Thought I might share a couple of my scouting reports for players that I was looking at in the 4th... more rounds to come.
TE Glen Rude - Louisiana - Lafayette - 6'1" 248lbs
Selected by Cleveland, pick 4 - 15 (111)
The Ragin' Cajuns don't often send representatives to the CFL but TE Glen Rude's college career had scouts calling. After having only 17 catches for 182 yards as a sophomore, Rude had a huge jump in production as a junior, catching 53 passes for 568 yards and six touchdowns. He went on to improve his senior year with 62 catches for 615 yards in eight touchdowns, albeit against subpar competition.
When watching the tape, the two things that pop out are his speed in open space and his excellent soft hands. The Combine confirmed his blazing speed and he performed well in field drills. Rude has a nicely polished route tree with fluid hips that allow him to shake linebackers between the hashes. He's more than willing to stay home and block but shines as a receiving threat due to his lack of size and strength.
In the CFL, he will need to work on his blocking techniques to compensate for his smaller stature. He was regularly double teamed in college and this was a problem on third downs, leading to decreased efficiency when attempting to move the chains. This could be a problem at the next level if he is an offense's number one target. Still, he looks to be a solid contributor after season or two.
DE Richie Zukauskas - Rutgers - 6'3" 269lbs
Selected by Boston, pick 4 - 11 (107)
Richie Zukauskas was the centerpiece of a Rutgers pass rush that simply dominated opponents. Over four years he racked up 55 sacks, 85 tackles, and 10 forced fumbles. He looked every bit the special player when hunting quarterbacks but there are holes in his game that could see his draft position fall.
First the good: In the pass rush, Zukauskas is truly dominant. He has quickness around the edge, power to knock tackles off balance, and the vision to keep eyes on the quarterback. Technique is on full display as he employs a wide variety of tools to get off blocks and fight through double teams.
However, Zukauskas is not a star as a run defender... and could even be a liability. His singular focus on rushing the passer could be addressed through experience and coaching but he seems to fade away once the ball is handed off. He regularly loses gap coverage by biting on fakes and sometimes stays in containment too long without the explosiveness or quick feet to catch runners moving sideways.
Zukauskas looks like a potential franchise defensive player as an edge rusher capable of producing double-digit sack seasons on an annual basis. Unfortunately, the team that selects him must have a solid group of linebackers to compensate for his poor run defense until it improves.
FB Harris Markowitz - North Carolina State - 5'9" 232lbs
Selected by Denver, pick 4 - 9 (105)
No offense to QB Rodney Ingram, but the Wolfpack's tough rushing offense was the star of that program over the last two seasons. Markowitz flashed real ability as part of the rotation alongside RB Kirk Hughes and Richard Bruce. In 2061, he picked up 515 yards with six touchdowns over only 67 carries. He was an effective pass catcher too, adding 34 receptions for 272 yards and one touchdown through the air.
In the CFL, Markowitz is a powerful downhill runner who will break tackles and is really tough for defenders to bring down. His lower body strength is key to collecting yards after contact. In the passing game, Markowitz is dangerous on swings to the flat and screens. He has the hands to make the catch and blows through smaller DBs like a bowling ball. He has some athletic limitations as a route-runner and probably won't be a candidate to run routes out of the slot. However, success there would not be a surprise.
NC State often deployed him as a fullback and it looks to be his niche as he enjoys taking on defenders and shows a willing attitude in pass protection. As a backup or rotational player, Markowitz could also be a core special teams contributor because he has the key traits of speed, toughness and instincts to play on those units. At the very minimum, he will be an asset in short-yardage and goal-line situations.
Durham vs Fargo (-3) - Thought I might do something a little different this time and go through the position groups and see who's got the edge... the Sodbusters have looked incredible despite their injuries but should they really be favored?
Travis Ortiz vs. Devan Mitchem
Travis Ortiz is the total package. Luck met preparation when he was drafted first overall in 2058 and many think it's a matter of time until the rings come raining down. I see Ortiz as a very good, franchise quality starter but a lot of his success should be attributed to the talent that GM Steel put around him.
Through four seasons as the Bulldogs starter, Ortiz has averaged 254 completions (58.9%) for 2,954 yards, 24 TDs, 8 INTs, 6.8 AY/A, 90.7 rate. He's also averaged 666 yards and 4 TDs on the ground. This includes his good, but not great, rookie season and it is important to realize that just about every statistic has improved year over year. He's an electrifying mobile QB whose steely composure belies his youth.
In the other corner we find a more traditional pocket passer who showed glimpses with a defense oriented franchise. Mitchem's best stretch (of three seasons) came in his first three years as a starter for Detroit. He averaged 340 completions (58.3%) for 3,831 yards, 19 TDs, 9 INTs, 6.5 AY/A, 82.4 rate. He peaked in 2057, appearing in that year's CFL Bowl, but could not replicate that success. That is, until he was traded to Fargo... it's just one season but at the ripe age of 32, Mitchem could be seeing a career resurgence that could completely change the narrative.
There's no arguing that Ortiz is the more efficient, consistent, and talented of the two but Mitchem's kit can't be discounted in today's pass first football-- just one or two home runs might be all it takes to decide this contest.
Roy Ellingsen vs. Ian Holzer
The Sodbusters will be making up ground with this comparison as it's a pretty clear-cut advantage for RB Holzer. Rookie RB Ellingsen hasn't quite filled the gap left by departing veteran RB Arnold and the numbers aren't pretty: 1,413 yards and 7 TDs on a very inefficient 3.87 yards per carry. The offensive line bears some of the blame, but it's clear the rookie has room for improvement.
RB Holzer's decisive one-cut running style has been the bread and butter for this franchise for years. He's not quite at RB Fulton's level but it's not hard to imagine him getting there. His size would be the only thing standing in his way but so far it has contributed more to his being tougher to bring down than any durability concerns.
Bulldogs receivers vs. Sodbusters receivers
If you don't have Marcus Dole, your receiving corps isn't going to be better than Terry Fence and Dakota Crabtree. Yes, Durham spreads the ball out and works with all of their tools but well, we're comparing players directly.
Neither team really incorporates tight ends as ball-catchers but TE Reynolds could be an X-factor for Durham here. He's a Swiss-army-knife of a player that is just as comfortable running routes and catching as he is blocking.
Bulldogs OL vs. Sodbusters OL
The Bulldogs offensive line has been together for a solid two years so it's surprising to see them struggle this season. Statistically they are middle of the pack, allowing just 23 sacks overall but Ortiz is having to scramble a bit more. Holes aren't opening up for RB Ellingson either which is a pretty big knock too.
The Sodbusters offensive line didn't have that same luxury of a consistent rotation. Injuries to C Fuller, G Henry, and T Horner saw young linemen step into the starting lineup. C Fuller was a late scratch last week and remains probable this week, but GM Ushikawa might let sophomore G Ready continue to stand in. G Brown is also waiting in the wings-- he sat last week, but it's unclear if it's a permanent adjustment. All things considered, Fargo has been excellent statistically. A league best BPct (40%) and top 5 OPRPct (18.9%) while running a merry-go-round of linemen is a testament to the coaching and mentality of the team.
he Bulldogs have a very talented and healthy group up front but the Sodbusters put together a consistent body of work that is one game away from greatness. It's not a wash but I can't really give one team an edge.
Bulldogs DL vs. Sodbusters DL
Youth can be a great asset for a team but I think the Bulldogs suffer from too much youth here-- two starters are rookies and one is a sophomore. The 4 in their 4-3 defense is mediocre at best and they don't get much help from their similarly aged linebackers.
When healthy, the Sodbusters have one of thee more oppressive units in the league. We're all praying for DE Almeda's swift and complete recovery, but in the meantime DE Alexander and DT Bradford are still a solid duo. It's really such a shame that Donald went down in week 15-- he was having a career year!
Bulldogs LB vs. Sodbusters LB
I touched on this in the previous section, but the Bulldogs don't have the experience or talent in its linebackers. LB Shepherd is a sure tackler with a great motor that can be in the right place at the right time but he's a bit small and can get bullied on the field.
Fargo's great LB Sutter will be missing but offseason acquisition LB Bishop is an absolute beast in the middle. In coverage, we've seen great contributions from LB Andersen which shores a weakness that many other teams have. However, they aren't quite as stout against the run... and in particular have had problems against mobile quarterbacks. Still, they should give the Sodbusters the edge in this comparison.
Bulldogs secondary vs. Sodbusters secondary
The Sodbusters secondary has played well this season, allowing 219.5 passing yards at a 57.5 percent completion rate compared to the Bulldogs 227.9 passing yards at a 59.4 percent completion rate. Some of that has to do with the competition-- Omaha and Kansas City tend to skew statistics-- but part of that has to do with the distribution of talent in the unit. CB Taylor has the potential to be a generational shutdown corner but opponents don't really have anyone else to fear. FS Szczepaniak and CB Garvin have both lost a step and struggle to contain opposing wideouts without help from their front seven.
Fargo's secondary plays much more aggressively, employing press coverage more than almost any other team while also loading up the box or double teaming with a safety. They're playing with fire but the pressure put on by their defensive line helps. S Watkins has been a versatile tool and leader that, in my estimation, actually makes the whole thing work. They're pretty good at taking the ball away when everything is clicking and they'll need some of that to kill QB Ortiz's drives.
Overall, it's close... in a vacuum. In this matchup though, CB Taylor is just one man against two in WRs Fence and Crabtree. Add in the pass rush's contribution and it's a little one-sided.
Welp, looks like the Sodbusters really have an edge here... so I guess I'll take them to win and cover. Godspeed, gentlemen. Fargo wins this one 29-24.
We have 4 all-too-familiar faces left in the Playoffs and some pretty close lines to boot. Can we find betting value this week?
Brooklyn (-3) at Durham - One of the most exciting pre-game storylines was back in 2059 when QB Barker and the Hartford Attack met DUR for the first time. Hard nosed defense on both sides dictated a grimy, gritty game and we fans were left wondering "wait... who was better? Who IS better?" Many of us forget that there are two other guys drafted just a bit later that could still leave their mark on the CFL.
QB Woodford didn't get the reins for this Brawlers team until just last season (some might say he still doesn't, with veteran QB Allen waiting on the sidelines) but as a starter he posts an impressive 26-9 record as well as two playoff berths. Though many pundits label him a system QB, he's 2-0 against the Bulldogs and could make it a hat trick after a week 17 rest looks to have revitalized the young man's play.
The game opened last week as a pick 'em but quickly shifted to a BKN -3 as the Bulldogs put out an injury report with QB Ortiz on it. Even though he put up a career high 6 TDs (plus one with his legs!), he was slow to get up after the two sacks and didn't play as aggressively as we've seen in the past. He'll be depending on an offensive line that has shown weakness in pass protection this season. Against Brooklyn's LB Vance and DE Beck, two premier pass rushers that are going to cause problems if they get home, I might have to side with the visitors.
Both secondaries will have their hands full too. BKN's WR Fernandes is as slippery as they come while DUR's stable of talent will eventually find matchup wins as they run through their paces. I look to WR Hindman here to make a big impact-- he was held to just 75 yards on 16 targets through both meetings and that simply won't do this week.
I love taking the home underdog in this spot but I think GM Gulberry's boys are too experienced and disciplined to let this one slip. The Brawlers are going to make their third CFL Bowl appearance in 4 years: 28-20.
Las Vegas at Fargo (-2) - The one thing we can safely say about this year's CFL Bowl is that we will be pitting a young QB against an old QB. Again. We can't say who, but we know that'll be the matchup.
Fargo has had its ups and downs since winning it all in 2056 and finally moved on from the old gunslinger QB Woodard to a more orthodox pocket passer in QB Mitchem. It's been a good look so far as Devan posted career best numbers surrounded by WRs Crabtree, Fence, and RB Holzer. They've even managed to stay healthy up to now. The defensive stars haven't been as lucky and the team will be missing DROY DE Almeda and LB Sutter. The Sodbusters were flush with talent on D so they've been doing fine but can they clear this hurdle?
Las Vegas found a way to win last week against a red hot Rockets team that, by all accounts, should have walked away with a convincing dub. The relentless attack by DEs Anagnostis and Brock forced an amazing three pick sixes in the final quarter. We've been seeing this for years now but when this Rounders team wins, it's because their front seven makes opposing QBs make mistakes. DROY candidate LB Hargreaves might just take this unit from unfair to unbeatable. And he's only 22!
We can talk about other players and matchups but it would account for maybe 10% of this game's result. The only thing that matters is can FAR keep QB Mitchem upright long enough to find someone downfield. If their week 13 result is any indication... all signs point to no. That being said, the Sodbusters are expecting C Fuller to play (he didn't back in week 13). He plays a huge role in guys picking up their assignments when opponents throw curve balls and often helps double up troublesome rushers. It could be enough...
As a betting man, I just can't pass up LVS as underdogs. On top of that QB Mitchem almost certainly has some trauma from their past meetings (twice with DET). The defending champs advance to yet another CFL Bowl appearance: 36-28.
14/28 on the season... so we lost a little bit overall. Unlucky really... hopefully the playoffs will be better. I like the matches we have buuuut I'm not sure how much value these lines can provide. Still, here are two in particular that could be good:
Tennessee at Kansas City (-4) - The streaky Militia were fortunate to have an exceptionally easy end to their season: NOS, SCU, and SAO were the final opponents. QB Porto and the gang punched their tickets to the playoffs but these games were anything but straightforward. NOS and SCU were both leading in the fourth quarters until they folded. TEN has been a difficult team to handicap-- their inconsistency largely stems from the patchwork offensive line that struggles to contain pass rushers. WR Picton's production has also dropped since returning from last year's knee injury. QB Porto is being asked to perform with quite a bit less talent surrounding him but I guess it was enough to get here.
KCY topped the Great Lakes division at 9-7 but it came down to the wire for QB Grueneich and the Storm. Not only did they need to win against IWC but they also needed the Vampires to win against CLE in a meaningless week 17 bout. This team plays to their opponents' level but the matchup really hasn't favored them in recent history and projects to be even worse. The Storms' high-volume passing attack falls right into the Militia's wheelhouse-- SS Barlow, CB Bethea, and CB Tapscott can each hold their own against the league's top receivers. Together, the unit can hold teams of OMA's caliber to under 200 yards in the air.
If KCY was fully healthy, I could see them winning but I simply can't lay the points without CB Irwin and WR Elder. TEN advances tomorrow: 34-28.
Las Vegas at Alaska (-1) - For most of the season, including during the Kodiaks-Rounders game in Week 7, the Las Vegas pass rush was a big plus. The Rounders make opposing QBs earn it. They roll into the playoffs about as healthy as they can be and the matchup on Sunday is a familiar one for DEs Anagnostis and Omar. Comfortable, too! LVS hasn't lost to ALA since 2052, regular season or playoffs. The Rounders simply will win if they pressure QB Jimmy Marischen into mistakes.
Marischen couldn't repeat his historic 1 INT season-- a heavy lean on WR Farley has led to an uptick in turnovers as opponents cheat an extra man over. But he has the luxury of a young running back duo and the ever solid C Lefebvre who will be doing all he can to put OTs Cole and Rivers in position to contain the LVS pass rushers. The Kodiaks will also look to exploit a relatively weak Rounders OLine: DEs McConnell and Thompson combine for a respectable 23 sacks on the season.
I'd love to see QB Marischen finally pull one out and possibly get on track for a third ring but I just don't see it happening. LVS cracked the code for this opponent and is living rent-free in their heads. 30-20 for the reigning champs.
1/3 last week (week 12) brings our record to 13/25... Things are looking very grim boys. Took a short break from losing to try and close out this season strong...
Omaha at Baltimore (-2) - With Durham out in front in the Atlantic division, these two teams look to scrap over a wildcard spot. A loss here just about eliminates either team and hopefully we back the right side.
The Bombers manhandled a sliding Boise City last week but splitting their last 6 games does not bode well with their extremely tough remaining schedule. They've put in some dud games on offense-- 205 and 125 total offensive yards against STL and OMA respectively, just 9 points against NOS-- but the defense continues to put in good work. In the earlier encounter with OMA, the Bombers came away with 2 interceptions and one fumble recovery, but absolutely dismal play from QB O'Neill squandered the opportunities. Without WR Rhodes, breakout rookie RB Humphries also wasn't able to generate momentum. Everyone appears to be healthy this week and a balanced attack should prove more successful this time around.
Since beating this team in week 11, the Arrowheads dropped 3 in a row and find themselves fighting for their lives down the stretch. Turnovers cost the team against SEA and DET but the collapse against ALA was a different beast. 13 penalties, two occurring during ALA punts and seven drive killers committed by the offensive line, were clearly the cause. The skill players are still performing at a high level but mental mistakes are hamstringing the team.
OMA has won the last 5 meetings but Vegas has BAL as the betting favorite. The public is on OMA and who can blame them? This pedigree in a must-win game seems like a no brainer. However, the matchups give me some pause. This BAL secondary has the talent to slow WR Dole and the OMA receivers and if DE Hitchcock can find a little more space, all the better for the home team. I'll back the Bombers to string two in a row: 27-20.
Atlanta (-4) at Death Valley - RB Donaldson and the Copperheads were my frontrunners for the San Andreas division but it's been a tough couple of weeks. Dropping 5 of the last 7 has them on the outside looking in but if they clutch up I like their chances. The last three games are certainly winnable.
These two teams met just a few weeks ago and RB Donaldson was held to his lowest rushing production on the season. ATL ranks near the bottom against the run but they loaded the box and never let up chasing Donaldson. CB Traxler took WR Shannon out of the game but DVY couldn't put points on the board despite picking up solid yardage through the air. It was an impressive effort from the Wolfpack, though I wonder if it can be replicated this week.
ATL has made the most of their three bye weeks and come into this division showdown with all the momentum in the world. QB Herr did a fine job in QB Clements' absence but the old gunslinger is back to lead the Wolfpack to the playoffs. It's tough to take anything out of their recent games but I have to highlight just how talented WRs Reis, Terry, and Terry are. NOS, SAO, and LAS aren't trying that hard this season but no DB likes getting torched by their opponents. CB Lauher and S Shaeffer (NOS) , S Ellis (SAO), CBs Schwartz and Barber (LAS) all were put on an island and could not hold on.
RB Donaldson missed last week's game with a hyperextended knee but I expect they'll make every effort to get him on the field this week. They have to win the next three to keep their postseason bid alive and I think they'll do just that. QB Clements looked good last week but I'm always skeptical after a long break. The Copperheads win this one at home: 30-27.
Honolulu (-4) at Las Vegas - Both of these teams are going to be playing in February but a potential bye elevates the stakes for this matchup. This game screams 50/50 so catching points with the defending champs draws my eye.
Both teams enter this week off disappointing losses to KCY and DET but I suspect they were each looking to this game. Thouugh the Rounders offensive line has struggled this season, their form after the week 11 bye is fantastic. Just two sacks given up against CLE (none to FAR or KCY) bodes well for QB McKnight to stand and deliver against HON. RB Gmerek ran all over the Sodbusters too-- something he wasn't able to do in week 10-- and it all stems from the heightened play from this offensive line.
The Vampires defense shone in a surprising upset over the Sharks last week. Disciplined positioning and coverage on the back end meant that chunk plays were kept to a minimum while the linebackers held firm, allowing just 61 yards to RB Gaiter. There weren't any sacks or turnovers but you could see it frustrated the explosive HON offense. A missed extra point was just icing on the cake. I really do think the Sharks were looking past their opponents and will put on a more complete show against the Rounders.
QB England was the difference maker against LVS in week 10, running for a whopping 72 yards and two TDs, but can he do it again? The Rounders are typically able to contain running QBs, recording just 32 scrambles for 214 yards. LB Hargreaves was assigned to QB England but rookie mistakes and missed assignments were costly. Some hours in the film room should fix things nicely so I'm going to take the points with LVS: The champs pull ahead 36-30.