Steinberg’s MMQB: The waiting game begins

CFL

The release of the CFL Scouting Bureau’s final draft rankings always signifies the start of a fascinating stretch of time. The CFL Draft is scheduled for May 3, which just happens to be the week following the NFL Draft.

Of course, that timing is anything but a coincidence and it opens up some very interesting conversations behind closed doors.

Limbo land

It’s been seven years, and six straight drafts, since the top-ranked prospect in the Bureau’s final rankings has been a CFL first round pick. Rice offensive lineman Scott Mitchell was ranked number one that year and ended up going second overall to the Edmonton Eskimos; Mitchell finished his active career with the Argos in 2016.

Since then, though, its been a different story for top ranked prospects, as illustrated below:

Year

Player

Pos.

School

Drafted

2012

Tyrone Crawford

DE

Boise State

Not drafted

2013

Boseko Lokombo

LB

Oregon

BC (3rd round)

2014

Laurent Duvernay-Tardif

OL

McGill

Calgary (3rd round)

2015

Christian Covington

DL

Rice

BC (4th round)

2016

David Onyemata

DT

Manitoba

Saskatchewan (4th round)

2017

Justin Senior

OL

Mississippi State

Edmonton (5th round)

If you’ve been following the CFL Draft over the last number of years, none of this is news to you. But if you’re wondering why all of these top-ranked guys fell so dramatically in the draft, the answer is simple: they all had significant interest from NFL teams, too.

Of the six top-ranked players above, only Lokombo went undrafted in the NFL and, thus, is the only player with any CFL experience; he’s now a member of the San Francisco 49ers. In the five other cases, though, the players were taken in the NFL Draft and have been cutting their teeth south of the border ever since.

This trend goes beyond the number one-ranked prospects, too. Take 2017 for instance: UCLA defensive lineman Eli Ankou was ranked second and fell to Ottawa in the third round. Similarly, Laval tight end Antony Auclair was the seventh ranked player and wound up going in the fourth round to Riders. Neither Ankou nor Auclair were taken in the NFL Draft but were instead signed as free agents immediately following.

It all combines to make the CFL Draft one of the most interesting showcases in professional sports. Teams have a lot of different factors to weigh before making their picks. Is it worth it to use a high pick on a guy who might end up on an NFL roster? Or is it better to play it safe? It really can work both ways.

The Eskimos used a 2016 second round pick on Michigan State DB Arjen Colquhoun, which seemed risky at the time. Well, after Colquhoun spent a year with the Dallas Cowboys, he signed on with Edmonton and is now a starter at corner. On talent alone, Colquhoun was a first round pick, and the Esks were able to get him with a second round pick, which worked out nicely.

Former Esks second round pick Arjen Colquhoun was one ‘futures’ pick that’s worked out (Michigan State)

On the other hand, take the example of Duvernay-Tardif. Despite him going in the sixth round to the Kansas City Chiefs, Calgary elected to use its 19th overall pick on him a week later. Duvernay-Tardif is a regular starter at guard for the Chiefs and may never play a down in Canada.

So let’s apply all of this to 2018. This year’s top prospect in the final rankings is Bowling Green offensive lineman Ryan Hunter, but there’s a good chance he drops, too. Hunter has NFL interest as do fellow linemen Dakoda Shepley (#3, UBC) and Trey Rutherford (#4, Connecticut).

That puts those three players in the “risky” category, which means I’ll be watching them very closely during NFL Draft weekend and the days that follow. Drafting is always a crapshoot in any sport, which always makes it interesting. With all the elements that go into the CFL Draft, though, I don’t know if there’s a more interesting draft out there.

Big shoes

I don’t know if Kent Austin’s decision to step away from an active football operations role with he Hamilton Tiger-Cats is the right one for the organization. What I do know, though, is how significant a shift it is for the Ticats and how much pressure it puts on the group replacing him.

While Austin will stay on as a consultant, his time making important football decisions, on or off the field, is done in Hamilton. Austin stepped away as vice-president of football operations earlier this week, just eight months after he resigned his post as head coach of the team. That’s a lot of transition in a short period of time for Hamilton.

There are various reports as to why Austin went down this road, including some that suggest the players were very much for his departure. Regardless, though, Austin leaves big shoes to fill, both on the sidelines and in the front office.

As a coach, Austin guided Hamilton to back-to-back Grey Cup appearances in 2013 and 2014 and made the playoffs in four straight years before missing in 2017. In the player personnel department, he was responsible for bringing in players like Brandon Banks, Jeremiah Masoli, Luke Tasker, and the since-departed Zach Collaros. Whether it was time for him to walk away or not, it’s tough argue he did a nice job in both roles.

Kent Austin speaks to the media during a press conference in Winnipeg last month (Reid Valmestad/CFL.ca)

June Jones did a great job taking over from Austin midway through the 2017 campaign, but that leads to higher expectations, internally and externally. By all accounts, Jones is extremely popular with his players, which is never a bad thing. But without any element of surprise to start this season, will the Tiger-Cats be able to carry their momentum into this season?

From a front office perspective, Hamilton is going to go with more of a collaborative effort for now with Jones, General Manager Eric Tillman, and assistant general manager Shawn Burke, among others, all having a say.

Again, I’m not saying Austin’s departure will be good or bad for Hamilton, because I really don’t know. I do know the job he did in five-plus years with Hamilton helped turn them back into a going concern after eight straight seasons of .500 or worse football. All involved replacing him certainly have big shoes to fill.

Big splash

I was one of many who raised an eyebrow when the Montreal Alouettes decided to release linebacker Kyries Hebert in February. It made a whole lot more sense on Thursday when the Als finalized a contract for Henoc Muamba.

Hebert had an outstanding 2017 season and finished with a career-best 110 tackles and was the East Division’s Most Outstanding Defensive Player. It would seem odd to say goodbye to a player who meant so much to Montreal’s defensive unit, even though he’ll be 38 years old in October; unless, of course, there was a contingency plan.

The Als had been a rumored frontrunner for Muamba’s service in free agency for quite some time, so him signing there isn’t a huge surprise. Now that it’s official, you can see why Montreal would prioritize him over Hebert, even with the latter’s six years of service to the team.

Muamba is more than seven years younger than Hebert and is also coming off a career year. Muamba finished 2017 with 82 defensive tackles and a pair of interceptions and looks primed to be the centerpiece of a Montreal defence needing a bounce back season.

Saying goodbye to Hebert couldn’t have been easy, and he could come back to haunt them in Ottawa. But, knowing their ages and stages of their careers, the Als are making the right call in essentially swapping Hebert for Muamba at  MIKE linebacker.

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