Michael (Pinball) Clemons has more than just a passing interest in the 2022 NFL draft.
The Toronto Argonauts' GM will be watching to see if heralded prospect Luiji Vilain is either draft or signed as a priority free agent. The Argos selected the six-foot-four, 255-pound Wake Forest defensive end in the third round, No. 25 overall, of last year's CFL draft.
"He's obviously done very well with his combine workouts," Clemons told reporters during a CFL zoom call Wednesday. "We do believe there will be some kind of opportunity that's there for him.
"We're wishing him the best, we're his cheerleader. But we will not be bothered at all if we see him at some point this year."
The NFL draft will be held in Las Vegas. The opening round goes Thursday with the second and third being held Friday.
The draft concludes Saturday with the remaining four rounds.
Vilain, of Ottawa, transferred to Wake Forest prior to last season and made an immediate impact with the Demon Deacons. Vilain had a team-high nine sacks with 34 tackles (22 solo, nine for loss), two forced fumbles, and one fumble recovery.
Vilain had originally committed to Michigan but injuries over two seasons limited him to 11 tackles and one sack in 12 career games.
Vilain said an opportunity south of the border has been a long-term goal and something he has expressed to the Argos.
"Definitely a big shout-out to them for believing in me and wanting to draft me knowing my goal is still to play in the NFL," Vilain said during a recent interview with nfldraftdiamonds.com "They knew that and they wished me the best.
"I'm a proud Canadian, grew up watching the CFL and Toronto is not a bad city to live in either."
The top two Canadian prospects heading into the draft are Alabama receiver John Metchie III, of Brampton, Ont., and Penn State linebacker Jesse Luketa, also of Ottawa.
The five-foot-11, 186-pound Metchie had a team-high 96 catches last season for 1,142 yards and eight touchdowns before suffering a season-ending knee injury. He opted to skip his senior campaign and declare for this year's draft, finishing his college career with 155 receptions for 2,081 yards and 14 TDs and helping Alabama capture an NCAA title in 2020.
Last week, Metchie was named the top prospect for the '22 CFL draft, which is slated for May 3. On the same day, he received the Jon Cornish Trophy as Canada's top NCAA player for a second straight year, joining B.C. Lions quarterback Nathan Rourke as the only two-time winners.
The six-foot-three, 247-pound Luketa spent his first three seasons at Penn State as a linebacker before adding defensive end to his repertoire last year. The versatile performer had 61 tackles (34 solo, 8.5 for a loss), a half-sack and interception in 2021.
Vilain put on quite a show last month at Wake Forest's pro day. He posted a time of 4.75 seconds in the 40-yard dash and 1.57 seconds in the 10-yard split. He also had 21 reps in the 225-pound bench press, a 35-inch vertical leap and broad jump of nine feet 10 inches before approximately 40 NFL scouts.
"I didn't really get to play much at Michigan, this was really my first true year of getting some meaningful snaps," Vilain said. "This was a really good development year for me.
"I'd say my ceiling is very high. I feel like my best football is ahead of me."
And Vilain said any NFL team signing him will get a player with football intelligence but also one who understands his shortcomings.
"I have a really good understanding of pass rush and my rush lanes, where I need to be and when I need to be there," he said. "The run game is something I need to work on and I've been working on since the season finished.
"I'm a smart player, I have a high motor … I always run to the ball. At the beginning of the season you could see the lack of experience where that came about. I feel like as the season went on I got better and better and better and that's why I say my best football is ahead of me."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 27, 2022.
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press