With the 2014 CFL Draft set to take place next Tuesday in Toronto, CFL on TSN analyst Duane Forde breaks down the top prospects. Today, he looks at the defensive line.
1. Evan Gill (DT, Manitoba)
You Should Know: He has grown up around the Bisons program, as his grandfather, Pat Gill, was the team manager for forty years and his mother, Denise, is the current manager.
The Good: He had a tremendous season, earning one of two CIS invitations to the prestigious East West Shrine Game in Florida.
The Bad: Expected to shine, his on-field performance at the CFL Combine was underwhelming. He had added muscle to his frame but seemed to lack his usual explosion.
2. Dylan Ainsworth (DE, Western)
The Good: He is remarkably athletic for a defensive lineman, with his scores on the movement tests actually stacking up well against the top linebacker prospects. This should allow him to contribute immediately on special teams.
The Bad: He's a little light for a defensive end but currently lacks the experience playing in space to be a linebacker. Keep in mind, however, that there's plenty of time for development, as he's one of the youngest players in the entire draft class.
3. Quinn Smith (DT, Concordia)
The Good: He turned in the breakout performance of CFL Combine weekend, running a 4.82 40-yard dash at 300 lbs., and completely dominating the one-on-one session.
The Bad: A failed drug test at the Combine for the banned substance Stanozolol casts doubt on much of what he achieved that weekend.
4. David Ménard (DE/DT, Montreal)
The Good: The 2010 RSEQ Rookie of the Year was third among draft eligible players in the 2013 CIS sack race (8 sacks in 8 games) and won the bench press competition at the CFL Combine (33 reps).
The Bad: Although he posted solid numbers last season, his most productive college season was his first, raising the question of whether he is already approaching his ceiling.
5. Nigel Romick (DE, Saint Mary's)
The Good: He's 6'5", 240 lbs. and moves very well
The Bad: He may be the ultimate "tweener", with the body type of a defensive end, skill set of a tackle, and many scouts projecting him as a linebacker.
• Mathieu Girard (DT, Montreal) – 6'4", 290 lbs.; among national leaders with 16.5 sacks over last two seasons; missed CFL Combine due to injury; also a highly regarded long snapper
• Dylan Roper (DE, Simon Fraser) – high motor; 6 sacks in 2013; 27 bench press reps at CFL Combine
• Derek Wiggan (DE, Queen's) – 6'1", 250; smart, technically sound player is a three-time OUA All-Star
• Kirby Fletcher (DT, Acadia) – 6'3", 300 lbs.; two-time AUS All-Star
• James Tuck (DE, York) – at 5'11", 225, a shift to LB is likely; athleticism and effort make him a strong special teams candidate
Also on the Radar (alphabetically): Sanmi Adereti (St. Francis Xavier), Shaquille Armstrong (Concordia), Ranji Atwal (Manitoba), Michael Dadzie (Regina), Vincent Desloges (Laval), Adam Dickson (McMaster), Jeffery Finley (Guelph), Jean-Christophe Gagnon (Sherbrooke), Steven Giang (Alberta), Pacome Matulu (Manitoba), Stephon Miller (Windsor), Ryan Northfield (Western), Martin Pesek (Acadia), Ben Rush (Saskatchewan)
Analysis: When news of Quinn Smith's positive drug test broke, the immediate question that arose was "How will this affect his draft stock?" The Concordia Stingers defensive tackle will likely be negatively impacted for two reasons – trust and doubt. In pre-draft interviews, teams frequently ask questions along the lines of "Would you ever use an illegal substance if you knew it would help you make the team?" or "What's the biggest secret you've ever kept about yourself?" If Smith was, in fact, asked those questions, he likely didn't respond by saying, "Yes," and "I took Stanozolol," - a perceived deception that might lead to a lack of trust from some teams.
The second, and I believe far stronger, reason why this incident will hurt his stock is simply the doubt now cast upon a Combine performance that directly led to Smith replacing Gill as the top defensive line prospect in the Canadian Scouting Bureau's most recent rankings. Rest assured that all nine CFL scouting staffs have already asked themselves whether Stanozolol or hard work was the biggest contributor in Quinn Smith shaving three-tenths of a second off his 40-yard dash time and adding five reps to his bench press performance since last May's East West Bowl.
As for the question of how much his stock drops, I anticipate that teams will downplay the trust factor but will be left with no choice but to eliminate his CFL Combine performance from their evaluation of him. The net result would have Smith's stock landing right back where it was pre-Combine, which is as one of the top three defensive tackles on most boards. I don't envision him being "penalized" beyond that by a community of general managers who have historically welcomed players who have committed far worse transgressions.
Another, less controversial discussion surrounding the D-Line group revolves around the difference between drafting tackles and ends in the CFL. The simplified explanation of this is that non-import tackles have a role on every team's defence, whether as starters or backups, and any potential to contribute on special teams is viewed more as a bonus than an expectation. In terms of projecting how a tackle prospect will fit into the CFL, there are always plenty of "comparables" among current or recently retired CFLers at that position to make the process easier.
For Canadian defensive ends, like Dylan Ainsworth, however, things are a little more complicated. The main issue is that only a handful of CIS-trained defensive ends ever get the opportunity to play that position regularly in the CFL. There are, of course, exceptions but the concern is that typically, upon reaching the CFL, the top pass rushing ends in Canadian university football are considered either (a) not explosive/athletic enough to play end but too small to move inside to tackle or (b) too small to play end but not athletic enough to play in space as a linebacker.
In fact, over the last 25 years, the only non-import draftees who have emerged as consistent impact players at defensive end are Leroy Blugh (7th overall, 1989 Draft), Brent Johnson (20th, 2000 as a redshirt junior), and Ricky Foley (4th, 2006). Considering that Johnson was selected after playing four years at Ohio State and Blugh was actually drafted as a linebacker and later moved to end, that makes Foley the lone CIS-trained defensive end to excel at the same position in the CFL. Revisiting the '06 Draft, part of Foley's value to the B.C. Lions, who selected him, was that they already had an established non-import starting end in Johnson. His backup, Nautyn McKay-Loescher was entering the option year of his contract so B.C. needed depth at the position. Other teams may have been less likely to pick him that early.
In terms of size and athleticism coming out of the CIS, Ainsworth comes as close to Foley as any defensive end prospect in recent years and his draft stock will vary from team to team, like Foley's did, depending upon whether they project him as a future starting DE, a backup DE and full-time special teamer, or as a linebacker. In a draft where there are few certainties, I would anticipate Ainsworth being chosen in the Top 10 and given an opportunity to compete and develop as an end.