- FREE AGENCY
TORONTO — Sometimes the CFL Draft feels more like a blind-folded dart throw than a scientific process.
No one on the outside really knows how draft boards come together across the league, with each team influenced by varying positional needs, geographical interests and uniquely coveted skill-sets.
In the end, this makes trying to predict an eight-round draft quite a laborious process with little reward. Too often a highly-touted prospect will fall much further than anticipated and, inversely, someone unexpected will fly up the draft list and become a second round draft pick.
With all that said, let’s look at some potential draft sleepers that could go earlier than expected on Thursday night.
Billed as one of the top players to watch at this year’s Western Regional Combine, Dufault didn’t end up receiving a national combine invite. Still, there’s plenty to like about the defensive end out of Manitoba, who combines size and skill to get to the quarterback.
“Dufault has powerful hips on contact that allow a wide variety of pass rush moves, from inside out rip moves to bull rushes and more,” CFL.ca’s Marshall Ferguson wrote in his final mock draft.
Dufault played in eight regular season games in 2018, collecting 18 total tackles and three sacks. He also played for the West Team in the U SPORTS East-West Bowl. The Winnipeg native had his best season in 2017 when he hit career highs with 30 tackles and 3.5 sacks.
When all eyes were on UBC’s Michael O’Connor at the CFL Combine presented by New Era, Chris Merchant threw hard, accurate passes on an impressive day in Toronto. For some this came as a surprise, but not those who have followed Merchant closely and believe he has a chance to become the next big hope for a Canadian starting quarterback.
“One U SPORTS coach I spoke to actually believes his ceiling is higher than Micheal O’Connor’s based on the limitations of Western’s passing game, which rarely allowed Merchant to flourish in the type of wide open system others have prospered from,” wrote Ferguson.
Last season Merchant set career highs in completion percentage (73%), yards per attempt (12.0) and touchdowns (17), all while throwing just five interceptions in a stellar season with the Western Mustangs.
Maurice Simba just has the body of a professional offensive lineman. NFL teams see it, which is why Simba not only had his own pro day but has now been invited to take part in the Kansas City Chiefs’ rookie mini-camp.
“The simple reality here is if a team is in absolute love with size and potential, Simba will go in the top-20,” wrote Ferguson. “If it’s technical prowess, you’re in search of other players that will be taken much earlier. He has an incredible frame that looks at home in a CFL huddle day one of training camp.”
You may not find Simba listed in the first few rounds of mock drafts, but teams will find it hard to ignore his 6-foot-8, 323-pound frame.
Tabbed a possible ‘steal of the draft’ candidate by Ferguson, production is the name of the game for University of Calgary pass-catcher Hunter Karl. Karl ranked third in Canada West in 2017 with seven touchdowns and 767 yards on 50 catches. Some teams could see that translating at the next level.
“Hunter Karl is so under the radar it’s crazy,” Ferguson wrote. “I believe Karl could be the steal of the draft with five years of hindsight. Don’t be surprised if he becomes a Sinopoli-like contributor.”
A flattering comparison to say the least. While many consider Karl a possible late-round roll of the dice, don’t be shocked if one general manager jumps the queue, even on a receiver-loaded slate.
Three years after a trio of Laval offensive linemen went in the first round (Philippe Gagnon, Charles Vaillancourt and Jamie Lauzon-Seguin back in 2017), it’s no surprise to see another Rouge et Or lineman listed in the scouting bureau top-20.
Thomassin’s name is seldom mentioned among the top linemen in this draft, including the likes of Drew Desjarlais, Zach Wilkinson and Shane Richards, but don’t be surprised to see the Laval product come off the board in the early rounds.
“His prestige and film don’t lie,” wrote Ferguson. “Thomassin is ready to contribute quickly as a physical inside presence.”