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.

Combine Risers: 5 Players Poised to See Their Draft-Stock Climb

While scouts will always gather the most information on a player from game tape, scouting combines are a great opportunity for players to prove – or confirm – what may not have appeared on film.

A great interview that reassures the player’s love of the game and depth of knowledge could see him shoot up team’s rankings. A solid performance in competition drills that allows a player to display skill traits that his college scheme restricted him from showing could do the same thing for a player’s draft stock.

For example, a receiver who played in an Air-Raid college offense, often running posts and verticals, could entirely change the way scouts view him by excelling within a full route-tree in one-on-ones. Similarly, a receiver who faced off-coverage and mostly quarters defense in college due to his team’s scheme could improve his draft stock at the combine by getting clean releases off the line in combine one-on-ones against press coverage.

Be it in interviews, testing or one-on-ones, CFL teams will be searching for whatever they can find on players that they can’t find on tape. Every draft sees numerous players burst onto the scene with fantastic scouting combines that puts to bed any concerns coaches could have with their tape. Here’s five that could be the combine winners this year.

Joshua Stanford: WR, Kansas

Injuries can often derail a player’s draft stock, limiting the amount of film on the player and ultimately creating concerns with the player’s durability. Stanford is a great example of this, as numerous injuries have hampered his college career after a promising start as a freshman in 2013. With Virginia Tech, Stanford had 40 catches for 640 receiving yards and a TD, but took a 4-game leave to attend to off-field issues in his sophomore campaign and struggled to get back on the field after that.

Shortly after, Stanford transferred to Kansas, but the injury-bug followed him. He only appeared in two games last year, merely accumulating 3 catches for 38 yards. His freshman season, however, was good enough for the six-foot-one, 200-pounder to earn an invite to the national CFL combine.

He displayed great yards-after-catch ability as a freshman as an elusive runner that’s hard to bring down. He’s sound in creating space in zones and finding soft spots in coverages, as well as using change of speed to create leverage against the DB to run his route. But he has some flaws, such as a small catching radius, limited route running ability and release off the line-of-scrimmage. This is all based off his redshirt freshman campaign, however, exemplifying exactly how crucial this upcoming weekend is for Stanford to show that his hiatus from game action hasn’t stunted his growth as a football player.

Zachary Intzandt: RG, McMaster

Similarly to former Michigan State right guard James Bodanis, who the Montreal Alouettes selected in the third round last year, Intzandt has garnered CFL interest despite only playing one year on the offensive side of the football. His film, however, would not indicate that whatsoever.

Intzandt is a polished prospect considering his lack of experience. He’s an athletic dude with great size, technique and a solid burst out of his stance. He’s also an effective puller, polished pass-protector and a solid run-blocker – the total package. He’s not great at anything, but more importantly, Intzandt has no glaring weaknesses, and he can play in multiple different schemes (but zone-blocking would probably suit him most).

According to the intro in his highlight video, Intzandt should test very well. He apparently runs a 5.17 40-yard dash, a number that’d draw a lot of attention if he runs similarly on Saturday. The combine will be a great place for Intzandt to assure scouts that his little experience at right guard should not be too much of a red flag.

Terrell Davis: LB, UBC

Davis, a former running back for Arizona State, was converted to linebacker prior to 2015, his first season at UBC. It turned out to be a great move by the Thunder Bird coaching staff, as Davis turned out to be everything they’d hoped to be – an athletic, sideline-to-sideline linebacker that excels in coverage and gets to the quarterback quickly on blitzes. Davis, who has the size to be a CFL linebacker at 6-foot, 220-pounds, would be a great fit for the Blue Bombers’ scheme.

Given his athleticism as a former running back, Davis is going to have a great combine. The competitive drills – one-on-ones against RBs in routes/coverage and blocking/blitzing – are made especially for players like Davis to shine.

Josiah St. John: RT, Oklahoma

Canadian offensive tackles are hard to find, but extremely valuable. St. John, who made four starts in 2015, could see his draft-stock sky-rocket if he excels in one-on-ones as a tackle. At 6-foot-6, 308-pounds, St. John is built like a right tackle, pending his wingspan measurements. He’s a better run-blocker than pass-blocker – St. John struggled with his 3-step in college – so he doesn’t project as a blind-side protector. Scouts will likely hope to see St. John show a mean streak, as well as use his leverage more to his advantage against certain rushers. St. John could still be a top-5 pick as a guard, but a solid workout at right tackle would push him into the conversation for the no. 1 and no. 2 overall selections.

George Johnson: WR, Western

Johnson’s expected to test well in the 40-yard dash and in one-on-ones, but a solid shuttle drill time could really see his draft stock improve. Johnson already has great explosion, control and agility, and if just break on his routes a little faster  – he already has the explosion out of his break and the route-running knowledge – Johnson could be viewed as a top-3 receiver in the draft.