2022 CFL Draft position rankings: defensive line

The 2022 CFL Draft is almost upon us and as always, 3DownNation will have you covered with the most in-depth coverage anywhere in Canada.

With all the debates raging in the CFL, collective bargaining ongoing, and two separate drafts set to take place on May 3, it can be difficult for fans to keep track of all the prospects who might make an impact for your team next season. We’re here to help by giving you the inside scoop on the top players at every position in the lead up to the league’s annual pick-fest.

We’ve covered quarterbacks, running backs, receivers, and offensive linemen so far, but now it’s time to flip over to the defensive side of the ball. Defensive line is one of the weakest positions in this draft class depth-wise, but some big names at the top will still command a lot of attention.

*Calgary Dinos defensive tackle J-Min Pelley will be eligible for selection in the supplemental draft on May 5 — two days after the 2022 CFL Draft — in exchange for forfeiting a 2023 pick. I have included him on this list to demonstrate how he stacks up against the current draft class.

Defensive Linemen

Photo courtesy: Penn State Athletics

1. Jesse Luketa, Penn State University (Ottawa, Ont.)

Projected as a mid-round NFL Draft pick, Luketa began his career as an off-ball linebacker before being bumped down to the edge as a senior. He’s dominated as a heavy-handed and violent run defender, but lacks the elite get-off and bend to be an effective NFL pass rusher. Luketa will quickly become a coach’s favourite wherever he lands, but the relatively low NFL value of what he does well gives him some intrigue as a late-round CFL futures pick.

2. Deionte Knight, Western University (Ajax, Ont.)

The J.P. Metras winner as Canada’s top university lineman, Knight made himself a rarity by playing off the edge for the Mustangs at six-foot-three and 278 pounds and earned the lone Canadian invite to the prestigious East-West Shrine Bowl. A high effort power rusher with solid get-off, Knight’s NFL stock has suffered from a severe lack of length and bend. He’s hard to knock off his spot, but lacks sophistication in his hand use and wins by getting on a blocker’s edge early. Knight will pose a problem inside thanks to his high motor and natural play strength, but his stamina against more physical competition is a concern.

3. J-Min Pelley, University of Calgary (Calgary, Alta.)*

This year’s supplemental draft wild card, Pelley was listed at six-foot-six and 320 pounds the last time he played and to be frank, there is no way he was that small. The All-Canadian behemoth has uncommon speed and explosiveness for his size, verging on unblockable for stretches. He can toss offensive linemen around like rag dolls, but the nature of being that large and athletic at his level of competition means Pelley’s developed little in the way of technique — a fact likely not helped by time away from the game. The upside is immense, though the list of successful CFL linemen at his weight is also incredibly short.

4. Anthony Federico, Queen’s University (Niagara Falls, Ont.)

Six-foot-three and 235 pounds with 33-inch arms, Federico has a textbook frame for a CFL defensive end and the athletic traits to match, with a quick get-off and great bend. A sack artist in the OUA, he’s a clockwork rusher — getting hands on early to create extension or establishing the long arm before winning with a late rip. Federico has an extremely high special teams floor — think Ottawa Redblacks veteran Nigel Romick — and will be reliable enough off the edge to play in a pinch, but doesn’t currently have enough in his arsenal to be considered a starting-calibre pass rusher.

5. Nathan Cherry, University of Saskatchewan (Saskatoon, Sask.)

Quick and violent with his hands, Cherry often wins early in reps with a decisive move to get into the backfield. While he isn’t long with just 31-inch arms, the six-foot-one, 271-pound defensive tackle has grown man strength to jack up opponents or knock them off balance with a push-pull combination. A lack of bend means he can get pushed off track when being overly aggressive, but Cherry is disruptive inside and has a higher floor than Knight, in my opinion.

Photo courtesy: Joe Pimentel/McGill Athletics

6. Josh Archibald, McGill University (Montreal, Que.)

A force in 2019, playing more than 15 pounds overweight killed Archibald’s 2021 production. Now cut down to 246 pounds, his athleticism has returned and he remains strong enough to have some inside versatility. Archibald has great pursuit speed and has highlighted a larger pass rush arsenal in the pre-draft process than he was allowed to show at McGill, working on his active hands and quick counter moves. He could add more rotational value on defence than other prospects, but some teams will fear a relapse of his pandemic bulking.

7. Riley Pickett, University of Saskatchewan (Saskatoon, Sask.)

A big game difference-maker for the Huskies, Pickett is a bullish power rusher and sound run defender who sets the edge like nobody’s business. The six-foot-three, 249-pounder doesn’t round the corner well enough to make an impact at defensive end in the CFL, but he will translate well inside by adding a few extra pounds and plays with barbarian strength at the point of attack. Pickett’s high effort play style should make him a hammer on special teams as well.

8. Cole Adamson, University of Manitoba (Winnipeg, Man.)

Far from flashy, Adamson is a gap sound run defender inside who stacks and sheds violently and is hard to knock off the ball. The six-foot-four, 291-pounder brings very little in terms of pass rush value, but he can be trusted to do the dirty work and catches my eye as a potential offensive line convert.

9. Frednick Eveillard, University of Ottawa (Gatineau, Que.)

It is fair to say that Eveillard has no idea what he’s doing at defensive end, but that is hardly a knock against a player who converted from receiver just this year. The six-foot-three, 223-pound project has all the raw length and explosiveness teams covet however, with chase down speed that will make him a special teams contributor while he figures the rest out.

10. Jacob Plamondon, University of Calgary (Red Deer, Alta.)

A surprise through the Regional Combine circuit, Plamondon showed off enough burst and bend at six-foot-three and 238 pounds to merit a serious look from teams. The question will be why he never truly broke out on a Calgary defensive line that has produced some major draft risers in recent years.

Photo courtesy: Kyle Rodriguez/Guelph Gryphons

11. Jeremy Kapelanski, University of Guelph (Saint Jerome, Que.)

At six-foot-one and 286 pounds, Kapelanski has intriguing explosiveness for his size and shows some ability to penetrate with effort. However, he remains raw and like most late-round defensive tackles, doesn’t bring much in terms of versatility.

12. Chimzy Tasie, University of Calgary (Calgary, Alta.)

Standing six-foot-three and 267 pounds with over 33-inch arms and a nine-foot, three-and-five-eights-inch broad jump, Tasie should have been a wrecking ball for the Dinos. He wasn’t, but some team may think they can smooth out his game to expose a diamond in the rough.

13. Philippe Lemieux-Cardinal, Université de Montréal (Montreal, Que.)

The Quebec Conference’s top lineman, Lemieux-Cardinal had an outstanding career with the Carabins, but lacks the high end traits to truly translate to the CFL. He has solid initial quickness, but plays high and weak with no length to compensate for his lack of strength.

14. Jeremie Verreault, Université de Sherbrooke (Saint-Lambert de Lauzon, Que.)

Sherbrooke’s all-time leader in sacks, Verreault is a short and stout nose tackle with a devastating bull rush. That strength doesn’t always translate against bigger players however and he lacks other high end traits.

15. Anderson Recker, Acadia University (Stillwater Lake, N.S.)

Tacked on at the end of this list so I could reach a round number, Acadia’s starting defensive end is actually angling to play fullback at the next level due to his six-foot, 220-pound frame. He has the strength to contribute as a blocker and will be a versatile special teams body if he cracks a roster.

Abbott is a UBC student, youth coach and lifelong CFL fanatic. He specializes in coverage of the CFL draft and the league's global initiative.