With the 2014 CFL Draft set to take place Tuesday in Toronto, CFL on TSN analyst Duane Forde breaks down the top prospects. Today, he looks at defensive backs.
1. Antoine Pruneau (Montreal)
You Should Know: He has been an RSEQ All-Star each of the last three seasons...at a different position each year.
The Good: He combines a high football IQ with excellent speed and quickness.
The Bad: He'll need to improve his overall strength to battle receivers at the next level.
2. Andrew Lue (Queen's)
The Good: He is a four-year starter and three-time OUA All-Star at the boundary corner position.
The Bad: He has always played on an island at corner and, therefore could take time to adjust to being in the middle of the field if needed at safety.
3. Raye Hartmann (St. Francis Xavier)
The Good: A bigger DB at 6'2", 190 lbs., he is as competitive and physical as any player in the class.
The Bad: Having left school after his second year, he hasn't played football since the 2011 season.
4. Adam Thibault (Laval)
The Good: He is one of the most explosive athletes in the draft class and posted the fastest 40-yard dash (4.45 seconds) and 20-yard shuttle (4.03) of anyone at the CFL Combine, as well as topping the DB group with 18 bench press reps.
The Bad: Despite trying multiple positions on both sides of the ball, he could never establish himself as a full-time starter for the Rouge et Or, and didn't participate in one-on-ones at the CFL Combine.
5. Derek Jones (Simon Fraser)
The Good: The son of former Edmonton Eskimo DB Ed Jones was a four-year starter at SFU and, at 4.51 seconds, had the 3rd fastest 40-yard dash at the CFL Combine.
The Bad: He had some trouble in man coverage at the CFL Combine.
• Eric Black (Saint Mary's) – 5'11", 170 lbs.; brother of Toronto Argonaut DB Matt Black; 2013 AUS All-Star cornerback; strength is a concern, as he posted only 3 bench press reps at the CFL Combine
• Josh Burns (Windsor) – 6'0", 180 lbs.; was #14 prospect in the September Canadian Scouting Bureau rankings; a collapsed lung in Week 2 limited him to four games; tested well at Toronto Regional Combine, including a 4.57 forty, which ranks 4th among draft eligible DBs
• Charlton Elliott (St. Francis Xavier) – 6'0", 185 lbs.; played in 2013 East West Bowl; ankle injury cost him most of the 2013 season; tested well at Montreal Regional Combine but could improve on 4.76 forty
• Matt Webster (Queen's) – 5'11", 185 lbs.; played just four games in 2013 due to injury but still had 2 INT; as a safety, led the nation's 2nd ranked rushing defence in tackles in 2011; 4.59 forty at Toronto Regional Combine
• Steve Ventresca (McMaster) – 6'0", 180 lbs.; not a great tester (5 bench press reps, 4.97 forty at 2013 East West Bowl) but this four-year starter has 14 career interceptions
Also on the Radar (alphabetically): Alexandre Branco (Sherbrooke); R.J. Cornish (Saint Mary's); Allan Dicks (McMaster); Demetrius Ferguson (St. Francis Xavier); Zach Lord (McGill); Mattey Ossom (McGill); Hugo Rajotte (St. Francis Xavier); Randy Williams (Ottawa)
Analysis: Historically, defensive backs haven't heard their names called frequently in the early portion of the CFL Draft. In fact, over the last thirty years, only two DBs (Patrick Burke in 1993 and Dylan Barker in 2008) have been selected first overall and you'd have to go back to 1996 (Kelly Wiltshire and Andrew Henry) to even find the last time two defensive backs were chosen in the first round. It's largely a product of the relationship between supply and demand, as every CIS team has five starting defensive backs but CFL teams rarely start more than one non-import in the secondary. Nonetheless, with draftees like Craig Butler and Mike Edem and, to a lesser extent, Courtney Stephen and Keenan MacDougall, having a relatively immediate impact in the CFL, teams are recognizing that the learning curve for young Canadians might not be quite as steep as in years past.
This will be a very important consideration in 2014 because, for as much as has been said about the new draft eligibility rules hurting the depth of this "transition year" class, the group of DB prospects is as good and as deep as any I've seen. Athletic, cerebral, and versatile, Pruneau fits the mold of the "new" non-import safety cast by Butler and Edem. He is right alongside Manitoba running back Anthony Coombs, in a 1a/1b relationship, as the best non-linemen in the class. He is a virtual lock to be taken in the first round, potentially in the Top 5. Lue doesn't quite possess the vast résumé of Pruneau but his size, coverage skills, and intellect are why several teams covet his services. He has an outside chance of making it two DBs in Round 1.
Hartmann and Thibault are two of the most intriguing prospects in the draft. Hartmann left St. FX after two years and, in the 24 months since then, many rumours have circulated as to the reason why. Whether it was finances, academics, or the pursuit of an NCAA opportunity is irrelevant now. He demonstrated through the Toronto Regional and main CFL Combine that he hasn't lost a thing. At the very least, he has the tenacity and athleticism to contribute right away on special teams, while making up for that lost development time as a DB. Thibault is also trying to close that learning gap, having only moved from receiver to defensive back in 2013. Athletically, he's an elite prospect but, if his potential couldn't be maximized at the CIS level in a program with the environment that Laval provides, there have to be concerns that it won't happen in the CFL either. Nonetheless, he's a rare specimen who is worthy of a long look.