The 2017 CFL Draft is set for Sunday at 5pm. The Edmonton Eskimos currently have the fifth overall selection and seven selections in total (14th, 22nd, 31st, 40th, 41st, 49th, 67th overall).
If there’s one word to describe the CFL Draft it would be unpredictable. The NFL Draft used to be in mid-April but for the last few years the NFL has held their draft in late-April, usually a week to 10 days before the CFL Draft. More Canadian football players are receiving opportunities to the play the NFL. This year’s NFL Draft saw the Seattle Seahawks select Mississippi State offensive lineman Justin Senior in the sixth round. Senior is the number one ranked CFL prospect for Sunday’s draft. Three players signed priority undrafted NFL contracts shortly after the NFL draft. Manitoba offensive lineman Geoff Gray signed with the Green Bay Packers, California defensive lineman Eli Ankou signed with the Houston Texans, and Laval tight end Antony Auclair signed a deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Several players are headed to NFL mini-camps or rookie camps. Maine linebacker Christophe Mulumba is heading the Chicago Bears rookie camp, Simon Fraser linebacker Jordan Herdman is going to the Kansas City Chiefs rookie camp. Wilfred Laurier defensive lineman Kwaku Boateng is going to Bears mini-camp. University of Calgary Dinos defensive back Robert Woodson and defensive lineman Connor McGough will attend the New York Giants mini-camp. That’s nine of the top-28 eligible prospects headed down south which has shaken up the draft boards of CFL teams.
There are still good players left in the draft class which many CFL observers are calling “top heavy.” Eskimos General Manager and Vice-President of Football Operations Brock Sunderland has been involved in many CFL Drafts during his time with the Montreal Alouettes and the Ottawa REDBLCAKS. He says it’s hard to handicap a draft class.
“It’s my belief you don’t know for three years,” Sunderland said. “People always say is this year good, well I’ll tell you in three years because Dave Stala was a sixth round pick and ended being a hell of a football player. Is it a good draft? Yeah. My belief is this is that in personnel no matter what the crop is whether it’s overly talented or lacking talent our job is to find good football players. So I don’t worry about this compares to other drafts because the focus is always on this year’s crop.”
Winnipeg Blue Bombers have the first overall pick. The consensus pick and really the only sure bet is the Bombers selecting Iowa defensive lineman Faith Ekakitie. The Saskatchewan Roughriders pick second overall, they have concerns with their offensive line and could use another Canadian receiver. The B.C. Lions have two picks in the first round, their first selection is at #3 (second at #7). With the retirement of Shawn Gore they could be looking at a receiver. They could also be looking for more depth on their offensive line. The Hamilton Tiger-Cats have the fourth overall pick and McMaster receiver Danny Vandervoort makes sense as long as the Riders and Lions don’t grab him first.
So who might be available for the Eskimos at the fifth overall selection?
The offensive line crop isn’t very deep this year but two names stand out in Idaho’s Mason Woods and Dariuz Bladek from Bethune-Cookman. Woods has fallen off since the CFL combine in March while Bladek, a dual-citizen has risen in draft ranking despite not playing football in a year after being passed over in the 2016 NFL draft. Either could provide depth at the guard positions. The Eskimos still have some decent depth at O-line and could find a gem later in the draft in McGill’s Qadr Spooner or Calgary’s Braden Schram.
The receiver group is deep with Danny Vandervoort and Carleton’s Nate Behar topping the list. Vandervoort was the best receiver at the combine while Behar is a physical specimen who could contribute on special teams right away. Like the offensive line the Eskimos have some depth at receiver even with the retirement of Nate Coehoorn. They will likely have some options in later rounds with Saskatchewan’s Julan Lynch, Alex Morrison and Mitchell Picton. Carleton’s Malcolm Carter is hard to miss at six foot six.
The group of defensive backs are led by Calgary’s Robert Woodson and Henderson State’s Dondre Wright. Both are similar in size, speed, and physicality. More depth at safety would be likely fit.
The Eskimos biggest area of need is along the defensive line with Eddie Steele and Don Oramasionwu departed. The Eskimos will go with an All-American defensive line which shouldn’t hurt considering who the Eskimos have in Odell Willis, Almondo Sewell, Marcus Howard, Philip Hunt, and newcomers Euclid Cummings and Aston Whiteside. All-American defensive fronts don’t have a long shelf life in the CFL. Defensive line is the deepest position in this year’s draft. This will be to some a “way off the board” pick but Randy Colling, a 26-year old who has played in the Arena Football League for the last few years with the Cleveland Gladiators is a very attractive player. He played Division-2 ball in the NCAA at Gannon University and in 2011 averaged eight tackles per game. He’s not getting the headlines like Ekakitie, Boateng, and Ankou are but Colling’s experience in the Arena league could deem him “pro ready.” Standing at 6’5 and 320 pounds doesn’t hurt either.
Finally at linebacker and there’s one name that jumps off the page. UCLA’s Cameron Judge who just added to 2017 CFL Draft class on April 26 after working out his Canadian citzenship. Judge was born in Montreal to a Canadian mother and spent much of his youth in Vancouver and Victoria. Judge spent four seasons at UCLA after his family moved to California. The Eskimos have lost many stalwarts on special teams this off-season in Mike Miller who led the CFL in special teams tackles in 2016 with 27. The Eskimos also lost Cauchy Muamba, Aaron Milton, and Devon Bailey. Two key Americans left in Deon Lacey (Miami Dolphins) and Jordan Lynch (retired). Judge is an excellent player in space who has all of the physical tools to play on special teams and right away. The Eskimos have depth with Adam Konar and Blair Smith but Judge could provide even greater depth and be a solid backup to projected starting WILL linebacker Cory Greenwood.
Colling and Judge seem to make the most sense but it’s the CFL Draft which is historically very difficult to handicap. Oh and those earlier players who have NFL ties, they will likely be selected but the gamble is when do take a chance on one of them. Most if not all will likely be picked in the later rounds.
The CFL Draft begins at 5pm on Sunday and 630 CHED will be at Eskimos headquarters at Commonwealth Stadium giving you all of the updates.