Montreal Alouettes GM Jim Popp has been scouting Canadian football players for a long time. He's not sure he's seen a college product from up north as polished and talented as Laurent Duvernay-Tardif.
"We’ve seen players over the past five years or so go from this level [in Canada] to the NFL," Popp told Shutdown Corner, "but none have been at this level coming out of school."
That's why Duvernay-Tardif, who played left tackle at prestigious McGill University, has been pegged not only as the top available talent in the Canadian Football League draft, but also has a great chance to be selected relatively high in the NFL draft this May.
So who is this mystery man? Duvernay-Tardif — who goes by "Larry" — came to McGill as a 253-pound defensive lineman as a freshman before being switched over to the offensive side. Since then, he has settled in at left tackle and become a dominant force. First, CFL teams started paying notice, but now the NFL is all over him, too.
Nine NFL teams watched Duvernay-Tardif at a private workout on Thursday and saw a 6-foot-5, 298-pound player turn in 40-yard dash times of 4.94 to 5.08 seconds, post 34 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press, turn in a 4.59-second shuttle time and broad jump 9 feet, 6 inches. The teams attending — Philadelphia Eagles, San Francisco 49ers, Buffalo Bills, Chicago Bears, Oakland Raiders, Green Bay Packers, New York Jets, Kansas City Chiefs and Arizona Cardinals — had to come away impressed.
Those workout numbers would have placed him among the top performers at the NFL scouting combine had Duvernay-Tardif been invited. Only Tennessee's Antonio Richardson (36 reps) did more on the bench among tackles. Only a handful of tackles, including projected first-rounders Greg Robinson of Auburn and Taylor Lewan of Michigan, ran faster 40s. The shuttle time would have been top five. Only Lewan had a better broad jump.
Duvernay-Tardif's physical skills clearly jump off the page, despite playing at comparatively low-level Canadian Interuniversity Sport competition.
"One of my scouts said that he is the best prospect he has seen in 10 years from a CIS school, or a guy that has been [eligible for the CFL draft]," Popp said.
"This is a guy who can go to an even higher level. He’s extremely bright."
Duvernay-Tardif is bright indeed, currently studying for medical school at perhaps the best academic school in Canada. He was allowed to skip two days of practice per week during the football season to keep up his studies but has told CFL and NFL scouts he's 100 percent invested in football now.
To say that Duvernay-Tardif is raw is understating. He clearly has a long way to go to be a finished product, and his smaller-than-expected frame — he played last season at 315 pounds — might be a tad concerning. But Popp believes Duvernay-Tardif has an NFL body and potential to dominate.
“He has the frame where he can get up to 330, no problem," Popp said. "He doesn’t have an ounce of fat on him.”
Duvernay-Tardif was invited to the East-West Shrine Game in Tampa, Fla., going up against some draftable prospects and held his own, despite being switched over to play right tackle for much of the drills.
"He looked very comfortable there," Popp said. "He looked like he could play both. He’s definitely a tackle at the next level. He has great feet."
So where does he fit in with this draft class? Popp says the level of competition certainly hurts Duvernay-Tardif from a reputation and development standpoint, but not as much as you might think.
"He’s going to be drafted," Popp said. "If he was playing at an SEC school, or the Big Ten, you’re talking a very high draft pick. At McGill University, a CIS school in Canada, it’s going to change that. He’s still developing; he has a lot of room for growth. I am sure his draft status will drop. But whoever gets him will be getting a good football player.
"Nine [NFL] teams showing up to watch one guy work out in another country tells you that this guy has got something. I think talent-wise — and not because he has stood up to a high level of competition yet — and with his measureables, I think he probably is a fourth-round guy. But if he was at a bigger school, he’d be at least a second-round guy."
Popp says the CIS level of play is hard to project in American football standards, but he has had a lot of time to think about the commensurate level of talent.
"Everyone always asks me, what level would you compare CIS to? Some say it’s like Division I-AA, others say D-II … but I am starting my 23rd year doing this, and I think it’s more like [American junior college], in that you’ve got guys who easily could play in a major D-I school and guys on the same team who maybe could play Division-III football," Popp said.
"It’s very competitive, and it has improved drastically over the years. Bigger staffs, more money, better talent. [Laurent] is a good example of that."
And how sure is Popp that Duvernay-Tardif deserves such high praise? After all, there have been some solid Canadian talents in recent years — the Lions' Vaughn Martin and the Saints' Akeim Hicks — who all have fared well starting in the NFL trenches, although none have reached a Pro Bowl level.
"This kid shows more dominance at his position than those two players did at their position," Popp said.
That's a pretty good endorsement for perhaps the most intriguing prospect in this year's draft. At least among ones not named Manziel.
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