With the NFL draft over, I’ve decided it’s finally time to complete my first annual CFL mock draft. Though the draft landscape may yet change depending upon the remaining number of prospects who sign NFL deals (Alex Mateas, Sukh Chungh, Daryl Waud, Lemar Durant, Sean McEwen, Jacob Ruby, Byron Archambault, Danny Groulx, Addison Richards, Nic Demski, and Tevaughn Campbell have all earned NFL mini-camp invitations), here is a look at how things could shake down on May 12.
Players listed below are identified by the position they are most likely to play at the CFL level; in some cases, this differs from the position at which they played in college.
1. Ottawa RedBlacks – C Alex Mateas, UConn
This pick is a no-brainer for the RedBlacks. Ottawa needs a third starting-quality interior offensive lineman (John Gott and J’Michael Deane are solid starters, while Matt Albright would be best used as a sixth lineman) and Mateas should be capable of starting right away at the CFL level. Possessing adequate strength and superior athleticism (Mateas’ pro day testing numbers would have put him first among offensive linemen in the categories of vertical jump, broad jump, and three-cone drill should he have attended the CFL combine), Mateas could very well be a future hall of famer in the making. The fact that Mateas is an Ottawa native is an added bonus for a team still trying to reconnect with its local fan base.
2. Winnipeg Blue Bombers – RT Danny Groulx, Laval
The Bombers have already brought in one nasty Laval graduate to play along the offensive line this off-season, so why stop there? Groulx is the best tackle prospect in the draft who hasn’t already signed an NFL contract (UNLV’s Brett Boyko signed with the Philadelphia Eagles as an undrafted free agent) and possesses an element of grittiness that has long since been absent from Winnipeg’s offensive line. Groulx is adequate in pass protection – even at 330 pounds, he has the quick feet required to protect the quarterback from speedy CFL pass rushers – but truly shines in the run game. A punishing, throwback tackle, Groulx’s game is perfectly suited to the hard-nosed football of the CFL’s Western Division.
3. Toronto Argonauts – G Sukh Chungh, Calgary
As good as Toronto’s offensive line has been in recent years, its national content is becoming increasingly long in the tooth. 2015 starters RT Chris Van Zeyl (32 in September), RG Wayne Smith (36 in November), and C Jeff Keeping (33 in September) are all approaching the ends of their careers with relatively little depth behind them. Insert Sukh Chungh, possibly the best offensive line prospect in the entire draft. Chungh has the strength (25 bench press reps) and athleticism (his shuttle time of 4.59 seconds was outstanding even by NFL standards) to become a perennial all-star player at the guard position.
4. Montreal Alouettes – DT Daryl Waud, Western
Though the Alouettes may take SFU’s Lemar Durant with this pick, I believe selecting Waud is the better move. Jim Popp hasn’t cared about carrying impactful national receivers since Ben Cahoon retired, so why not further invest at the defensive tackle position? The Alouettes just signed twenty-four-year-old Michael Klassen to a contract extension with whom Waud could develop nicely in a rotational role. This would give the Alouettes increased ratio flexibility and even allow the club to start five international receivers if they feel doing so gives second-year starter Jonathan Crompton the best chance to succeed.
5. BC Lions – C/G Sean McEwen, Calgary
The Lions would be foolish to pass on an impactful interior offensive lineman with the fifth overall selection. Centre Matt Norman had a poor season in 2014, while the injury history of guards Dean Valli and Kirby Fabien make them difficult to rely on over an eighteen game schedule. Tchissakid ‘T-Dre’ Player, drafted twelfth overall by BC this past season, should be expected to contribute in 2015 but will likely not yet be ready to start for long stretches of the schedule. This makes McEwen the perfect selection for the Lions. A player with CIS experience at both the centre and guard positions, McEwen provides BC with the flexibility they will need for their offensive line to succeed for the foreseeable future.
6. Saskatchewan Roughriders – SLB/S Chris Ackie, Wilfred Laurier
The ’Riders have lost a ton of national talent since their Grey Cup win in 2013. Keith Shologan and Zach Evans became Ottawa RedBlacks via the expansion draft; Ben Heenan is an Indianapolis Colt; Dominic Picard, Sam Hurl, and Graig Newman are Winnipeg Blue Bombers; Craig Butler, a Hamilton Tiger-Cat; Mike McCullough retired; and Ricky Foley, traded away for Shea Emry, will be suiting up for Toronto this season. A year ago I would have been willing to put money on the ’Riders selecting Saskatoon native Brett Boyko with this pick. As things now stand, Saskatchwan can’t risk picking a player who might stick in the NFL long-term. Brendan Taman would be wise to build his national depth at safety with the selection of Chris Ackie (Keenan MacDougall is expected to start at safety this season with Tyron Brackenridge moving to SAM linebacker), though Tevaughn Campbell and Byron Archambault would also make sense here.
7. Edmonton Eskimos – T/G Jacob Ruby, Richmond
Though drafting tackle prospects with NFL interest in the first round of the CFL draft has burnt the Eskimos in the past – see Pasztor, Austin – Richmond’s Jacob Ruby would be a nice fit for a club that sorely needs to restock their roster with young, national offensive linemen. I recently wrote an article that outlines Edmonton’s need for such players, and, truth be told, the Eskimos don’t need much national help at any other spots. Edmonton’s trio of young receivers (Shamawd Chambers, Devon Bailey, and Nate Coehoorn) is the envy of the league, while there is plenty of depth at the defensive tackle and safety spots. Ruby has expressed his belief that he can play left tackle in the CFL, but will likely be best suited to playing guard.
8. Hamilton Tiger-Cats – WR Lemar Durant, SFU
The Tiger-Cats need help along the offensive line as well as at the receiver spot, but a season-ending Achilles injury to free agent signee Spencer Watt seals this pick. The ’Cats have used two national receivers to make their ratio work for the past several seasons and, while they can likely get away with only using one in 2015 (Peter Dyakowski is now healthy after missing the entire 2014 season with a torn patella tendon, allowing Hamilton to increase their number of starting national offensive linemen to three), their current group of healthy national pass catchers – excluding Andy Fantuz – have recorded just two career receptions. Ouch. Durant should be able to step in and make an immediate impact.
9. Calgary Stampeders – T Brett Boyko, UNLV
The Stampeders have the luxury of being able to use a first round pick on a player who is currently under contract in the NFL. With impressive depth across the board, an investment in the future of the Stampeder offensive line will pay off in spades if Boyko fails to make the NFL on a long-term basis.
10. Ottawa RedBlacks – DE Maxx Forde, Idaho
The RedBlacks have three starting-quality defensive players on their roster in Keith Shologan, Justin Capicciotti, and Antoine Pruneau. The issue is Ottawa has very little in the way of depth behind the latter two. Maxx Forde would help remedy that. Forde had the best showing among pass rushers at the CFL combine and did so at a weight of 270 pounds, ten to twenty pounds heavier than he’d have to be to play defensive end at the professional level. If Forde was able to show an impressive burst off the line at 270, I’d love to see what he could do at 255.
11. Winnipeg Blue Bombers – SB Nic Demski, Manitoba
The Bombers are desperate to add another national pass catcher. Ezra Millington, Kris Bastien, and Jordan Reaves – the club’s three current back-ups – showed promise at the team’s mini-camp in Florida this past month but have recorded a combined zero receptions at the CFL level. Insert Demski, a player with explosive quickness, decent size, and several years of CIS experience at the slotback position. The fact that Demski is a local boy is a nice touch for a team with virtually no Manitoba-born talent on the roster. If Demski falls to eleventh overall, I’d bet my life the Bombers take him.
12. Toronto Argonauts – CB/S/SLB Tevaughn Campbell, Regina
Former CIS track and field star Tevaughn Campbell would bring the Boatmen a ton of versatility with this pick. Campbell, who recorded a blazing time of 4.36 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the CFL combine, could slot into a number of places in Tim Burke’s defensive system with the double blue. His speed and versatility make Campbell an anomaly in this draft; I wouldn’t be surprised to see him picked in the first round.
13. Montreal Alouettes – T/G/DT James Bodanis, Michigan State
Jim Popp loves to go off the board early in the CFL draft – see McKnight, Brody and Lumbala, Steven – so why not use the thirteenth overall pick on a player who could wind up playing any one of three different positions at the professional level? Bodanis has great athleticism for a big man (6’5, 300) and played defensive line at the University of Toronto before transferring to Michigan State for his senior year where he made the transition to the offensive line. I see Bodanis as a guard in the CFL, but not before he is given the chance to develop over a two or three year period. And no one develops Canadian offensive linemen as well as the Montreal Alouettes.
14. BC Lions – RB Shaquille Murray-Lawrence, UNLV
The BC Lions have the luxury of starting a national running back in Andrew Harris, something that has a hugely positive effect on their ratio. The challenge becomes accounting for Harris’ national starting spot when he gets injured, something that often plagues large running backs. Enter Murray-Lawrence, a lightning-quick runner whose speed and agility would nicely compliment the punishing running style of Harris. The Stampeders have benefitted hugely from having a national back-up in Matt Walter for Jon Cornish; Murray-Lawrence would give the Lions that same flexibility.
15. Winnipeg Blue Bombers (via Saskatchewan) – DT Ese Mrabure-Ajufo, Wilfred Laurier
The Bombers were thin at the defensive tackle position heading into last season before Ryan Lucas tore his ACL. Jake Thomas is now the lone national defensive tackle on Winnipeg’s roster and it’s time to change that. Ese Mrabure-Ajufo possesses outstanding athleticism (his 32 bench press reps were good for second best at the CFL combine, while his 33.5” vertical jump would not have been out of place with the combine’s receivers) and solid size (6’4, 260) that should allow him to immediately make an impact on the Blue Bomber’s defensive line. And while the Bombers aren’t projected to start a national defensive lineman this season – Bryant Turner and Zach Anderson will be the men in the middle for the blue and gold – the combination of Thomas and Mrabure-Ajufo would give the Bombers a significant boost in ratio flexibility heading into 2015.
16. Edmonton Eskimos – LB Nick Shortill, McMaster
Like the next player on our list, Shortill has seen his draft stock fall after failing to take part in the CFL combine due to injury. Still, the McMaster grad should make an immediate impact on special teams, something that is sure to make Edmonton special teams coordinator Craig Dickenson smile.
17. Hamilton Tiger-Cats (via Winnipeg) – G Karl Lavoie, Laval
Remember earlier when I said the Ti-Cats needed help along the offensive line? Well, Lavoie fills that need perfectly. The Rouge et Or alum has fallen out of the draft conversation after he was forced to miss the CFL combine due to a quad injury, meaning he would be a great value pick if he falls this far. Lavoie may have the ability to play tackle at the pro level, but I believe he’s best suited to the guard spot.
18. Calgary Stampeders – SB Addison Richards, Regina
The Stampeders have plenty of options when it comes to the slotback position. Veterans Jabari Arthur, Anthony Parker, and Simon Charbonneau-Campeau are all steady contributors, making this pick somewhat needless, right? Wrong. Picks like this are how John Hufnagel builds such unbelievable depth. Expect Richards to sit on the bench for two seasons before being thrust into the line-up due to injury and proceed to light it up. That’s just how Calgary rolls.
19. Calgary Stampeders (via Ottawa) – RB Tyler Varga, Yale
Speaking of things that Calgary does, here are the Stampeders drafting another future player. Varga recently signed with the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts and has expressed interest in attending medical school if his NFL dream doesn’t pan out, something that would undoubtedly hamper his ability to play CFL football. Even so, the Stamps draft him here. Why? Because even if Varga never signs with the club, Calgary still has two more picks in the third round (not bad for the defending champs, huh?).
20. Hamilton Tiger-Cats – LB Byron Archambault, Montreal
The strong man of the 2015 CFL combine joins an already solid group of national linebackers in Tiger Town. Beau Landry and Marc Beswick are special teams studs, while Frederic Plesius has started games for the ’Cats at middle linebacker in the past. The addition of Archambault would help lighten Plesius’ role on special teams and provide some much-needed national depth should Kent Austin ever choose to promote Plesius to a full-time starter. Many people expect Archambault to go much closer to the first round of the draft (if not in the first round), but his 4.83 40 yard dash at the combine really hurt his stock.
21. Toronto Argonauts – SB Jake Harty, Calgary
The Argonauts lost Spencer Watt in free agency and Andre Durie turns 34 in July, meaning it’s time for Toronto to start restocking the cupboards with national pass catchers. Harty’s athleticism doesn’t jump off the page, but his great hands and high football I.Q. certainly do. Harty would also be a nice compliment to Anthony Coombs, Toronto’s first round pick in last year’s draft.
22. Calgary Stampeders (via Montreal) – LB Adam Konar, Calgary
The Stamps take Konar to upgrade their special teams units, an area that is all the more important to address with the CFL’s new rules designed to create more space for returners on punts and kick-offs.
23. BC Lions – DT Brandon Tennant, Laval
Tennant is an absolute behemoth of a man (6’2, 305 pounds) who loves to stop the run and plays with a mean streak. He’ll have time to develop behind incumbent starter Jabar Westerman and 2014 draftee David Menard.
24. Hamilton Tiger-Cats – SB Melvin Abankwah, Saint Mary’s
Physically, Abankwah isn’t a lot to look at. Just 5’8 and 185 pounds, Abankwah put up relatively mediocre testing numbers at the combine. So why is the kid worth a third round pick? Because, despite playing his entire CIS career with the Huskies at the running back position, nobody could cover Abankwah in one-on-one receiving drills at the CFL combine. And when you’re uncoverable, you get drafted. High. Even if you do fail a drug test at the CFL combine.
25. Edmonton Eskimos – DT Ettore Lattanzio, Ottawa
The Eskimos have nice depth at defensive tackle with Eddie Steele and Gregory Alexandre coming off career years and Don Oramasionwu poised to bounce back after spending virtually the entire 2014 season out with a knee injury. With that being said, Chris Jones isn’t one to mess around with his national starting spots. Lattanzio would provide the Eskimos with some decent pass rushing ability, though he’ll need to put on a few pounds to continue playing along the interior of the defensive line at the pro level.
26. Saskatchewan Roughriders (via Winnipeg via Hamilton) – RB Dillon Campbell, Wilfred Laurier
Depending on how healthy the team is able to remain, the ’Riders may have to start a national running back for stretches of this upcoming season. Campbell’s speed and agility would nicely compliment Jerome Messam’s power run game.
27. Calgary Stampeders – G Campbell Allison, Eastern Michigan
Calgary drafted Shane Bergman in the sixth round of the 2013 CFL draft after seeing his stock fall dramatically when he reached a peak weight of 370 pounds. Within five months of the draft, Bergman had trimmed down to 330 – not too heavy for a guy who’s 6’7 – and was starting for the red and white. Campbell Allison reminds me a lot of Bergman, as Allison’s disastrous showing at the CFL combine was largely due to his poor conditioning. If the Stamps are able to whip Allison into shape, this pick could be a steal.
John Hodge, Blue Bomber Talk