2022 CFL Draft position rankings: linebacker

Photo courtesy: Don Voaklander/Alberta Golden Bears Athletics

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.

Quarterbacks, running backsreceivers, offensive linemen, and defensive linemen have already been accounted for, so it’s time to take a look at the heartbeat of the defence and the core of any CFL special teams unit: linebackers. This group lacks the depth you’ll typically find at the position, but makes up for it by containing the top player on many teams’ draft boards.

Linebackers

Photo courtesy: Michael J. Okoniewski/Syracuse Athletics

1. Tyrell Richards, Syracuse University (Brampton, Ont.)

The presumptive first overall pick, Richards’ speed and explosiveness at six-foot-three and 232 pounds is special for the CFL. Primarily an edge rusher in college, he has the versatility to line up at defensive end, thrive at off-ball linebacker or drop into the secondary like a Canadian Tobi Antigha.

Richards’ college career was stunted by off-the-field issues and he missed the 2021 season due to a failed transfer attempt, making his film out of date and extremely spotty. He showed a quick get off and good strength as a pass rusher, but suffered from a lack of forethought or technical prowess. His reactionary athleticism in space and sideline-to-sideline chase speed make him a tantalizing projection at weak-side linebacker, with major upside as a blitzer, but at worst, Richards will instantly become your best special teams cover man as a rookie.

2. Josiah Schakel, University of Alberta (Sherwood Park, Alta.)

Though he’s not as fast or long, less separates Schakel and Richards than conventional wisdom seems to indicate. The President’s Trophy winner as the top defensive player in Canadian university football is a prototypical weak-side linebacker prospect who plays with anticipation and explodes downhill to finish with nefarious intent. A fluid directional athlete, Schakel is capable in coverage and a quick processor when sorting through traffic, with all the tools to be a CFL starter.

3. Ryder Varga, University of Regina (Regina, Sask.)

A reactionary athlete, Varga plays patient before surprising opponents with his first step quickness to get around blocks or break on a throw. A relentless pursuer who will translate well on special teams, my favourite part of Varga’s game is when he blitzed off the edge, attacking with a better pass rush plan than most defensive ends while showing consistent dip and bend. He needs to add strength to his loose six-foot-one, 229-pound frame, but will have a year to do so as he intends to return to school.

4. Woodly Appolon, Tuskegee University (Montreal, Que.)

A highly touted junior college safety, Appolon spent one year at Northern Illinois before transferring to NCAA Division II Tuskegee to play alongside his twin brother. At six-foot-four and 220 pounds, he’s an easy athlete at his level of competition and hardly seems to break a sweat. Appolon flows well and fills physically against the run, but it is his coverage experience and range that will brings the most CFL value.

5. Jared Beeksma, University of Guelph (Cambridge, Ont.)

Though he won’t necessarily ‘wow’ you in any one area, Beeksma is the type of lunch pail Canadian linebacker that rosters are built on. An instinctual player with disciplined eyes, he has the lateral agility and short area quickness to make plays through trash and close running lanes. He’ll be a capable special teamer despite average long speed.

Photo courtesy: Jay Barlett/McMaster Athletics

6. Enoch Penney-Laryea, McMaster University (Tuckahoe, New York)

An international man of mystery and serious physical freak, Penney-Laryea is a NCAA Division III running back turned U Sports defensive end that must now transition to linebacker due to his five-foot-eleven, 217-pound frame. He’s extremely raw as a result, but his strength, speed and explosiveness measurables are elite. Expect his 4.58 forty to make him a chase down demon on special teams.

7. Tommy Bringi, Wilfrid Laurier University (London, Ont.)

At five-foot-ten and 229 pounds, Bringi looks the part of a CFL linebacker and brings excellent length to get off blocks. A stiffer athlete, he lacks true sideline to sideline range, but makes up for it by diagnosing plays quickly with his eyes in the backfield. Bringi may not develop into a starter, but should pack a punch on specials.

8. Wesly Appolon, Tuskegee University (Montreal, Que.)

Though listed slightly heavier than his brother, Wesly Appolon plays smaller and is not as natural an athlete at the linebacker position. He can still cover ground, but is stilted when changing directions and doesn’t key and diagnose nearly as quickly. Appolon’s length gives him developmental value and he proved to be versatile at the junior college level, even spending significant time at cornerback.

9. Zach Lindley, Western University (Chatham, Ont.)

Highly under-rated on a dominant Western defence, Lindley can be choppy and stiff at times, but few players play with a higher effort level. A full field pursuit player, he has tremendous closing speed and is a reliable tackler in space. At just 189 pounds, Lindley will likely need to move to safety to find success.

10. Tanner Smith, University of Regina (Regina, Sask.)

Varga’s teammate hasn’t been a big time producer with the Rams, but Smith is a capable coverage backer who can cover a lot of ground very quickly. The former CJFL player checks in at under 200 pounds, but his nine-foot, 11-inch broad jump and 4.68 forty shows speed and explosiveness teams can work with.

Photo courtesy: David Moll/Calgary Dinos

11. Subomi Oyesoro, University of Calgary (Calgary, Alta.)

Oyesoro is explosive and has one of the quickest first steps of this group, but the six-foot, 212 pounder really struggles in transition. There is value to his game when going downhill, but a lack of strength and average physicality bring forth questions about his ability to stick on special teams.

12. Nate Edwards, McMaster University (Ancaster, Ont.)

Extremely productive for the Marauders, Edwards can handle all the physicality inside, but is very limited athletically when changing directions and struggles in space. Nevertheless, he should find a home as a no nonsense special teams body.

13. James Greig, University of Toronto (Vancouver, B.C.)

Toronto’s defensive MVP didn’t attend a Combine, but could be a sneaky pick. Greig’s a fluid mover at six-foot and 200 pounds with spot dropping ability, but he also stacks and sheds blocks better than many larger players in this class.

14. Daniel Kwamou, University of British Columbia (Calgary, Alta.)

Overshadowed for much of his UBC career, Kwamou shows some raw athleticism and lateral quickness to sort through the muck inside. He doesn’t blow you away in any one area, but checks all the measurable boxes to contribute on the teams.

15. Nolan Bedard, Queen’s University (Montreal, Que.)

One of the strangest prospects available, Bedard began his career as a running back before transitioning to linebacker and continued to be the team’s primary punt returner while racking up 50 tackles a season in the middle of the defence. Undersized at six-foot-one and 195 pounds, Bedard’s unique athleticism and special teams versatility merits late-round draft consideration.

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.