in the 2009 NFL draft, is a solid back-up, while Marve, who may just have the strongest arm in the CFL, has a sky-high ceiling of potential. This is the best group of quarterbacks the Bombers have had in a long, long time. 

Runningbacks: C+

Starter: Paris Cotton
Reserves: Bradley Randle, Cam Marshall, Carlos Anderson, Da'Rell Scott 

The Bombers will need to establish the run game this season to find success. Paris Cotton will enter camp as the incumbent starter after performing well late in the season, making Bomber fans wonder why he didn't start sooner after watching Nic Grigsby struggle to be effective for several weeks. It'll be interesting to see which 'back earns the back-up spot behind Cotton. Shifty runner Bradley Randle seems to have the advantage, although bruising 'back Cam Marshall from Arizona State would actually compliment Cotton's stature and identical running style to that of Randle. This is a very inexperienced position on the Bombers with a very small sample size to evaluate. 

Receivers: B-

Starters: Nick Moore, Clarence Denmark, Darvin Adams, Lavasier Tuinei, Rory Kohlert*
Reserves: Julian Feoli-Gudino*, Toney Clemons, Addison Richards#*, Ja-Mes Logan, Kris Bastien*, Ezra Millington*, Jhomo Gordon, Jordan Reaves* 

If it weren't for having two bona-fide elite receivers in Nick Moore and Clarence Denmark, the overall grade of this position would be much worse. Winnipeg's two 1000 yard receivers will be leaned on heavily, as there's not much talent behind them. Quarterback Drew Willy will need tall receivers Darvin Adams and Lavasier Tuinei to step up and excel in their increased roles after signing in Manitoba's capital from Toronto and British Columbia, respectively. I'm not impressed with any of the international rookie free agent signings Winnipeg picked up this winter, so evidently, I'm not anticipating any of these rookies to break out or do very much this season. Don't be surprised if both Nick Moore and Clarence Denmark surpass or flirt with the 1000-yard plateau (should they stay healthy) for the second time in their careers. This is a thin receiving corps that needs Aaron Kelly re-signed. 

Offensive line: A

Starters: Stanley Bryant, Chris Greaves*, Dominic Picard*, Mathias Goossen*, Marc Dile
Reserves: Sukh Chungh, Patrick Neufeld*, Jace Daniels, Devin Tyler, Quinn Everett*, David Mims, Corey Lewis, Thomas Griffiths*

After having Drew Willy drop back behind arguably the worst offensive line in 2014, the Bombers now boast an elite (and expensive) group of hogs. Dominic Picard, a seasoned veteran who's considered one of the best centres in the league, will replace Steve Morley in the middle while back-to-back All-Star left tackle Stanley Bryant came over from Calgary to also join the Blue and Gold. Chris Greaves is a solid national starting guard while Patrick Neufeld will battle Winnipeg's 2014 and 2015 first round picks Mathias Goossen and Sukh Chungh for the starting duties at right guard. The Bombers suddenly have both solid starters and fantastic depth along the offensive line just one off-season after allowing a league-high 71 sacks in 2014.

Defensive line: B

Starters: DE Greg Peach, DT Bryant Turner Jr., DT Zach Anderson, DE Jamaal Westerman*
Reserves: Jake Thomas*, Derrell Johnson, Deantre Harlan, Kashawn Fraser, Thaddeus Gibson, Ivan Brown*, Louie Richardson*, Marvin Booker, Nate Collins

The signing of NFL veteran Jamaal Westerman completely changed my perspective on this defensive line. Winnipeg now has an elite pass-rusher in Westerman to accompany solid starter Greg Peach on the edge. Zach Anderson and Bryant Turner Jr aren't the biggest interior defensive lineman in the league, but like Peach, they're two solid starters who have each had a very good season recently. The Bombers also boast good depth, particularly newly signed CFL rookie Derrell Johnson. Johnson has good size for a defensive end at 255lbs and also had an impressive college career at East Carolina. Canadian depth behind Jamaal Westerman is also a non-issue, as Winnipeg signed veteran national Ivan Brown from Toronto in free agency to join Louie Richardson at defensive end. The Bombers also have the option to start Jake Thomas at defensive tackle. Winnipeg has quietly assembled a very strong defensive line to compete in the West Division. 

Linebackers: B

Starters: SLB Don Unamba, MLB Sammy Brown, WLB Sam Hurl*
Reserves: Denicos Allen, Garrett Waggoner*, Jesse Briggs*, Greg Newman*, Demetrius Wright, Khalil Bass, Rodney Lamar, Kenny Rate

While six of the seven international linebackers listed are CFL rookies, I'm a big fan of the players the Bombers have brought in to compete. Middle linebacker Sammy Brown (6'2", 240lbs) has a few years of NFL experience and led the entire NCAA with 30 tackles for a loss in his senior season with Houston to go along with 93 tackles in 14 games. Denicos Allen also had an impressive collegiate career, earning All-American nods as a senior with Michigan State in 2013 where he totalled 98 tackles, 16.5 tackles for a loss and 5.5 sacks. It doesn't stop there; I'm most impressed the Canadian 'backers on the depth chart here in Winnipeg. Sam Hurl came over from Saskatchewan to start at weak side linebacker and behind him, the Bombers have 2014 second round pick Jesse Briggs and another solid back-up in Greg Newman. Garrett Waggoner was also selected yesterday in the supplemental draft, where the Bombers gave up their 2016 first round pick to select the former Dartmouth University safety/ linebacker. Waggoner likely would have been the first defensive player taken off the board in the 2015 draft had he been ruled a national player earlier. Although this group has not played a down yet together, it's clear that this linebacker corps is an upgrade over the terrible group last year. The Bombers earned a "B" grade for the lack of experience and continuity. 

Secondary: A-

Starters: Chris Randle (CB), Demond Washington (HB), Bruce Johnson (HB), Matt Bucknor* (CB), Maurice Leggett (S)
Reserves: Johnny Adams, Teague Sherman*, Troy Stoudemire, Derek Jones*, Gabe Lynn, Winston Wright, Dan West*, Brandan Morgan#, Shea Pierre*, Justin Warden#, Ryan Mouton, Ryan Steed

The Bombers' secondary was easily the best- and most talented- group on the struggling Blue Bomber defence in 2014. GM Kyle Walters was able to re-sign Demond Washington and national cornerback Matt Bucknor to contract extensions, while also adding rookie Johnny Adams from Michigan State University to provide even more depth. The Bombers have great Canadian depth in their passing defence as well. Behind Matt Bucknor, the Bombers have 2014 and 2015 second round picks Derek Jones and Brandon Morgan, while Teague Sherman, who had arguably the best season of any Canadian strong-side linebacker, will join Dan West in backing-up international safety Maurice Leggett.

Special Teams: A

Kicker: Lirim Hajrullahu*, Anthony Santella*

Punter: Lirim Hajrullahu*, Anthony Santella*

Returners: Troy Stoudemire, Demond Washington, Maurice Leggett

Perhaps the Bombers' biggest surprise in Mike O'Shea's rookie season as head coach was the emergence of undrafted rookie Canadian kicker/punter Lirim Hajrullahu. Hajrullahu was named the Western Division's Most Outstanding Special Teams Player while performing both kicking and punting duties for the Blue and Gold. The return game seems to be in good hands with defensive back Troy Stoudemire carrying the load. The former Minnesota Golden Gopher possess' great speed and is powerful North-south runner. He averaged 12.9 yards per punt return and had a 65 yard touchdown against Saskatchewan. 

Final Analysis:

When Kyle Walters was named General Manager late in the 2013 season, his predecessor Joe Mack left him with a terrible roster that had very little Canadian talent. Fast forward seventeen months, and Walters has assembled a team with well above average Canadian depth in just two CFL drafts. Some notable additions that Walters have added just through free agency or via trade are Jamaal Westerman, Dominic Picard, Sam Hurl, Matt Bucknor, Julian Feoli-Gudino, Lirim Hajrullahu, Ivan Brown, Louie Richardson and Kris Bastian. 

Walters and co. have also done a great job finding talent down south, largely thanks to CEO Wade Miller allowing the Bombers to invest in scouting and spend to the salary cap limit. Just in the 2013-2014 off-season alone, the Bombers found break-out players Nic Grigsby, Maurice Leggett, Bruce Johnson and Paris Cotton through try-outs and free agent camps. 

The Bombers now boast a very talented roster. They addressed their needs at linebacker and along both the offensive and defensive lines. They also have great depth at those positions, something they evidently lacked in 2014. As a Bomber fan, you shouldn't be satisfied with simply making the playoffs; actually winning a game in November is something this team needs to do.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Roster Report Card: Ottawa Redblacks


Another off-season has come and gone. The annual draft, mini-camps and roster transactions have all been completed as teams look to begin training camp. Some teams look much better on paper, while others lost some key players and do not. So how does your team look on paper? Today, I take a look at the new and improved Ottawa Redblacks football club.

* denotes National player
# denotes 2015 draft pick

Quarterbacks: B

Starter: Henry Burris 
Reserves: Thomas DeMarco, Danny O'Brian, Brock Jensen
Ottawa's playoff hopes may solely rely on one position: quarterback. Henry Burris wasn't put in a position to succeed last season in terms of play-calling, protection and receivers, but GM Marcel Desjardins addressed those issues and gave the 40 year-old Burris and his accuracy woes no excuse not to succeed in 2015. If his age forces him to give up the starting duties to Thomas DeMarco, the direction of this team could trend up or fall south. I wouldn't take the latter, as DeMarco has looked good since his days in BC. Nonetheless, the Redblacks will be hoping to get one more year out of their starting Hall of Fame signal-caller. 

Running backs: B-
Starter: Chevon Walker 
Reserves: Jeremiah Johnson, Akeem Shavers, Torrance Hunt, Guillaume Bourassa*

Ottawa's run game will be in good hands during the team's sophomore season. Chevon Walker played like an elite 'back before he broke his arm, while Jeremiah Johnson out of Oregon averaged a tremendous 6.3 yards per carry on 38 attempts. With Mike Gibson out as offensive coordinator and former Grey Cup winning quarterback Jason Maas in, Walker won't have to worry about getting under 10 carries per game as he did when Gibson called the plays. I have high expectations for this group behind a revamped offensive line. 

Receivers: A+

Starters: Chris Williams, Maurice Price, Ernest Jackson, Greg Ellingson, Marcus Henry
Reserves: Brad Sinopoli*, Khalil Paden, Matt Carter*, Scott MacDonell*, Jamill Smith, Jake Harty#, L.J Castille, Michael Campbell, Lanear Sampson 

Marcel Desjardins identified his receiving corps as a weak group on the 2-16 Redblacks roster and wasted no time bringing Henry Burris new weapons. Newcomers Williams and Price are established CFL pass-catchers, while Jackson, Sinopoli and Ellingson each have tremendous upside. Ottawa parted ways with inconsistent starters Wallace Miles, Kierrie Johnson and Dobson Collins while keeping their best receiver of 2014, Marcus Henry. When a team invests as much money in receivers as Ottawa did, success is expected, and this elite group must deliver.

Offensive Line: B+

Starters: LT SirVincent Rogers, LG Jon Gott*, C Alex Mateas#, RG J'Michael Deane*, RT Nolan Macmillan*
Reserves: Matthew Albright*, Colin Kelly, Hugo Desmarais*, Anthony Barrett*, Aaron Wheaton* 

On paper, Ottawa's starting five looks as talented as your average group in the CFL. 1st overall pick Alex Mateas should make an impact immediately, while Jon Gott is one year removed from an All-Star season. SirVincent Rogers and Canadian Nolan Macmillan will be expected to start at tackle, and if they can build on decent 2014 seasons remains to be seen. Macmillan showed promise as a rare Canadian tackle in his rookie season and would pay huge dividends for Ottawa if he can stick on the outside. J'Michael Deane seems serviceable but remains a question mark, as does the poor depth behind the starting hogs. Injuries to starting lineman could play a huge part in the Redblacks season if they pile up as they did in 2014. Overall, I feel this group has promise to be a fearsome offensive line should Mateas, Deane, Macmillan and Rogers to prove their worthiness while staying healthy. 

Defensive Line: B-

Starters: DE Justin Capicciotti*, DT Keith Shologan*, DT Chase Baker, DE Jonathan Williams
Reserves: Moton Hopkins, Justin Phillips*, Connor Williams*, Zack Evans*, Kalonji Kashama*, Andrew Marshall*, Marlon Smith, Eric Harper, Vincent Desloges*, Nigel Romick*, Forrest Hightower, Matt Acree

Ottawa's defensive line as a whole is far from spectacular, but defensive end Justin Capicciotti most certainly is. Capicciotti was the lone bright spot along the D-line in 2014, where the Redblacks finished last or second last in every category applicable. After finishing dead last in quarterback sacks with 37, they are still without a second effective defensive end as Jonathon Williams' 292 pound frame is best suited as a tackle. National DT Keith Shologan will hopefully return to his 2013 form while I think rookie free agent signing Chase Baker will take over the other defensive tackle spot from Moton Hopkins. An underwhelming group on paper, I don't expect this front four to improve nearly as much as some of Ottawa's other positions.

Linebackers: C+

Starters: SLB Antoine Pruneau*, MLB Travis Brown, WLB (OPEN)
Reserves: James Green*, Jordan Verdone*, Damaso Munoz, Justin Cudworth, David Hinds, Malik Jackson, John Kanongata'a

Unfortunately, I have no idea who will replace team M.O.P. Jasper Simmons at weak side linebacker and frankly, no one in the reserves stands out to me. However, I can guarantee Travis Brown and 2014 first round pick Antoine Pruneau will start again in their sophomore seasons. Pruneau's fantastic rookie season has him looking like a potential superstar while Brown's stats were more than serviceable. Ottawa's trade for Maurice Price could hurt the team more than originally expected with no starting-calibre international depth in place behind the departed Jasper Simmons. 

Secondary: B-

Starters: CB Jovon Johnson, HB Jerrell Gavins, HB Brandyn Thompson, CB Abdul Kanneh, S Jermaine Robinson 
Reserves: Fred Gaines, Brandon McDonald, Korey Lindsay, Hugo Lopez*, John Stevenson, Jacques Washington 

I really like the pieces Ottawa has in place and feel like their secondary will be one of their strongest positions this season. Continuity wise, all of the Redblacks' starters started multiple games in 2014; they will only be without Canadian safety Eric Fraser, who was in and out of lineup down the stretch. Starting at corner will be Jovon Johnson, the 2011 Most Outstanding Defender and lone veteran of the group, who has likely done his share of mentoring Jerrell Gavins, Brandyn Thompson, Abdul Kanneh and Jermaine Robinson; all rookies in 2014 who showed tons of potential. When you have a group this inexperienced playing behind a shaky defensive line, the team's numbers in their inaugural season don't look great, but individually, Gavins and Thompson put up great statistics while Kanneh looked good in limited action late in the year. Depth could be an issue, but as far as the starters go, Ottawa's secondary could breakout in 2015. 

Special Teams: C+

Kicker: John Mark*, Zack Ramirez
Punter: Trey Barrow 
Returners: Chris Williams, Jamill Smith, Abdul Kanneh 

One of Ottawa's biggest losses this season was K/P Brett Maher, who was severely injured before mini-camp and was cut. The Redblacks will now observe as Canadian Johnny Football competes with internationals Trey Barrow and Zack Ramirez for a roster spot. Maher's injury could end up a blessing in disguise, as Mark or Ramirez may emerge as a better kicker while punting averagely. In the return game, Ottawa's big free agent acquisition Chris Williams will handle the punt return duties. The former Ti-Cat has returned 6 touchdowns in his CFL career and is the most explosive player of the last decade. 

Final Analysis: 

The on-field product is far and away better than it was in Ottawa's inaugural season; GM Marcel Desjardins really worked some magic this off-season. The two most improved positions- receiver and offensive line- were the teams worst in 2014 and are now suddenly their best. Desjardins' best move may have been the hire of offensive coordinator Jason Maas, who will take advantage of Ottawa's talented running backs while working with Henry Burris. 

As far as Canadian talent goes, the Redblacks are beginning to look good in terms of the depth behind their starters. Pruneau, Mateas and MacMillan are stars in the making while left guard Jon Gott was an All-Star in 2013 and defensive tackle Keith Shologan is a proven starter. Having free agent acquisition WR Brad Sinopoli come off the bench is a testimony to the seven solid national starters in place and will also help Burris out even more having five American wideouts on the receiving end of his bullets.  

At the end of last year, the average position grade for this 2-16 team likely would have been a C+. Seven months later, the Redblacks have assembled a scary offence on paper and an improving defence on the other end. 

If I'm an Ottawa Redblacks, I'm getting my season tickets renewed ASAP.

Monday, May 11, 2015

2015 CFL Mock Draft 3.0

2015 CFL Mock Draft 3.0 

The dust has settled following the completion of most NFL mini-camps, where numerous CFL draft prospects competed in hopes of landing a contract. And now, it's time for me to complete my third and final mock draft featuring the 2015 class.

Round One: 

1:1 Ottawa Redblacks: C Alex Mateas, UConn 

Alex Mateas is the perfect candidate to join the Ottawa Redblacks as the first overall pick. The 22 year old out of UConn is an Ottawa native, has experience playing against Americans, is tough, athletic and, best of all, he's out of NFL options at this point. The Redblacks are in need of a third interior offensive lineman to start, and that is exactly what Mateas will do.
1:2 Winnipeg Blue Bombers: OT Danny Groulx, Laval

The Bombers have been dreaming of starting a superstar Canadian offensive tackle for a long time. Enter Groulx, a likely CFL All-Star for years to come with the Blue Bombers. The nasty Laval product is arguably the most polished lineman available (aside from newly-signed Philadelphia Eagle Brett Boyko, that is) and proved so at the CFL combine in March, where he was victorious on every rep during one-on-ones. 

1:3 Toronto Argonauts: G Sukh Chungh, Calgary 

Don't expect Jim Barker's Argonauts to be on the clock for very long when they see Sukh Chungh available. Aside from 2013 draft pick Matt Sewell, the Argos have very little depth behind an aging offensive line and adding Chungh would solidify his position in Toronto for years to come. The Argos can't go wrong with drafting a nasty guard with striking comparisons to Saskatchewan's Branden Labatte to play alongside Tyler Holmes. 

1:4 Montreal Alouettes: WR Lemar Durant, Simon Fraser

The Alouettes have a couple options with the fourth overall selection. Jim Popp could go with the safe pick and draft DT Daryl Waud out of Western University to form a solid duo with Michael Klassen, or he could attempt to hit a home run in SFU's Lemar Durant. Knowing Popp, I think he steps up to the plate and swings for the Grand Slam. Anthony Calvillo was fortunate to have Ben Cahoon throughout his career, so perhaps Popp will try to provide his new pivot, Jonathon Crompton, with a potential Canadian superstar of his own in Lemar Durant.
1:5 BC Lions: C Sean McEwen, Calgary

This pick is a no-brainer for the Lions organization. Protecting QB Travis Lulay is BC's number one priority and their offensive line hasn't done a very good job of that recently. Centre Matt Norman has been inconsistent since moving into the middle and would benefit from a position change back to guard if McEwen is ready to start, which I believe he is.

1:6 Saskatchewan Roughriders: DB Chris Ackie, Wilfred Laurier

Daryl Waud or Chris Ackie? This was the hardest decision to make in the entire mock draft. After looking long and hard at Saskatchewan's depth chart, I think they'll take the versatile Chris Ackie. While an all-Western duo featuring 2014 2nd round pick Dylan Ainsworth and potential 2015 pick Daryl Waud would be fantastic for the future, the Riders currently need to add Canadian depth behind national linebackers Keenan MacDougall and Shea Emry. Ackie can play safety, halfback and SAM linebacker for the Riders, therefore drafting this combine star could pay huge dividends for them in the future. 

1:7 Edmonton Eskimos: OL Jacob Ruby, Richmond

The Eskimos absolutely cannot afford to pass up on an offensive lineman in the first two rounds for the sixth consecutive year. They already boast a poor starting group of Canadian lineman and need to begin to re-stock the cupboards after seeing Mike Reilly take a beating for two straight seasons. Ruby will likely make the switch from tackle in the NCAA to guard in the CFL, where his 6'7", 315 pound frame and inability to defend speed rushers best suits him. 

1:8 Hamilton Tiger Cats: SB Nic Demski, Manitoba

If you thought Hamilton was in need of Canadian pass-catchers before Spencer Watt went down with a season ending injury, you'll know that now, they are more desperate than ever to add another receiver to the mix. The Tabbies really only have recently acquired 2013 2nd round pick SJ Haidara (7 catches in 2 seasons) behind Andy Fantuz, therefore Demski will contribute in a rotational role for Hamilton in his rookie season. Keep in mind, Andy Fantuz is getting up there in age and is a pending free agent next off-season.

1:9 Calgary Stampeders: OT Brett Boyko, UNLV 

The Stamps are fortunate enough to have enough Canadian talent across the board to invest their first round draft pick in an NFL-bound offensive lineman. There's a very good chance Boyko doesn't last long with the Philadelphia Eagles after signing as an undrafted free agent. If that's the case, the Stamps will add a ratio breaking offensive tackle immediately to their starting lineup. 

Round Two: 

2:1 Ottawa Redblacks: DT Daryl Waud, Western

Everybody associated with R-Nation would be absolutely thrilled if this Western star fell out of the first round due to team's drafting based on their positional needs. Waud has the potential to develop into a special player for Ottawa while also contributing as a rookie for the Redblacks should Keith Shologan go down with an injury. Ottawa will take Waud without hesitating. 

2:2 Winnipeg Blue Bombers: DL Maxx Forde, Idaho

At 6'3" and 271 pounds, Forde has the body of a CFL defensive tackle, however, his impressive 4.78 second 40-yard dash proves he could also play defensive end. With his incredible athleticism for a 271 pounder, Forde has the potential to become a force inside as a three-tech. Winnipeg is also looking to add younger depth behind newly-signed pass-rusher Jamaal Westerman, which the Idaho product could offer as well.

2:3 Toronto Argonauts: MLB Byron Archambeault, Montreal

Just like the next player selected in this mock, Archambeault had an excellent combine. After recording 46 reps on the bench press, the big man saw his draft stock improve after clocking fantastic times during the shuttle and three cone tests. Archambeault would provide depth behind first-year starting middle linebacker Cory Greenwood, and may also line up beside his new partner-in-crime sometime in the near future. 

2:4 Montreal Alouettes: DB Tevaugn Campbell, Regina

When a team has as many talented Canadians on their roster as Montreal does, they are able to take the best player available with each pick. Without a doubt, the star of the combine, Tevaughn Campbell, is that player. The always speedy, former Regina Ram could develop into a ratio breaking starting cornerback for the veteran Alouettes in the future. In the meantime, Campbell would be a great option for Montreal to use as a gunner on their punt team. 

2:5 BC Lions: RB Shaquille Murray-Lawrence, UNLV

Murray made a splash at the combine after clocking the fastest electronically-timed 40-yard dash in the CFL history with a 4.41, only to later have his brand new record smashed by Tevaughn Campbell's 4.35 time. Lawrence was productive down south with UNLV and ran for 552 rushing yards in 2014 with 9 touchdowns. The Lions will reap the rewards of finally getting another capable national tailback behind Andrew Harris. 

2:6 Winnipeg Blue Bombers: WR Addison Richards, Regina

Like Hamilton, the Bombers are also desperately looking to add a promising Canadian receiver in the draft. Richards may not have the sky-high potential that Durant and Demski have, but will likely develop into a solid starter in the future. A first rounder on tape in most draft classes, Richards is a player the Bombers will not hesitate to select if they decide against trading up for Winnipeg native and former Manitoba Bison Nic Demski.

2:7 Edmonton Eskimos: OL Karl Lavoie, Laval

Lavoie was originally viewed closer to the top tier of offensive lineman available until an injury forced him to miss the national combine. After testing well at a recent workout in front of CFL teams, Lavoie's stock is back on the rise. Similarly to Ruby, this CIS tackle will probably move inside to guard, which is no big deal for the Esks considering their depth of national receivers and defensive lineman doesn't make a fourth starting lineman all that much of a benefit. After losing Matthew O'Donnell to the NFL while already having an aged and mediocre O-line, utilizing their first two picks on two hogs is the right thing for Edmonton to do.

2:8 Hamilton Tiger Cats: James Bodanis, Michigan State

James Bodanis may have the highest ceiling of any prospect available. Despite only playing two years of football in his life and one as an offensive lineman, Bodanis did enough to attract attention from CFL scouts up north. The Ti-Cats will look to upgrade their aged and mediocre offensive line that protects Zach Collaros with this selection.

2:9 Calgary Stampeders: RB Tyler Varga, Yale

Varga shockingly went undrafted last week in the NFL draft and was signed by the Indianapolis Colts shortly after. While I'm confident Varga can make a living in the NFL as a special teamer, it should be noted that it's a lot easier to cut a player that went undrafted rather than one that the team invested a draft pick in.

Round Three: 

3:1 Calgary Stampeders: LB Nick Shortill, McMaster 

Jon Hufnagel's Stamps have enough Canadian depth across the board at this point to take the best player available. The heart of McMaster's defence, Shortill possess' the speed and open-field tackling ability to become a special teams demon for years to come. 

3:2 Hamilton Tiger Cats: WR Jake Harty, Calgary

Even after adding Demski, Hamilton could still use another receiver. Harty compares well to Zach Collaros' favourite target, Luke Tasker, which essentially means he's a perfict fit for Tommy Condell's short pass offence.

3:3 Toronto Argonauts: DT Ese Mrabure Ajufo, Wilfred Laurier

The Argos would be smart to draft and develop more Canadian defensive line talent after changing up their starting NAT-INT ratio in a trade for DE Ricky Foley. Mrabure-Ajufo will compete for playing time right away.

3:4 Calgary Stampeders: SB Melvin Abankwah, St. Mary's

It was recently revealed that Abankwah tested positive for PEDs at the combine, but I don't think that will stop Calgary from picking up the former CIS runningback. With Brad Sinopoli gone to Ottawa, the Stamps, who typically dress more national receivers than most other teams, will look to pick up another National pass-catcher to develop. 

3:5 BC Lions: DT Brandon Tennant, 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 in the CFL as he did at Laval if he can get down to around 290 lbs. 

3:6 Hamilton Tiger Cats: LB Adam Konar, Calgary

For a team that doesn't start any Canadians at linebacker, the Ti-Cats are loaded with depth behind their International starters. Beau Landry, Frédéric Plésius and Marc Beswick are all solid contributors, but like any other team, Hamilton could always use another special teamer like Konar.

3:7 Edmonton Eskimos: DB Kwame Adjei 

The Eskimos lost Chris Rwawakumba to the Lions in free agency and have plenty of uncertainty regarding their current safeties. Aside from depth at safety, Adjei would also slot in well behind Alonzo Lawrence at Sam Linebacker while contributing on special teams. 

3:8 Saskatchewan Roughriders: LB/DE Ron Omara, St. Francis Xavier

It sometimes seems as though NFL teams are paying more attention to Ron Omara than CFL teams are. While I obviously say that jokingly, it's no joke that Omara attending an NFL regional combine and mini-camp shows Saskatchewan would be adding a talented football player behind incumbent starter Keenan MacDougall. 

3:9 Calgary Stampeders: G Campbell Allison, Eastern Michigan

A disastrous combine performance has Allison's draft stock plummeting south; right into the hands of the Calgary Stampeders. The Stamps will find a way to bring out the best of this NCAA product from Eastern Michigan. 

Monday, May 4, 2015

Eyes Light Up as Varga, Bridge Go Undrafted

Christian Covington was unsurprisingly the first Canadian-born prospect selected in the NFL draft this year. No one predicted he would also be the only.

The son of the CFL's all-time sack-leader Grover Covington, Christian played his college ball at Rice University and fell to the Houston Texans in the sixth round, 216th overall. The 6'2", 289-pound Junior ranked 1st overall in the CFL's annual scouting bureau and headlined a talented pool of Canadians eligible for the NFL draft.

Behind Covington in the rankings include Senior Bowl standout Tyler Varga of Yale, intriguing Quarterback Brandon Bridge of South Alabama, Offensive Tackle Brett Boyko of UNLV and Centre Alex Mateas out of UCONN. Shockingly, none of these Canadian-born stars had their name called during the NFL draft.

Varga (Colts) and Boyko (Eagles) were both snatched up immediately following the completion of the seventh and final round of the draft with undrafted free agent contracts. Bridge, surprisingly, settled to attend the Dallas Cowboys' rookie mini-camp despite being projected to be drafted sometime during day three.

Meanwhile, eight other (and counting) NCAA and CIS Canadian prospects- Mateas, Sukh Chungh, Sean McEwen, Lemar Durant, Jacob Ruby, Byron Archambault, Tevaughn Campbell and Daryl Waud- have all accepted NFL mini-camp invites.

All the mini-camp invites given to projected early-round CFL draft prospects show that NFL teams are keeping an eye on what's going on up north of the border. As a result, one big question suddenly looms: How will the large amount of NFL attention for CIS stars (and lack thereof for NCAA stars like Varga and Bridge) affect their CFL draft stocks as the draft approaches on May 12th?

Since the majority of the projected first round prospects will all be off to NFL mini-camps just before the CFL draft May 12th, it now becomes equally as risky for a team to alter their draft board based on the mini-camp invites than it is to keep it the same since most projected 1st-rounders received an invite.  The best bet for CFL teams may just be to leave their draft board (minus Varga and Bridge) as mini-camp invites don't mean anything unless the player is awarded a contract following the three day activity.
Unfortunately, possible contracts following the rookie camp may not be signed until after the completion of the CFL draft, therefore it doesn't seem smart for teams to try and predict who will receive a contract and who won't. Their best move may be to stick to their originally rankings formed by game-tape and combine performances, not minor NFL interest. Of course, teams that can't afford to wait a few months for their draft pick if they do in fact quickly earn a contract prior to May 12th will need to have a backup plan in place.

As for the three NCAA players who were expected to be drafted only to have to settle for a UDFA contract, their CFL draft stocks are surely on the rise.

Yale's Tyler Varga was originally projected to be a late-third, early-fourth round CFL selection due to NFL interest. After seeing Varga fail to be drafted down south, it wouldn't be surprising if a CFL team took the bruising runningback as early as the second round.

Varga, who missed the NFL combine due to injury, may only make it as far as training camp before being without an NFL contract. He may also have a stint (or more) as a solid special team player awaiting him. The latter of the two seems more likely, although it still makes more sense now for a CFL club to invest an early round pick in a potential ratio-changing back that could be an even better version of Jon Cornish.
Bridge, meanwhile, received his own fair share of hype following his final year of eligibility at South Alabama University. Dubbed an "intriguing, raw developmental project with potential" by NFL scouts, the Mississauga native was expected to surely be selected in the sixth or seventh round.

Up here in Canada, Bridge likely would have gone in a similar round during the CFL draft. Not anymore though, as Bridge will have to prove himself in mini-camp before he can hope to join Dallas' Quarterback group that already includes 2 undrafted free agents. Bridge's chance of making the Dallas Cowboys aren't looking as good as the could've had he been drafted.
In a league where we haven't seen a Canadian dominate the quarterback position since Russ Jackson in the '60s, Bridge going undrafted has helped his case on why a team should snatch up the most talented QB we've seen in awhile during the middle rounds of the CFL draft on May 12th.

Although Canada only ended up producing one NFL draft pick in 2015, it's quite evident Canadian football players are gathering more attention than ever from our neighbours' NFL teams down south.
And while it's helps build a good reputation for the country, it only complicates things for our own CFL teams. How they approach this situation will be hard to predict and interesting to observe; Good luck to those creating mock drafts this year!

As for the coaches and general managers around the league, knowing the Canadian you're drafting is good enough to be apart of an NFL team can't necessarily be a bad problem, though. Let's see how it all plays out.