Riders’ fourth-round draft pick Alain Cimankinda believes he can be an Aaron Donald-type player

Photo courtesy: Kenneth Armstrong/Guelph Today

Being a professional athlete requires a certain degree of self-confidence, but some have a loftier perception of themselves than most.

Saskatchewan Roughriders 2021 CFL Draft pick Alain Cimankinda is one of those players and he introduced himself to the Riders faithful in a big way on Thursday when asked who he would compare his game to.

“99 problems but a sack ain’t one. Aaron Donald,” the fourth rounder told Derek Taylor of the SportsCage with little hesitation.

In modern football, there are few name drops larger than Donald. The six-foot-one, 280-pound defensive tackle has redefined the position for the LA Rams, winning three NFL Defensive Player of the Year awards over the past four seasons and racking up 85.5 sacks in just 110 career games.

Cimankinda is the same height as Donald but checks in 35 pounds light at 245. While Donald was the 13th overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, Cimankinda was selected in the fourth round, 35th overall in the CFL pick fest this year. Still, he believes that strong similarities exist between him and the six-time All-Pro as undersized players who can be feared interior pass rushers in their respective leagues.

“I don’t think these o-linemen in the [CFL] have seen someone as strong as me, as quick as me, but still pretty fast and with great technique,” Cimankinda noted. “I’m not really worried about the weight too much. I’m going to bank and bet on myself.”

The versatile defensive lineman spent three seasons with the University of Guelph Gryphons, finishing 2019 as a second-team Ontario University Athletics all-star. That year the Ottawa native made 36 total tackles, 13 tackles for loss, 11 sacks and one forced fumble. He transferred to Carleton University ahead of the 2020 season but was unable to suit up due to the canceled U Sports season.

Over 30 career games playing both defensive tackle and defensive end, Cimankinda made 81 total tackles, 27 tackles for loss, 22.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery, with one year of eligibility left.  

Prior to attending Guelph, Cimankinda spent one season at New Mexico Military Institute where he made 30 tackles, five tackles for loss, two sacks, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. 

While those numbers are impressive, Cimankinda believes he has yet to reach his potential.

“That’s the exciting part about my game. I’ll be honest, I don’t believe what has been put on film before has been the peak of my game,” he acknowledged. “I believe I still have lots of growing to do, especially because my playing style is not something that’s really seen in this league.”

Cimankinda is in a weight-class better suited to the edge and he is comfortable there, but his most explosive plays have come from the inside like Donald. The U Sports wrecking ball knows CFL teams doubt his size, but believes it’s actually an advantage on the interior when paired with quickness and leverage.

“Football is the lowest man’s game. The reality is it’s harder for you to keep your leverage whenever you’re going against someone like me, that’s super explosive, that’s already pretty low to the ground but then is coming even lower. It’s a lot of problems for them to start handling if they’re not used to blocking someone of my stature,” Cimankinda explained.

“They have to worry about hand placement not being too lazy, because if you put your hand at the wrong spot or you leave it for too long, that’s the difference between me ending up in a grind and me being behind your eyes. They have a lot of that to deal with on top of having to prep for my speed and my quickness. I believe they’ll have a lot to handle before even worrying about my weight and my strength.”

That’s something Aaron Donald has proven effective in the NFL and if Cimankinda can provide even a fraction of his impact, the Riders will take credit for one of the greatest draft steals in CFL history.