2021 CFL Draft position rankings: defensive line

Photo courtesy: Benjamin Suddendorf | Central Michigan Athletics

Having quality players in the trenches is key to the success of any football team.

This year’s defensive line class isn’t particularly deep, but it’s got some elite talent at the top. Names like Diallo, Joseph, and Stevens are all headed back to school, however, meaning there are few players who will be in the CFL this upcoming season.

Without further ado, here is our ranking of the top defensive linemen available in the 2021 CFL Draft.

Defensive Tackles

1. Mohamed Diallo, Central Michigan (Toronto, Ont.)

The Toronto native has shown the ability to rush the passer from the edge or the interior at six-foot-four and 305 pounds, which is remarkable given his size. He only started playing football after his final year of high school, which shows just how much development he may have left.

Diallo was a one-man wrecking crew in 2020 when he recorded 19 total tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, three sacks, one forced fumble, and one fumble recovery in just five games. If he’s able to build on that production in 2021, it’s likely that he will be in an NFL training camp in 2022.

The pass rusher has spent time at three different schools — Arizona Western College, Texas A&M, and Central Michigan — and recently reentered the NCAA transfer portal. Some scouts consider his frequent transfers a red flag, though others don’t seem bothered by his transiency.

2. Olivier Charles-Pierre, Houston Cougars (Laval, Que.)

The Laval native received All-Southwest Junior College Football Conference honours while at the New Mexico Military Institute before transferring to Houston for the 2019 season. He’s graded out extremely well since his arrival on campus, but there’s one problem — his weight.

Charles-Pierre is listed at 370 pounds despite being just six-foot-one. There is value to carrying a gap-plugging nose tackle in the four-down game, but that doesn’t translate to the wide-open nature of Canadian football. If he’s able to cut his weight considerably, this big man could be a steal.

3. Austin Fordham-Miller, Western Mustangs (Morpeth, Ont.)

Canada Prep Academy graduate who lacks elite athleticism at six-foot-three and 270 pounds. Recorded nine tackles for loss and one sack in 22 games with the Mustangs and may have some special teams value.

4. Cole Nelson, Alberta Golden Bears (Ponoka, Alta.)

Tested really well for his six-foot-six, 320-pound frame, but has almost no production from his time in Canada West. Could be considered a candidate for conversion to the offensive line given his length and mobility.

5. Hayden Nellis, Calgary Dinos (Winnipeg, Man.)

Appeared in training camp with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in 2018 as a member of the CJFL’s Winnipeg Rifles. Was not a starter with the Dinos, dressing as a rotational defensive tackle.

Defensive Ends

1. Daniel Joseph, North Carolina State (Brampton, Ont.)

Originally a four-star recruit from Lake Forest Academy, Joseph spent three seasons at Penn State where he recorded 5.5 tackles for loss and five sacks in 32 games. He transferred to North Carolina State for his senior season and thrived with an increased workload, making ten tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks in eleven games.

Joseph makes good use of his long arms to fight off blocks and has a relentless motor. He’ll return to school in 2021 and projects as a potential starter at defensive end if and when he signs his first CFL contract. He is the younger brother of former No. 1 overall CFL Draft pick Faith Ekakitie.

2. Deshawn Stevens, Maine Black Bears (Toronto, Ont.)

The six-foot-two, 255-pound defender has extensive experience at middle linebacker and weak-side linebacker but projects as a CFL defensive end. He put up 120 total tackles, 17 tackles for loss, nine sacks, two forced fumbles, and one interception as a sophomore in 2018 but suffered a torn Achilles early the following season.

Stevens got into four games of Maine’s spring schedule in 2021 and made 28 tackles as he worked back from injury. He recently entered the transfer portal as he looks to take on a higher level of competition in the fall in his pursuit of the NFL.

3. Alain Cimankinda, Carleton (Ottawa, Ont.)

The Ottawa native was a second-team OUA all-star in 2019 and has the ability to slot in at defensive end or defensive tackle, which is impressive considering he’s six-foot-one and 245 pounds. He finished his three years at Guelph with 16.5 sacks, just 2.5 shy of Mike O’Shea’s all-time team record.

4. Luiji Vilain, Wake Forest (Ottawa, Ont.)

He played his two final years of high school football in Virginia and graduated as the No. 102-ranked prospect in the entire United States. Vilain spent four years at Michigan where he recorded just seven tackles in seven career games, so he’s hoping a transfer will help boost his stock at the professional level.

5. Shaiheem Charles-Brown, Carleton (Montreal, Que.)

A former CJFL star who recorded three sacks with the Ravens in 2019. Did not test in the CFL Regional Combine due to an ankle sprain but will return to health soon.

6. Isaac Evans, Simon Fraser (Coquitlam, B.C.)

Spent a fair bit of time in opposing backfields with 17 tackles for loss in 30 career games. Has a special teams-friendly frame at six-foot-three and 240 pounds.

7. Alfred Green, Wilfrid Laurier (Ajax, Ont.)

Produced only four sacks and three forced fumbles in 22 career contests, but playing for the Golden Hawks — who have produced Kwaku Boateng, Sam Acheampong, Robbie Smith, and others — helps his stock.

8. Nicolas Thériault, Western Mustangs (Quebec City, Que.)

Not an elite athlete, but has an impressive six-foot-six frame and respectable production from his time with the OUA.

John Hodge is a Canadian football reporter based in Winnipeg.