Fans are routinely reminded that mock drafts are largely constructed around the basis that the picks are made based on how the draft analyst believes each general manager and coaching staff will approach their picks, and not what the draft analyst would do if they were making the calls.
Big boards – otherwise known as player rankings – are where one can share their true evaluation of the draft. My upcoming mock drafts will not mirror my big board due to the extreme subjectiveness of this process. Here, however, we get a look at how I’d approach the draft as a general manager.
Overall, the 2017 draft features the best prospect class in years. It’s a deep offensive line class, and unlike most years, there’s more than one blue-chip prospect in every position group, even when excluding those with NFL interest. Ranking the middle-tier of offensive linemen – Laval’s Jean-Simon Roy, Bethune-Cookman’s Dariusz Bladek, McGill’s Qadr Spooner and Calgary’s Braden Schram – created the toughest decisions when forming the list, while finding an appropriate placement for prospects such as Kwaku Boateng (weight) and Justin Herdman (times), both of whom have great film but poor measurables, also caused headaches.
It’s certainly a flawed process, as is the draft in general, and expect my next big board to look drastically different. Look for a top-50 in 7-10 days, with my second mock draft in between.
With college All-Star games all wrapped up, as well as the CFL combine being just a couple of weeks away, it’s time to start back up the mock draft machine.
This is an outstanding draft class. I’ve been really digging into the CFL draft for three years now, and this is the best prospect pool I’ve seen yet. It’s especially top-heavy, featuring a plethora of NCAA athletes and better talent than usual at skill-positions. It’s possible only two offensive linemen are selected in the first round come draft day in May.
This is the first of three 2017 mock drafts.
1:1 – Winnipeg Blue Bombers: NT Eli Ankou, UCLA
Ankou fills a positional need for the Bombers and has the tools to justify being selected with the first overall pick. The Bombers cut ties with starting nose tackle Keith Shologan prior to free agency, and considering the team would likely prefer to continue to start three American offensive linemen, Mike O’Shea and Co. will be forced to start a Canadian along the interior of the defensive line. The Problem? Five-year veteran DT Jake Thomas isn’t starter quality. With Ankou pushing him, however, the Bombers could get by in 2017. Free agent acquisition Drake Nevis, an international, will start at nose tackle this season, and although Thomas is strictly a defensive tackle while Ankou is, at this point, strictly a nose tackle, Nevis will see plenty of time as a three-technique as well in order to get Ankou on the field.
Ankou comes from a traditional two-gapping 3-4 defense at UCLA, where he took on an important role as the team’s starting nose tackle. He amassed ridiculous tackle numbers – 91 in 22 appearances – despite playing a position that’s not supposed to generate statistical production. This can be attributed to the Ottawa native’s spectacular vision. Ankou finds the football early in the play and uses his technique to stack offensive linemen and free himself to make the tackle. Although he checks the majority of the boxes in terms of player traits, the 6’3″, 325-pounder has room to grow as a pass-rusher.
1:2 – Saskatchewan Roughriders: OL Mason Woods, Idaho
Following the retirement of 10-year vet Chris Best, the Riders are once again starving for Canadian offensive linemen. The Riders also have a huge need for Canadian defensive tackles and defensive backs, but selecting a player of either of those positions with this pick would be a massive reach. Plus, at this stage, Matt Vonk is slated as the starter at right guard, with only two second-year linemen – last year’s 1st overall pick, Josiah St. John, and Dillon Guy – as depth. Ouch. Brendan LaBatte may only have one more season in him, too. It was rumored early in the off-season that he was considering retirement due to concussions.
Selecting Woods no. 2 slight might be a slight reach in terms of other players available, but considering the value of his position, this would be a good pick for Saskatchewan. Woods is a mountain of a man, standing 6’9″ and weighing in at 325-pounds. He was a three-year starter in the Sun-Belt conference, playing strong-side guard for the Vandals. The B.C. native has quick, heavy hands to deliver a sharp punch. He does a good job getting his hands high and tight immediately following the snap of the ball. Woods has similar strength to Manitoba guard Geoff Gray but comes without the glaring technical flaws. He compares to Edmonton right guard Matt O’Donnell.
Rashuan Simonise is a better prospect than Boateng, and since Shawn Gore may retire sooner than we think, the Lions will probably heavily consider the fast, lanky receiver here. Boateng, however, fills a massive need for Wally Buono’s team, as the Lions have just three Canadian defensive linemen under contract. To make matters worse, David Menard will likely be forced to start at DE for ratio implications, and BC has no depth behind him – Dylan Ainsworth is nothing more than a special-teamer, and the jury is still out on 2015 7th-round pick Maxx Forde.
The loss of recent first-round pick Ese Mrabure-Ajufo surely still stings, but the Lions can fill the void with another Wilfred Laurier pass-rusher in Boateng. Boateng has shown the impressive flexibility to really bend on pass-rushes and run the arc. He also posses a large and developed pass-rush repertoire. He’s slightly lacking in the quickness department, but Boateng has the size (6’2″, 250-lbs) and production (Wilfred Laurier’s all-time sack leader) to warrant this pick.
1:4 – Hamilton Tiger-Cats: WR Rashaun Simonise, Calgary
The Ti-Cats won’t pass on this talented of a receiver again, right? (See Durant, Lemar). With excellent Canadian content and only depth needed, Hamilton should select easily the best player available in this scenario – Rashaun Simonise.
Simonise is an absolute freak athlete. At 6’5″, he ran a 4.42 and 4.48 40-yard dash at his Pro Day last year. Simonise, who left the University of Calgary to declare for the NFL supplemental draft after being ruled academically ineligible, already has NFL experience – he was a late training camp cut of the Cincinnati Bengals last August. NFL opportunities will certainly come into play in terms of Simonise’s draft stock, but after playing last season for the CJFL’s Okanagan Sun, it could be harder for Simonise to land another shot without getting some better game tape against increased competition.
1:5 – Edmonton Eskimos: LB Christophe Mulumba Tshimanga, Maine
The Eskimos will likely consider University of Manitoba guard Geoff Gray here, as the days in the CFL for long-time guard Simeon Rottier are numbered, but Mulumba Tshimanga would be the best player available. Having brought back Shamawd Chambers from Saskatchewan, the Eskimos can wait until a later round to fill the loss of receivers Devon Bailey and Chris Getzlaf.
Mulumba Tshimanga is one of the most pro-ready players in this draft class. He’s a smart, instinctive linebacker that’s often one step ahead of the offense. He’s nearly reached his athletic potential, with NFL-size physical attributes at 6’1″, 245-lbs. He’ll be asked to drop some weight, but the fact that he’ll likely run around a 4.84 40-yard dash at his current weight is eye-opening for CFL talent evaluators. Considering the Eskimos will roll with four Americans on the defensive line following the release of Eddie Steele, Mulumba Tshimanga may need to contribute in some capacity as early as next season, as head coach Jason Maas would certainly rather not start three Canadians at receiver.
1:6 – Winnipeg Blue Bombers: WR Danny Vandervoort, McMaster
Receiver is the Bombers’ biggest need heading into the draft. Fortunately for Kyle Walters and the blue and gold, the receiver position is a massive position of strength in this class. After years of mediocrity with the likes of Rory Kohlert and Julian Feoli-Gudino, the Bombers may finally land a high-end receiver prospect in the first round.
Vandervoort has a coveted combination of size and speed at 6’2″, 205-lbs. He pulls away from defenders on deep crossers, fades, etc., and displays a massive catch radius on 50/50 balls. Like most receivers who enter the CFL draft, the Barrie, ON. native must sharpen his route-running. Vandervoort, who’s third all-time in Canadian University Football touchdown receptions, has all the tools to become a dynamic CFL receiver.
1:7 – BC Lions: OL Geoff Gray, Manitoba
The Lions have a nice core of Canadian offensive linemen in the likes of Hunter Steward, Cody Husband, Kirby Fabien and Charles Vaillancourt, but Wally Buono won’t be able to keep all four forever. While the Lions have a greater need for a pass-catcher and a defensive tackle, it’d still be a wise move for Buono to invest in another high-end offensive line prospect.
Considering the current state of the Lions’ offensive line, Gray would be granted the time he needs to develop in order to reach his maximum potential. Gray, an olympic lifter, is an absolute bulldozer on the field. He’s fairly agile and has excellent size at 6’5″, 319-lbs. Gray has obvious technical issues that will keep him from seeing the field without seasoning first – the Winnipeg product struggles with pad level and hand usage – but the pick could pay off hugely in the future for BC. Just envision, if all goes well, Charles Vaillancourt and Geoff Gray would form an exceptional duo for the future.
1:8 – Calgary Stampeders: TE Antony Auclair, Laval
As usual, the Stamps have the best Canadian content in the league. (I know, what else is new?). They’ll pick up some depth nationals in the later rounds to replace some losses in free agency, but have absolutely no pressing needs in the first round. They’re astronomically loaded along the offensive line, with Canadians Pierre Lavertu, Spencer Wilson, Dan Federkeil, Shane Bergman, Karl Lavoie, Brad Erdos, Roman Grozman and Cam Thorn. Calgary’s in perfect position to invest in an NFL-bound player, and who better than Laval TE/SB Anthony Auclair, a truly unique prospect to the CFL Draft.
Auclair, who impressed at the East-West Shrine Game, possesses NFL-wanted TE size at 6’6″, 254-pounds. When watching him at the Shrine as well as during his time at Laval, I was shocked by just how comfortable and smooth he seemed running and catching the football. He’s going to get an NFL opportunity, but if he comes north, the Stamps will have a seriously interesting player on their hands. There’s truly no current CFLer to compare with Auclair – he’s a unicorn. I envision Auclair as an F-receiver that doesn’t need to be subbed out for a fullback in those personnel groupings. The Stamps would be able to get incredibly creative with their offense if they ever landed Auclair on a CFL contract.
Although the Redblacks could go many different routes with the last pick in the first round, selecting Behar makes a lot of sense. It fills a need – Ottawa has suspect depth behind Brad Sinopoli – and adds another local product to the team’s receiving corps. Behar is a London, Ontario native but, of course, played college ball in Ottawa. The Redblacks could use another offensive lineman – McGill’s Qadr Spooner will be considered – as well as a defensive tackle, however a DT such as Idaho’s Faith Ekakitie or Montreal’s Junior Luke would be a reach in the first round. Behar’s local ties edge out Spooner.
The 2017 CFL draft class boasts a ridiculously talented top-5, and although much of the attention has been focused on names like Justin Senior, Antony Auclair, Rashaun Simonise and even Geoff Gray, UCLA nose tackle Eli Ankou could very well be the first overall pick come May.
The Ottawa, ON. native started his junior and senior seasons for the Bruins, impressively amassing 91 total tackles in 22 games. Ankou filled an uber-important role as the two-gap nose tackle in UCLA’s 3-4 defense, allowing elite NFL prospects such as Eddie Vanderdoes and Takkarist McKinley to flourish. Ankou battled an elbow injury in his senior year sustained in week 4, causing him to miss 2.5 games and play the rest of the season with a restrictive elbow brace. He put together an impressive season nonetheless, but was surprisingly not invited to the 2017 East-West Shrine Game, instead settling for the NFLPA collegiate bowl.
Part of this could be attributed to the fact that he only recorded 1.5 sacks in his college career, although I’d like to point out that he was rarely used as a pass-rusher, which is typical for true 0-techs that align head-up on the center, and will often be asked to QB spy in obvious passing situations.
Ankou has a great build, especially to play in Noel Thorpe’s or Devone Claybrooks’ defense. While perfect for his position at UCLA, 325-lbs may seem slightly heavy for the CFL, but considering he’s also 6-foot-3, Ankou carries his weight healthily. He has a bulky build, carrying a lot of it in his legs.
Ankou has a solid get-off, whether he’s timing the cadence or watching the ball. His first step isn’t consistently strong enough to withstand double teams, but he’s shown the ability to shoot gaps as a one-tech. For this reason, he’s scheme versatile. For example, Ankou could play the 0-tech in Montreal’s 4-3 shift defense, or the 1 and 2i-tech in Hamilton’s base 4-3 even.
Vision is one of the most important traits to look for in a nose tackle, and it happens to be Ankou’s best skill. Although he wasn’t the most physically dominant player, the Ottawa product amassed monstrous tackle numbers due to his ability to quickly locate the ball-carrier and adjust accordingly. His awareness wasn’t as good – I found multiple examples of Ankou falling for trap blocks, as well as being cut-blocked on zone runs – but the mental aspect of the position is a strength for Ankou regardless.
Ankou isn’t necessarily a consistently powerful player. His strength shows up in flashes, typically when his technique is sound. If his knees are bent and his hands are placed in the strike zone of the offensive lineman, he’s going to move people. He’s strong enough to keep his feet moving through contact, but didn’t always anchor down on run plays against double teams. In regards to his upper-body strength, it shows flashes as well. Ankou uses his torso strength to keep offensive linemen at a distance in one-on-one rushes, but didn’t display overwhelming block-shedding ability through his torso and hips to rag-doll offensive linemen.
3-4 nose tackles generally aren’t supposed to use finesse moves in one-on-one pass rushing match-ups, so its unclear whether or not he has the ability to consistently beat CFL offensive lineman with rip, club and swim moves. He has, however, proven to have quick, strong hands to get inside hand positioning on offensive lineman on bull-rushes. The battle of quickness and accuracy between offensive and defensive linemen to be the first to get their hands in the strike zone first on every snap is key to gaining leverage and winning the rep – Ankou excels in this.
Ankou’s pad level isn’t as consistent as scouts would like it to be, but he has shown the ability to really bend his knees, get lower than the offensive lineman, and power through. He didn’t have the raw strength to over-power PAC-12 offensive lineman when his pad level wasn’t good, but he won’t need to be as powerful in the CFL as he needed to be as a 0-tech in a 3-4 scheme in a tough conference. Ankou’s still very much welcome to use this off-season to get stronger in his lower-body, of course.
Ankou’s role in college was simple – gain control of the center on run plays to control both A-Gaps, and provide interior pressure on pass plays by bull-rushing or spying the quarterback on passing plays. In the CFL, he’ll have to run twists far more often – he almost never did with UCLA – and align in several different techniques along the inside of the defensive line. A dominant CFL defensive tackle must have a variety of pass-rushing moves in his repertoire – think of the spin, arm-over swim, rip, club and regular swim move – as well as the athletic ability to pull them off. There are a plethora of good scrambling quarterbacks up north, so tackling and closing speed is important, too. It’s not the same as closing speed, but Ankou’s raw speed to chase down quarterbacks or running backs from the back-side isn’t great. With that being said, I think he’s athletic enough to effectively run twists at the professional level. He’ll require good coaching to expand his pass-rushing repertoire, though, as he was simply not asked to do very much at all in these situations while with the Bruins.
Its easier than ever to get on an NFL training camp roster – see Lefevour, Dan – but especially for those fresh out of college after starting two seasons in the PAC-12. Boston College defensive end Mehdi Abdesmad, who was drafted in the third round by the Ottawa Redblacks in last year’s draft, spent all of 2016 with the Tennessee Titans, but there’s always a chance Ankou makes it no further than an NFL rookie mini-camp, similarly to Trent Corney in 2016 as well.
Ankou has the talent worthy of a top-2 pick, but don’t be surprised if he goes unselected until the second or third round because of NFL interest. At this point, though, its hard to say.