Time flies when you’re having fun. With the CFL Combine officially wrapped up, Wally Buono and his brass can now focus on putting the finishing touches on their draft board in time for May 7th.
Although the two days of evaluating prospects is always valuable, the Lions Super Boss maintains his draft mission statement doesn’t change much just because you’ve now seen these youngsters in person.
“Our philosophy has to be that we got to get bigger, faster and stronger,” said Buono.
“You take that general approach because football is a big man’s game, played by fast athletes. At the end of it, it’s hard to compete if you’re athletes aren’t big and fast. This camp gives you that, whether it’s the offensive and defensive line, linebackers, receivers or defensive backs. It’s got a group you can draw a lot of things from and probably improve your team.”
Buono’s other big mantra is you must always win the line of scrimmage. Consider the fact they used their last four first round selections on either an offensive or defensive lineman. In 2014 they didn’t pick until round two and went with offensive tackle T-Dre Player. That’s not to suggest that’s 100 percent what they do this year, but it certainly doesn’t dispute the fact these areas are essential.
Like prior years, this Combine is chalk full with big offensive linemen including Maple Ridge native and Terry Fox Ravens product Mason Woods. The 6’9 tackle was the first to talk to Buono, Geroy Simon and Neil McEvoy in the interview process.
The offensive line factory of Laval has produced Jean Simon-Roy (below right) who won the bench press competition with 39 reps. You know Buono will lean on Rouge et or offensive line and Lions training camp guest coach Carl Brennan for all of the info they can get on Simon-Roy.
“This is a good crop again this year,” added Buono. “The guys seem to be getting bigger and more athletic each year.”
The pre-draft evaluation is far from over. Especially when you consider a handful of the best Canadian prospects drawing NFL interest elected not to come to Regina. Those include number one ranked Justin Senior (OL) from Mississippi State and fifth ranked Eli Ankou (DL) from UCLA. Simon will be spending more time seeing some of these absentees in person.
“I have seen them all live. That’s where scouting in the US comes in handy,” said Simon. “I have seen Ankou three times, playing against BYU and Colorado as well as his Pro Day.
He’s an impressive young man. You’ve got to figure out where is going to fit in the CFL Draft as well as the NFL Draft. I will see Faith Ekakite (DL, Iowa) at his Pro Day in the next couple days. I have seen Justin Senior at the Senior Bowl.”
It is always a risky proposition to take an early flyer on a player headed for the NFL. Two recent examples are offensive lineman Brett Boyko (14th overall in 2015) who is a member of the Los Angeles Chargers. Linebacker Bo Lokombo (21st overall in 2013) went back to school and then tried the NFL before coming home in September of 2014.
“You have to know where they are at and what see what your needs are,” added Simon on the protocol for NFL prospects. “If we have depth at that position, maybe we look at taking those guys and waiting for them, but we have to draft for our needs right now.”
The Lions hold four of the top 24 picks on May 7th, including picks three and seven in round one. The third overall selection was obtained in the deal that sent Vernon Adams’ negotiating rights to Montreal last May. Not a bad starting point for adding a new class of Canadian prospects.
“This is a very good draft,” added Buono. “The players we get at three, seven and sixteen should be ones that make us bigger, faster and stronger. You have to draft well because that’s the lifeblood of your team.”
All in all, it was a pretty productive weekend in Regina. Canadian content is essential for building a consistent Grey Cup contender that Buono wants to re-establish. The CFL Godfather credits Simon, McEvoy and all of his coaches and scouts for their commitment to building.
“It doesn’t start on Thursday, it started months and months ago,” stated Buono.
“Once the U Sports season is over you get the top 100-150 prospects and everything is refined. There is a lot of travel, a lot of communications, a lot of film watching and at the end of it you gather them all here.”
Let the board shuffling begin.
Who To Keep In Mind
The following prospects may be worth remembering between now and the CFL Draft. Those who were in Regina tested fairly well.
Kwabena Asare- offensive lineman, Carleton
Accolades: Primarily used at tackle, Asare appeared in 23 games in four seasons with the Ravens. His senior year resulted in an OUA First Team All-Star Selection.
Dariusz Bladek- offensive lineman, Bethune Cookman
Accolades: Did not play his senior season in order to declare for NFL Draft. He appeared in 33 games from 2013-15, mostly at left guard. In his final year, Bladek won the Larry Little Offensive Lineman of the Year award.
Mason Woods- offensive lineman, Idaho
Accolades: A product of the powerhouse Terry Fox Ravens program, Woods started all 13 games at guard for the Vandals in 2016. Marshall Ferguson’s recent mock draft had the Maple Ridge native going 1st overall to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Refers to himself as a non-vocal leader and not a “Ra Ra” guy. He was very impressive and articulate when he met Buono, Simon and McEvoy in the interview room Thursday night.
Offensive Line Outlook
They have stockpiled their pass protection quite well in recent drafts. Charles Vaillancourt and Hunter Steward the two most recent examples. Last year’s fifth round pick Dillon Guy was released after training camp so maybe there is a spot for non-import depth.
Kwaku Boateng- defensive lineman, Wilfred Laurier
Accolades: Boateng represented the Golden Hawks in the 2016 East-West Bowl after finishing 3rd in the OUA with 6.5 sacks. Productive year resulted in a U Sports second team all-Canadian selection. Ferguson pegged him at number seven overall for the Lions.
Junior Luke- defensive lineman, Vanier College
Accolades: Luke was a RSEQ All-Star and U Sports second team all-Canadian in 2016. He was second in the conference with six sacks. Helped Montreal capture the Dunsmore Cup (conference championship) in 2015.
Fabion Foote- defensive lineman, McMaster
Accolades: Another OUA standout from the East West Bowl, Foote recorded 17 unassisted tackles and four sacks in eight games with McMaster in 2016. The Lions have a decent history with plucking d-line talent out of Montreal after selecting Menard in 2014.
Kay Okafor- defensive lineman, St. Francis Xavier
Accolades: The big- bodied tackle finished in a tie for 5th with 30 reps. in the bench press portion of the National Combine. All of this after a productive senior season with the X-Men; Okafor notched 12 tackles and 4.5 sacks in eight games en route to helping his squad win the Loney Bowl (Aus Conference Championship.
Defensive Line Outlook
You’d wonder if they may address another position in the first round with non-imports David Menard, Maxx Forde and Dylan Ainsworth already in their defensive line stable. Simon will evaluate in Idaho this coming week.
Jordan Herdman- linebacker, Simon Fraser
Accolades: Simon was on hand to scout Jordan at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama. Jordan and twin brother Justin led SFU’s punishing defence in 2016; Jordan was third in the GNAC Conference with 56 tackles and fell just three short of the career conference record of 208.
Justin Herdman- linebacker, Simon Fraser
Accolades: Justin was no slouch alongside his brother, finishing 7th in the GNAC in defensive stops, plus earning a spot on the conference all-Academic team.
Linebacker could be an interesting area for Buono and company to explore, seeing as every measure will be taken to find a replacement for Adam Bighill. Adrian Clarke and the ageless Jason Arakgi will be used in certain packages/situations, but this position will be one of the most intriguing storylines in camp.
Nathaniel Behar- wide receiver, Carleton
Accolades: Behar was third in U Sports with 57 receptions last year, paving the way for a U Sports first team all-Canadian selection.
Mitchell Picton- wide receiver, Regina
Accolades: Led Canada West and was second in U Sports with 58 receptions last season. Picton was also named a U Sports All Canadian and Canada West All-Star.
Daniel Vandervoort- wide receiver, McMaster
Accolades: Finished 4th overall in the OUA with 34 receptions and 631 yards before representing McMaster in the East West Bowl. Finished 2016 with a conference first team all-star and U Sports second team all-Canadian.
Wide Receiver Outlook
The Lions look to be stacked at the receiver position for at least the next two years, plus have some viable Canadian options in Marco Iannuzzi, Stephen Adekolu and 2016 draft picks Shaq Johnson and Brett Blaszko. With Buono’s approach to bring in the best players regardless of position, it might be in their best interest to give Behar and the receivers their due.
Nathaniel Hamlin- defensive back, Carleton
Accolades: 22 unassisted tackles and five kick returns for 93 yards in 2016. Hamlin was also named an OUA second team all-star.
Dondre Wright, defensive back, Henderson State
Accolades: 41 unassisted tackles and one sack in 11 games. He also chipped in with seven pass breakups and a fumble recovery.
Jordan Hoover- defensive back, Waterloo
Accolades: Doubling as a receiver, Hoover had 39 unassisted tackles (8th in OUA) and six receptions for 157 yards.
Defensive Back Outlook
Keynan Parker, Anthony Thompson and Matt Bucknor all represent Canadian starter options in the secondary. It doesn’t hurt to have another in the fold for future years.
Matt Baker: firstname.lastname@example.org