Five 2016 CFL Draft players to watch

Five 2016 CFL Draft players to watch

The 2016 CFL Draft takes place Tuesday night (7 p.m. Eastern, TSN/RDS2/TSN Go), and there should be plenty of interesting developments. From the Saskatchewan Roughriders' reported desire to trade down from the first overall pick to the impact of NFL interest in many of the top prospects, this draft doesn't lack for storylines. It doesn't lack for talent, either; TSN's Duane Forde has called this "the best draft class in a decade," which is a big part of why the expansion to eight rounds makes sense. Here are five key players to keep an eye on during the draft.

Josiah St. John, offensive lineman, Oklahoma: St. John stands out as the highest-ranked CFL prospect (fifth in the April rankings, third in the December ones) who hasn't received significant NFL interest, which is particularly notable given that he comes from a prestigious NCAA school. Of course, he didn't play all that much for the Sooners, participating in only seven games and starting only four (and four relatively early in the year) this season, so that may have knocked down his NFL stock. He seems like an excellent CFL prospect, though; he has tackle size (6'6'', 300 pounds) and experience (he got four starts at right tackle this season at OU), he's eager to play in the league (he was one of the only top prospects to attend the CFL combine), and he was projected to go first overall in Justin Dunk's first three mock drafts. Scott Mitchell has St. John at #2, though, and Dunk has him falling as far as fourth in his latest mock, so St. John isn't a certain top-pick lock, and it may depend on who winds up picking first. Where he goes will be one of the most notable stories of the first round.

Charles Vaillancourt, offensive lineman, Laval: There are plenty of good Rouge et Or linemen in this draft, but Vaillancourt (sixth in the April rankings) might be the best. He earned a prestigious Shrine Game invitation (along with Onyemata and previously-drafted Calgary centre/guard Sean McEwen), and he's projected to go first overall in Dunk's latest mock. He is a guard, not a tackle (unlike fellow Laval player Jason Lauzon-Seguin, who's also highly touted), but many see him as someone who could make a big CFL impact immediately. We'll see where he falls.

Tevaun Smith, receiver, Iowa: Smith is fascinating given his talent (he was first in the CFL's September and December rankings before falling to second in the April ones), his position (elite Canadian receivers are always valuable), his speed (he ran a 4.38-second 40 at his pro day), his experience (he's a rare Canadian receiver who shone at a Power Five NCAA school), and the debate about his availability. Like many other top prospects, he's in the NFL right now (he signed as an undrafted free agent with the Indianapolis Colts), but many more UDFAs are cut each September than draft picks, so he might be deemed more worthy of a relatively-high pick as a gamble than David Onyemata (the April top prospect who was drafted in the fourth round by the NFL's New Orleans Saints). It seems unlikely anyone will take Smith in the first or second round given his status with the NFL, but from the third round on, he might be an appealing bet. If he doesn't stick in the NFL, he might prove to be the best CFL receiver in this draft class.

Brian Jones, receiver, Acadia: Jones' size (6'4'', 230 pounds), pass-catching skills, performance in college (he was the AUS MVP in 2014 with 639 receiving yards and a school-record 57 receptions, then posted 45 this past year and was a second-team all-Canadian) and impressive CFL combine performance have many buzzing about him. He's been rising fast, too; he wasn't on the September prospect list, but was 18th in December and 10th in April after the combine. There are concerns about a wrist injury he's had, but he has a lot of potential. He'll likely go anywhere from the first round to the third round.

Taylor Loffler, defensive back, UBC: Loffler is an unusual prospect who has both CIS and NCAA experience, starting his career at Boise State but then transferring to UBC. He's battled through two ACL tears and a hip labral tear, and has been a dominant player; he was a crucial part of the Thunderbirds' Vanier Cup win this past season. He was ranked 11th overall in April, and he's another guy who could see high variance in his draft status; he has the potential to be a great Canadian safety and perhaps even a ratio-busting cornerback, halfback or nickelback, but not every team wants to go that way with their ratio, and his injury history may scare some teams off. Mitchell has him going 12th overall to B.C., which may make some sense (the local connections help, and backing up safety Eric Fraser to start looks like an ideal situation for him), but it's easy to see him going either much higher or much lower depending on teams' preferences and their opinion of his health.

The CFL draft takes place Tuesday, May 10 at 7 p.m. Eastern. Tune in on TSN/RDS2/TSN Go, and keep an eye on 55-Yard Line for more draft analysis!

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