With Min-Camps getting closer there are 5 newcomers to watch on the Edmonton Eskimos in Las Vegas, into main camp and beyond:
#5 QB Eli Jenkins
23-years-old 6'2" 210-pound Jacksonville State product.
Ranked 30 out of 138 QB's going into the 2017 draft, Jenkins went undrafted but did spend time in the Chargers camp in 2017. From 2013 to 2016 while with JSU he appeared in 52 games and completed 583 – 1031 passes for 7652 yards, 47 touchdowns, and 27 interceptions. Jenkins also rushed 636 times for 3,796 yards and 42 touchdowns. Jenkins was a highly touted NCAA FCS player earning:
• 2016 All-American
• 2016 OVC Offensive Player of the Year
• 2015-16 OVC Male Athlete of The Year
• 2015 OVC Player Of The Year
• 2015 FCS Quarterback Of The Year
• 2015 All-American
• 2015 First Team All-OVC
• 2014 First Team All-OVC
• 2013 Freshman All-American
• National Player of the Week (twice)
All NCAA accolades and stats aside watching film on Jenkins screams perfect for the CFL. A reasonable sized 4.6 to 4.7 / 40 running QB who can throw an accurate ball on the run. Many scouts considered him a strong armed dual threat QB who looks a lot like Mike Reilly in his early days. Does Jenkins need pro reps to develop? Yes, he does. First, he needs to prove he is the next one and should be no lower than QB3. With Kevin Glenn as a hedge bet by Brock Sunderland, the next step after Jenkins establishes himself in camp as the QB3 will be to establish doubt if Glenn is the QB2 or if Jenkins should be the QB2. By the end of 2018 Jenkins should be QB2 waiting in the wings for an opportunity to be a QB1.
Jenkins development will make the trade of James Franklin for Mason Woods more palatable for most Eskie fans.
#4 DE Devonte Fields
24-years-old 6’ 4? 242-pounds Louisville
Fields turned in one of the best freshman seasons in Big 12 history with 53 tackles, 18.5 tackles for loss, 10.0 sacks and 2 forced fumbles, earning First Team All-Conference and Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year honors. In his second season with TCU he was suspended for the first two games for a violation of team rules and wound up playing just one game because of a foot injury. In a year to forget he was even robbed at gun point and left TCU to rethink life.
In 2014, Fields transferred to Trinity Valley Community College and appeared in 12 games recording 51 tackles and 6.5 sacks. Fields then transferred to Louisville where in 2015 he appeared in 13 games and recorded 63 tackles, 22 tackles for a loss and 10.5 sacks. In 2016 once again slowed by injury played 11 games tallying 45 tackles, 9 tackles for a loss and 6 sacks, earning First Team All-ACC honors and garnering a ranking of 22 out of 188 OLB's.
Fields offers raw pass rush potential as a pro prospect who uses his 4.6 to 4.7 / 40 speed and flexible body control to beat offensive tackles. Fields would have been a first or second round NFL choice except for his injuries and off-field baggage that created doubt among NFL scouts. If Fields can show he is healthy and committed to play pro ball with the Eskimos he will explode on to the CFL scene. However, if he lacks the drive and desire the Esks will have to go with plan B of a National DE in Kwaku Boateng starting a year earlier without rookie Mark Mackie ready to backup or plan C developing either Darius Allen or Nick Usher.
Esks are betting on Fields being hungry and expelling the demons at least for one year.
#3 SLB Ahmad Dixon
26-years-old 6’ 0? 210-pounds Baylor
Unless he completely implodes Dixon should take over for Kenny Ladler at the Sam LB / Nickle DB as a starter for the Eskies. After all Dixon became the starter at Baylor's nickel "Bear" position (hybrid LB/S) that is very similar to the Eskies Sam LB / Nickle DB. While at Baylor he collected 288 tackles, 1 sack, 4 interceptions, 9 pass defenses and 2 forced fumbles. Dixon was named first-team All-American and first-team All-Big 12 in 2013 leading to a 7 out of 144 SS ranking and then to the Dallas Cowboys selecting him in the 7th round in 2014.
After being selected Dixon led the Cowboys in tackles with 11 and made several impact plays in the Cowboys’ first 3 preseason games. He reaped praise from head coach Jason Garrett in 2014. Garrett said, “For him to show up as much as he did and as well as he did … he was fast, he was decisive, he was physical, he knocked them back … He was a good example for a lot of the other guys as to what we’re looking for. For him to do that in Week 1 of his rookie year, it was impressive.? The shine came off the early showing after week 3 of the 2014 preseason as Dixon made a rookie mistake missing a team meeting and landing in Garrett’s dog house. He never recovered in Dallas and bounce from Dallas to Minnesota Vikings to the Chicago Bears and then the Miami Dolphins.
Dixon is a hard hitter who possesses 4.3 or 4.4 / 40 speed and closes fast to the ball. Secure, wrap tackler. Takes efficient angles and is a reliable last line of defense. Good backside chase pursuit. A perfect fit that can improve upon the Eskies biggest weakness last year, run stopping.
Dixon should be one of two new starters on the Esks defense.
#2 SB Juron Criner
28-years-old 6’ 3? 220-pounds Arizona
While attending the NCAA’s Arizona program, Criner caught 209 passes for 2,859 yards and 32 touchdowns. In 2010, Criner appeared in 13 games and caught 82 passes for 1,233 yards and 11 touchdowns. As impressive as that total was, Criner picked up his play in 2011, enjoying one of the best seasons ever by a Wildcat receiver. Criner earned First Team All Pac-10 accolades with 82 catches for 1,233 yards and 11 touchdowns. Proving his breakout junior campaign was no fluke, Criner posted similar numbers in 2011, registering 75 catches for 956 yards and another 11 TDs as a senior.
Criner was drafted in the fifth round of the 2012 NFL Draft by the Oakland Raiders and appeared in 12 games and caught 16 passes for 151 yards in his rookie season. Criner appeared in one game in the 2013 season before he was injured and spent the remainder of the year on the injured reserve and the following year spent time with the New York Giants as a member of their practice roster.
The scouting report on Criner that he is a lanky but athletic receiver who uses his jumping ability and large catch radius to his advantage when going up for jump balls. He runs crisp routes and is explosive off the line of scrimmage. Criner gets a clean release with ease by using quickness and power, and he understands how to stem his routes to keep cornerbacks off him. He is deceptively agile for such a tall player and is a reliable option in short areas. He can use his lateral agility to make defenders miss and get up the field for yards after the catch. He is a natural who works well against zone defenses and finds his openings and quickly work up field.
Criner comes to the Esks from the Redblacks where he was under utilized seeing only 48 targets in two years. Yet is good hands, 4.4 or 4.5 / 40 speed, size and leaping ability makes him a great fit to replace Brandon Zylstra at rover slotback. At 28-years-old it is now or never for Criner and the Esks are betting he will rise to the opportunity, but if he doesn’t they have hedged with Kenny Stafford.
Right now it’s a 50/50 bet on Criner or Stafford, but Criner is a Sunderland find and Stafford is not.
#1 DE Alex Bazzie
27-years-old 6’ 1? 228-pounds Marshall
Alex Bazzie was not a big-time star in the NCAA with Marshall ranking 120 out of 182 OLB's in 2014 and going undrafted. Yet Bazzie, while attending Marshall, recorded solid numbers 175 tackles, 23 for a loss, 4 sacks, 2 forced fumbles and 2 pass defenses. Going undrafted Bazzie attended the Cleveland Browns rookie camp after going unselected in the 2014 NFL Draft.
It was his ability to seize an opportunity with the B.C. Lions and his play in last four seasons playing 56 games, collecting 117 tackles, 33 sacks, 6 pass defenses and 2 forced fumbles. His CFL play caught the attention of the Indianapolis Colts, Carolina Panthers, and Arizona Cardinals.
The scouting report on Bazzie is that he’s really well-built, fast, highly competitive and tough player. He’s a straight-line athlete who can run and has been a good pass-rusher in the CFL. He’s got quickness off the ball, knows how to use his hands. He’s never going to be a real powerful end because he struggles to get down and rush with leverage but he has some unique skills and he competes. If he gets stopped with his first push, he keeps coming and coming.
Even as an under sized pass rusher Bazzie can play both edge setter and rush end making him flexible to play both defensive end spots. That allows the Esks to work with both Fields and Boateng as a quasi-starter as Bazzie bounces between the weak and strong side depending on the situation. This could allow the Eskies to play Bazzie on 80% of the snaps and both Fields and Boateng at 60% in three player rotation.
Bazzie benefits from the inside pass rush of Sewell and Bowers increasing his sack number substantially.
An honorable mention goes to Devante “Speedy? Noil who has 4.3 or 4.4 / 40 speed and plenty of kick returner ability coming out of Texas A&M and possesses a bigger frame at 5’ 11? 199 pounds. He could be the new punt / kick returner in Edmonton.