An Explanation for Seven Prospect’s Surprising Falls in the CFL Draft

The CFL Draft is the hardest draft in sports to project, and every year a handful of, at first glance, intriguing prospects plummet down the board when the picks start to to fly by.

Last year, no two players took bigger falls than Simon Fraser’s Lemar Durant and Idaho’s Maxx Forde. Durant, said by some scouts to be the best player of the draft, was taken in with the 18th pick for a lack of special-teams capabilities. Maxx Forde fell to the seventh round, likely as a result of a small body of work, and for being far too much of a ‘tweener between a defensive tackle and defensive end.

There no fall-outs quite like Durant’s, though. None of the falls are really that surprising when you think about it – many I foresaw happening. Regardless, some intriguing names were taken later than expected, but don’t expect many of them to be steals. There’s a reason why each of them were drafted in the spot they were, and here’s your explanation.

1. RG Charles Vaillancourt, Laval – BC Lions (Round 1, pick 5)

Vaillancourt is a pro-ready offensive lineman that will likely start at center for the BC Lions from day one at training camp. So why did this blue-chip prospect, who was expected to be a top-two pick, fall to the Lions? The answer is simple: his lack of quickness. The Laval product has the most refined technique in the class as well as exceptional physical traits, but his lack of quickness could hurt him in the CFL. As was the case a couple times with Laval, it’s easy to see Vaillancourt costing a sack because he was too slow disengaging from a block then using his lateral quickness to step over and pick up a stunting defender or delayed blitzer. He can somewhat compensate for a lack of quickness, but it may put a ceiling on the player he’ll amount to. And while Vaillancourt has the potential to develop into an All-Star, his quickness may always be a lingering issue. As the great coach Bill Walsh said, “You can teach an athlete to be a technician, but you can’t teach a technician to be an athlete.”

2. DB Taylor Loffler, UBC – Winnipeg (round 3, pick 21)

After a dominant first season with the Thunderbirds that was given an exclamation point with an exceptional Combine performance, Loffler was seen as a possible first-round pick. But from looking at his college history with Boise State, it’s easy to see why Loffler fell all the way into the third-round, where the Bombers were more than willing to scoop him up. Loffler’s knees could be a time-bomb waiting to go off, with two knee surgeries already underwent. He’s also had surgery twice to repair a torn labrum in his shoulder. A Vanier Cup champion, Loffler’s injuries could be a thing of the past after a clean bill of health last year, but it’s easy to see why teams were skeptical.

3. RG Dillon Guy, Buffalo – BC Lions (round 4, pick 30)

Guy is ahead of schedule on his rehab from a torn ACL and was a four-year starter at the University of Buffalo, but was still available when the Lions were on the clock in the fourth round. While Guy has a ton of experience under his belt against high competition, he wasn’t necessarily a stand-out player with the Bulls. But still, Northern Illinois receiver Juwan Brescacin hardly produced against high competition – similarly to Guy – yet he was taken in the second-round. See, with Dillon Guy, his flaws – largely from a technical stand-point, but also athletically – cannot be overlooked by the level of competition he played. My seventh ranked offensive linemen going into the draft, Guy has poor hand-placement, lowers his head when initiating contact and will sometimes initiate contact with his body instead of his hands. He’s also slow out of his stance, and lacks agility as well as balance. Guy has ideal size at 6-foot-4 and 317-lbs, but left college after four years of starting with a surprising amount of flaws.

4. NT Rupert Butcher, Western – Winnipeg (round 6, pick 46)

We may never see another player dominate the CFL Combine’s OL/DL one-on-ones quite like Rupert Butcher did in March 2016. He moved amazingly well at 6-foot-5, 327-lbs, displaying good quickness and hands, as well as a fearsome bull-rush. That took a lot of people by surprise, as his game-film with Western was underwhelming. Butcher was hardly a dominant player, and lacked consistency and motor, as per Kyle Walters. Defensive lineman have a huge advantage in Combine one-on-ones; they’re blocked one-on-one with no help; they know if it’s a pass or run; and they have a lot of time (and space) to operate with. It’s not a good way to make a full evaluation of a defensive lineman’s game, and it certainly didn’t make up for Butcher’s game-footage at Western.

5. SB Doug Corby, Queens – Edmonton (round 6, pick 53)

There’s very little separating this mediocre group of pass-catchers that could produce very few, if only one or two, effective starters. Simply put, what does Corby bring to the table that no other receiver in this mediocre class did? Juwan Brescacin offers unique contested catch-ability at 6’4″, 230-lbs. Llevi Noel was a dominant, versatile special-teams player at the amateur level. Brett Blaszko offers a unique blend of size and speed at 6-foot-4 with a 4.55-second 40-yard dash time, which could translate well on special-teams. Mike Jones is a blazing speedster that has the best chance of any receiver to develop into a starter, but with limited – if any – abilities on special-teams, he was a third-rounder. Doug Corby, meanwhile, has no physical traits that separate him from the rest. With a 4.505-second 40-yard dash, he has the straight-line speed to return kicks in a role like Anthony Parker, but he hasn’t proven that it’s in his repertoire.

6. NT Quinn Horton, Simon Fraser – Calgary (round 8, pick 68)

Quinn Horton has a major flaw: pad-level. The Simon Fraser product plays with zero knee-bend, and as a nose tackle in the CFL, he’ll get swallowed by double-teams if this isn’t fixed. Like any prospect, he has other flaws as well that make him no slam-dunk player even if he fixed his pad-level, but his lack of knee-bend was almost enough to make him go undrafted. Horton was the second-best interior defensive lineman in the combine drills, but was able to his deceptive quickness and good hands to win match-ups. Standing straight up right off the snap, the native of Winnipeg often failed to generate a bull-rush, and was sometimes stonewalled with pure power by an offensive lineman while using his speed. Horton has a lot of skills – and not a long list of flaws – that projected him as a third-to-fourth round player, but his pad-level was an issue that teams could not overlook.

7. DE Denzel Philip, Eastern New Mexico (undrafted)

Philip was dubbed a “sleeper pick” and an “underrated prospect” by several draft pundits in the league, and I was not buying it. Very skeptical even before the draft, I was especially not sold on any of the hype after his combine performance. Similarly to Maxx Forde last year, Philip was seen as a ‘tweener – someone who’s too slow and stiff to play defensive end, but too small to be a pass-rushing defensive tackle in the 4 or 5-tech positions. Philip arrived at the combine at a far-too-light-weight at 225-lbs, likely as an attempt to improve his quickness and be seen as a defensive end. Regardless, Philip was the same player – explosive but slow, with no bend around on the corner and no hands. Philip didn’t change even at 225-lbs, making it clear to coaches that he could not play defensive end at the proper weight, 255-lbs.

Bonus:

LB DJ Lalama, Manitoba – Edmonton (round 8 pick 70)

This one baffles me, and I have no explanation. It was shocking to see DJ Lalama as Mr. Irrelevant, as his abilities should project to be an effective special-teams player in this league. While also a dominant linebacker, Lalama was predominantly an anchor on special-teams with the Bisons. He performed well at the Combine, and can also long-snap. The Eskimos could be getting a steal with the final pick in the draft.

2016 CFL Draft Positional Ranks: Laval Trio, NCAA Products Headline Class of Offensive Linemen

Quality Canadian offensive lineman are directly linked to success in the CFL, and the best teams will continually draft at least one each and every draft.

This year’s draft class, however, is not particularly deep, and aside from the top-three offensive linemen on my board, I’m not completely convinced that even the first-round selections will develop into starters down the road.

There’s not a lot differentiating these prospects, particularly those that I expect to be taken in the mid-first to second round (prospects 4-6 on my list). They’re quite similar in terms of their potential, and it could come down to a team’s personal preference for player-types that’ll decide the order in which those players are picked.

Regardless of exactly how talented this year’s class of offensive linemen is in comparison to last year, fans should not complain when their team spends an early-round pick on a blocker. Canadian offensive lineman are a priority as well as the life-blood of the CFL, and each team should stock up.

It’s always wise to choose a Laval product, and that’s where the list begins.

1. RG Charles Vaillancourt, Laval (6’4″, 329-lbs)

A four-year starter at the University of Laval, Vaillancourt is one of the most decorated offensive lineman in CIS history. The four-time All-Canadian right guard is the most polished offensive line product in the draft, making himself the safe pick for Saskatchewan at first overall. He’s a tough, mean, technically-sound center who holds his own in one-on-one match-ups with leverage and hand-placement. Vaillancourt has raw strength as well, getting low and moving defenders, and doesn’t lose many battles once engaged. His footwork is clean and well-developed, and although he can be slow out of his stance, the Coaticook, QC. native has compensated for this weakness with his hands, strength and pad-level. I do, however, think Vaillancourt really needs to lose some weight.

2. RT Josiah St. John, Oklahoma (6’6″, 309-lbs)

Contrary to Vaillancourt, St. John is more of a high-risk, high-reward prospect. The product of Toronto, ON. only has four starts with Oklahoma under his belt, and frankly, he seemed to struggle in those games. St. John simply didn’t have the quickness to contain edge-rushers, and while was ineffective as a run-blocker, he certainly displayed the footwork and the strength to stonewall inside cuts up the B-gap. St. John projects more as a guard – at least to start his career – to me, and although he wasn’t much of a mauler in the run-game, St. John maintains good pad-level and keeps his feet moving. His hand-placement needs work, but St. John seems athletic and has ideal size to be a starting offensive lineman in the future. He’s not pro-ready by any means, but could develop into a starting offensive tackles in a few years.

3. LG Philippe Gagnon, Laval (6’3″, 317-lbs)

Gagnon is a powerful, technically-sound product that may be living in the shadow of Charles Vaillancourt. Gagnon isn’t that far behind his Laval teammate, as he is, in fact, better than Vaillancourt in certain areas. Both out of his stance and while initiating contact, Gagnon is far more explosive, and although I wouldn’t say his footwork is better, he’s slightly shiftier and quicker. Gagnon has decent hand-placement, understands how to use leverage and maintains good knee-bend throughout the play. He must work on keeping his feet moving, or else Gagnon will be the victim of finesse moves in the CFL. Although he will occasionally lower his head on impact, Gagnon is a technically-sound guard who rounds out the big-three of offensive line prospects in this class.

4. C Michael Couture, Simon Fraser (6’3″, 292-lbs)

Couture is a smart, athletic, versatile blocker that has room to improve as a run-blocker before he’s ready to play at the next level. The Burnaby, B.C. native has bulked up considerably over the winter – his senior playing weight at 275-lbs was far too light to play in the pro ranks – and is still the quick, nimble pass protector that he is on tape. He’s not the most explosive down lineman out of his stance, but Couture sets up quickly, remains patient and effectively uses his leverage. He needs to continue to get bigger and stronger – pad-level alone allowed Couture to move defenders in the GNAC conference, but it won’t in the CFL – and is a few years away before he’s pro-ready. Couture is well-coached and relatively technically-sound, but it’s no guarantee that he develops the power and explosiveness to be a top Canadian offensive lineman.

5. C Brandon Revenberg, GVSU (6’4″, 285-lbs)

Revenberg, a product of NCAA Division II school Grand Valley State, is still an underrated prospect at this point. He maintains the best pad-level of any offensive lineman in the draft, has smooth feet and good punch to win battles once engaged. He’s played both center and guard with the Lakers, and looks very quick and explosive out of his snap. The Lakers operated a zone-blocking scheme on offense, and Revenberg seemed very smart, comfortable and patient in the displacement of attacking defenders. The biggest concern, of course, is his size. It remains unknown whether or not Revenberg is still 285-pounds, but he’ll need to bulk up considerably to play at the professional level. Revenberg must continue to improve his hand-placement and footwork, and will need some seasoning as a depth player before he’s ready.

6. RT/OG Jason Lauzon-Seguin, Laval (6’4″ 294-lbs)

After binding his time behind offensive tackles Danny Groulx and Karl Lavoie, who were each first-round picks last year, Lauzon-Seguin made an immediate impact with the Rouge et Or last season despite it being his first season starting at right tackle. The Pointe-Claire, QC. product was a dominant CIS right tackle as a result of his quickness and great footwork. And while Lauzon-Seguin has great balance and agility, I have questions about his ability to shock defenders with his initial block, and his punch to maintain his block without behind swatted or shoved aside. Lauzon-Seguin will certainly be asked to move inside to guard to start his career, and while he compensates for a lack of lower-body strength with quickness, his strength is still not quite where it needs to be.

7. LG Dillon Guy, Buffalo

A four-year starter at the University of Buffalo, it’s difficult to get a read on a player that was facing much harder competition than the average CIS lineman. But it’s hard to overlook some of Guy’s glaring flaws from both an athletic and technical standpoint, as the native of Hamilton, ON., who seems slow out of his stance, also lacks agility, balance, power and punch. Although he has decent footwork, Guy will sometimes initiate contact with his body instead of his hands, and drops his head on impact. Guy has ideal size at 6-foot-4 and 317-pounds, and it’s very evident that he plays with an attitude and finishes blocks, but is not the polished product that a four-year starter at the NCAA level should be.

8. RG Sean Jamieson, Western (6’6″, 306-lbs)

At 6-foot-6 and 306-pounds, Jamieson certainly looks the part. He has several other good physical traits, such as lower-body power, quickness and agility. Jamieson, however, has poor hand-placement and often over-extends for the defender, as shown several times in the combine one-on-ones. His technique and upper-body need refining, but Jamieson’s size, feet and lower-body power could make him an intriguing mid-round selection.

9. OT/G Roman Grozman, Concordia (6’3″, 299-lbs)

Grozman will be a huge project for whoever takes a late-round flier on the Concordia product, as while he might have the best punch of any offensive lineman in the draft, his technique is far too poor right now to put himself in a position to engage with defenders at the professional level. Grozman has slow feet, and he doesn’t keep his weight over his legs in pass-protection, often over-extending and reaching for the defender. Grozman took reps at all five positions at the CFL combine, and while scouts love versatility, that decision may have hurt his stock more than it helped. He has upside, and quite honestly, I think Grozman is better suited as a defensive lineman in the CFL.

10. RT Jamal Campbell, York (6’5″, 292-lbs)

Although Campbell is an extremely raw offensive tackle prospect from a smaller school in York University, he has incredible athletic potential, and if an offensive line coach can develop his technique to the point that they scratch the surface of that athletic potential, Campbell could be a solid late-round draft pick. At this point, however, Campbell lacks patience, has poor footwork that leads to over-stepping with his kick steps, and gets too upright in his stance. He poorly projects as a guard, which hurts his stock seeing as many of the most blue-chip tackle prospects are moved inside.

Best of the rest: RG Zach Intzandt (McMaster), RG Kadeem Adams (Western), Alex McKay (Manitoba)

Credit: Mathieu Belanger
Credit: Mathieu Belanger