Being the holiday season, I really wanted to write something with a Christmas theme this week. So I tried my hand at poetry...
T'was the week before Christmas
And out in the 'Peg,
The Bombers looked as shaky
As a chair with one leg.
The mug shots were hung
At CanadInns with care...
A reminder that Coach Kelly
No longer worked there...
Despite my good intentions, that seemed a little Grinch-like, so I turned my focus to festive music. I wrote an updated version of a popular Christmas carol but, unfortunately, the Saskatchewan Roughriders-inspired "The Thirteen Days of Christmas" had a hint of Scrooge to it as well. As a result, I'm ignoring the holiday season and turning my attention to the 2010 CFL Draft.
"BAH, HUMBUG!" DRAFT RANKINGS
Here's a position-by-position look at the top draft eligible players heading into the offseason.
1. John Bender (6'8", 325, Nevada)
2. Danny Watkins (6'4", 310, Baylor)
3. Joe Eppele (6'8", 306, Washington State)
4. J'Michael Deane (6'5", 312, Michigan State)
5. Nasser Jamal (6'6", 286, Louisiana-Lafayette)
In addition to being the two best players in their positional group, Bender and Watkins may actually be the two best players in the entire class. However, both will slip a little bit in the Draft, as they're likely to garner significant NFL interest after completing their NCAA eligibility next fall. Bender is expected to be chosen in the middle rounds of the 2011 NFL Draft, while early projections have Watkins as a seventh rounder.
With CFL clubs looking for "safer" picks with their early selections, the door will be open for the other three Division 1 O-Linemen to climb ahead of them on Draft Day. Having given up his last year of college to turn pro, rather than share playing time with new recruits as WSU rebuilds, Eppele should be the first one picked.
Meanwhile Deane, who climbed four spots to #5 in the rankings of the CFL's Canadian Scouting Bureau (CSB), actually loses some ground on my board. He only played in three games in '09, including just one start, and, making matters worse, he has been suspended from the team at MSU and faces assault charges (along with eight other Spartans football players) for his role in an on-campus fight in the fall.
Jamal wasn't a starter for the Ragin' Cajuns this season, after missing most of 2008 due to injury but he did see significant playing time. Keep an eye on the status of Orlando Franklin (6'7", 318, Miami). Should this top 2011 prospect opt for early entry to the NFL and CFL Drafts, he would immediately become the best player available. He'd be an even bigger gamble than Bender or Watkins though, as he's more highly regarded by NFL scouts. In the meantime, with most of the NCAA O-Linemen returning to school next fall (Eppele is currently the lone exception), the top CIS prospects are assured of getting a long look at the CFL's Evaluation Camp and other predraft workouts.
1. Brian Bulcke (6'4", 281, Stanford)
2. Eddie Steele (6'2", 280, Manitoba)
3. Chima Ihekwoaba (6'4", 255, Wilfrid Laurier)
4. Bruno Lapointe (6'5", 255, Buffalo)
5. Marc-Antoine Beaudoin-Cloutier (6'3", 240, Laval)
Bulcke saw his stock drop sharply when a season ending wrist injury led the Cardinal to redshirt him for the year. As a result, he won't turn pro until 2011 instead of offering immediate help to a CFL team drafting him this spring. He remains the best defensive lineman in this class, but teams in need of more immediate depth at defensive tackle may now turn their attention to Steele. Despite playing for a weak Bisons squad and battling a nagging knee injury all year, Steele turned in a strong enough season to earn consideration to play in the Shrine game against top U.S. college seniors (ultimately Regina receiver Jordan Sisco was chosen to represent the CIS on the West team).
Rounding out my Top 5 are three defensive ends, who should jockey for position as Draft Day approaches. Ihekwoaba is viewed as a special athlete but injuries at the CIS East West camp and during Laurier's season have raised questions about his durability. That, combined with Lapointe's decision to forgo his last year of eligibility with the Bulls, has closed the gap between these two players. Beaudoin-Cloutier and Sebastien Tétrault (6'4", 280, Ottawa) head a group of CIS players who could improve their stock with good combine workouts but, for the time being, are viewed as a few notches below the top four D-Linemen.
The same is true of Halifax-born Nicholas MacDonald (6'3", 250, Holy Cross), who is expected to apply for non-import status in the coming weeks.
1. Cory Watson (6'2", 204, Concordia)
2. Akeem Foster (6'5", 215, St. Francis Xavier)
3. Jordan Sisco (6'0", 210, Regina)
4. Shawn Gore (6'0", 200, Bishop's)
5. Josh Bishop (6'2", 215, Wilfrid Laurier)
Watson established himself as the clear Number One during the season, based largely on his physical style and consistent production against double teams. His biggest challenge for top spot will come from redshirt junior Kito Poblah (6'2", 203, Central Michigan) once the Montreal-born receiver is granted non-import status (he moved back and forth between Montreal and Florida during his youth but lived in Canada long enough to qualify as a non-import). Poblah had 50 catches for 631 yards in '09 and could get an NFL shot after next season.
Foster also had a solid season, despite injuries, but is still raw relative to Watson and Poblah. Sisco put up good numbers for the Rams but how he acquits himself against top NCAA defenders at the Shrine Game will go a long way towards determining where he ultimately ranks. Bishop's size, skill, and athleticism are as impressive as any receiver in this class but nagging injuries have been an issue throughout his CIS career, and cost him half of the '09 season.
Gore, meanwhile, got off to a great start before his numbers tailed off slightly. Overall, this is a deep, if unspectacular, crop of receivers, in which any one of the sixth through tenth ranked players, including Nate Binder (6'2", 190, Tusculum) and Kevin D'Hollander (6'4", 220, McMaster), could jump into the Top Five with a strong E-Camp performance.
1. Taurean Allen (5'10", 195, Wilfrid Laurier)
2. Chris Rwabukama (5'10", 175, Duke)
3. Cauchy Muamba (6'0", 195, St. Francis Xavier)
4. Jon Krahenbil (6'0", 187, Saskatchewan)
5. Ludovic Kashindi (5'10", 180, Sherbrooke)
Allen earned the second All-Canadian selection of his career, cementing his reputation as one of the best cover men in the pass happy OUA. Rwabukamba, a redshirt junior, has progressed steadily through his four years in the Blue Devils program, developing into a starter in '09. With three of his eight starts coming against consensus Top 15 opponents, it's clear that he's competing at a high level as well. Playing in the AUS, Muamba neither received the exposure nor faced the competition that Allen did (three of the top four receivers in the conference were his X-Men teammates). That said, athletically, he is among the elite prospects in this entire draft class, making him a prime candidate to turn heads at the E-Camp.
At every level of football he has played, Krahenbil has proven to be a top performer with a knack for making big plays. He was an All-Canadian in 2009. Kashindi may be one of the sleepers in the group. Like Rwabukamba, he is slightly built, which could limit his ability to play anywhere other than cornerback but, with CFL teams showing an increasing willingness to play non-imports at field corner, he should get a long look.
Two players from the Windsor, Ontario area, Michael Carter (5'11", 175, Maryland) and Nick Riva (5'11", 190, St. Francis Xavier), could also push for Top Five consideration. Carter, in particular, is intriguing. As the fastest player in this class and cousin of NFL All-Pro safety Oshiomogho Atogwe, he looks great on paper, but the redshirt junior has seen very little game action with the Terrapins.
1. Cory Greenwood (6'2", 235, Concordia)
2. Shomari Williams (6'2", 236, Queen's)
3. Joash Gesse (6'0", 225, Montreal)
4. Curtis Dublanko (6'0", 235, North Dakota)
5. Chris Smith (6'2", 224, Queen's)
The top three linebackers have jockeyed for position all year. Greenwood holds the top spot for now, following a season in which he deservedly won the President's Trophy as the top stand up defensive player in CIS football. That said, Williams closed ground as the year went on and made the biggest jump (up eleven spots, from #15 to #4) of any prospect in the CSB rankings. After sitting out the first two games due to transfer rules, he got better every week, emerging as a dominant force at rush end. Although linebacker is actually his natural position, scouts will want to see him use the March Evaluation Camp to demonstrate that he can perform at the same high level at that spot.
E-Camp will also be critical for Gesse, as he'll be coming off of season ending knee surgery. Even if his participation at the combine is limited, he'll still need to somehow show that, in the long term, his outstanding speed and agility won't be compromised by the injury.
Dublanko, a redshirt junior, had a breakout season in '09 to raise his stock dramatically after three relatively nondescript years with the Fighting Sioux. Smith's stock rose during the Gaels' Vanier Cup run, as he had the opportunity to showcase his versatility, especially his coverage skills, in nationally televised games.
Giancarlo Rapanaro (5'11", 195, Wilfrid Laurier) is another "do-it-all" type to keep an eye on but his size may dictate a move to free safety at the next level. Christian Houle (6'3", 240, Montreal) is surprisingly athletic for a player of his size, which could turn some heads at the E-Camp.
1. Mike Montoya (5'10", 235, Wilfrid Laurier)
2. Anthony Woodson (6'0", 205, Calgary)
3. Charlie Houghton (6'0", 215, Georgetown)
4. Matt Henry (6'0", 220, Manitoba)
5. Pascal Fils (5'9", 220, Sherbrooke)
Montoya put up big numbers as the Golden Hawks' feature back in '09 but he'll become a fullback in the CFL. His size and pure strength give him a chance to develop into an effective blocker and short yardage runner at the next level. Woodson's place in the Top Five is dependent upon his recovery from foot and shoulder injuries that cost him the entire 2009 season. He is a multitalented player (whose future probably lies at slotback) but may require another year in the CIS to get back to game speed. Houghton bounced back health wise from an injury plagued 2008 season but ended up splitting time in the Hoyas backfield this year. The 2006 Patriot League Rookie of the Year continued to show his good hands out of the backfield though, with 24 receptions this season (76 career catches).
Henry has been the model of consistency, posting over 600 rushing yards in each of his four CIS seasons, despite suffering a broken femur at the end of his second year. He's another big, strong tailback, whose CFL hopes will hinge on his ability to adjust to the fullback role. Fils, a powerful runner with a low center of gravity, won the CIS rushing title in '09 by a margin of over 200 yards to establish himself as a legitimate prospect.
Looking to move up should any of the Top Five falter is Nick Fitzgibbon (5'10", 200, Guelph), who has been arguably the best all-purpose back in the country over the last four years and, like Woodson, will get an opportunity to compete as a receiver as well at the E-Camp.
On another note, Montreal-born redshirt junior Carl Volny (5'10", 198, Central Michigan) should be granted non-import status before the Draft and, once that occurs, the Chippewas leading rusher will likely rank among the top two or three backs available.
1. Rob Maver (6'0", 200, Guelph)
2. Chris Bodnar (5'11", 195, Saskatoon Hilltops)
3. Grant Shaw (6'3", 210, Saskatchewan)
4. Justin Palardy (6'0", 200, Saint Mary's)
5. Carlo Turavani (5'10", 180, Hampton)
Maver cemented his reputation as one of the best all around kicking prospects to enter the league in recent years, hitting 13 of 14 field goal attempts (he was perfect inside the forty yard line) and averaging 41.3 yards per punt.
Bodnar is regarded primarily as a punter, topping the Canadian junior ranks with a 41.7 average in '09, but also improved his field goal accuracy this season.
Shaw is also a legitimate prospect at defensive back but his placekicking will provide the biggest boost to his draft stock. This season, he made 19 of 23 field goal attempts, including 4 of six from beyond the forty yard line and 2 for 2 from beyond the fifty.
Palardy improved his field goal accuracy for the third consecutive year en route to becoming the all-time leading scorer in AUS history.
Turavani's 2009 season was limited to a single field goal attempt, as he spent most of the fall recovering from whiplash injuries suffered in an August car accident. Like Shaw and Palardy, he is a better place kicker than he is a punter. Dan Village (6'0", 170, Queen's) and Scott Dixon (5'9", 165, Manitoba) are others who are likely to work out for CFL scouts between now and Draft Day.