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: NFL-Bound Studs Headline Defensive Line Class

Plenty has been made of the NFL’s recent interest in Canadian players, and nowhere else is that best represented than with the 2016 draft-eligible defensive linemen.

The top-3 defensive linemen in this class each have varying levels of NFL interest, which doesn’t bode well for CFL clubs that are looking to shore up their depth along the defensive line in the draft.

It’s an incredibly weak year for defensive linemen beyond the top-3. But, fortunately, those top-3 are incredibly talented. Where they’ll each be drafted, however, remains a mystery, particularly for the prospect that tops the list, who just happens to be the best Canadian prospect in years.

1. NT David Onyemata, Manitoba (6’4″, 300-lbs)

A fourth-round pick of the New Orleans Saints, Onyemata may never play a snap in the CFL. He’s an incredibly gifted athlete, and although he’s extremely raw by NFL standards, with coaching and some seasoning, Onyemata has the potential to develop into a starter down south. He was one of the most athletic interior defensive lineman selected in the 2016 NFL draft, and as a result, may not be drafted until the mid-to-late rounds of the CFL draft.

David Onyemata. Photo credit: gobisons.ca

2. DE Trent Corney, Virginia (6’3″, 251-lbs)

Corney is easily the most athletic player in the draft, as the 6-foot-3, 251-pound edge-defender clocked a 4.52-second 40-yard dash, and recorded a 38-inch vertical jump, 10-foot broad jump, and 34 reps on the bench press, which would have tied him for the most reps at the national NFL combine. In fact, Corney would have likely earned the best SPARQ score – a scoring system designed to measure sport-specific athleticism – out of every defensive lineman and linebacker at the 2016 NFL combine. Regardless, Corney was surprisingly not drafted or offered a UDFA contract, settling on a mini-camp invite with the New York Jets, which has likely seen his CFL draft-stock sky-rocket.

Pending some wild fall-out, Corney will surely be a first-round pick next week, as he has the potential to develop into a starter fairly quickly. He has a great burst off the line, as well as the shoulder turn and flexibility to turn the corner as a rusher. He’s good with his hands and, best of all, fully understands how to use leverage to his advantage. Although Corney has a great motor, he can get washed out at the point of attack as a run-stopper.

3. DE Mehdi Abdesmad, Boston College (6’6″, 284-lbs)

Abdesmad, who signed with the Tennessee Titans after going undrafted in the NFL draft, had an incredibly productive senior season in the ACC after two previous injury-riddled campaigns. The Montreal, QC. native collected 49 tackles, 15 tackles-for-loss and 5.5 sacks in 12 games despite being one season removed from a severe knee injury suffered against Florida State. He’s not expected to make the Titans’ final roster, however, so it’s possible that the CFL team that draft’s him could sign him by September, unless he signs on the practice roster.

Abdesmad is an intriguing prospect for the CFL, as I’m not sure if he has the athleticism, body type and flexibility to turn the corner as an edge player. He’s better suited as a defensive tackle, lining up as a 3-tech or a 4-tech. He’s strong and great at the point of attack, but will absolutely need to improve his pad-level before he can start in the CFL.

Mehdi Abdesmad. Photo credit: http://www.bceagles.com

4. NT Rupert Butcher, Western (6’4″, 327-lbs)

Butcher had the best Combine one-on-one performance I’ve ever seen, dominating every match-up that presented itself. The huge University of Western product displayed fantastic hands – he had three clean swim moves – as well as good explosion out of his stance and power, dominating three separate reps with bull-rushes. He drastically needs to lose some weight – which could improve his shiftiness –  but Butcher’s Combine performance likely at least somewhat made up for his mediocre game film. He is, however, a wall against double-teams, planting his outside leg and fighting hard to maintain position in his gap. But I question his recovery athleticism and tackling abilities for a big-man.

5. NT Quinn Horton, SFU (6’3″, 289-lbs)

Horton is quick, agile and strong, but his pad-level is quite poor – he stands right up off the snap. He does, however, play with a huge motor and is quick to diagnose run direction, playing with instincts and football smarts. He has ideal size and really good hands, but he’ll get swallowed by double-teams in the pros if he can’t improve his knee-bend and punch. The Winnipeg, MB. product has good lateral quickness to be a threat on twists, and his motor will help compensate for some of his flaws.

6. DE Michael Kashak, McMaster (5’11”, 242-lbs)

Kashak is able to set a strong edge in run-defense, and while he’s shorter than teams would like at the edge position, he effectively uses his leverage to generate a pass-rush on the outside. He’s relatively athletic, but still kind of stiff and doesn’t have enough bend to turn the corner as a speed-rusher. Kashak is explosive – he is, in fact, better out of three point stance than standing up – and possesses a strong arm-over move as his go-to. He’s a smart player, and could develop into a rotational player in the future.

7. DE Denzel Philip, Eastern New Mexico (6’0″, 228-lbs)

Seen as tweener between defensive tackle and an EDGE, Philip evidently shed a lot of weight to gain the speed and quickness he lacked as a defensive end. Despite the weight loss, Philip didn’t seem much different in combine one-on-ones. Although explosive out of his stance, he’s still very stiff and doesn’t turn the corner until he’s already washed out of the play. I said long ago that Philip would be best suited inside, and with Philip choosing to lose weight to gain quickness as a defensive end rather than gaining weight, that window is closed.

8. DE Boyd Richardson, UBC (6’2″, 234-lbs)

Richardson gets off the ball fast, displaying quickness and agility as a pass-rusher. But he lacks strength to maintain gap integrity and will get washed out in the pro ranks if he doesn’t get bigger and stronger. He does, fortunately, have a few different pass-rush moves, and possesses the lateral quickness to possibly do some damage on twists. He’s a late-round player, however, and could return to UBC for a fifth season after training camp.

9. DT Donnie Egerter, Guelph (6’2″, 278-lbs)

The best thing about Egerter is his ability to perhaps suit up as an offensive lineman, as he seemed adequate in limited reps on offense at the CFL combine. In his natural defensive tackle position, Egerter gets low and has a good bull-rush, but he’s limited athletically and doesn’t have very good hands.

10. DT Tarique Anderson, Delaware State (6’4″, 270-lbs)

It wouldn’t surprise me if Anderson went undrafted, as he’s an incredibly stiff interior defensive lineman, and also has far from ideal size or build. Anderson is very ineffective with his hands and struggles with block-shedding. He’s not quick, explosive or powerful, and has many technical flaws.