If Canadian offensive linemen are the meat of any CFL roster, Canadian linebackers are the potatoes.
It is simply impossible to field a competitive team with a top special teams unit if you don’t have a healthy stable of nationals at the position. They are your hard-hat players and emergency relievers, the type you lean on for stability in crucial moments.
In a shallower draft than usual, this position is as good as always, with several potential starters up for grabs. Here are our top linebackers in the 2021 CFL Draft.
1. Amen Ogbongbemiga, Oklahoma State Cowboys (Calgary, AB)
Signed by the Los Angeles Chargers as an undrafted free agent, Ogbongbemiga’s CFL draft stock should stay pretty steady given that waiting a year or two for the productive linebacker was always a likely scenario.
A potential plug-and-play starter should he ever come to the CFL, Ogbongbemiga is much better suited to the Canadian game. He can run sideline to sideline and has juice as a blitzer, but lacks the elite athleticism of other small NFL linebackers and doesn’t have the physicality or bulk to dominate between the tackles.
Those deficiencies are greatly reduced in the CFL game and he could arrive as close to a finished product as any player available.
2. Ben Hladik, UBC Thunderbirds (Vernon, BC)
Only two words can describe Ben Hladik: physical freak.
At six-foot-four and 239 pounds, he put up 29 reps on the bench, ran a 4.66 forty, jumped 10-feet-seven-inches and showed off his bend with the devil’s three-cone with a scary 6.66 seconds.
That athleticism translates to the field where he’s made 30.5 tackles for loss in 28 games played for the Thunderbirds despite what some consider a disappointing 2019 season. While his movement skills could allow him to excel at linebacker, his get-off and ability to dip and bend could see him take reps at defensive end as well.
3. Grant McDonald, Calgary Dinos (South Delta, BC)
Simply put, McDonald is everything you could possibly want in a Canadian linebacker. A character guy and leader who flows well, sheds blocks and comes downhill with force.
The six-foot-three, 230-pounder could start in the CFL, but any team that drafts McDonald is guaranteed to get a top-tier special teamer. The former FCS tight end stood out with nine tackles as a true freshman at the University of Maine before transferring to join his brother in Calgary and cementing himself on defence.
4. Robbie Lowes, Regina Rams (Regina, SK)
Unable to test for the Virtual Combine after contracting COVID-19, Lowes recently sent his tape to teams and impressed athletically. It’s little wonder why, as Lowes showed the versatility to move around the Rams defence and sorts through the muck at the point of attack as well as anyone available.
5. Charlie Moore, Calgary Dinos (South Delta, BC)
Charlie Moore is the type of lunch pail linebacker CFL teams are built upon and not just because his neck-guard makes him look nasty. Moore explodes through on contact and finishes with extreme prejudice, the type of edge that will make him a core special teamer.
6. Nick Cross, UBC Thunderbirds (Regina, SK)
Nick Cross has a lot working against him as a prospect. He’s an undersized coverage linebacker at six-foot and 200 pounds, coming off two major injuries and was stripped of his U Sports Rookie of the Year award in 2017 due to a cannabis violation, all enough individually to give teams pause.
On the field there isn’t a lot to dislike, however. Cross was dominant at Regina and remained that way after transferring to UBC. When healthy, he can make plays anywhere on the field, has solid instincts in coverage and is a consistent open-field tackler that a team will likely move to safety.
7. Trevor Hoyte, Carleton Ravens (Gatineau, QC)
Another player that may move to safety, Hoyte has better size for the position at six-foot-two and 218 pounds. He boasts more short area quickness than long speed, however, with a great first step and some of the best form tackling skills of the class.
8. Jarek Richards, Saint Mary’s Huskies (Chateauguay, QC)
Size and level of competition will be concerns for the 205-pound AUS product, but Richards flies around the football field. His open-field pursuit and ability to slip under blockers bodes well for special teams, even if he does move to safety.
9. Kean Harelimana, Laval Rouge et Or (Kigali, Rwanda)
An All-Canadian at a blue blood program and brother of 2019 Montreal draft pick Brian Harelimana, Kean has all the pedigree of a top prospect. Unfortunately when it comes to athleticism, he falls short of the mark, running a 5.00 forty at 217 pounds, though he makes up for it with physicality.
10. Cody Peters, Regina Rams (Saskatoon, SK)
A unique prospect, Peters already had a CFL shot as a territorial exemption before committing to Regina and nearly made the Riders out of training camp in 2018. The five-time CJFL national champion with the Saskatoon Hilltoppers will be 25 coming into camp and teams may lean on someone they’ve seen before in an uncertain draft class.
11. Louve Moussenguet, Bishop’s Gaiters (St-Jerome, QC)
The conversion of U Sports linebackers to fullbacks is a tired old trope but it may be worth it to give Moussenguet a shot. Short and stout at five-foot-ten and 230 pounds, the extremely productive AUS all-star is a limited athlete, but bull strong at the point of attack and actually flashes better pass rushing skills than some d-linemen in this class.
12. Elliot Graham, UBC Thunderbirds (Hamilton, ON)
It’s fair to characterize Graham as the enigma of the 2021 draft class. An impactful starter as a freshman in 2017, he’s been mostly a role player for UBC ever since, with players like Hladik and Cross in front of him.
At six-foot-four and 244 pounds, he moves well for his size and jumped more than ten feet at the Combine, a skillset that should see him selected as an intriguing project.