Ranking the nine CFL draft classes

It takes years to fairly judge any particular CFL draft (something I’ve recently done for the 2011, 2012, and 2013 drafts), so the draft rankings below are to be taken with a large grain of salt.

Still, it’s never too early to begin a discussion about which teams may (and I stress the word ‘may’) have come out ahead in Sunday’s draft.

1) B.C. Lions

Rd Pick Pos Player School
1 3 REC Danny Vandervoort McMaster
1 7 DL Junior Luke Montreal
2 16 OL Jeremy Zver Regina
3 24 LB Frederic Chagnon Montreal
4 33 DB Nathaniel Hamlin Carleton
5 42 DL Edward Godin Laval
6 51 REC Dakota Brush Mount Allison
7 60 LB Jordan Herdman Simon Fraser
8 69 REC Mitchell Hillis Saskatchewan
The Lions addressed their two biggest positional needs early in receiver Danny Vandervoort and defensive tackle Junior Luke. Some feel that Vandervoort has already reached his ceiling, but his pro-readiness is an important asset for a B.C. club that recently lost 30-year-old receiver Shawn Gore to retirement.

I also love the additions of Jeremy Zver as a guard/tackle prospect – he’s raw, but he’s got all the physical tools – and Frederic Chagnon and Nate Hamlin as special teamers. We’ll have to see how the Leos bring these kids along, but this looks like a really good haul for B.C with as many as three present/future starters in the mix.

It’ll be interesting to see if Jordan Herdman, once considered a possible first-round talent, contributes to the Lions in some way. His testing numbers at the combine were awful, but he was a tackling machine at SFU.

2) Winnipeg Blue Bombers

Rd Pick Pos Player School
1 1 DL Faith Ekakitie Iowa
1 8 OL Geoff Gray Manitoba
2 15 OL Qadr Spooner McGill
3 23 DB Abubakkar Conteh Grambling State
4 34 K Felix Menard-Briere Montreal
6 50 DL Ian Marouf Guelph
7 59 REC Brendon Thera-Plamondon Calgary
8 68 REC Tylor Henry Alberta

The Bombers added a possible day-one starter in Faith Ekakitie along with two of the best offensive linemen in the draft in Manitoba’s Geoff Gray and McGill’s Qadr Spooner. There is risk associated with the Gray pick – he recently signed with the Green Bay Packers as an undrafted free agent – but his selection at eight could end up being the best pick in the draft if he becomes a Bomber at some point over the next two to three years.

Abubakkar Conteh is seen as arguably the best safety of the class, providing instant depth behind sophomore phenom Taylor Loffler. Menard-Briere could end up being an excellent CFL punter, while Ian Marouf is said to have high-round talent if he commits to a higher level of film study and training.

What holds Winnipeg’s draft class out of the top spot is the lack of a solid receiver prospect. With UBC’s Alex Morrison on the board until the fourth round, there was ample opportunity for the club to pick up a national pass catcher. They didn’t.

3) Edmonton Eskimos

Rd Pick Pos Player School
1 5 REC Nate Behar Carleton
2 14 OL Jean-Simon Roy Laval
3 22 LB Chris Mulumba Maine
4 31 DB Jordan Hoover Waterloo
5 40 OL Justin Senior Mississippi State
5 41 DL Kwaku Boateng Wilfred Laurier
6 49 OL Kwabena Asare Carleton
8 67 DL Mark Mackie McMaster

The Eskimos got two home runs early in the draft in Carleton’s Nate Behar and Laval’s Jean-Simon Roy. I see Behar as the CFL’s best receiving prospect in quite some time, while Roy is the perfect player to take over from Justin Sorensen (30) at centre over the next year or two.

I also like the value of Maine’s Christophe Mulumba in the third round, particularly given that the Esks will look to start a Canadian at weak-side linebacker following the free agent addition of Cory Greenwood. Hoover, Boateng, and Mackie will look to make the Esks’ roster as special teamers, while Seattle Seahawk tackle Justin Senior is solid value in the fifth round.

4) Hamilton Tiger-Cats

Rd Pick Pos Player School
1 4 DL Connor McGough Calgary
2 13 OL Braden Schram Calgary
3 21 DL Kay Okafor St. Francis Xavier
5 38 DL Justin Vaughn Fordham
6 46 REC Jacob Scarfone Guelph
7 58 OL Brett Golding Wilfred Laurier
8 66 RB Sean Thomas-Erlington Montreal

I’m skeptical that Calgary’s undersized defensive end Connor McGough (6’0, 245) was worth the draft’s fourth overall pick, but I loved the Ticats’ selections in the second and third rounds.

Braden Schram is a talented guard prospect who had a solid showing at the CFL combine. He’s coming off MCL surgery, so he’ll only get better as he continues to enhance his conditioning. Kay Okafor, meanwhile, is someone who many believe has the highest ceiling of the draft’s CFL-bound defensive tackles — he’s built like a Greek God, but has only been playing football for five years. Given time and coaching, he could be a steal in the third round. Justin Vaughn, a player who some had going as high as the late-first round, could also be a solid depth pick in the fifth.

Like Winnipeg, Hamilton’s draft class suffers from the lack of an impact receiver. Many expected the Tabbies to add local boy Danny Vandervoort at fourth overall, but were beaten to the punch by the Lions.

5) Saskatchewan Roughriders

Rd Pick Pos Player School
1 2 LB Cameron Judge UCLA
2 11 OL Dariusz Bladek Bethune-Cookman
4 30 TE Antony Auclair Laval
4 32 OL Eddie Meredith Western
5 37 REC Mitchell Picton Regina
6 46 OL Danny Sprukulis Toronto
7 55 LB Alexandre Chevrier Sherbrooke
7 57 DL Emmanuel Adusei Carleton
8 64 OL Marc Glaude Montreal

Cameron Judge was the best athlete available in Sunday’s draft, hands down. Should he sign with Saskatchewan (he has a mini-camp invite with the Houston Texans) he could immediately become the Riders’ best special teamer. Judge may also contribute on defence where Saskatchewan will start Henoc Muamba at linebacker.

I also believe Dariusz Bladek was an excellent value pick at eleventh overall. His showing in the one-on-ones at the combine was lackluster, but it’s hard to be critical of a guy with no background in Canadian football who’s a full year removed from the NCAA. I love his physicality at the line of scrimmage and his workmanlike approach to the game.

That’s where Saskatchewan’s draft stops making sense to me. Regina’s Mitchell Picton was a solid value pick in the fifth round with local flavor, but the Riders needed to get more Canadians who can contribute right away. Antony Auclair, now a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, may never play a down in the CFL, while there are questions surrounding Eddie Meredith. With players like Waterloo’s Jordan Hoover, Carelton’s Nathaniel Hamlin, and Fordham’s Justin Vaughn still on the board in the fourth round, the Riders could have gotten a lot more bang for their buck at 30 and 32.

6) Ottawa Redblacks

Rd Pick Pos Player School
1 9 OL Evan Johnson Saskatchewan
2 18 RB Anthony Gosselin Sherbrooke
3 26 DL Eli Ankou UCLA
4 35 RB Louis-Philippe Bourassa Montreal
5 44 DL Mathieu Dupuis Montreal
6 53 REC Austen Hartley Calgary
7 62 RB Ed Ilnicki Alberta
8 71 OL Jordan Filippelli Calgary

Saskatchewan’s Evan Johnson needs some seasoning, but some scouts believe he has enough athleticism to play tackle at the CFL level. This is a huge asset for an Ottawa club that plans to start four Canadian offensive linemen in 2017 and beyond.

Gosselin, who ran a 4.73 40-yard dash at the combine at 250 pounds, could be the next Patrick Lavoie, while Eli Ankou will be the best defensive lineman of the draft should he ever come north. Ankou is currently focused on making the Houston Texans 53-man roster, but getting him in the late-third round is good value.

Calgary’s Jordan Filippeli, once considered a possible top-20 pick, could be an excellent late-round selection if he manages to shed weight and improve his upper-body strength.

7) Montreal Alouettes

Rd Pick Pos Player School
2 12 DL Fabion Foote McMaster
3 20 DB Dondre Wright Henderson State
4 29 REC Alexander Morrison UBC
5 39 OL Zach Annen Carleton
6 45 REC Malcolm Carter Ottawa Sooners
7 56 DB Ty Cranston Ottawa
8 65 TE Oumar Toure Sherbrooke

Foote would have been considered for the first overall pick in the draft if he wasn’t undersized at 6’0, 276. Still, he should be able to contribute right away for an Alouette squad that is expected to start nationals Keith Shologan and Jabar Westerman at defensive tackle.

Wright and Morrison are solid value picks and have the potential to develop into starters. Some scouts preferred Morrison to McMaster’s Danny Vandervoort and Carleton’s Nate Behar, but missing most of his senior season due to injury hurt his draft stock.

Failing to select one of the draft’s first or second-tier offensive linemen is what holds back Montreal’s class the most. You can never have too many quality hogs, even for a club that’s reducing its number of starting Canadian offensive linemen from five to three in 2017.

8) Calgary Stampeders

Rd Pick Pos Player School
1 6 DL Randy Colling Gannon
2 17 REC Julan Lynch Saskatchewan
3 25 DB Tunde Adeleke Carleton
4 28 LB Ante Milanovic-Litre Simon Fraser
5 43 OL Felix Gacusana Jr. Simon Fraser
6 52 DL Alexandre Gagnon Sherbrooke
7 61 DB Adam Laurensse Calgary
8 70 REC Richard Sindani Regina

The Stamps drafted a veteran at sixth overall in Gannon’s Randy Colling. Colling, 27, has been an Arena League star since being released by the Buffalo Bills in 2014 with whom he tried to make the club as an offensive lineman. The pick makes sense for a Calgary team that’s playing to win now — Colling’s already reached his ceiling and he fills a position of need, given that Junior Turner tore his ACL in the Grey Cup.

After that, the rest of the Stamps’ draft class will take time to develop. Saskatchewan’s Julan Lynch was a surprise selection in the second round, while Tunde Adeleke, primary a return specialist, will have to prove he can be a difference-maker in the pros despite an underwhelming 4.58 40-time.

Like Montreal, Calgary’s class suffers from the lack of a first or second-tier offensive line prospect. Simon Fraser’s Felix Gacusana Jr. may prove he can play, but his 6’2 frame may limit him to playing centre.

9) Toronto Argonauts

Rd Pick Pos Player School
2 10 OL Mason Woods Idaho
3 19 DL Evan Foster Manitoba
4 27 DB Robert Woodson Calgary
5 36 LB Nakas Onyeka Wilfred Laurier
7 54 LB Justin Herdman Simon Fraser
8 63 DL Matthew Carson Calgary

In fairness to Toronto, it’s tough to put together a great draft class without a first round pick. Mason Woods is a potential ratio-breaking tackle who some expected to go as high as second overall, but he’s likely the only potential future starter in this group.

Manitoba’s Evan Foster has a great motor for special teams, but 19th overall is too high for the undersized rush end (5’11, 225). Expect Robert Woodson out of Calgary to make the Argos as a depth safety and special teamer, while Nakas Onyeka has a shot to make the club running around on specials.

Despite a poor 2016 season, one could argue the greatest strength of the Argos’ roster is the quality of their Canadian talent. This should help make-up for what is a decent, yet underwhelming 2017 draft class.

John Hodge is a CFL insider and draft analyst who has been covering the league since 2014.