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January edition of the CFL Scouting Bureau list is heavy on defensive players, but not at the top

Andrew Bucholtz
55 Yard Line

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McGill's Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, who won the J.P. Metras Award this year, tops the CFL's list.

The latest edition of the CFL Scouting Bureau's top 15 prospects for this year's Canadian draft shares many similarities to September's, as there are only three different players on it, but what's interesting is how the positional divide has become stratified. The fall list had four offensive linemen, three receivers, one defensive lineman, four linebackers and three defensive backs (seven offensive players, eight defensive), but players from each position were rather scattered throughout the list. By contrast, this list has clear divides: it's now nine defensive players to six offensive players, but the same four offensive linemen are there, and they're now in four of the top five slots, with the lone remaining spot occupied by the sole receiver left on the list. Thus, despite the increased number of defensive players in the rankings, all the top spots have gone to offensive players. Here's the list, from CFL.ca:

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The CFL Scouting Bureau's January 2014 rankings have lots of defensive players.

With four of those top five players being offensive linemen (three who were there in September and SFU's Matthias Goosen, who jumped up from #15 to #5), it's clear that the Scouting Bureau (which is a collection of rankings from CFL scouts, player personnel directors and general managers) is high on linemen. This makes some sense; in recent years, we've seen plenty of top CIS linemen make an impact at the CFL level very quickly, including Saskatchewan's Ben Heenan (the top pick in 2012, he served as a backup for most of his first season, but was a starter for the Riders for much of 2013, including starting at right tackle in this year's Grey Cup) and Calgary's Brett Jones (the 16th overall pick in 2013, he started at centre for the Stampeders all year and won the league's top rookie award). Meanwhile, even some of the best receivers and defensive players taken from the CIS ranks haven't made much of an impact in the pros thus far. Each year and each player is different, though, so scouts might want to be careful here; just because plenty of linemen have done well quickly recently and several receivers and defensive players haven't, that doesn't mean it's always better to take a lineman.

What's also notable here is that despite the preponderance of defensive players, only three are linemen (Manitoba's Evan Gill at #6, Queen's Derek Wiggan at #14 and Western's Dylan Ainsworth at #15). Traditionally, CFL teams have been more willing to start Canadians on the defensive line (especially at tackle) than in the linebacking corps or in the defensive backfield (other than at safety, and sometimes not even then), so seeing four linebackers and two defensive backs here is interesting. That bias may be changing, though; by the end of the year, the Grey Cup champion Roughriders were starting two non-import linebackers (Mike McCullough and Craig Butler), and other teams have found success with Canadians at LB (Henoc Muamba in Winnipeg, Shea Emry and Marc-Olivier Brouillette in Montreal) and DB (Courtney Stephen in Hamilton, J.R. LaRose in B.C., Ryan Hinds and Chris Rwabukamba in Edmonton). We'll see how much interest there is in these guys when the 2014 draft (which still doesn't have a confirmed date) comes around.

Other notes:

—The Queen's University Golden Gaels have three players on this list (DB Andrew Lue at #8, LB Sam Sabourin at #12 and Wiggan at #14), more than any other school. Those guys might be particularly interesting to Winnipeg, which just hired Queen's defensive coordinator Pat Tracey as their special-teams coordinator. Tracey can definitely give them an inside scouting report on the Gaels involved.

As with the September list, only players from Canadian schools (13 CIS players, two from NCAA Division II Simon Fraser University) are listed here, which is likely largely thanks to the rule change about NCAA redshirt freshmen, dramatically lowering the numbers of NCAA players who would be eligible this year. However, as in September, there's still at least one very notable omission: football-playing math instructor John Urschel of Penn State, who TSN's Duane Forde said would be his top prospect. The CFL's Jamie Dykstra told me in September that Urschel wasn't included because he hasn't applied for non-import status, and that's presumably still the case. As Forde writes, though, that shows the flaws with the current process where some players have to apply.

—The CFL combine will be held in Toronto from March 21 to March 23. The draft date hasn't yet been set. The CFL draft is usually held in early May, but it's also usually after the NFL's draft, which is typically held in April, but moved to May 8-10 this year. There's been talk of moving the CFL draft even further after the NFL draft than normal, which would ensure that most NFL undrafted free agents have been signed before the CFL draft and would further reduce the uncertainty that often comes into play around who has NFL interest. However, the later NFL draft date may make that difficult.

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