Following April's unveiling of the final prospect rankings ahead of May 12's CFL draft, the league held a conference call with the 5th, 8th and 11th-ranked prospects, Danny Groulx, Lemar Durant and Chris Ackie. While all of these guys are expected to go high in the draft, there are plenty of differences between them, including their position, the schools they went to, how their stock has changed throughout the draft process and how much interest the NFL has shown in them. That conference call provided an interesting look at each of these players and what people are talking about with them heading into the draft. We've already written about Groulx; here's a look at Durant. We'll profile Ackie in the days to come.
For Durant, some of the discussion is about the somewhat-unconventional path he's taken to get here. His school, B.C.'s Simon Fraser University, has produced lots of CFL players over the years, but most of the current crop played for the Clan while they still competed in Canadian Interuniversity Sport. SFU became the only Canadian school to join the NCAA in 2010 though, competing in Division II's Great Northwest Athletic Conference, making Durant one of the few Clan alumni to come into the CFL having only played in the NCAA. (There are others, including 2014 draft picks Casey Chin and Matthias Goosen, but it's still relatively rare.) Durant, who's from nearby Coquitlam, said SFU's move to the NCAA was an important part of his decision to attend the school. (He transferred there from Nevada ahead of the 2012 season.)
"That was a huge selling point," he said. "Once I heard they made the switch, that was one of the big things that made me decide to go there."
He said playing for the only Canadian school in the NCAA was a unique experience, and an enjoyable one.
"Once we got into the NCAA, it was fun," he said. "It was like we were the team every team came to play against. They didn't want to lose to a Canadian team.
There were challenges, though. SFU went 0-8 in conference in their inaugural NCAA season 2010, then 2-6, 4-6 (in Durant's impressive first season in 2012), and 3-7 before Dave Johnson was fired after the 2013 campaign and replaced by Jacques Chapdelaine. SFU then went 2-7 last year, and Chapdelaine left in the offseason to take the Saskatchewan Roughriders' offensive coordinator job; their new head coach is former B.C. Lion Kelly Bates. Durant said the frequent changes in both head coaches and assistant coaches were difficult to adjust to. He doesn't have any regrets about his college decision, though.
"My whole time there was very enjoyable and I wouldn't change anything."
Durant's 2014 stats (55 catches for 685 yards and four touchdowns despite missing three games with illness) are respectable, but they don't necessarily pop off the page. He impressed a lot of people at the CFL combine earlier this month, though, clocking a 4.55-second 40 and posting a 36-inch vertical jump and 26 bench press reps. That was likely a big part of what got him his April eighth-overall ranking (the best for any receiver) after being unranked earlier. It should be noted that Durant's a junior who declared for the NFL draft in November, though; thus, he wasn't eligible for the September rankings. He may have been eligible in December, but perhaps he wasn't (these moves are sometimes about when paperwork's filed, not when a player announces something). Thus, Durant may not have been as far off the board as one might think initially. His highlights are impressive, too:
Whether Durant will wind up in the CFL next year is an open question, though. He's receving some strong NFL interest, and held a joint workout for the CFL's B.C. Lions and the NFL's Seattle Seahawks in April.
"The workout went really well," Durant said. "Both [teams] were impressed."
They're not the only ones, as Durant has said he's received other NFL interest as well. He's unsure exactly how interested those teams are, though.
"I got calls from quite a few teams," he said. "There are three teams that are really talking to me right now. I could have a shot at going with a team [as an undrafted free agent] or being a late pick in the draft. They don't tell you too much."
CFL teams should have an idea of what NFL teams think of Durant by the time the CFL draft rolls around, though. The decision to hold it May 12, a full 10 days after the NFL draft, means that the NFL should have signed the vast majority of its undrafted free agents by that point. That will make it easier for CFL teams to evaluate players like Durant, as compared to last year where Montreal drafted David Foucault fifth overall and then saw him sign with the NFL's Carolina Panthers. Durant wasn't taken in the NFL draft, and he didn't sign with a team, but he will be attending the New York Giants' minicamp this coming weekend (along with six other Canadian prospects). If the NFL doesn't sign Durant by May 12, it seems likely a CFL team will gamble on his athleticism and draft him high.
There are a few non-NFL questions about Durant, though. For one thing, there's his lack of experience with CFL-style rules. CIS schools play largely the same rules as the CFL, but while Durant's football experience comes from B.C., high schools there play by American rules, as does SFU. That leads to some changes and adjustments, especially the "waggle" that allows for enhanced pre-snap motion. Durant admitted he had some issues figuring that out in one-on-one drills at the CFL combine.
"That's probably something I should have focused on more," he said. "That's something that threw me off quite a bit."
Durant's also listed at 6'2'', 233 pounds, which would make him one of the heaviest receivers in the CFL. That could have upsides in allowing him to be physical, but the CFL's rule changes would appear to emphasize speed over strength. Durant said he's open to lowering his playing weight if a team wants him to, but he's also used to playing at the weight he's at.
"I've played at this weight for the past three years, so this is the weight I'm comfortable at," he said. "But I could drop down a little bit. I'll see how I'm feeling in camp. But it hasn't affected me."
Durant certainly has the athletic potential to possibly be a football star. There are still questions about him, though, including if his first opportunity's going to come north or south of the border. It's going to be interesting to see where he goes in the CFL draft on May 12.