3DownNation 2021 CFL draft rankings 1.0

Edited courtesy: Scott McEwen

The NCAA season will soon reach full swing, which means it’s time to start looking ahead to the 2021 CFL draft.

Our own JC Abbott will be taking a weekly look ahead to the top college game featuring Canadian players, with many of the names below sure to earn a mention.

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced some NCAA conferences to put the 2020 season on hold. The ACC, SEC, and Big 12 are playing this fall, while the Big Ten and Pac-12 have currently postponed their seasons. Three U Sports conferences have cancelled their seasons — Canada West, the OUA, and AUS — while the RSEQ still plans to try and play.

These decisions could impact some of the prospects below, seeing their draft years pushed from 2021 to 2022. We will update their status as we re-do our rankings over the next seven months.

We released two sets of rankings ahead of the 2020 CFL draft, both of which were well-received (1-25, 26-50). We’re starting extra early for next year and plan to release at least two more rankings ahead of the 2021 CFL draft — one in December and one in April.

All 3DownNation CFL draft rankings are made through input from Justin Dunk, JC Abbott, and myself.

Photo courtesy: Brian Ray/HawkeyeSports.com

1. OL Alaric Jackson, Iowa

Jackson isn’t currently listed on the CFL’s draft list for 2021, but that’s because he was raised in Detroit. The six-foot-six, 320-pound blocker was born in Windsor, however, which means he is eligible for next year’s draft.

That might not matter considering Jackson projects as a relatively early selection in next year’s NFL draft. The three-year starter at left tackle was second-team All-Big Ten in 2019 and recently saw his bookend, Tristan Wirfs, get drafted 13th overall by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Though it’s unlikely Jackson will factor into the 2021 CFL draft, there’s little doubt that he’ll be the top talent available.

Photo courtesy: UNC Athletic Communications

2. DB Patrice Rene, North Carolina

The six-foot-two, 208-pound cover man suffered a torn ACL in September 2019, which deferred his draft year to 2021 via medical redshirt. He’ll have to prove that he’s healthy, but there’s little question surrounding Rene’s abilities as a shutdown cornerback.

The Ottawa native was projected as a late-round NFL draft pick last year. He’s big, fast, and smooth in coverage, recording 75 tackles, ten pass deflections, and two interceptions in 35 games with the Tar Heels.

Photo courtesy: Bruce Waterfield/OSU Athletics

3. LB Amen Ogbongbemiga, Oklahoma State

This Calgary native had a promising season with the Cowboys in 2018, winning OSU’s Outstanding Special Teams Player Award. That success carried over to the defensive side of the ball in 2019 when he was named the team’s defensive MVP after recording 100 tackes, 15.5 tackles for loss, and five sacks.

The six-foot-two, 231-pound defender projects as a starter in the CFL, though it’s possible the NFL will come calling. Amen is the younger brother of Alex Ogbongbemiga, a fifth-round pick of the Saskatchewan Roughriders in 2016.

Photo courtesy: UVA Athletics Media Relations

4. REC Terrell Jana, Virginia

The Burnaby, B.C. native won a starting job over first-round CFL draft pick Dejon Brissett (Toronto Argonauts) in 2019 and put up 74 receptions for 886 yards and three touchdowns. He lacks elite size and speed but runs great routes and has excellent hands.

The CFL is the perfect place for a player like Jana — he could be a major contributor at slotback where he’ll be able to use the waggle to his advantage. He reminds me of 2019 first-round draft pick Hergy Mayala, who enjoyed an excellent rookie season with Calgary last year.

Photo courtesy: Caleb Jones/Tennessee Athletics

5. REC Joshua Palmer, Tennessee

If Jana is the top possession receiver in the 2021 draft, Palmer is the best deep threat. This native of Brampton, Ont. led the SEC in average yards per catch (21.0) in 2019, which was also good for fifth in the nation.

Palmer has good size (six-foot-two, 210 pounds) and 4.45 speed, allowing him to get behind opposing defensive backs. Building on a strong 2019 season — during which he caught 34 passes for 457 yards and a score — could potentially put this target more firmly on the NFL’s radar.

6. OL Liam Dobson, Maine

This Ottawa native is a mauler at guard, bringing a rare combination of size (six-foot-two, 340 pounds) and athleticism. Physical and nasty, Dobson has continued playing the game with an attack-first mentality since converting from defensive tackle late in high school.

7. DB Deane Leonard, Ole Miss

This two-time first-team All-Canadian projects as a CFL cornerback with a solid six-foot-two, 193-pound frame. Leonard posted 19 pass breakups and six interceptions in just 23 games with the Dinos before transferring to Ole Miss for the 2020 season.

8. OL Pier-Olivier Lestage, Montreal

Lestage is a reigning second-team All-Canadian who is ready to breakout in 2020. He moves extremely well in space and has room to continue building his frame at six-foot-three and 305 pounds. Don’t be surprised if this native of Saint-Eustache, Que. gets a look from the NFL as an undrafted free agent.

9. DB Nelson Lokombo, Saskatchewan

The reigning Presidents’ Trophy winner is a fast, physical defensive back who projects as a CFL cornerback, strong-side linebacker or safety. If his last name sounds familiar, that’s became Nelson is the younger brother of CFL veteran Boseko Lokombo.

10. OL Sage Doxtater, New Mexico State

The three-year starter at left tackle was deferred from the 2020 CFL draft after missing last season due to a nagging shoulder injury. He has tremendous size at six-foot-seven and 320 pounds and could draw NFL interest if he returns to form in 2020.

11. DB Alonzo Addae, West Virginia

The five-foot-eleven, 180-pound defender has spent time at cornerback and safety, though he was forced to sit out in 2019 due to a transfer. He started his career at New Hampshire where he posted 61 total tackles, 10 knockdowns, and two forced fumbles in 24 games.

12. LB Ben Hladik, UBC

The two-time U Sports second-team All-Canadian has the size, athleticism, and versatility to contribute at linebacker or defensive end. His production with the Thunderbirds has been exceptional, posting 189 tackles, 28 tackles for loss, and 6.5 sacks in 28 games.

13. LB Grant McDonald, Calgary

The Vancouver native originally committed to Maine as a tight end where he recorded seven tackles and one forced fumble on special teams as a true freshman. He has dominated since transferring to the Dinos, posting 83 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, and 4.5 sacks.

14. DL Daniel Joseph, North Carolina State

The six-foot-three, 255-pound pass rusher recently transferred from Penn State where he posted 29 tackles and five sacks over 23 games. He is the brother of former first-overall draft pick Faith Ekakitie and the cousin of long-time CFL defensive lineman Ese Mrabure.

15. OL Logan Bandy, Calgary

The two-time U Sports second-team All-Canadian helped protect Adam Sinagra’s blindside over the past two seasons. He has a pro-ready frame at six-foot-five and 285 pounds and could be a candidate to remain at tackle at the professional level.

16. DL Luiji Vilain, Michigan

Vilain was one of the most-recruited Canadian-born prospects in NCAA history but has yet to make an impact with the Wolverines, recording seven tackles and one sack in seven games. The upcoming season could be huge for the pass rusher as he looks to earn a shot in the NFL.

17. FB Bruno Labelle, Cincinnati

This tight end spent the past three years as a backup to Josh Deguara, a third-round pick of the Green Bay Packers in the 2020 NFL draft. He has excellent size at six-foot-four and 250 pounds, which makes him an intriguing option as a hybrid fullback/tight end/H-back.

18. OL Connor Berglof, Saskatchewan

The U Sports first-team All-Canadian was a key piece of the Huskies’ offensive line in 2019, opening holes for star running back Adam Machart. Berglof spent three years playing alongside 2020 first-round draft pick Mattland Riley.

19. OL Christopher Fournier, Lehigh

Lehigh hasn’t turned out many star football players, but this native of Ottawa could be in a position to change that. The six-foot-four, 290-pound blocker played centre as a freshman before taking over the starting role at left tackle for the past two years.

20. DL Mohamed Diallo, Central Michigan

This converted basketball player didn’t start playing football until after high school. He spent two seasons in junior college at Arizona Western (2016-2017) before transferring to Texas A&M (2018) and then again to Central Michigan (2019).

21. LB Kean Harelimana, Laval

The hard-hitting linebacker shows the ability to rush the passer and could be one of the best special teams players available in this draft class. He is the younger brother of Brian Harelimana, a fourth-round pick of the Montreal Alouettes in this year’s draft.

22. DE Alain Cimankinda, Guelph

The six-foot-one, 245-pound defender has 16.5 sacks in 23 games with the Gryphons. He lacks the optimal length teams covet in edge rushers, but the recent success of OUA products Kwaku Boateng and Robbie Smith should raise Cimankinda’s stock.

23. REC Will Corby, Toronto

The U Sports second-team All-Canadian has breakaway speed at six-foot-three and 190 pounds, serving as a deep threat for Clay Sequeira. Will is the younger brother of Doug Corby, a sixth-round selection of Edmonton in 2016.

24. REC Dominic Johnson, Buffalo

This Windsor native caught six passes for 46 yards and a touchdown in 2019 after converting from quarterback. He needs development, but Johnson has great tools at six-foot-five and 225 pounds along with a strong basketball background.

25. LB/DB Nick Cross, UBC

The Regina native exploded in 2019 for 74 total tackles, five tackles for loss, one sack, and one interception. At six-foot and 200 pounds, Cross is a classic ‘tweener’ who should compete at linebacker, safety, and on special teams.

Possible additions

There are a handful of players who could become eligible for the 2021 CFL draft provided they declare for the 2021 NFL draft.

All players listed below would be featured on this list if they were formally added to the draft. They are listed in alphabetical order.

DB Jevon Holland, Oregon

The hard-hitting safety is projected as a first-round pick in the 2021 NFL draft after being named a semifinalist for the Jim Thorpe Award in 2019.

RB Chuba Hubbard, Oklahoma State

The Sherwood Park, Alb. native finished eighth in voting for the Heisman Trophy in 2019 after rushing for 2,094 yards and 21 touchdowns on 328 carries.

DE/LB Deshawn Stevens, Maine

The six-foot-two, 255-pound defender was granted a medical redshirt after suffering a torn ACL in 2019, deferring his draft year to 2021.

John Hodge is a Canadian football reporter based in Winnipeg.