With the CFL combine in the rear-view mirror, we’re officially in the home-stretch of the journey towards the 2017 CFL Draft.
Here’s my second mock draft of the 2017 class.
1:1 – Winnipeg Blue Bombers: NT Eli Ankou, UCLA
Ranked no. 4 on my big board, Ankou is arguably the best player available sans serious NFL interest. Kyle Walters will likely heavily consider University of Manitoba product Geoff Gray here – the Bombers have two first round picks, and can afford to wait a year while Gray tests his luck down south – but Ankou’s talents may be too good to pass on. A two-gap nose tackle in UCLA’s 3-4 defense, Ankou also fills a positional need for the Bombers. Despite releasing Keith Shologan to save money, Kyle Walters has built a roster that requires a Canadian defensive tackle to enter the starting lineup if an injury to a national starter elsewhere occurs. The Bombers need to have a quality defensive tackle ready, and I’m not sure Jake Thomas can consistently be that guy.
Being a fringe starter in his early years is not all Ankou offers, of course. Ankou has all the traits to develop into an elite Canadian gap-plugger. Coming from the scheme that UCLA ran, Ankou is going to need time to develop his pass-rushing skills, but he already possesses the needed first-step, hand speed and pad level to excel. As a run defender, Ankou has excellent vision of the backfield and, with 91 tackles in 22 games as 0-tech who is responsible for stacking guards and reacting to the running back, he’s proven to have the upper-body strength and the technique to shed linemen and make a play on the ball. He’s going to be a good one for the blue and gold.
READ MORE: Eli Ankou Scouting Report
1:2 – Saskatchewan Roughriders: OG Mason Woods, Idaho
The Riders have plenty of holes to fill in terms of Canadian content, but none more pressing than along the offensive line following the retirement of Chris Best. Veteran guard Brendan LaBatte, meanwhile, has also been rumored to have recently contemplated retirement. Longtime backup Matt Vonk would start at guard if the season started today, with last year’s first-overall pick, Josiah St. John, as all the Riders really have for depth.
Second overall is a slight reach for a player of Mason Woods’ caliber, but he fills a huge positional need for the Riders and has less NFL interest than Manitoba’s Geoff Gray. At 6’9″ and 324-lbs, Woods is a mountain of a man with decent movement skills as well as strong arms and hands. He has obvious issues in the bending of his waist and reliance on reach. Though his bench press numbers don’t show it because of his long arms, Woods has excellent upper-body strength. Woods’ technical issues are largely coachable, and as a mountain for a man with above-average athleticism, the Idaho product has a large ceiling.
READ MORE: Mason Woods Scouting Report
1:3 – BC Lions: LB Christophe Mulumba Tshimanga, Maine
With WR Shawn Gore nearing retirement due to concussion issues, BC will likely consider McMaster’s Danny Vandervoort here. The potential that Mulumba Tshimanga offers the Lions, however, could be too much to pass up. With David Foucalt and and Brett Blaszko in the pipeline, the Lions can afford to pass on an offensive lineman, and there’s no defensive tackle that warrants a top-3 pick with Ankou off the board. With Adam Bighill now in the NFL, there’s a long-term opening at weak-side linebacker for the Lions.
Mulumba Tshimanga has the traits to develop into a starting linebacker. Despite weighing in at 237-lbs, the Montreal native put up some impressive numbers at his pro day, including a 4.77 40-yard dash and 9’9″ broad jump. He’s an incredibly instinctive linebacker, reading the offensive backfield at high speed and reacting on time. Mulumba Tshimanga is one of the more pro-ready players in the class, and will dominate on special-teams in his first season.
READ MORE: Christophe Mulumba Tshimanga Scouting Report
1:4 – Hamilton Tiger-Cats: SB Danny Vandervoort, McMaster
The Ti-Cats will jump for joy if Vandervoort is still available when they are on the clock at fourth-overall. He’s a top-tier talent, a local kid and makes the most sense from a positional stand-point for Hamilton in the first round. Hamilton, who’s in the same class as Calgary when it comes to Canadian content, are without one pressing need, but let Matt Coates walk in free agency and have still not re-signed Andy Fantuz.
Vandervoort compensates for a lack of blazing speed with refined route-running skills and reliable hands. He uses the density of his 6’1″, 203-lb frame to out-leverage defensive backs on in-breaking route and will dominate at the catch point. Vandervoort would be a home-run pick for the Ti-Cats.
1:5 – Edmonton Eskimos: OG Geoff Gray, Manitoba
The Eskimos can afford to wait a year for Gray, who’s easily the best player available here, as veteran guard Simeon Rottier likely has one more season in him – even as just a backup – before hanging ’em up. The Eskimos have Danny Groulx waiting in the wings, but will need to add another top-end prospect to their cupboard for when Rottier departs.
There’s no denying Gray’s evident elite-level strength and athleticism – he’s an Olympic lifter and posted some eye-opening testing numbers at his pro day. He does, however, have some glaring technical issues, particularly in regards to his pad level and hand usage, but has elite athleticism as a base for coaches to work with. Henderson State’s Dondre Wright makes sense from a positional stand-point, but Gray is absolutely worth the risk, and the Esks may be able to pickup Calgary’s Robert Woodson in round two.
READ MORE: Geoff Gray Scouting Report
1:6 – Winnipeg Blue Bombers: WR Nate Behar, Carleton
The Bombers once again reach for positional need at six, but Behar is a first-round talent who offers a long-term solution for the blue and gold at Z-receiver. The Bombers’ biggest hole in their Canadian content comes at receiver, where after years of mediocrity with the likes of Rory Kohlert and Julian Feoli-Gudino, the Bombers still lack a starting-caliber national pass-catcher.
Behar is a high character, well-rounded receiver who could dominate on special-teams early in his career. At 5’11.3″ and 204-lbs, Behar is built nicely and has 4.61 speed. Behar has the potential to be the wide-side deep-threat the Bombers hoped Addison Richards would become.
1:7 – BC Lions: DE Kwaku Boateng, Wilfred Laurier
This pick makes all kinds of sense for Wally Buono and the BC Lions. In my first mock, I had the Lions taking Boateng at three, but there’s now a possibility they’re able to snatch him off the board at six. The Lions have a massive need for Canadians along the defensive line, and with David Menard penciled in to start at defensive end for the Lions to meet ratio requirements, they especially need depth at rush-end. The Lions are evidently still mourning the loss of 2015 first-round pick Ese Mrabure-Ajufo.
Boateng’s stock took a hit at the combine when he weighed in undersized at just 233-lbs, but the Wilfred Laurier is still a pass-rushing specialist who can bend and possesses a broad repertoire of pass-rush moves. Boateng could be a slight liability against the run early in his career, but could contribute as a pass-rusher in BC’s second-and-long personnel grouping a la Trent Corney early in his career.
READ MORE: Ranking, Evaluating the 2017 Defensive Ends
1:8 – Calgary Stampeders: FS Dondre Wright, Henderson State
The only hole in Calgary’s Canadian content comes at defensive back. Every year the Stamps allow a Canadian defensive back to walk in free agency – Adam Berger was the most recent – and while they brought in Chris Rwawakumba and re-signed Matt Bucknor, both players feel like temporary place-holders.
Wright would be an excellent selection for the Stamps. He’s equipped to come downhill against the run as a free safety on defense, and is one of the smartest, most instinctive defenders in the class. He inexperienced as a true center-fielder – Wright played in the box as a strong safety or at nickel corner for the Reddies – but will be given the time to develop and the elite-level coaching to acquire the needed knowledge to play free safety in the professional ranks. He’ll be a dominant special-teamer in the meantime.
READ MORE: Ranking, Evaluating the 2017 Defensive Backs
1:9 – Ottawa Redblacks: LB Jordan Herdman, Simon Fraser
Herdman’s fall to the bottom of the first round has much to do with both his NFL interest and his testing results. Although NFL teams will be grossly turned off by his 5.16 40-yard dash, the combination of his Senior Bowl performance and his game tape – that of which suggests no issues with his testing numbers – should result in Herdman getting an opportunity down south as an undrafted free agent.
For Ottawa, while a plethora of defensive tackles and offensive linemen remain available, they saw strong seasons from Connor Williams and Ettore Lattanzio in 2016, while Zack Evans has became a menace in the middle. Based on the players still available versus Ottawa’s team needs, they’re in a position to invest in a player like Herdman. Regardless of his testing numbers, Herdman will one day be a starting inside linebacker in this league.
2:1 – Toronto Argonauts: DT Junior Luke, Montreal
Adding Luke would form a nice Canadian duo inside for the Argos with Daryl Waud. The Argos could go offensive line here – it was not, after all, this regime who shockingly spent early-round picks on DJ Sackey and Jamal Campbell less than a year ago – but recently added J’Michael Deane to solidify the Argos’ interior. Luke requires a ton of coaching on gap discipline and technique, but boasts an exceptional first-step and raw athleticism. He’s a high risk, high reward player at tenth overall.
2:2 – Saskatchewan Roughriders: DT Justin Vaughn, Fordham
In comparison to Luke, Vaughn is currently more pro-ready but has a lower ceiling than the Argos’ second-round pick. Vaughn has the ideal build for a three-tech at 6’5″, 276-lbs and is a fairly flexible athlete, but has a slow first step that could hurt his effectiveness gaining leverage against the run. He does, however, slot in nicely behind Eddie Steele in Saskatchewan as a pass-rusher. Vaughn had a productive career at Fordham, amassing four sacks and 11 tackles-for-loss in his senior season. He’ll likely become a rotational pass-rusher early in his career if he ends up in the RiderVille.
With Woods and Vaughn, Chris Jones will have addressed his two biggest needs early in the draft.
2:3 – Montreal Alouettes: OG Qadr Spooner, McGill
For his first ever draft pick as a general manager, don’t expect Kavis Reed to stray from the consensus of investing early-round picks in local offensive linemen. Furthermore, the Alouettes will soon be without 34-year-old Luc Brodeur-Jourdain, who’ll likely serve as their fifth offensive lineman in 2017. Spooner comes with a mean-streak and a massively strong upper-body – he recorded 31 bench press reps – and tends to “finish” his blocks. Spooner has a perfect build guard build at 6’3″, 312-lbs, and comes with well-refined interior pass-block footwork.
2:4 – Hamilton Tiger-Cats: OG Braden Schram, Calgary
With the unexpected retirement of Mathieu Girard, expect the Ti-Cats to look at offensive linemen early in the draft to fill one of very few holes on their roster. Kent Austin has recently displayed a tendency of prioritizing the especially athletic offensive linemen, such as Ryan Bomben, Brandon Revenberg and Jeremy Lewis. Schram fits the bill. Schram, who played right tackle for the Dinos, is quick out of his stance and rolls his hips underneath him to drive through defenders. He strikes quickly with his hands and consistently arrives on time in pass-protection. Schram has excellent size at 6’3″, 306-lbs and warrants a top-15 pick. He’s my third-ranked offensive lineman in the class, sitting behind just Geoff Gray and Mason Woods.
2:5 – Edmonton Eskimos: FS Robert Woodson, Calgary
Free safety has long been a position of issue for the Eskimos. Neil King settled into the role last year, but the 28-year-old didn’t show anything special in his first real starting opportunity. Edmonton would be foolish to pass on Woodson here, as he’d fill a positional need and has the potential to be a long-term, above-average starter on defense, whether that’s at free safety or field corner. Woodson is the best cover-half coming out of Canadian university ball I’ve seen in awhile, and has the best feet of any defensive back in the class, translating into spectacular change-of-direction skills. Woodson couples this with above-average ball skills and refined technique. He has a future at both field corner and free safety in the CFL.
2:6 – Winnipeg Blue Bombers: C Dariusz Bladek, Bethune-Cookman
Having released National starter Keith Shologan, the Bombers will likely have to resort back to starting three Canadian offensive linemen in 2017. With Patrick Neufeld back in the starting lineup, that leaves Michael Couture, the Bombers’ second-round pick in 2016 who struggled mightily as a freshman, as all they have for depth. Bladek’s fall to being the fifth offensive lineman off the board has to do with his lack of foot speed, a trait that dropped Laval offensive linemen Charles Vaillancourt to being the fourth hog off the board last year. Although Bladek also doesn’t have the strongest of hands, he’s otherwise a strong, top-heavy interior offensive lineman with good vision.
2:7 – BC Lions: NT Faith Ekakitie, Iowa
Although I have a very hard time believing Ekakitie is a top-15 prospect, there seems to be a lot of buzz surrounding the Iowa product’s name, and the Lions are currently without a single national defensive tackle under contract. Even with two American defensive tackles, it’s important to have a Canadian to rotate in. Ekakitie, who never really settled into a starting role at Iowa, certainly shouldn’t be expected to enter that role early in his career, though. The Brampton, ON native has plenty of technical issues, such as stopping his feet when playing the run and leaning into the block or double team. Ekakitie must learn to keep his feet churning against contact and locate the ball-carrier in the backfield. I’ve also noted a lack of active hands and inconsistent pad level. On the other hand, Ekakitie is relatively quick and flexible, while also possessing a solid get-off. He has experience against top-flight competition and could be molded into a decent rotational nose tackle with development.
2:8 – Calgary Stampeders: OT Justin Senior, Mississippi State
Senior’s draft stock took a huge hit at the 2017 Senior Bowl, as he is now projected to go undrafted after initially being expected to be a 6th-round pick in early January. The Stamps would be wise to invest in a future’s pick that could be worth significant value in a couple years. Senior, with an NFL-tackle frame and excellent movement skills, would quickly become a CFL All-Star tackle.
READ MORE: Justin Senior Scouting Report
2:9 – Ottawa Redblacks: WR Mitchell Picton, Regina
With J’Michael Deane now in Toronto, the Redblacks will be looking to invest an early-to-mid-round pick in an offensive lineman to add to their cupboard. They may consider Johnny Augustine here as a replacement for Kienan LaFrance, who landed in Saskatchewan in free agency, but recently brought in Pascal Lochard and also have Brendan Gillanders under contract. Instead Marcel Desjardins and co. would be wise to bring in more competition for third-year pass-catcher Jake Harty, who, with that being said, has come along nicely himself. Picton is quite raw but was extremely productive for the Rams in 2016, amassing 58 receptions for 834 yards and 11 TDs in just 8 games. Though his route-running needs a ton of development, Picton is a quietly crafty route-runner, using subtle head and shoulder fakes to open up defensive backs. He projects as a 2014/2015 Rory Kohlert clone, sitting in zones on the wide-side of the field, but it’ll be several years until he’s ready to contribute.
3:1 – Toronto Argonauts: RB Johnny Augustine, Guelph
Jim Popp has a history of drafting running backs early after a great combine performance, as he spent a first-round pick on McMaster RB Wayne Moore last year who, identically to Augustine, dominated the receiving and pass-blocking one-on-ones. Augustine has a higher ceiling than Moore – the latter having clocked a 4.92 40 time – but still projects as special-teamer. Having parted ways with linebackers Thomas Miles and Chris Greenwood, the Argos are in need of bigger special-teamers.
3:2 – SASKATCHEWAN PICK FORFEITED
3:3 – Montreal Alouettes: DE Connor McGough, Calgary
With Mike Klassen and Don Oramasionwu, the Alouettes already have solid depth behind starting Canadian defensive tackles Keith Shologan and Jabar Westerman. The Als could instead use another big-bodied special-teamer, which is exactly how University of Calgary defensive end Connor McGough will make his money in the CFL. At 247-lbs, McGough ran a 4.74 40-yard dash at the Combine, and served as Calgary’s up-back on their punt team, a role often reserved for running backs and linebackers. McGough’s an athletic specimen that could contribute as a rotational pass-rusher in the future.
3:4 – Hamilton Tiger-Cats: DT Kay Okafor, St. Francis Xavier
With Evan Gill’s status still somewhat in the air, Hamilton wouldn’t be wrong to add another national defensive tackle to the group. Okafor is built perfectly for a three-tech at 6’3″, 273-lbs, and possesses the explosiveness and bend that often translates well to the CFL. Okafor is still quite raw but will be brought along slowly behind Ted Laurent, Michael Atkinson and Evan Gill.
3:5 – Edmonton Eskimos: DT Fabion Foote, McMaster
By letting Don Oramasionwu walk in free agency and then releasing Eddie Steele, it’s clear the Eskimos intend on playing with an all-american defensive line. It’s still important to have a Canadian to rotate in, though, and especially one that comes for cheap. Foote is an exceptionally athletic defensive tackle, posting a 9’11” broad jump and 34.5″ vertical jump at the national combine.
3:6 – Winnipeg Blue Bombers: FS Nate Hamlin, Carleton
With Brendan Morgan and Derek Jones entering contract years, the Bombers would be wise to bring in reinforcements behind Taylor Loffler at free safety. Hamlin is a high-character guy with a hard-hitting streak. He showed excellent range and instincts at boundary corner for the Ravens, projecting as a solid depth piece at free safety in the CFL. He’d be an upgrade over Brendan Morgan on special-teams almost immediately for the blue and gold.
3:7 – BC Lions: OG Jean-Simon Roy, Laval
The Lions have a nice core of Canadian offensive linemen in Hunter Steward, Charles Vaillancourt, Kirby Fabien and Cody Husband, but won’t be able to keep all four interior linemen forever. With David Foucault and Brett Blaszko in the pipeline, it wouldn’t the Lions to bring in a depth piece that has experience at tackle to step in if need be. In the meantime, Roy must add weight to his 287-pound frame. He has a lot of good traits, but as teams saw with Michael Couture in his rookie season, its very tough to contribute at below 295-lbs.
3:8 – Calgary Stampeders: LB Nakas Onyeka, Wilfred Laurier
I don’t know if Onyeka is an inside linebacker, SAM or free safety, but it’s not really important – he’s going to be an effective special-teams player. The 2016 OUA defensive player of the year has an uncanny nose for the football, and that will continue on special-teams in the professional ranks. The Stamps have shown in the past that they still value undersized Canadian linebackers that play like wrecking-balls.
3:9 – Ottawa Redblacks: FS Tunde Adeleke, Carleton
Similarly to Ottawa’s second-round pick in 2015, Jake Harty, Adeleke was a dynamic returner in university who possesses the required athleticism to carve out a fringe starting role, too. Adeleke, who ran a 4.58 40-yard dash at the combine, comes downhill hard and hits with a purpose, which should translate well as a gunner on special-teams. Ottawa would be wise to keep this local product in town.
4:1 – Toronto Argonauts: DE Mark Mackie, McMaster
With Ricky Foley now gone, Cam Walker remains as the Argos’ only Canadian defensive end on the roster. Mackie, meanwhile, has a low center of gravity and is the most explosive defensive end in the class. For reference, he recorded a 9’5.75″ broad jump at the Toronto regional combine at 255-lbs. Mackie should find a role a role on special-teams with the Argos.
4:2 – Calgary Stampeders: OG Evan Johnson, Saskatchewan
No matter how well-stocked they are on paper, it would be so unlike the Stampeders to not take an offensive lineman in the first 30 picks. (Excluding Justin Senior, that is, who’s NFL-bound at the moment). Johnson is an athletic 300-pounder, leaping a whopping 31″ in the vertical jump. He has some nice development traits as a guard.
4:3 – Montreal Alouettes: WR Malcolm Carter, Ottawa (CJFL)
Carter enters with a low floor but when a 22-year-old pass-catcher is 6’6″ and can jump 40″, he’s worthy of an early fourth-round pick. The Alouettes will need someone to replace Sam Giguere in the coming years, and while Carter is years away from contributing, the former Carleton Raven is loaded on potential.
4:4 – Saskatchewan Roughriders: RB Sean Thomas-Erlington, Montreal
Whether or not Saskatchewan proceeds with a Canadian backfield, running backs with special-teams upside are typically good value picks in the middle rounds.
4:5 – Edmonton Eskimos: TE Antony Auclair, Laval
Auclair will shoot up draft boards if he goes undrafted down south, but at the moment he’s projected to go in the seventh-round despite being apart of an extremely deep tight end class in the NFL. If Auclair does ever come south, though, the Eskimos will have a unique player on their hands to work with.
4:6 – Saskatchewan Roughriders: FS Jordan Hoover, Waterloo
Saskatchewan only has Jeff Hecht behind Marc-Olivier Brouillette at free safety, and need to add some athletic prospects to develop. Hoover fits the bill.
4:7 – BC Lions: OG Jeremy Zver, Regina
Zver is an easy mover with heavy hands and good hand placement. A highly-touted university basketball player, Zver has many of the desired athletic traits in a tall guard prospect.
4:8 – Calgary Stampeders: WR Alex Morrison, UBC
Morrison will likely return to UBC for his fifth season – he missed almost all of 2016 with an arm injury suffered in week two, while the Stamps are already absolutely loaded at receiver – but at 6’4″, Morrison’s size and smoothness as a route runner would make him worthy of an investment in the fourth-round, even for the receiver-heavy Stampeders.
4:9 – Ottawa Redblacks: OG Jordan Filippelli, Calgary
It’s possible the Redblacks go four rounds without picking an offensive lineman, but picking up a developmental prospect to take J’Michael Deane’s roster spot wouldn’t hurt. With poor movement skills, Filippelli has a low ceiling but has some traits to work with, such as quick hands that deliver a strong punch. Filippelli shows a strong torso on film to relocate defensive linemen to open running lanes but struggled with inside moves as a left tackle.
READ MORE: Jordan Filippelli Scouting Report