Top 5 U SPORTS Prospects to Watch in the 2017 NFL Draft

With the 2017 NFL Draft tonight, there are many questions surrounding U SPORTS athletes that will be drafted by a team in the NFL over the next three days. Even if a player does not get drafted, it doesn’t mean that their NFL aspirations are over. A number of players are signed immediately following the draft, which will conclude on Saturday April 29, 2017. The NFL Draft is also an important bench mark for the CFL Draft to see if certain players will play north or south of the border in their rookie, professional football career.

With that being said, which players have the best chance of being drafted over the next three days, who played their collegiate football in Canada? The NFL Draft is set up so that the first round will go on Thursday, rounds two and three will go on Friday, and the final four rounds (4-7) will go on Saturday. It would be a huge shock to see a U SPORTS athlete go in the first three rounds, but on Draft Day, anything is possible. Now, let’s look at the top prospects, who might get picked up in this year’s draft.

#1) Antony Auclair – TE – Laval

I don’t think that there is a question in anyone’s mind who follows U SPORTS football that Antony Auclair is the best draft prospect coming from a Canadian school. At 6’6” 254lbs, the native of Notre-Dame-des-Pins, Quebec is an absolute specimen. He has NFL-ready size and his ability to find open space as a receiver made him one of Hugo Richard’s favourite targets. Auclair received an invite to the Shrine Game this season and didn’t make himself look bad; actually many people were impressed how well he competed with some top American talent. However, transitioning from Canadian football to American football is a lot different than most people may think. You lose your one yard buffer as an offensive lineman/tight end, the field is shorter and thinner—including the end zones. So how does this affect Auclair? In the sense of losing space between himself and the defensive lineman or outside linebackers, technique is much more important that physicality. In Canada there is more room to allow your running back to make a read off of your block and allow your running back to be an athlete and make a play in open space. In the American game, you don’t have space as a luxury. Antony Auclair seems to be a lock to go in the NFL Draft over the next three days, whether it is Thursday, Friday, or Saturday. It will be fun to follow Auclair as he starts his journey in the NFL.

#2) Geoff Gray – OL – Manitoba

Gray is an interesting prospect. Many, if not all CFL teams have come to terms with Antony Auclair going to the NFL, which is what will kill Auclair’s CFL draft stock. Geoff Gray on the other hand is a top ranked CFL prospect, and many believe he has the ability to be the first overall pick. But, if Gray is to be taken in the NFL Draft over the next three days, his CFL stock will drop and he will more than likely will become a second or third round pick in the Canadian draft. If Gray were to go in the NFL Draft, it would most likely be late on Saturday, either a sixth or seventh round pick. Gray’s pro day drew attention from eight different NFL teams, which means that interest is definitely there for the 6’6” 310-pounder out of Winnipeg. Gray looks to follow in the footsteps of former teammate David Onyemata who was selected in the fourth round, 120th overall in the 2016 NFL Draft to the New Orleans Saints.

#3) Nate Behar – REC – Carleton

I am fully aware that Danny Vandervoort will more than likely be drafted ahead of Nate Behar in the 2017 CFL Draft on May 7, 2017. However, when it comes to American football, I give the edge to the London, Ontario native for the simple reason that Behar has played the wideout spot for Carleton, and Vandervoort was limited to slot receiver at McMaster. Now does that mean that I believe that Behar will hear is name called on Saturday? Probably not. But, he brings a skill set consisting of physicality, route running, and athleticism that has terrorized OUA secondaries for the past four seasons. Behar has the ability to be a game changer both on offence and special teams if he puts his mind to it. The possibility is there—it’s very unlikely—but it would be nice to see a player who was part of that massive Carleton rebuild get a shot at the NFL.

#4) Danny Vandervoort – REC – McMaster

Now we are fully into wishful thinking. Danny Vandervoort is a phenomenal receiver, with an impressive skill set and will most likely be an impressive CFL receiver in the near future. At 6’2” 204lbs, the Barrie native is a projected top five pick in this year’s CFL Draft. But does that mean that he won’t have a shot at the NFL? You never know what pro teams are thinking; where they’ve sent their scouts to go see and what they want in a player. Vandervoort brings a second-to-none work ethic to the table and is a great locker room presence for his team. That being said, it is very difficult for offensively skilled positional players (receiver, running back, and quarterback) to make the jump from Canadian university football to the National Football League. Vandervoort has a slim chance of hearing his name called at the NFL Draft but may be an under-the-radar player that one or two teams have had their eye on.

#5) Kwaku Boateng – DE – Laurier

Be careful with this guy. His draft stock has dropped immensely since the beginning of the 2016 season, mainly because he didn’t put up overly impressive numbers, and his testing at the CFL combine wasn’t great either. But make no mistake, Kwaku Boateng is a terrific football player. He is a little lighter than expected, weighing in at 230 lbs at the combine, but the skill set he brings is incredible for any team looking to add a pass rusher to their arsenal. Boateng is set up better for the CFL game but he could fit into a 3-4 system in the NFL as an outside linebacker. His get-off speed is tops in Canada, and the reason he didn’t put up astounding numbers during the Golden Hawks, Yates Cup winning season was because of the game planning and double teams sent his way. Boateng can also make a difference on special teams as he was an important part of Laurier’s kickoff coverage team over his career with the Hawks. Boateng could be a sleeper that a National Football League team could use to their advantage.

While it seems like the first two prospects have strong shots at a shot in the NFL, the other three prospects know that not getting drafted or signed in their first year out of school doesn’t mean that their NFL dreams are over per se, but it will be tougher work to get there.

The NFL Draft begins on Thursday night at 8:00pm on the NFL Network. Many of us who have watched these athletes play over the past four years are hoping to hear their name called by a pro team south of the border this weekend.