April 2, 2024

Before They Were Stars: CFL teams share past scouting reports

Matt Smith/CFL.ca

“Covers ground like no one I’ve ever seen at this level.”

“Struggles to sustain his blocks due to his lack of length.”

“Electric athlete.”

These are some of the words used by CFL talent evaluators as they’ve sized up some of the top National players to have entered the league over the last few years. With talent evaluators from across the league present at the CFL Invitational Combine and the CFL Combine presented by New Era over the last few weeks, CFL.ca approached numerous teams about taking a glimpse at their scouting reports for players that have risen to stardom over the last few years. In the end, three different clubs were granted anonymity to share notes from their scouting reports.

CFL.ca received scouting reports on Marc-Antoine Dequoy, Brady Oliveira, Kurleigh Gittens Jr., Tre Ford and Sam Emilus.

It’s important to keep in mind just how challenging talent evaluation is. Teams have to make decisions based on the resumes of still-evolving players and try to project what they may turn into. Sometimes, like in the case of Oliveira, the player exceeds that projection. Others, like Ford, remain fascinating works in progress.

You’re going to have your misses or failures as an evaluator, one CFL GM told me earlier this year. It’s part of the job. Your hits and successes just have to outweigh them.

The pre-Draft thoughts of various talent evaluators are below.

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The 14th overall pick in the 2020 CFL Draft, Dequoy has become an integral part of the Grey Cup champion Als’ defence (Peter Power/CFL.ca)

Marc-Antoine Dequoy, 2020 Strengths Challenges Summary
Team 1 Rare length and straight line speed. Elite in those aspects. Willing tackler. Has played multiple positions in the secondary and is a well rounded athlete that has made several plays on the ball. Elite recovery and covers ground like no one I’ve ever seen at this level. Gets low and long in space and uses his length to improve his tackle radius. Stiff hipped. Struggles to sink his hips and change direction. Not a ton of football experience shows in his instincts. Slow reaction, bad eyes and takes bad angles to the football. Developed lazy habits, and was too reliant on superior athleticism, which got him into a lot of trouble against inferior opposition, which should have never happened. Not inherently physical, although he is certainly willing. Coming off broken forearm in Vanier Cup. Gangly frame. Very raw prospect that didn’t (look) completely out of place at EW Shrine due to rare combination of length and speed. Concerns about instincts, fluidity and change of direction. Ceiling is very high as a FC. Low floor if you move him closer to the ball in the middle of the field, but if he puts it together, his blend of length and athleticism should make him an eraser-type at FS. Should be a ST demon early in his career.
Team 2

Starting field HB. Good length and size for the position. Built well. High cut. Long legs. Smooth runner. Looks like a track guy. Big bubble. Flashes long speed. Takes reverse on kick for plus yards. Flashes good eye hand. Makes a play on the ball. Good catch up speed. Can close and solid tackler on contact. Has good size and quickness. Fluid hips. Can flip with ease. Man skills and agility.  Good on teams. Gunner and maintains leverage on the ball. Plays fast and physical. Has size and speed and motor.

Lacks a polished back pedal and transition but has the tools to cover in man. Project as a starting safety and develop into a field corner. First round value.
Team 3 Elite size and speed for the position. Can cover sideline to sideline. Ball magnet. Has managed to make a lot of plays on the ball. Physical player and willing tackler, violent at the point of attack. High football IQ. Can diagnose plays and routes easily.  Was relatively productive at U de M with over 76 tackles and six interceptions. For now his athleticism has allowed him to make a few mistakes, and his team not be penalized for it. However, he does this too much, and would like to see more consistent play. Seems to always be searching for the big hit. You would like him to occasionally take the regular tackle. Older prospect. Does not have much position versatility, despite having played some weakside halfback in university.  Stiff hips. Elite speed is one thing; he also has the elite size to go with it! This prospect presents an opportunity to do interesting things on defence with a weapon like this.  Should be immediately impactful on both kick teams. Presents mismatches on all the major four special teams as well. Top 10 pick.

Chosen 14th overall in the 2019 CFL Draft, Oliveira has emerged as one of the top players in the league, regardless of passport (Jason Halstead/CFL.ca)

Brady Oliveira, 2019 Strengths Challenges Summary
Team 1 Violent downhill runner with a thick, muscular frame. Squares up his pads and lowers them to finish his runs. Gets upfield quickly with a very good initial burst through the line of scrimmage. Quick feet with some short area explosiveness to get in and out of his cuts and has the ability to square back up. Has a nose for finding the endzone. Very good vision between the tackles. Physical blocker that is not hesitant to strike. You wish he had some more lower body thickness to better match his running style. Quick feet, but very tight hipped. Not very fluid in his cuts. Much more of a jerky runner that wont make many people miss in tight spaces and is not a home run hitter. Struggles to sustain his blocks due to his lack of length. Strong, physical, hard nosed runner that wont create much on his own, but will take what he can get, and then grab a bit more with brute force. Very productive tailback at an American collegiate football (level) and has the ability to become a very solid tailback in this league, maybe even be an upper-mid-range starter. Strength and physicality can keep him on the roster early on as a core special teamer, and can also use him as a blocker in 2B formations.
Team 2 Short stocky build. Good balance and body control. Fights for extra yards. Always falling forward. Works hard on the field. Patience waiting for lanes to open, then explodes (through) the hole. Will lower pads and strike defenders. Bounces off contact and maintains feet. Quick feet. Can redirect. Puts foot in the ground. Good pad level on contact. Reads the blocks well. Plays fast. Willing blocker. Will chip and lead block on receiver screens. Productive over 900 yards senior year. Didn’t return kicks. Could compete in camp and develop into a starter. Ratio breaker. First round value.
Team 3 Heavy downhill runner. Unafraid of contact. Big lower body allows him to finish runs powerfully. Also plays behind his pads and has some elusiveness. Equally effective running both inside and outside the tackles. Volume runner who seems to get better as the game goes on. Quality pass catcher, although he wasn’t asked very often. The production was slightly above middling, averaging just over 700 yards rushing per season. Sophomore All – American after rushing for 897 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2016. Put up quality testing numbers outside of the 40. 35.5-inch vertical jump, 4.17 short shuttle and 29 bench press reps, stand out the most. Lack of breakaway speed. Is in the “thunder” category versus being a “lightning “style player. Does not have a lot of experience in the pass game. Would be categorized as an adequate pass blocker. Unlikely to get any long runs, especially for touchdowns. Has potential to be a ratio changer. Will need to learn some special teams play to acclimate himself back to Canadian football. Spot duty will also help with this. Will remind some of Litre. Could play some FB. Looks to be a mid-round pick, rounds 3-4.


Gittens became a third-round pick in the 2019 CFL Draft and had a 1,101-yard season in 2022 (Kevin Sousa/CFL.ca)

Kurleigh Gittens Jr. 2019 Strengths Challenges Summary
Team 1 Outstanding short area quickness. Very quick and light on his feet. Very crisp route runner with ability to tempo his routes, stem, and break with great suddenness and speed variance. Catches the ball very cleanly, sees it well and tracks it in the air – natural hands catcher. Adequate long speed with good stop/start. Slippery after the catch and can make the first guy miss, and gets upfield immediately when he secures the ball. Willing blocker on the perimeter and does not shy away from taking a hit to catch the ball. Lacks ideal length/size in his frame, and lacks elite top end speed. Doesn’t have a very large catch radius and isn’t a true matchup 50/50 ball winner. A very polished, pro ready receiver that can play Z or in the slot and has the rare ability for a National to be able to create real separation as a route runner, has the dependable hands and has tenacity and short area quickness to be able to consistently finish plays and move the chains. Doesn’t have much special teams value, but should be able to push for offensive playing time very early in his career.
Team 2

Runs whole route tree. Big play WR, good YAC. Good body control, primary OS WR. Good speed and size. Good hands.  Fourth ranked WR in the Dec. 18 Scouting Bureau.

Doesn’t like contact, won’t finish runs with pads will go OOB
Team 3 Fluid athlete. Soft hands – good hand catcher. Great vision and change of direction. Can set up blocks to attain more yards. Works well out of the wideout spot. Likely will play “Z”.  Plays faster than 40 time (4.62). Able to take screen plays and turn them into huge gains. Looks to have a high football IQ. Can find soft spots in zone and understands how (to) destroy leverage in man coverage. One the best special teams players in recent history. Multiple TD returns on both KOR and punt return. Very high production as a receiver. Size. Stands under six feet, doesn’t look to have long arms. Didn’t run a big route tree. Doesn’t jump very well. Primarily had his most success on “X” or “Z” screen, along with fade, and some outs. Some interest in blocking. Needs a high volume of targets to be effective. Not strong enough. Creates contested catch situations and does not win as many as you would like. You must weigh the facts. You have a hyper productive player with slightly above average athleticism. Dynamic returner, with middling lower body explosiveness. Savvy football player who has big play ability, great vision and solid football IQ will make a CFL team. Should slot in rounds 4-5.


A first round pick in the 2022 CFL Draft, Ford remains one of the most interesting players in the league (The Canadian Press)

Tre Ford, 2022 Strengths Challenges Summary
Team 1 Electric athlete. Effortless ability to evade and chew up ground. Flashes the ability to make all the throws. Can throw with touch, can drive the ball downfield, from the pocket or on the run, and can make throws off any platform. Play is never over, and DBs will have to cover for days. As much as he loves to run, he has the natural ability to always have his eyes up and is still looking to throw first. Extremely inconsistent mechanics, especially from the pocket. Every throw seemingly looks different, even from a clean pocket. Release, footwork, anticipation, ball carriage, is always different and his accuracy suffers for it. Misses too many easy throws. Attention to detail. Can be reckless with the ball, doesn’t know when to give up on a play and take a sack or throw it away. Has all the physical tools to be a traditional CFL No. 2 that can run a limited package focused on his athleticism, run short yardage, and get you out of a game. Will be able to make plays. Will need a lot of work to ever become a starter, and if he ever does, he would have to have an offence tailored to him, much like we’ve seen with other players in this league, but that’s not to say he couldn’t be successful in doing so — he has all the physical tools that they do, and then some. If QB doesn’t work out, he has more than enough athleticism, competitiveness and elusiveness that he’d be a good candidate to convert to WR. If he can become a serviceable WR, he could have dual role as that and your emergency QB.
Team 2

Clearly one of the top athletes in the draft with elite testing numbers. Workout warrior. Very impressive as a ball carrier, strong runner, great long speed, quick, great change of direction.

Was not asked to operate a real offence in college. Never saw him take a drop and work thru a progression, passed up open receivers to take off and run himself, exchanges with the RB were sometimes lazy and sloppy. Ultimately, if he can put everything together, he has potential to play the QB position in this league.
Team 3 Great athleticism. Has run sub 4.5 in the 40 and jumped well also. Has athleticism that puts him in the top five in the CFL immediately. Has been productive, including as a freshman, National Rookie of the Year. Followed that up with one of the best seasons in history from a QB. Finished the 18-19 season 217-294 for a 73.8 completion percentage. Passed for 2,798 yards, 30 touchdowns to only 2 interceptions. Also ran for 621 yards and four touchdowns in eight games. That equates to 427 yards of offence and over four touchdowns per game. Was able to bring a low-end program from the bottom to a perennial playoff team. Looks like he operates with a quiet confidence that suits the position. Size. Less than adequate height for the position standing at five-foot-11. Small hands could lead to some trouble in the inclement weather that occurs across the league, especially in the prairies throughout the season. Almost must throw from the edge of the pocket or outside. A lot of his passes come from off platform. He is constantly “exhausting” every snap. Creates a lot of chaos and this can elevate his passing efficiency throwing to wide open players after six second plays. Likely throws too many passes as hard as he can. Does not go through his progressions consistently.

Despite the lack of elite size, the athleticism screams at you. You can make some similar size comparisons to Dunnigan, and Ham both guys who are in the Hall of Fame. More recently, you can point to Vernon Adams Jr. If drafted, I imagine that the OC will have to retool the playbook to lean towards his strengths. As well some time will need to be set aside daily to create ease for him to begin to not only throw from the pocket more often, but also additional meeting team for facilitate learning his progressions.

Draft Evaluation: Top 20 pick.


Emilus was the seventh-overall pick in the 2022 CFL Draft and hasn’t disappointed in his young career (Arthur Ward/CFL.ca)

Sam Emilus, 2022 Strengths Challenges Summary
Team 1 Good frame, solid build, very good level of comp with legitimate production. Catches the ball very well, tracks it smoothly and can maneuver his body in the air in traffic to win contested balls. Crisp footwork in and out of breaks, can get on toes of the defender and create separation, lost opportunities with poor QB play. First team all-independent at UMass. Not overly physical as a blocker on the perimeter or in the box, and doesn’t give you much in terms of YAC ability. Does his best work at the catch point, and isn’t overly dynamic in space with the ball in his hands. Not a top end burner. Has jump ball  ability at Z – is talented and athletic enough that he can make plays at this level, but wont have much special teams value on the roster unless he’s starting. That said, he has the ability to play at our level and can contribute early and often if called upon.
Team 2

Transfer to La Tech 2021-UMASS 180-20, Primary Punt return guy, but has stats as WR well. Good size, moves well. Has great hands. Nicknamed the OBJ of Canada because of his catches. Also a PR. Seems to run ok routes. Will be interesting to see what type of speed he can put up and his size comparison to the (Philpot) twins.

Team 3 Good size for the position. Good length and hands. Strong hands as well, snares the ball on most catches. Plays with a level of physicality not often found at the position. Willing blocker, who has been able to produce some big hits. Has a strong grasp of the route tree, especially in comparison to other draft prospects. Has the ability to win on all three levels of routes. Ability to make the first tackler miss exists, although more likely use a stiff arm. Good speed (4.59) and lower body explosiveness (37 in vertical jump). Competitive player who shows focus with tough catches in traffic. Has special teams ability as a returner. Average level of production both on the FCS and FBS levels. Transferred to Louisiana Tech from UMass, with average results: 16 catches for 245 yards. Just over 900 yards in four years. Why so little production? Doesn’t seem to be able separate consistently, creating too many contested catches. Size, speed, NCAA resume is too strong to be ignored. Is likely the best at his position compared to the rest of the prospects in this class. Has the ability to contribute to the return game (KOR off returner) Should be able to fit in the receiver corps at “Z” position as he re-acclimates to the Canadian game. Top 10 pick.


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