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: Singleton Leads Linebackers

CFL teams cannot have too many Canadian linebackers – just ask the Hamilton Tiger-Cats or Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

Canadian linebackers are, in some aspects, the heart of special-teams in 3-down football. They’re difficult to develop into starters on defense, but still offer tremendous value to clubs for their play on special-teams, an incredibly important aspect of Canadian football.

This years’s class boasts almost strictly players who project as special-teams players at most – which, evidently, is not necessarily a bad thing – except for a certain NFL-alum who tops our list of the top-10 linebackers in the 2016 CFL Draft class.

1. Alex Singleton, Montana State (6’2″, 235-lbs)

Singleton easily tops this list, as the former Seattle Seahawk and Minnesota Viking was already nearly CFL-bound as an international player before receiving his national status recently. Singleton is a pro-ready linebacker, with ideal size and experience in the professional ranks. He’s an athletic freak, and possesses incredible instincts and football I.Q. to go along with it. Amassing 136 tackles in his senior year, Singleton had incredible collegiate production. He’s a fluid player on tape, with sure-tackling abilities, awareness both in coverage and against the run, and aggressive, physical play at the point of attack. He works off blocks, forces cutbacks and is able to chase down ball-carriers. Singleton has a bright future in the CFL, and it could lead to more NFL opportunities down the road.

2. Terrell Davis, UBC (6’0″, 222-lbs)

Having only spent one season as a linebacker after entering the collegiate ranks as a running back with both Arizona State and UBC, Davis is still quite raw. The mental part of the game, such as awareness and pursuit angles, will need developing, but the physical part of the game is there. Davis is quite athletic, and possesses good feet, hips and change of direction skills, and really put them to display in the combine one-on-ones in pass-coverage. He’ll be a project, but Davis has a lot of potential and has the physical traits to excel on special-teams.

3. DJ Lalama, Manitoba (5’11”, 229-lbs)

Lalama, who participated in the New York Giants’ rookie mini-camp, has been an underrated linebacker prospect through the pre-draft process. Lalama possesses a great blend of size, aggression, instincts and reliable open-field tackling skills to project well as both a MIKE and WILL linebacker. He takes accurate first steps and shows excellent closing burst to arrive with force at the point of attack, creating lanes to the ball carrier for himself and for his teammates. As a physical striker with reliable breakdown skills in the open field, Lalama has been an excellent special-teams player with Manitoba as well. Lalama, who was experience long-snapping, should be a respectable special-teams player in this league.

4. Shayne Gauthier, Laval

Gauthier is your traditional, throwback middle linebacker that plays simply off instincts and doesn’t need to be an athletic, quick player. He reads plays well, flows to the ball and meets runners in the hole with authority. He rarely over-pursues and consistently beats oncoming blockers with a plethora of different moves. His pass-coverage skills remain a question, but Gauthier’s 4.6-second 40-yard dash time may have satisfied scouts.

5. Doug Parrish, Western Oregon (6’0″, 225-lbs)

Parrish, a former San Jose State commit, looked good at the combine, where he weighed in 10 pounds less than expected. That’s certainly not a bad thing, especially considering how good he looked at the combine. Parrish was smooth in coverage and very tough to block in one-on-ones, impressing scouts after a disappointing senior campaign.

6. Mitchell Barnett, UBC (6’1″, 205-lbs)

Barnett projects more as a safety in the CFL, but don’t rule out the possibilities of him playing in the box, too. Barnett plays very fast – he ran a 4.85 40-yard dash for reference – and is surprisingly good at winning battles at the point of attack, shedding blocks with his hands. He understands his landmarks when he drops into coverage and reads the quarterbacks eyes, all the while scanning the middle for crossers. With consistent tackling abilities, Barnett projects quite well as a special-teams player in the CFL.

7. Kevin Jackson, Sam Houston State (5’10”, 223-lbs)

Jackson tested very well at the Toronto regional Combine, clocking a great 4.75 40-yard dash and 4.37 3-cone time for a stocky, 5-foot-10 and 223-pound middle linebacker. Coming from a great program in Sam Houston State, Jackson was poised for a breakout senior campaign until injuries limited him to one game in 2015. He lacks college game film, however, and I’m not sure if his combine performance really satisfied scouts.

8. Marc-Antoine Laurin, Ottawa (6’0″, 222-lbs)

Laurin is an athletic linebacker with quite a few technical issues, but he makes for a potential special-teams contributor. While he does have good size and speed, he’s not aggressive enough at the point of attack, and needs to continue to work on angles and tackling.

9. Curtis Newton, Guelph (6’1″, 211-lbs)

Newton has been the fantastic pass-coverage linebacker in his tenure with Guelph that scouts so desperately covet. Newton isn’t built very big and doesn’t play with much raw strength on the football field, projecting more as a safety in my eyes, similarly to Graig Newman. Newton, who struggles to shed blocks with his hands or with power, doesn’t consistently meet at the point of attack with force, as a linebacker should.

10. Alex Ogbongbemiga, Calgary (CJFL) (6’0″, 233-lbs)

Ogbongbemiba tested well in the vertical and the shuttle at the Edmonton regional, earning himself an invite to the National Combine. A productive, smash-mouth Mike LB with Calgary, Ogbongbemiba recorded 23 tackles, 1 sack and 1 INT in six games last season.