Early Thoughts On The 2015 CFL Draft

Though the CFL draft is still four months away (in fact, the CFL has yet to officially announce a date for the event), the release of Justin Dunk’s first mock draft inspired me to put some draft thoughts together. Though the draft strategies of the CFL’s nine teams will surely evolve as free agency concludes, trades are made, the CFL combine is undertaken, and the NFL draft takes place, here are my thoughts on the 2015 CFL draft with all current information being taken into account.

Dunk, like most pundits around the league, expects Alex Mateas from the University of Connecticut to be selected first overall by the Ottawa RedBlacks in the upcoming CFL draft. A career centre, Mateas makes positional sense for an Ottawa team that will be looking for a new sixth offensive lineman when pending free agent Alexander Krausnick-Groh is not offered a new contract. Though Mateas will be in tough to immediately unseat incumbent centre Jon Gott, many around the league have speculated Gott is actually a better fit at the guard position he filled in 2013 with the Stampeders following the emergence of wunderkind Brett Jones. Should an injury occur to projected starting guards J’Michael Deane or Tyler Holmes – the latter of whom is expected to sign with the RedBlacks on February 10th – the club could simply slide Gott over to guard and have Mateas take over at centre to fill the void. With the flexibility the addition of Mateas could instantly provide the RedBlacks, Ottawa would be foolish to pass on the 6’4, 300 pound UConn product. The added bonus? Alex Mateas was born in Ottawa.

As an aside, adding Holmes and Mateas this off-season would give the RedBlacks the best group of national offensive linemean in the CFL outside of Montreal. Gott and Deane are solid, while Holmes is a true all-star. Mateas could very well be the CFL’s next great centre, while Nolan MacMillan, the RedBlacks’ first ever CFL draft selection, is one of the few national players in the league who can hold his own at right tackle. Though his age (24) is a major asset, I would take MacMillan over any of the CFL’s other starting national right tackles, including Jeff Perrett, Ben Heenan, Chris Van Zeyl, and Dan Federkeil.

This leaves the Bombers with a vast multitude of options at second overall. Kyle Walters should be cackling with glee at the thought of Ottawa selecting Mateas first overall, a player who, with the signing of Dominic Picard and the development of 2014 second overall pick Matthias Goossen, would have been a poor fit for the Blue Bomber roster anyway. That’s not a knock on Mateas – as explained above, he’s a perfect fit for Ottawa and by all accounts a great player – it just means the Bombers should be able to draft the player they covet most highly at second overall.

In his mock draft, Dunk has the Bombers selecting Sukh Chungh of the Calgary Dinos second overall (for the record, Dunk correctly predicted the first two selections of the 2014 draft at this time last year). As a guard, I see Chungh as a player the Bombers should avoid. The Bombers currently have five interior national linemen allotted to fill just three positions – Picard, Goossen, Morley, Chris Greaves, and Patrick Neufeld. And while I expect the Bombers won’t bring Steve Morley back for another season (whether the club asks Morley to retire or releases him outright, I believe his days in blue and gold are over), the club is sure to bring 2014 draft selection Quinn Everett back into the fold after completing his final year of CIS eligibility with Mount Allison this past season. Chungh may very well develop into a stellar guard – I just don’t think the Bombers should use such a high pick on a player for whom they may not have a spot on the roster. And at 6’4, 300 pounds, Chungh is ill suited to the position I feel the Bombers should strive to address with the second overall pick in May’s draft – right tackle.

Opportunities to draft legitimate tackle prospects in the CFL are few and far between. Many prospects who possess the size and skill to play tackle attract too much NFL attention to be drafted as high as second overall (Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, McGill, 2014; David Foucault, Montreal, 2014; Austin Pasztor, Virginia, 2012), which is exactly the case for 2015 draft prospect Brett Boyko of UNLV. Boyko would be a shoe-in to go first overall in upcoming CFL draft if he wasn’t expected to be chosen in the fifth round of May’s NFL draft.

With this in mind, Kyle Walters, Bob Wylie, and Ted Goveia need to identify which offensive linemen available in the 2015 draft have the talent, size, and smarts to play right tackle in the CFL but are unlikely to become the subject of serious NFL interest. Looking at the list of prospects available, there are two such candidates: Jacob Ruby of Richmond and Danny Groulx of Laval.

Ruby, whose senior highlight video can be found here, stands 6’7 and weighs a healthy 315 pounds. According to his highlight video, Ruby’s measurables include 25 bench press reps of 225 pounds, a 5.2 40-yard dash, and a 25” vertical. 5.2 seconds is a relatively quick 40-yard dash by offensive line standards (some figures for comparison: Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, 5.2; Ben Heenan, 5.28; David Foucault, 5.28), while Ruby’s 25 bench press reps fail to jump off the page (Duvernay-Tardif, 34; Heenan, 32; Foucault, 22). It will be interesting to see how Ruby’s physicals have developed by the CFL combine in March should he choose to attend.

Looking at his highlight video (which, sadly, appears to have been filmed on a potato), Ruby is consistently able to get to the second level of the defense. His straight-line speed is impressive, particularly on the fly sweep play at the 3:56 mark if his video that sees Ruby pick up a safety 13-yards from the line of scrimmage. Not a lot of linemen have the speed to do that. Ruby also demonstrates an impressive ability to manhandle opponents in run blocking, something that is particularly evident in his reps at right tackle that make up the majority of the video’s latter half. This is a great asset to Ruby’s game, as hardnosed, power run blocking ability is the primary skill required to play the right tackle position. At the CFL level, however, the question becomes whether or not Ruby is able to be effective when asked to sit back in pass protection. When not on the attack, Ruby appears to be vulnerable to speed moves, an aspect of his game that will be tested when playing against CFL-caliber pass rushers. He doesn’t perform well against the spin moves employed near the middle of the video, and the overall lack of speed rushes found in the video leaves me feeling skeptical regarding the number of plays Ruby was willing to put into his highlight package. It’s possible Ruby simply didn’t face a large number of speedy edge rushers at Richmond; it’s also possible he’s trying to hide a weakness of his. For example, compare Ruby’s pass blocking to NolanMacMillan’s at Iowa. MacMillan is dominant in pass protection, something that is amplified by the fact that he is squaring off against stiffer competition from larger, more respected college football programs. Though it’s impossible to draw and any hard and fast conclusions about CFL prospects this far ahead of the draft (or for years after it, even), it looks like there is at least a small possibility that Ruby is capable of becoming a starter at right tackle in the CFL. Exactly whether or not Ruby is capable is up to the Bomber brass to decide.

Danny Groulx of Laval, meanwhile, lives up to his reputation for nastiness in his highlight video. Known for playing with a mean streak, it is rare for the defender at Groulx’s mercy to finish the play still upright. With deceptive speed and impressive lateral quickness, Groulx appears to have all the physical tools required to play tackle at the professional level (with that said, please remember that Tyson Pencer did, too). Groulx gets out wide on his seven-step drop quicker than Ruby (0:36), while matching Ruby’s ability to get to the next level (Groulx gets eight yards up the field on the weak fly sweep at 2:25 and the hand-off at 2:37). What’s more impressive is Groulx’s quickness in relation to his size. At 6’6, 335 pounds, Groulx is twenty pounds heavier than Ruby. And while – as is the case with every draft prospect – it is very early to draw any hard and fast conclusions about a given player, I’ll say this: Groulx reminds me a little of Chris Walby. And as far as I’m concerned, that’s about as good a compliment as you could pay a CFL offensive line prospect.

In addition to playing a position of great need for the Bombers, Groulx is a perfect fit with the club for reasons of mentorship. Ask any CFL coach what name comes to mind when the words “mean streak” and “Laval” are spoken and the answer will be unanimous: Dominic Picard. With the Bombers locking Picard up to a two-year contract earlier this week, Groulx would come to Winnipeg with the perfect mentor and role model already in place at the centre position. Though it will, of course, be up to the Bomber coaching staff to determine whether or not Groulx can get the job done at the tackle position at the professional level, Groulx looks to me like he could very well be capable of such a feat.

In the event that neither Ruby nor Groulx is able to impress the Bomber brass, I believe the club would (*ducks to avoid the garbage and shrapnel that is about to be thrown his way*) be best to avoid drafting an offensive lineman with the second overall pick.

Yes, I know this an unpopular opinion. But the facts are the facts: from Sean McEwen to Karl Lavoie to Dillon Guy to the aforementioned Sukh Chungh, there is a long list of interior offensive linemen who are close to the top of the CFL’s top-20 prospect rankings. With these four players available in addition to Mateas, Ruby, and Groulx, the Bombers are almost guaranteed to find one or more of these linemen still available in the second round at eleventh overall. With this being the case, the Bombers would be wise to nab an elite prospect at another position rather than selecting an offensive lineman second overall.

So, who should the Bombers take? As far as I’m concerned, there are three legitimate options. With the retirement of Ryan Lucas, Western’s DT Daryl Waud would appear to be the perfect choice at second overall. At 6’5, 285 pounds, Waud (whose highlight video can be found here) is considered by many to be a CFL-ready defensive lineman. The Bombers have to start a national player at defensive tackle to make their ratio work and drafting Waud could lock up that position for the next decade.

The second option is a receiver… and it’s not Nic Demski. Lemar Durant out of SFU (highlight tape here) is unbelievably talented. At 6’3, 230 pounds, Durant possesses the speed and athletic ability that will have CFL GMs foaming at the mouth. Durant is everything Kito Poblah was supposed to be – and more. Given the oft-injured nature of veteran Cory Watson, Durant would be a great fit for a Blue Bomber club that starts two national receivers.

Lastly, RB Tyler Varga enjoyed an amazing senior season at Yale that earned him a trip to the NCAA’s Senior Bowl. Looking at this kid’s tape, he could very well be the CFL’s next Jon Cornish. Yeah. He’s that talented. While Varga’s value will largely be determined by how he performs at the CFL combine (should he choose to attend), this kid could immediately step into the Blue Bomber line-up as a change-of-pace back alongside Paris Cotton.

As for Nic Demski (since I know local fans will want me to address the Winnipeg-born University of Manitoba product), Demski is simply not worth a pick as high as the second overall selection of this year’s CFL draft. Is Demski worth the Bombers’ second round pick at eleventh overall? Likely, yes. But not if the Bombers decided not to draft an offensive lineman at second overall.

There’s also something to be said for allowing local talent to be drafted elsewhere. As CFL fans have seen from the likes of Brendon LaBatte, Andy Fantuz, Craig Butler, Ricky Foley, Dan Federkeil, Simeon Rottier, etc., plenty of established players like signing with their hometown clubs in free agency two or three years into their CFL careers. Why not let Demski develop elsewhere, then sign with the blue and gold when and if he’s ready to be a star?

In summary, it is my opinion that the Blue Bombers must use the second overall selection of the 2015 CFL draft on Richmond’s Jacob Ruby or Laval’s Danny Groulx, provided (a) the club’s brass feels either is capable of playing tackle at the professional level and (b) neither becomes the subject of serious NFL interest. If neither Ruby nor Groulx is befitting of these two conditions, the club must draft Daryl Waud of Western, Lemar Durant of SFU or Tyler Varga of Yale, depending, of course, upon who the Bombers feel possesses the most talent, best suits the club’s needs, and is unlikely to receive an NFL contact. In the event that Waud, Durant or Varga is taken at second overall, the club would be wise to select an offensive lineman at eleventh overall even if it causes a backlog on the roster.

The CFL draft landscape will shift drastically over the following sixteen weeks – free agency, the NFL draft, and, most importantly, the CFL combine will have major impacts on the way in which teams assess the talent available to the CFL’s nine teams. Stay tuned to this blog and my twitter page (@BlueBomberTalk) to read my updated thoughts on the draft as these developments take place.

John Hodge, Blue Bomber Talk

Twitter: @BlueBomberTalk

Email: bluebombertalk@gmail.com

John Hodge is a Canadian football reporter based in Winnipeg.