April 3, 2019

Steinberg’s MMQB: Questions remain ahead of the 2019 CFL Draft

Peter Power/CFL.ca

With the CFL Combine presented by New Era in the books, there’s only a few more steps to go before the 2019 CFL Draft on May 2. As teams finalize their draft boards, there are still a number of questions that need answering before one of the of the most important dates on the off-season calendar.

How much movement do we see in April’s final rankings?

The CFL Scouting Bureau will come out with their final rankings later this month and it’s always interesting to see how many players have jumped up the chart from December’s midterm list. It’s never a perfect science, but there’s always a good chance we see one or two big moves.

Using last year as an example, eventual first overall pick Mark Chapman made huge waves in April’s final rankings. After going unranked in August, the Central Michigan receiver debuted at number ten in December before jumping all the way to number two on the Bureau’s final list.

UBC offensive lineman Dakoda Shepley made similar gains throughout the year. He started as the 14th ranked prospect, jumped to 11th on the midterm ledger, and finished number three in April. The Riders would end up taking Shepley fifth overall to complete an impressive rise.

What happens at and after the NFL Draft?

The 2019 NFL Draft goes over three days starting April 25th and always has a significant impact on what happens north of the border about a week later. Most significantly, if an NFL team selects a Canadian player, it almost always plummets that player’s CFL Draft stock, which is understandable.

Just take a look at how things went over a span of four consecutive years between 2014 and 2017. In each of those years, the number one ranked player by CFL Central Scouting was taken in the NFL Draft, which played heavily into their CFL Draft position.

Year Player NFL Draft CFL Draft
2014 Laurent Duvernay-Tardif (OL, McGill) 6th round (200th overall, Kansas City) 3rd round (19th overall, Calgary)
2015 Christian Covington (DL, Rice) 6th round (216th overall, Houston) 5th round (43rd overall, BC)
2016 David Onyemata (DL, Manitoba) 4th round (120th overall, New Orleans) 4th round (35th overall, Saskatchewan)
2017 Justin Senior (OL, Mississippi State) 6th round (210th overall, Seattle) 5th round (40th overall, Edmonton)

All four of these players would have undoubtedly gone first overall in their respective draft years on talent alone. But, knowing that Duvernay-Tardif, Covington, Onyemata, and Senior have all stuck in the NFL is evidence enough to shy away from looking at them based solely on ability. Both Covington and Senior are on their second teams, too, which further underlines the risk involved with using a high pick on a player also selected in the NFL Draft.

The top ranked player for the 2019 CFL Draft is Laval defensive lineman Mathieu Betts, who is definitely garnering NFL attention. Whether he gets drafted or not is a guessing game at best; as Marshall Ferguson has pointed out many times, he’s undersized by NFL standards, so it remains to be seen if a team takes a flyer on him or not.

There’s another consideration here, too. Even if a player doesn’t get selected over NFL Draft weekend, the rush to sign priority undrafted free agents has an impact north of the border, too. A few examples from recent years are below.

Year Player Final Rank NFL Team CFL Draft
2018 Ryan Hunter (OL, Bowling Green) 1st Kansas City 1st round (9th overall, Toronto)
2017 Geoff Gray (OL, Manitoba) 3rd Green Bay 1st round (8th overall, Winnipeg)
2017 Antony Auclair (TE, Laval) 7th Tampa Bay 4th round (30th overall, Saskatchewan)
2016 Arjen Colquhoun (CB, Michigan State) 4th Dallas 2nd round (17th overall, Edmonton)

While you don’t see as big a disparity, all four of the players above would have gone higher in the CFL Draft had they not signed south of the border first. Obviously some of the drops are more significant than others, and that’s mainly because there’s a larger track record of priority free agents eventually making their way to Canada.

Does an offensive lineman go first overall?

Between 2012 and 2016, offensive lineman were selected with the top pick four out of five years. Ben Heenan (2012, Saskatchewan), Pierre Lavertu (2014, Calgary), Alex Mateas (2015, Ottawa), and Josiah St. John (2016, Saskatchewan) were all selected first overall before that run came to an end in 2017.

The last two years have seen a defensive lineman (Faith Ekakitie, Winnipeg) and a receiver (Mark Chapman, Hamilton) go with the top pick, but there’s a good chance 2019 could revert back to the big boys up front.

While Oklahoma State’s Shane Richards raised eyebrows when he elected not to participate in National Combine testing, it’s not out of the question he goes first overall to Toronto. And, depending on what mock draft you look at, either Northern Colorado’s Zach Wilkinson or Kansas’s Alex Fontana have a chance of getting top honours, too.

Black and (double) blue

He flew under the radar for much of his career, but Matt Black just completed one heck of a dream career. Born and raised in Toronto, Black just completed a decade-long career with his hometown team. To keep the fairy tale going, he’s now transitioning to the Argos’ front office, keeping his association with the Double Blue going.

Black’s is a pretty cool story, mainly because he succeeded against all odds the entire way. Playing defensive back at five-foot-10 is not the easiest task in this day and age, which is why Black went the NCAA Division II route with Saginaw Valley State.

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» Bio: Matt Black by the numbers
» Matt Black announces retirement, joins Argos front office
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Matt Black and the Argos take the field at the 105th Grey Cup (Johany Jutras/CFL.ca)

Eve after a very successful college career, Black was still relatively unknown when Toronto made him a sixth round pick, 45th overall, in the 2008 CFL Draft. To turn a late round selection into a ten-year career is an accomplishment.

His crowning achievement came in his penultimate season with the Double Blue in what had to be a childhood dream come true. In the midst of completing an incredible comeback in the 105th Grey Cup presented by Shaw, Black sealed the deal by picking off Calgary’s Bo Levi Mitchell in the dying seconds of the fourth quarter.

For a guy born and raised in TO, I would imagine playing even a few quarters for his hometown team would have been bucket list material. To play ten years, win a pair of Grey Cups, and be the focal point of an immortal Argos moment? It doesn’t get much better than that.