This post will commence our 2014 CFL Draft coverage. It will look at players the Blue Bombers should potentially target. I've enlisted two friends of mine who follow the game closely within Canada to participate in a 3 man live 4 round mock draft where each "GM" will draft for 3 teams. The results of that will be posted on this blog.
It is important to point out my bias when it comes to the CFL Draft. I am firmly in the camp of taking the best player available with early picks. By that I mean, the best football player on the day of the draft. In the CFL, you can't pick guys based on what they might be in 3-4 seasons. Careers don't last that long, contracts don't last that long.
Jade Etienne is a prime example of why drafting on potential in the early rounds is a bad idea in the CFL. Jade Etienne may still develop into a productive CFL receiver, he might even hit 1000 yards in a season or two in his CFL career. That won't be with the Blue Bombers though. When selecting a non-OL early, draft a player who can make your roster, contribute and develop along the way while he is a member of your team. Cory Watson is a good example of this type of player. He saw limited action in his rookie season (2010) as a receiver, but contributed on special teams and developed into starting role and 793 receiving yards in his second season (2011). Henoc Muamba is another example, make the team as a rookie, contribute and develop into an impact player.
Luckily, drafting for positional need shouldn't be too big of an issue for the Bombers in the 2014 CFL Draft. They need non-import players at every position on the field. Here is an overview of the current non-imports on the Blue Bombers roster with number of anticipated starters in parenthesis:
Tailback (0) - Volny
Fullback/Tight End (0) - Pontbriand, Fitzgerald
Receiver (2) - Watson, Kohlert, Feoli-Gudino, Brescacin, Renaud
Offensive Line (3) - Greaves, Morley, Swiston, Pencer, Kowalczuk, Neufeld, Paliwoda
Defensive Line (1*) - Lucas, Thomas
Linebacker (1*) - Stephan, Dubuisson-Lebon
Defensive Back (2*) - Alexander, Newman, Muamba, Bucknor, Sherman, West
*2nd starting spot on defense is likely to be a rotation between one spot on the DL, at LB/secondary.
The Bombers currently have 27 NI's under contract with 2013 draftees Kris Robertson (DB) and Stephen Alli (receiver) potentially signing before training camp making that number 29. In the CFL, you need to dress 20 non-imports, so the Bombers are pretty thin generally, with 7 of the 27 NI's under contract being OL (4 likely to dress).
Bomber 2014 Draft Picks (as of April 5, 2014)
The Bombers currently have 6 picks in the 2014 draft. The first pick is likely to be a OL, who may start (please please!), or may need some development time. In terms of roster management in 2014, that first pick will be an immediate upgrade to one of the 6 OL spots on gameday, or a guy who sits on IR to develop.
Where do the Bombers need NI depth? Let's break it down, in order of immediate need.
1. Offensive line
This one has been beaten to death. Depth isn't so much what the Bombers need, as much as they need another high end NI to join Chris Greaves. Morley is coming to the end of his career, Swiston is in danger of topping out at average, Neufeld is coming off a serious injury and playing a position that is likely going to an import, Kowalczuk is a marginal CFL player, Pencer is still a very raw prospect, and who is Paliwoda? Nobody seems to know.
The Bombers have depth, they need good CFL players at OL. Specifically, they need a starting centre. Kyle Walters has all but guaranteed that the 2nd overall pick will be used on an offensive lineman. Pierre Lavertu (Laval), a centre, looks to be the likely pick, and only Ottawa can throw a wrench into that plan. If Ottawa selects Lavertu, I expect the Blue Bombers to select Matthias Goossen (Simon Fraser). David Foucault (Montreal) might have a higher ceiling (one of those guys bound to leave once he becomes useful), but Goossen is ready to play and he can play all of the inside positions well, including centre.
All of the top OL prospects will be gone by pick 20, I wouldn't be shocked if 8 OL are picked by the time the Bombers pick for a 2nd time.
Our NI's at the skill positions on offence aren't that bad. Volny won't be confused with Cornish, but he can play a role backing up at tailback, he can block, he can catch, he can run, he can fumble sometimes. Pontbriand is a very good blocking fullback. Fitzgerald is a prospect. Probably a better fit as an extra receiver/tight end than the fullback/tight end he was envisioned as by Joe Mack, but another guy who should be able to fill a role.
Watson and Kohlert are two pretty solid NI receivers, they will start. Behind them....nothing really. Feoli-Gudino was a star at Laval, but has barely played in the CFL as a receiver. Currently, he's a pulled hamstring away from being a CFL starter. Brescacin was the top CIS receiver in 2012. Taylor Renaud finished a solid CIS career 21st in receiving yards in 2013.
Watson and Kohlert both missed games in 2013, so if we're planning on starting 2 NI receivers, you can be sure that we'll have at least 3 or 4 NI's playing significant snaps at that position in 2014. In terms of the upcoming season, the Bombers might end up mining the cuts of other CFL teams for NI receiving depth.
The 2014 draft class has one great receiving prospect in Devon Bailey (St FX), one good prospect in Kris Bastien (Concordia) and a bunch of guys who are going to need some development time after them. Arguably the best receiving prospect in this draft is Anthony Coombs (Manitoba), but that will depend on who drafts him and if he makes it as a tailback. Bailey, Coombs and Bastien are likely to be gone before the Bombers pick again at 20th overall.
Some options for the Bombers in the 3rd and potentially 4th rounds at receiver:
Evan Pszczonak Windsor 6' 180 - Among the top receivers in all the measurables, top vertical among all combine attendees, 42 catches for 646 yards 6 TD's in 7 games in 2013. Next closest Windsor receiver had 235 yards in 8 games, so he put up those numbers as the only consistent target in the offence. Looking at his 2013 highlight pack, it's a lot of running by inferior athletes on wheel routes, which doesn't give the best indication of whether the guy has the route running skills to be a receiver in the CFL. Video
Alex Pierzchalski Toronto 6'5 220 - Tested low in terms of speed and agility, average in the jumps, not tremendously productive in CIS (51 for 537 9 TD's in 2013) in a strong passing offence at Varsity. Big target who tracks the ball well and shows an ability to win some contested deep balls in his 2013 highlight pack. He doesn't get off his feet and get it at it's highest point, and he tends to catch the ball with his hands down (bad habit!) on short and intermediate routes coming into the field, absorbing the ball into his body rather than attacking it with his hands up, that's a recipe for drops. Video
Alexander Fox Bishop's 5'8 185- See Pszczonak's description above. Very similar but smaller and less athletic. Over 1000 yards for Bishop's in 2013 in a not so great QSSF, mostly running by slower DB's. Video
Tore Corrado Simon Fraser 6' 175- Tremendous athlete who is climbing from the regional combine through the main combine. Shows more varied route running (and kick returning) in his 2013 highlight pack than Pszczonak and Fox, but tends to absorb the passes with his body rather than catching them with his hands, again recipe for drops. Also would have to learn the waggle much like an import after playing BC high school and NCAA D2. Video
Scott Macdonell Queens 6'5 230- Tested very well at the combine for his size rising through the regional combine to the main combine. #2 target at Queen's behind Johnny Aprile, 31 catches for 449 4 TD's. Traditional Canadian football slot, big body make the grab and get upfield type, likely to play some tight end in the CFL. Reminds me a lot of Aaron Hargreaves, whether or not he gets a better shot than Hargreaves to play anything but field WR we'll have to see. Lazy hands on some passes when he is wide-open, habit he'll have to break to get on a CFL field. Lots of special teams highlights in his pack too. Video
Francis Lapointe Sherbrooke 5'11 180- See Pszczonak again. 30 grabs for 291 and 2 TD's in 2013. Video
Macdonell and Pszczonak are just a nose ahead of the rest of this group in my opinion. Macdonell for the tight end and special teams potential, Pszczonak for pure athleticism combined with production, but they are all very close and all of these guys will get picked between the 3rd and 6th rounds.
Late round special:
Kit Hillis Saskatchewan 5'9 175- Sneaky, sneaky receiver who just gets open and makes plays. 46 catches for 537 and surprisingly only 1 TD. Doesn't test very well, especially for his size. Great football player, impactful on special teams too, lined up anywhere and everywhere for the Huskies, comes from a program with a good history of producing CFL receivers. video
Any spot on defense is a need for the Bombers in terms of NI's. In the 2014 off-season the Bombers lost their top 2 NI defenders. Henoc Muamba signed with the Indianapolis Colts and Pierre-Luc Labbe retired. The Bombers have added Donovan Alexander, Matt Bucknor and Graig Newman this off-season to compete for the starting safety spot, and potentially take some snaps at other spots in the secondary.
As it looks right now, the Bombers will start a NI at safety and need to fill a 2nd NI spot on defense. It is unlikely that one player will take the bulk of these snaps. It will likely be a mix of having 1 NI DL/LB/6th DB present on every defensive snap. This could be difficult to manage and will take some co-ordination among positional coaches when they build defensive packages.
We are extremely thin at NI LB. Rene Stephan hasn't been able to stay healthy and on the roster. Dubisson-Lebon was very good on special teams, but doesn't look like a prospect to play defense, something he didn't even do much of at the CIS level.
We are also very thin at NI DL. Jake Thomas and Ryan Lucas are serviceable CFL gap holders, but neither one is going to be impactful or play more than 20-25 snaps a game.
I believe it is likely that the Blue Bombers will pick through the bargain bin of cuts from other teams at NI LB and DL, but they will also look to pick up some prospects at the draft. One injury in either spot, and we have no one, if we aren't in that position all ready at LB.
Defensive players I expect to be picked before the Bombers get back on the conference call:
Evan Gill DL Manitoba, Quinn Smith DL Concordia, Dylan Ainsworth DL Western, David Menard DL Montreal, Jesse Briggs LB McGill, Beau Landry LB Western, Casey Chin LB Simon Fraser, Andrew Lue DB Queen's, Antoine Pruneau DB Montreal
Let's look at some of the defensive prospects who the Bombers might have a shot at in the 3rd and 4th rounds:
Raye Hartmann St. FX 6'2 190 - Flying up the draft boards with strong regional and main combines. Hasn't played since 2011. Big strong DB, more of a corner or half type, will kill on special teams regardless. Video
Max Caron Concordia 6'2 210- Top defensive player in all of CIS in 2011, Caron was once a sure first-round pick in this class, but he's been flying under the radar recently. Did not test well at the combine, so he could be around at 20. Weak-side LB type in the CFL, maybe even a safety although he's on the slow side for that spot.
Travis Bent Concordia 6' 240- Another guy who came through a regional combine, Bent is a pure middle linebacker and a vicious tackler at the CIS level as you'll see in his highlight pack (video). He tested well for a traditional linebacker, does he have the potential to pick up pass coverage well enough to play a role like the one Pierre-Luc Labbe played on passing downs, or is he just a special teamer?
Derek Jones Simon Fraser 6'1 195- Played corner for SFU, in what looks to be a defense that plays primarily cover 2 in American (11 man) football. Highlight pack shows a good mix of Jones playing zone and man, looks to be a physical DB who can make a play on the ball. Maybe a guy who can develop into a field corner? video
Chris Johnson Toronto 5'11 220- Played weak-side LB at Varsity. His own highlight pack doesn't really flatter him in pass coverage, but he tested very well at the regional combine and he's one of those special teamers who might develop into something types, otherwise known as a 4th or 5th round CFL pick. video
Adam Thibault Laval 6' 205- Arguably the best athlete in this draft. Had to fight for playing time at Laval, and as a result is inexperienced compared to other players in the draft. He does have a lot of special teams experience though to go with the 4.4 potential.
Derek Wiggan Queen's 6'1 255- Undersized interior DL prospect in the CFL who mostly played end for Queen's, did not test well at the combine and might drop a bit because of it, likely into the 3rd round or beyond. Looks much more comfortable at end in his highlight pack, comes straight up out of his stance when he's in a 3 point, if he does that against CFL OL who are as athletic and stronger than him he'll end up on his back side. Video
Michael Dadzie Regina 6'1 230- Guy who tested very well in regional and main combine. Huge motor, played LB in junior, shifted to DE at the U of R. A guy who will for sure be able to make a roster on special teams and perhaps develop into a situational pass rusher, potentially an interior guy in a few years too if he can get into the 250's and keep his quickness.
Late round special:
Matt Webster Queen's 5'11 190- Played strong half, dime and safety at Queen's. Tested very well at the Toronto regional combine. Someone will take a flyer on him in the 4th-5th-6th round and see what he turns into. video
A position that doesn't get a lot of time in the roster or draft discussion, but it is important. Can't get that ball back to the punter reliably, and you have major problems. Currently the Bombers only longsnapper is Ian Wild following the retirement of Chris Cvetkovic. Carl Fitzgerald was touted as a guy who could longsnap heading into 2013 training camp, but he quickly showed that he can't do it at the CFL level. Wild is a starting LB too. Do we want a starting LB longsnapping full-time? There's a relatively high probability of a starting LB leaving a game with an injury too. We need some cover at that spot. With the draft being 7 rounds and limited in depth in this transition year for NCAA players and eligibility for the CFL Draft, I think it is a fair possibility that the Bombers could use a 6th or 7th rounder on a guy who is primarily a longsnapper.
Here are a couple guys who fit the bill:
Kyle Tyo Windsor 6'5 240- He's already got the long hair. video
Thomas Miles Manitoba 6'1 220- Made the main combine as a LB, can longsnap too. video
Stay tuned for our mock draft...