Stock Market Report: Bombers vs. Alouettes

It’s well-versed that CFL rookies must make an excellent first impression in training camp and in preseason game situations, as two games is not a lot of time to earn a roster spot, let alone displace a veteran.

If the second-half of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ 36-13 victory over the Montreal Alouettes is any indication, a large amount of rookies wearing the Blue & Gold must’ve made some strong impressions for Mike O’Shea and his staff.

While it’s impossible to really know for sure without the play-calls, certain players absolutely popped off the page with blue-chip performances, while others inevitably disappointed. Any game is extremely hard to evaluate at first glance, and the weekly installment of the game-review Stock Market Report is my thoughts after replaying the game and working my rewind button to hell on every play.

Here’s the inaugural Stock Market Report of 2016: newcomers edition.

BLUE-CHIP STOCKS

JOHN WOODS/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Travis Bond: The 6-foot-6, 330-pound Bond could’ve earned himself a starting job with his performance on Wednesday. Bond was easily the Bombers’ top offensive lineman, and he took reps at both offensive tackle and guard. On a second & one play with 1:51 remaining in the first half, Bond essentially ate the nose guard as Carlos Anderson plunged behind him for a 1st down – and that may not have even been his best block of the night. Bond only lost one match-up all night, and in the match-ups he did win, he completely instilled his force on the defender. Bond even showed great comfort passing off defenders and picking up twists, too. Having excelled at both guard and offensive tackle in the preseason game, he should enter the season as the swing man with Jeff Keeping out eight weeks, since the team still seems really high on Jace Daniels at left guard.

Trent Corney: Upon further review, Corney was significantly better as a pass-rusher than both Adrian Hubbard and Shayon Green. (All three were played in the third and fourth quarter, too; Corney faced the same competition for much of the game). While Hubbard was extremely slow off the ball, Corney showcased an absurd burst out of a three-point stance. (That wasn’t necessarily unexpected with his absolutely off-the-charts athleticism). Corney, who recorded two sacks in his first taste of pro ball, used his hands surprisingly well on a couple of rushes, showcasing his expanded repertoire on a series of plays while absolutely bullying sophomore tackle Jacob Ruby on an Alouettes’ drive that started at around the three-minute mark of the second quarter. The Virginia product wasn’t nearly as average against the run as I first thought he was following the game, either; he maintained gap discipline and responsibilities decently well. The Bombers won’t start Corney in week one, but this muscle-head should be the club’s primary rotational pass-rusher from the get-go.

Tim Flanders: Speed, shiftiness, vision    Flanders showed it all in his first game with the Blue & Gold. Averaging 5.3 yards on 15 carries for 80 yards, Flanders did a great job hitting the hole without any hesitation. His vision in general was terrific, and he also excelled as a pass-catcher. The Sam Houston State alum added 32 yards on two grabs, including a 22-yarder on a screen play. I don’t know if Flanders, who had a cup of coffee with the Lions in week 20 last year, could have played any better in his debut. After all, his fumble after an ankle-breaking juke on Mitchell White was overturned.

Thomas Mayo: The 6-1 pass-catcher made the most of the absence of Jace Davis, who was the favorite to win the lone opening in the Bombers’ receiving corps in the first week of camp. Finishing with 2 receptions for 27 yards in the stat column, Mayo also had a great play off a high slant route across the middle versus cover-1 wiped off by a penalty. A couple plays later, with 16 seconds on the clock, Mayo got the Bombers down to around the 3-yard line with another tough grab on the same route as before. Away from the ball, he got better separation than most of Winnipeg’s struggling receiving corps, showing that he should receive an increase in targets in the second preseason game. In that case, giving his sample of tough catches already, Mayo will be a week one starter if he can repeat his game one performance against Ottawa.

Sergio Castillo: He’ll inevitably be released during final cuts, however Castillo’s four-for-five-performance should earn him another gig when CFL teams are looking for kicking help in a month or so. After missing his first kick from 44 yards, knowing he already had no chance of making the roster, Castillo could’ve packed it in right then and there. Instead he went out and made kicks from 35, 44, 39 and 49. Castillo also added two extra points. Good for him.

Quincy McDuffie: A terrible drop on a would-be touchdown catch from McDuffie was the only thing that prohibited the former Ti-cat from locking up a roster spot. Otherwise, the diminutive speedster was great as both a receiver and a returner. His route-running was better than expected, and he made an emphatic statement in the third quarter with a reception on a beautiful corner route, which featured a nice inside stem to open the halfback’s hips. He also, as expected, made plays when receiving the ball in space, breaking off a 17-yard romp after catching a speed-out against a soft zone. McDuffie showed the same short-area burst as on the corner route here, evading the first tackler with a nasty juke-move. The club is still very high on Justin Veltung – as they should be – but it’s going to be nearly impossible to keep McDuffie off the roster.

Andrew Harris: Harris’ highlight reel catch-and-run in the 1st quarter was everything Bomber fans had ever dreamed about when the Winnipeg-native first burst onto the scene in 2011 with the Lions. With how the Bombers intend to use the run-game under Paul Lapolice, I have no doubt Harris will lead the league in yards from scrimmage in 2016.

SOLID INVESTMENTS

Photo via JOHANY JUTRAS http://www.johanyjutras.com

Jamarcus Hardrick: The most enthusiastic offensive lineman I’ve ever seen, Hardrick had himself a fantastic outing. The veteran of 18 career starts dominated at both offensive tackle and guard, and if it was my choice, I’d have Travis Bond starting at left guard with Hardrick as the depth swing-man. (It was announced that Jeff Keeping is out about 8 weeks with a knee injury, and Michael Couture is nowhere near ready to be the sixth man). Hardrick is an absolute mauler in the run-game, while also possessing the needed quickness to block speed-rushers as a book-end. He was a solid pickup in the off-season by GM Kyle Walters.

Brian Bennett & Dominique Davis: The two battling pivots weren’t as great as Winnipeg’s 23 second-half points might indicate, but each showed some positive traits as inexperienced quarterbacks. Both guys were extremely poised in the pocket, mostly executed the play-calls and showed some good escapability. Aside from his beautiful, back-shoulder touchdown toss to Fred Williams, Bennett was quite inaccurate, while Davis didn’t always seem to see the defense quite as fast as needed. The latter still has the upper-hand, though    and likely by a large margin after Wednesday    but one thing’s for certain: both quarterbacks competing for the third-string job are gamers.

Tony Burnett: Likely Winnipeg’s most underrated player, Burnett locked up his roster spot with his performance Wednesday night. Suiting for about half of Winnipeg’s games in 2015 – Burnett battled a couple of injuries in his rookie campaign – Burnett will be the club’s designated import at linebacker once again in year two. The USC product’s excellent change of direction skills, in tandem with his tackling abilities, were put on display in the preseason opener. He reacted quickly to an Alouettes’ screen pass with 2:44 left in the second quarter, making a drive-ending, solo tackle with no other defender near the ball. Burnett played well at both SAM and WIL linebacker in the third quarter, and made another excellent open-field tackle on Duron Carter’s missed field goal return in the 1st half.

Addison Richards: Richards’ play against Montreal showed that he isn’t quite ready to be Rory Kohert’s primary backup, but he certainly showed some signs of potential. In the very few games that Richards was healthy enough to suit up in last year, the game seemed to be going 1,000-mph in the rookie’s head. He seemed much more confident on Wednesday, and although his route-running needs a ton of work, Richards played very fast and with poise. Sure, his first catch – a 12-yard curl – was a poor route, while his second was a short hook with the corner playing way off in deep zone duties, but it was good for the Regina product to get on the stat-sheet after a tumultuous first season.

Carlos Anderson: Ditto to Flanders in every aspect – decisiveness, speed, shiftiness – but the only thing preventing Anderson from being a blue-chipper that night was his pass-blocking. Anderson was burnt badly by a blitzing linebacker in the C-gap around the 11:00 mark of the third quarter, which hurts his stock. Averaging 6.7 yards-per-carry on the ground, he did, however, match Flander’s effectiveness as a runner – although working with the starting offensive line (not Michael Couture, specifically), he might have even been better – and provides experience and big-play ability as a returner. Mike O’Shea, Avon Cobourne and Paul Lapolice are going to have to make a very tough decision when it comes to Andrew Harris’ backup.

STOCK DOWN

Manase Foketi: He received significant playing time, but Foketi was a weaker point on what was a very solid offensive line for all four quarters. Playing mostly offensive tackle, Foketi’s feet seemed to be stuck in the mud on his kick steps. For reference, watch Aaron Lavarias go nearly untouched around the edge (2:10 mark of the 2nd quarter) as the Bombers rolled the pocket to Foketi’s side. With Bond and Hardrick putting on a clinic, Foketi’s days in Winnipeg could be numbered.

Macho Harris: Harris’ missed open-field tackle on a Brandon Rutley screen pass on Montreal’s second drive of the game was an abrupt reminder that he was one of the underlying issues of Saskatchewan’s brutal defense in 2015. With Tony Burnett’s continual development at linebacker, I’m open to having Burnett start at SAM, allowing Maurice Leggett to replace Harris at safety. As a strong-side LB, Burnett is probably no better than Leggett as a cover-man, but it’d be worth it with Leggett, an elite safety, stepping in for Harris on the back-end.

Shayon Green: Frankly, Adrian Hubbard wasn’t all that better, but he did, at least, show some life while setting the edge on a couple run plays, and while recording a sack against All-Star right tackle Jeff Perrett. Green, meanwhile, was largely ineffective, running himself out of the play against the run, and while looking one-dimensional as a pass-rusher. While Green is far more athletic, he lacks the technique that Hubbard possesses.

Kevin Fogg: Fogg entered Wednesday’s game with a lot of hype coming from his excellent 10 days of practice, so anything less than an average-to-solid performance would see his stock drop. Als’ receiver Chandler Jones beat him a couple times on the night for solid gains, although I’m not too sure if Fogg actually had flat responsibilities on Jones’ touchdown reception from Rakeem Cato. Fogg still has a good chance to start in week one at boundary halfback, but with Julian Posey receiving a lot of reps, Donald Celiscar continuing to improve – he was very sound in coverage, and forced a fumble on kickoff – as well as Johnny Patrick returning to the lineup, Fogg needs to be an impactful player on Monday against Ottawa.

Gerrard Shephard & Lester Jean: On a night where the majority of the receiving corps struggled to get separation, Shephard and Jean may have struggled more than any of the receivers at getting open or making plays on the football. Bennett’s pass was slightly behind him, but Shephard had a bad drop across the middle at the 8:17 mark of the fourth quarter, while Jean struggled to beat press, and didn’t generate any leverage with the ball in the air.


OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE GAME: OL Travis Bond (6’6″, 230-lbs)
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE GAME: LB Tony Burnett (6’1″, 205-lbs)

The Bombers are in action next on Monday against the Ottawa REDBLACKS.

An In-Depth Look at the Bombers’ Impressive Haul of Draft Picks

Kyle Walters just sat back – probably didn’t relax – and let the chips fall where they may in the 2016 CFL draft. In the end, he came away with an outright ridiculous haul of players.

The first round of the CFL Draft was nothing short of crazy, and for Walters and Mike O’Shea, who remained quiet across the league back in Winnipeg, the outcome was nothing short of ideal. An early-run on offensive lineman – aided by the Eskimos foolishly selecting Tevaun Smith at eighth overall – meant Virginia pass-rusher Trent Corney slipped through the cracks in the opening round and into the hands of a thrilled Kyle Walters. A shake-up regarding the elite tier of offensive lineman saw Michael Couture also still on the board when Winnipeg was on the clock, and the war-room likely had no objections before calling in the pick.

Those two picks were already quite satisfying, but no one – not even the Bombers, but perhaps Justin Dunk – knew how graciously the draft would continue to unfold for the Bombers as the rounds passed by.

It’s all the more impressive when you consider the fact that Garrett Waggoner, a blue-chip, tremendous prospect, was technically selected with a 2016 draft pick. This class has the potential to be the defining moment of Kyle Walter’s career in Winnipeg, and it’s amazing what can unfold when a team is able to have freedom with their draft choices as a result of a solid corps of Canadians under-contract. Walters has brought the Bombers’ Canadian content a long way since he took over the skeleton-like depth chart from the Joe Mack era, and he took another large step forward with the first three players drafted by the Blue & Gold this year.

Round 2, pick 9 – DE Trent Corney, Virginia

This selection was more than ideal for the Bombers; not only does Corney fill a positional need, but he was easily the best player available as well. An ultra-athletic player, Corney was one of the most athletic defensive lineman available in the NFL draft, and many people were stunned when he not only went undrafted, but wasn’t even offered a priority free agent contract.

Corney had an excellent senior season – his first season as a starter. His first career start came against UCLA, where Corney battled a 1st-round (and 2016 top-10 pick) NFL offensive tackle, Ronnie Stanley. Notching six tackles and a tackle-for-loss, Corney ended up being Stanley’s toughest match-up of the season.

Although he has a very good chance of developing into a starter, he’ll start his career as Jamaal Westerman’s backup. With his ridiculous athleticism – the 6-foot-3, 251-pounder clocked a 4.52-second 40-yard dash, recorded a 38-inch vertical jump and a 10-foot broad jump – and hard-nosed style, he’ll make an immediate impact on special-teams.

Round 2, pick 2 – C Michael Couture, Simon Fraser

Another athletic player, Couture was a slam-dunk pick for Bombers at 10th overall in terms of value. With Charles Vaillancourt tumbling into the hands of the BC Lions at fifth overall, all plans drafting the local product went out the door in BC, so Couture fell into the hands of the Bombers. It was no secret the Bombers were going to draft an offensive lineman at any costs with back-to-back picks to open the second round, as the club only had four Canadian offensive linemen under contract until the draft.

The sky is the limit for Couture, as he played all of left guard, centre and right tackle with the Clan, while lining up at all five offensive line positions at the combine – and dominating. Couture has quick, nimble feet and excellent, refined technique – don’t rule out the ability of him developing into a starting right tackle down the road. In the meantime, he brings some much needed depth and versatility to the Bombers’ unit. He needs time to develop, but Couture has a bright future.

Round 3, pick 2 – S Taylor Loffler, UBC

Four surgeries in five years was enough to scare away enough clubs from Loffler until Walters pulled the trigger in the third round on the consensus top safety in the draft. While not directly a positional need with Garrett Waggoner young and on the roster, the former Boise State recruit was simply too good of a player for the Bombers to pass. Loffler is a a top-15 talent, and a clean bill of health during his first and only season with the UBC Thunderbirds could mean his health issues are in the past.

Loffler, similarly to Corney, is one of the more pro-ready players in the draft. He’ll contribute on special-teams and as a depth safety this year, but in perhaps one-to-two seasons, the Bombers could be starting Loffler at strong-side linebacker and Garrett Waggoner at weak-side linebacker – both of whom were technically acquired with 2016 draft picks.

Round 4, pick 28 – LB Shayne Gauthier, Laval

The Bombers were wise to invest in a player who projects purely as a special-teams anchor this early in the draft. Albeit only 5’10” and 220-pounds, Gauthier is a tough, throwback linebacker who plays off physicality and natural instincts. With deceptive downhill speed – he ran a 4.66-second 40-yard dash – the Laval product should be able to make an immediate impact on special-teams.

Round 5, pick 2 – RG Zach Intzandt, McMaster

The Bombers needed to add at least two offensive linemen in the draft, and Intzandt happens to be one of the best developmental prospects eligible. He looks the part at 6-foot-4 and 304-pounds, but 2015 was Intzandt’s first year starting along the offensive line after converting from the defensive side in 2013. Nonetheless, his tape at McMaster was solid, however a rough Combine performance may have showed scouts that the London, ON. native was more of a project than perhaps originally thought. It’s slightly worrisome that this technique is already decently refined – you can teach technique, but you can’t teach physical abilities – but I don’t doubt the coaching abilities of Bob Wylie.

Round 6, pick 2 – NT Rupert Butcher, Western

Displaying one of the best Combine one-on-one performances in history, Butcher could be one of the steals of the draft. But it wasn’t completely surprisingly to see the Western product fall into the six-round. Butcher was never a consistently dominant player with the Mustangs – Walters pointed to his lack of motor – and only showed flashes. His motor was sure running at the combine, of course, as Butcher dominated every offensive lineman that crossed his face in a number of different ways, displaying shiftiness, good hands, pad-level and a fearsome bull-rush. Butcher must lose some weight – he’s a behemoth at 6-foot-5, 327-lbs – and will fit in behind Keith Shologan and Jake Thomas at the nose tackle position, likely making the practice roster this season.

Round 7, pick 2 – SB Alex Vitt, Manitoba

The Bombers passed on a handful of local products before picking up Vitt with the 55th pick the draft. While not flashy, Vitt is a physical, blue-collar pass-catcher who was a consistent contributor with the Bisons, notching 728 yards and 4 TDs in 2015. A player who won’t catch anyone’s attention with his testing numbers, Vitt didn’t have his best day running routes at the Edmonton Regional Combine and found his name uncalled when the list of participants moving on to the National event were named. A 6-foot-2 receiver with good hands and a willingness to block, Vitt will be an interesting name to watch in training camp.

Round 8, pick 2 – LB Frank Renuad, Windsor

It was disappointing to see the club pass on another local product who plays the same position, DJ Lalama, but I can’t say anything bad about Renaud. He didn’t have the opportunity of a fourth-season to improve his draft-stock, tearing his ACL at the East-West Bowl. The Bombers’ Canadian talent evaluates obviously liked what they saw at the event, but we’ll have to wait and see if the Bombers get any value out of a player who wouldn’t have been drafted without the new, additional eighth round.

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.