2024 CFL Draft rankings: defensive linemen

Photo courtesy: Tiffany Luke/Laurier Athletics

There are just four days remaining until the 2024 CFL Draft, with hundreds of players waiting to see their pro football dreams realized on Tuesday, April 30 at 8:00 p.m. ET.

As always, 3DownNation will be your go-to source for extensive coverage of all eight rounds. Analysts J.C. Abbott and Ben Grant will be live on YouTube for the entirety of the selection process, while mock draft guru John Hodge is set to provide up-to-the-minute written analysis with his annual live blog.

In the lead-up to the festivities, our team has collaborated on prospect rankings at every position, culminating in the unveiling of our annual Top 25. We’ve already broken down the quarterbacks, running backs, fullbacks, tight ends, receivers, and offensive linemen. Make sure to check back tomorrow when we rank the linebackers.

Defensive linemen

1. Luke Brubacher, Wilfrid Laurier University (Listowel, Ont.)

Brubacher is not yet a polished product but you wouldn’t expect that from an athlete who had never played a snap of football until three years ago. The former high school boxer walked on to the Laurier team on a whim after the pandemic and started from day one thanks to his freakish athletic measurables. At six-foot-five and 246 pounds, he’s faster and more explosive than many receivers, with blue traits galore and all the tools to develop into a dangerous rush end. His absolute floor is as a matchup nightmare on special teams but if he continues on his current trajectory, he could work his way to the NFL in a couple of years.

2. Daniel Okpoko, San Diego State University (Saskatoon, Sask.)

A six-year player for the Aztecs, Okpoko had almost no production until he stepped into a starting role in his final season. Standing at a lean six-foot-four and 274 pounds with impressive 35-inch arms, he hasn’t shown the elite first step to truly threaten as a pass rusher but flashed some quick hand usage at the CFL Combine. He’s a positionally sound and reliable run defender who can competently play inside or on the edge, but he’ll likely never reach the heights of his NFL cousin Israel Idonije.

Photo courtesy: Tiffany Luke/Waterloo Athletics

3. Tyson Hergott, University of Waterloo (Waterloo, Ont.)

The J.P. Metras Trophy runner-up after recording 11 sacks last year, Hergott is a B+ athlete who lacks the ideal length of most elite pass rushers, making up for it by working like a dog. He’s a natural power rusher who is able to consistently stack and shed while showing a varied, if simplistic, pass rush arsenal. He shows relentless effort to chase down the quarterback and try to strip the football, which will translate on special teams even if he doesn’t become a regular at defensive end.

4. Justin Sambu, Baylor University (Cochrane, Alta.)

Scouts will struggle with how to evaluate Sambu based on the extreme discrepancy between his tape before and after transferring to Baylor. In 2022 at Maine, he flashed sudden and violent hands with solid twitch for an interior player. With the Bears, he struggled to see action at all and seemed to lose a step without adding strength. It would appear he packed on some bad weight to compete at the Power Five level and suffered as a result, but he wouldn’t be the first failed transfer to regain his form in Canada.

5. Jason Janvier-Messier, York University (Beloiel, Que.)

The best player on a historically terrible York team, the only reason Janvier-Messier needed to go through the Invitational Combine was because he missed much of 2023 with injury. An undersized six-foot-two, 232-pound speed rusher, his per-game production is off the charts thanks to his special get-off and ability to dip under blockers. He won’t shy away from contact despite his size and has a nose for the football, with the potential to become a core special teamer early in his career.

6. Kail Dava, Tennessee Tech University (Mississauga, Ont.)

A five-year impact player at the FCS level, Dava is an inside gap plugger with a nice motor and a bulldog mentality. He buries himself in the muck with the play strength to keep his teammates clean and solid hands to shed when the play comes his way, but lacks top-tier pass rush ability. He could fall in the draft after undergoing rotator cuff surgery this offseason but is trending towards a June return.

7. Ifenna Onyeka, Carleton University (Brampton, Ont.)

The latest member of the uber-talented Onyeka family to make the leap to the CFL, Ifenna finally had his long-awaited breakout as a pass rusher last season and logged 5.5 sacks. Long-armed and lean, all the traits are there but he is still learning to use his impressive 80-inch wing span to keep tackles at bay and corral ball carriers. If he can’t get extension off the snap, he struggles to disengage and not benching at the Combine won’t help those questions regarding his play strength.

Photo courtesy: Bob Frid/UBC Athletics

8. Kyle Samson, University of British Columbia (Hamilton, Ont.)

A two-time All-Canadian defensive tackle with the T-Birds, Samson will be docked for not looking the part with a pudgy 301-pound build and stubby 30-inch arms. The tape is exceptional despite those perceived deficiencies, with his active hands and initial quickness making him a legitimate pass-rushing threat. He’s an ox inside who deadens contact and blows up plays with his immovability, proving that his whopping 34 bench press reps translate to the field.

9. Brandon Omonuwa, Wilfrid Laurier University (Toronto, Ont.)

A six-foot-one, 275-pound defensive tackle who was twice named an OUA all-star, Omonuwa flashes a little more pass-rushing twitch and bend than most interior players. There is some violence in his hand usage despite a lack of ideal length and he sets strong on a shade, with the strength to handle double teams and the motor to make plays as a chase-down defender.

10. Micah Roane, University of South Dakota (Chaska, Minn.)

Eligible thanks to his Canadian mother, Roane has been rock solid both on and off the field for the ‘Yotes, earning a nomination to the AFCA Good Works Team. His athletic measurables are underwhelming but his tape is much better than the numbers, with technical hands to stack and shed as a run defender. There isn’t much juice to his game off the edge, but he’ll find a role inside if he can keep adding to his six-foot-three, 259-pound frame.

11. Van Wishart, Queen’s University (Courtice, Ont.)

A rugged, lunch-pail defensive end who earned second-team OUA all-star honours this season, Wishart plays with sound positioning and great knockback strength on the outside. He lacks the bend and get-off to get around the edge consistently, but his reliable play style and projected inside-outside versatility will endear him to teams.

Photo courtesy: Kevin Lassel/McMaster Athletics

12. Owen Hubert, McMaster University (Norwood, Ont.)

Hubert did most of his work at McMaster as a stand-up speed rusher who was often left on an island, but he’ll need to play inside with his hand in the dirt at the next level. That makes the six-foot-four, 263-pound defender a difficult projection, particularly after a disappointing Combine performance in which he only put up 10 reps on the bench. He has the potential to win as a one-dimensional power rusher when he employs proper hand usage but needs to add strength to make it happen.

13. Mitchell Price, McMaster University (Caledon, Ont.)

Another bull-strong defensive tackle who will be knocked for his painfully short 29 1/2-inch arms, scouts still love Price’s rugged style of play against the run. At six-foot and 273 pounds, he shows great first-step quickness to mirror blockers and more than the requisite strength to hold his gap. He can play high at times and lacks sophistication in his hands, but does the dirty work better than most.

14. Evan Nolli, Langley Rams (New Westminster, B.C.)

A three-year starter for the ill-fated Simon Fraser Red Leafs who turned in an All-Canadian season with the CJFL’s Langley Rams in 2023, Nolli has flown entirely under the radar until late in the draft process. Listed at six-foot-two and 260 pounds, he projects inside due to his lack of ideal twitch but shows some excellent hand usage for a junior product. Already committed to the University of Alberta for a final season of eligibility, there is value in snagging him as a late-round flyer before another year of development.

15. Samuel Obiang, Towson University (Ottawa, Ont.)

Short for the position at five-foot-11 and 307 pounds, Obiang is a true nose tackle who might struggle to translate to the Canadian game after showing limited pass rush upside at either Texas State or Towson. He’s a one-note bully who wins with power through the opponent’s chest, but is equally prone to bad reps where he gets knocked out of position. After mixing it up with just about every offensive lineman he faced at the Combine, teams will be split on whether his nasty edge is a pro or a con.

16. George Idoko, University of Saskatchewan (Calgary, Alta.)

As far as talent is concerned, Idoko is too low on this list but his six-foot-one, 224-pound frame is just too small to be the positionally sound edge he was in the Canada West. Without the compensating quickness or bend of a Janvier-Messier, his ceiling is that of a punch card special teamer without a true position. Don’t be surprised if a team tries to turn the second-team All-Canadian into a fullback in order to justify a selection.

On the fringes: Kevin Anderson, Ottawa (Chateauguay, Que.) | Scott Murray, Guelph (Mississauga, Ont.) | Dennis Rossler, Mount Allison (Scarborough, Ont.) | Joshua Campbell, Guelph (Montreal, Que.) | Jacob Spencer, Saginaw Valley State (Brantford, Ont.) | Trevon Halstead, Waterloo (Brampton, Ont.)

J.C. Abbott is a University of British Columbia graduate and high school football coach. He covers the CFL, B.C. Lions, CFL Draft and the three-down league's Global initiative.