Five Underrated AUS CFL Prospects
Acadia linebacker Bailey Feltmate is the AUS headliner of this year’s CFL Draft, based on being a two-time AUS Defensive Player of the Year and 2019 Second-Team All-Canadian. While he is sure to get attention in the CFL Draft there are plenty of other AUS prospects looking to earn their chance at a CFL contract if and when the 2020 season gets rolling.
Here are five other draft-eligible players from the AUS who you may not have heard much about if you live outside the Atlantic provinces, but could have their names called come draft day.
Rory Kelly, DB, Acadia Axemen (2020 Eastern Combine invite)
A really interesting prospect at 6’2, 190 lbs, Kelly has patrolled the Acadia secondary at weak halfback – meaning more often than not he’s been matched up with the opposition’s top slot receiver. While his stats may not stand out, with 55.5 tackles and 3 INTs, Kelly’s game is more about disruption than play-making.
His height makes it hard for QBs to get the ball over top of his coverage, and he’s played a huge role for the Axemen in terms of run support, both through recognition and Acadia’s willingness to blitz him off the edge. The AUS doesn’t keep stats for QB hurries, but Kelly would have to be among the leaders in that. Another asset that Kelly has in his resume is that he has played consistently on Acadia’s special teams, notably as one of the gunners on the punt unit, where he has been very effective.
CFL Comparable: Antoine Pruneau – It’s not far-fetched to believe that Kelly’s career path could mirror Pruneau’s – become a stud on special teams and then settle into a role as a free safety for any team looking to play a Canadian at the position.
Awards: 2018 AUS All-Star
Liam O’Brien, WR, Saint Mary’s Huskies (2020 National Combine invite)
O’Brien has been somewhat of a Swiss Army Knife over the years at Saint Mary’s – originally recruited as a quarterback, O’Brien made the switch to receiver in his second season, in which he also took snaps as the regular QB and became the short yardage specialist.
O’Brien is no speedster in the slot, but is a big body presence and has been one of the better possession receivers in the AUS over the past two seasons since settling into the position full-time. At 6’3, 235 lbs, O’Brien is already at a size where he could factor in to an offence as a tight end/slotback hybrid.
CFL Comparable: Nikola Kalinic – O’Brien isn’t as big as the Ticats tight end, but has proven to be an effective blocker, and could grow to be a very solid tight end option for a team looking for youth at that spot amidst the resurgence of the position in the CFL.
Awards: Two-time AUS All-Star
Nick Oppong, OL, Mount Allison Mounties (2020 Eastern Combine invite)
Left tackle is a tough position to play at any level, and Oppong has been a mainstay for the last 37 consecutive games for the Mounties. At 6’6, 280 lbs, Oppong would need to beef up a little, but his strength is in the pass protection game and in pulling and getting downfield.
With the CFL trending towards defensive ends who are quick off the ball, and bringing consistent pressure off the edge, Oppong could be a good project and down-the-road sixth-lineman-as-a-tight end and eventual left tackle (Think the Ticats’ use of Landon Rice in the June Jones offence). During his four years as a starter, the Mounties have finished in the top 2 in league rushing three times, and as a team allowed only 7 sacks against in 2018.
CFL Comparable: SirVincent Rogers – while not as thick as the Esks’ veteran left tackle, Oppong is just as long, lanky, and mobile.
**Before I get to the last two, I need to put this disclaimer, and that is that kicking in the AUS is no joke. Each of the Maritime-based fields presents its own style of wind challenges, with Acadia and Mount Allison by far being the windiest. Games at Acadia are constantly played in stiff winds going down the field in one direction, while at Mount A it is routine to punt eight different times with the wind going eight different directions.
Keiran Burnham, K/P, St FX X-Men (2020 Eastern Combine invite)
More valuable as a punter than a field goal kicker, Burnham has a strong leg and good directional ability on his punts. He’s had the highest punt average in the conference two straight seasons, and in 2019 trailed only Western’s Marc Liegghio in the country in punt average.
He’s a big leg who’s gotten better and stronger every year under the tutelage of former CFL head coach Jim Daley (St FX Special Teams Coordinator), and can provide big value in a league where field position plays such an important role, especially in bad-weather games late in the season. I mentioned the AUS winds, and it should be noted that Burnham’s best single-game punt average in 2019 was at Mount A, the windiest of the five AUS fields.
CFL Comparable: Rob Maver – Maver’s strength was pinning the opposition deep in their own territory, which Burnham excelled at in 2019, putting over a quarter of his punts inside the opponents’ 20-yard line.
Awards: Three-time AUS All-Star punter, 2019 Second Team All-Canadian punter, 2018 AUS All-Star placekicker.
Brian Hope, K/P, Saint Mary’s Huskies (2020 Eastern Combine invite)
A guy who can both punt and kick very effectively, he may be looked at more as a field goal kicker – he is currently tied for the AUS all-time record with Justin Palardy with 65 field goals, but has never averaged more than 40 yards per punt in the regular season.
Saint Mary’s has a history of producing high-quality kickers, and Hope is but the latest, and will look to follow in Palardy’s footsteps to the CFL. He’s been consistent if nothing else in the AUS, kicking at least 15 field goals each season and while his career long may only be 46, he certainly has the ability to raise that to the CFL level. It should also be pointed out that he has 6 career rushes for 98 yards – not a bad average as a fake punt option.
CFL Comparable: Justin Medlock – another guy who handles all three aspects of his team’s kicking game, there’s more that make Hope and Medlock similar. Both have good field goal percentages, and both are left-footed kickers.
Awards: Two-time AUS All-Star placekicker.
Wray Perkin is a former staff member with the Mount Allison Mounties and Ottawa Redblacks, now Offensive Coordinator for the Tantramar High School Titans based in Sackville, NB.