Draft notebook will be a weekly series where I share my thoughts from the past week of watching film, hearing what CFL Draft sources are reported to be saying, and general CFL Draft tid-bits. An idea from Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller, Draft Notebook will hopefully be a good way for those interested in the draft to follow closely along as I comb through the tape of dozens and dozens of Canadian prospects in this year’s class.
It’s become apparent that over the last decade or so, Canadian prospects are receiving more attention than ever south of the border from NFL scouts. Players such as Israel Idonije, Laurent Duvernay-Tardif and, most recently, David Onyemata, have helped put University football on the map.
These Canucks all participated in the annual East-West Shrine Game, the second-most important College football All-Star game behind the Senior Bowl and a huge platform for the best Canadian-born football players to showcase their talent against closer to CFL-level competition.
This year’s Shrine Game features three very highly-touted CFL draft prospects in Mississippi State LT Justin Senior (scouting bureau rank: 1), Laval TE Antony Auclair (rank: 2) and Manitoba RG Geoff Gray (rank: 5). Here’s what I’ll be looking for from them each individually in the Shrine Game in terms of their CFL draft stock.
Senior: From a CFL draft stock perspective, Senior has the least to prove considering he started (and excelled in) three seasons at left tackle in the SEC. But I’d like to see Senior play with an aggressive edge in the game, displaying some piss-n-vinegar and more of a mean-guy attitude. This aggressiveness is not what you’d associate with Senior’s play-style during his time at Mississippi State – he did not look for defensive backs to eat on long plays downfield; he did not go looking for players to ear-hole on scramble drills; he didn’t ruffle any feathers at the end of plays; and he really didn’t seem to desire contact and drive through blocks at the point of attack, instead often shuffling and sliding to mirror a defender (although some of that had to do with scheme). Scouts love for their offensive linemen to play with an edge and be dirty, and with his NFL dream right in front of him, I want to see if Senior subconsciously releases a real competitive fire during the week.
Auclair: Admittedly, I haven’t dove into the Laval product’s tape yet. But considering most offenses up North don’t really have a defined position for true pass-catching tight ends – likely because tight ends with Auclair’s size and skill aren’t usually overlooked by NFL teams – Auclair can make himself a lot of money in St. Petersburg, Florida. Is he an extremely athletic H-back with unique abilities, or an inside slot-back poised for a unique role? Is he truly good enough for an offense to bring back the Y-TE position in a CFL offense, and what is the value for this position when drafting?
Gray: The University of Manitoba product has already proven just how much of a physical specimen he is – that’s why he’s so highly touted – but the Shrine Game will be a good opportunity for scouts to get a look at his technique against some great players. Playing without a one-yard neutral zone will be a good test to see just how fast Gray can operate, particularly with his hands. Although he’s not used to playing with defenders aligning just inches away, which is a little unfair in terms of evaluating his play, I’d like to see Gray answer some questions about his hand placement, which was sometimes erratic during his Bison career. Gray’s pad level isn’t always ideal either, and we’ll see if he’s naturally strong enough to still win without great knee bend against much better competition than he faced in the Canada West.
1. Justin Senior is a legit blue-chip prospect. He’s not currently projected to be drafted in the NFL draft, but I could see that maybe changing with a good Shrine Game performance – and if not, he’ll be near the top of the board for most teams immediately following the draft as a priority free agent. I’ve already published a formal scouting report of Senior, and not that Senior will be in consideration for the number-1 overall pick due to NFL interest, but he’s considerably better than last year’s top pick, Oklahoma’s Josiah St. John. Like, it’s night and day.
2. After last year’s draft class featured a very mediocre crop of pass-catchers, the receiver position is back in a big way this year. Some big names such as Rashaun Simonise (Calgary), who already has NFL experience, Mitchell Picton (Regina), Danny Vandervoort (McMaster) and Nathaniel Behar (Carleton) give us an incredible top-tier of receivers. I’ve hardly scratched the surface in terms of diving into the tape of these guys, but it would not be ludicrous to suggest that any four of these receivers would have been the first receiver off the board in last year’s class.
3. Unlike last year, the 2017 crop of offensive linemen lacks a large top-tier, but it is tremendously deep nonetheless. Geoff Gray is probably a lock for the first round, and Idaho’s Mason Woods could see his stock rise, but in terms of elite prospects, that seems to be about it at this juncture of my draft studies so far this year. 2016 saw six offensive linemen selected in the first 10 picks. Despite offensive linemen being valued like quarterbacks are in the NFL draft, I wouldn’t be surprised if less than half of that number of offensive linemen are selected in the top-10 of the this year’s draft.
LT Jordan Filippelli, University of Calgary
Scouting Bureau rank: N/R
A left tackle at one of the Canada West’s top schools, Filippelli has the ideal height and weight to be a successful tackle at the professional. He’s built like a guard, though, with a stockier lower-body build.
Filippelli was well-coached to play with his hands up while at Calgary, as he was often the first Dino offensive linemen to get his hands up upon the snap of the ball, and he keeps them high like a boxer throughout his pass-set. He has good vision and reacts to stunts and blitzes with poise and awareness.
The native of Sherwood Park, AB sends a powerful, shocking initial punch, which helps him get leverage to begin his block. He has a strong torso, occasionally showing the ability to relocate defenders when his technique is good enough to create advantageous angles for his running back. Filippelli possesses serviceable functional strength, and though he’ll need coaching and could take longer than some at adjusting to a new position, he has many desired traits of a guard prospect.
First and foremost, its clear almost immediately upon turning on the tape that Filippelli will transition to guard when he enters the CFL. Ignoring other important factors such as quickness and technique, he simply doesn’t move around with the smoothness, gracefulness and agility of a true tackle.
The biggest red flag for Filippelli is his posture, an element that is the very root of all blocks and is very difficult to coach, seeing as it’s deeply-ingrained in muscle memory. The fourth-year Dino has porous pad level, resulting in him sometimes struggling to set the anchor against bull-rushes despite his raw strength not being too bad. Posture is one of the keys to getting leverage, and Filippelli often struggles maintaining a slight forward lean – sometimes he’s leaning too far forward, and sometimes he’s standing too straight.
Filippelli is very susceptible to inside moves. He often over-sets in his pass-set and lacks elite strength to stonewall the inside rush. As we also see in his blocking in the second level, Filippelli’s lack of change of direction skills doesn’t help him defend inside moves either. He’ll need lots of work on his footwork for run block – especially considering he’ll be transitioning to guard – when professional coaches get their hands on him, particularly with the aim of his first-step. Incorrectly stepping to, for example, the outside hip on a fan-block could be the difference between a touchdown run and a four-yard loss, regardless of the lineman’s physical traits.
Filippelli is not quick enough to play tackle, and had problems staying square in his pass-sets against more athletic defensive ends because he couldn’t keep up with raw foot speed. He also lacks hand speed, and has a hard time timing his punch, which led to his hands being swatted more often than scouts would like to see from offensive tackle prospects.
Projected draft placement: Rounds 3-4
Grade: 3.1 (out of possible 6.5)
Two Names to Watch For
1. LB Jordan Herdman, SFU
A two-time recipient of GNAC Defensive Player of the Year award, Herdman was shockingly not ranked the in the top-20 of the CFL scouting bureau’s December rankings. A strong, twitchy inside linebacker in a defensive end’s body, Herdman also set the GNAC conference single-season record for tackles with 165 in 2014.
2. DE Evan Foster, Manitoba
Foster, the Defensive MVP in the 2016 East-West Bowl (3 tackles – two for loss – and 1 sack), rode that wave of momentum from the All-Star game and carried it into his fifth season with the Herd. Foster has good size at 6’1″, 245-lbs and could be the best edge-bender in the class. He often dropped into coverage as a linebacker on passing downs – which explains why he recorded merely 4 sacks in his senior season – and was used in a variety of ways along Manitoba’s defensive line. Foster should project as an excellent special-teams player early in his career/development as a defensive end once he enters the CFL.