Shrine Sleeper: Canadian Football Star Might Steal The Show

Photo: Crédit: Ben Pelosse/ Le Journal de Montreal

One of my favorite things about the NFL Draft are the long-shots. The day three picks from small schools you spend hours scouting, digging for tape, settling for highlight reels, watching at all-star games and practices, only to watch most of them flame out quickly at the next level.

That's simply the reality of being an NFL Draft prospect at any level - most of them don't make it. Even fewer at the small school level do, and it's almost unheard of outside of the country. But that's part of what makes the draft process fun; for every 100 players who can't cut it, you get a Tarik Cohen or a London Fletcher who surpass even the wildest of expectations.

A few years ago, one of those players for me was Canadian defensive tackle David Onyemata, who I watched terrorize that level of competition at Manitoba with dominant hand usage and an impressive pass rush plan. He's far from a star at the NFL level, but his role and production have grown in New Orleans over the past three years, culminating with a career-high 4.5 sacks this season.

Once the no. 1 player on the CFL Scouting Bureau's rankings for the 2019 CFL Draft, Onyemata has now passed that mantle to Laval's Mathieu Betts, a 6-foot-3, 250-pound defensive end who has torn up the competition for four straight years in RSEQ. From the time he registered 12 sacks as a rookie at Laval, Betts has been among the best players in the league, piling up production on his way to becoming the first player in history to claim the J.P. Metras Trophy (outstanding down lineman in U Sports) three times.

But enough about awards most of you have never heard of, let's see what the tape tell us about Betts, who has accepted an invitation to play in the East-West Shrine Game next week.

My favorite thing about him? His arsenal is loaded with legit pass rush moves, and he executes them with excellent attention to detail. Betts' hands and feet work in easy unison together, and he knows how to create the angle to the pocket he wants off the edge.

Love this pass rush rep, as Betts works from a tight 5-technique and creates space for himself with a jab step that slows the pass set and gives him a softer angle to the quarterback. Check out the hands too...surgical work, cross-chopping the outside arm and swimming to avoid getting caught up on contact on his way to delivering a massive blow to the opposing quarterback. Everything is technically clean and executed at top speed.

The spin is Betts' go-to move, but it isn't just for sex appeal. He's legitimately good at it. Watch him sell the speed rush by charging upfield with relatively low pads, then planting a foot in the ground to hit the spin at max speed, just when the tackle over-extends on that second kick-slide. Goodnight.

Love the attention to detail and mental processing here, identifying the four-man slide has left him in a 1v1 situation with the offensive tackle on an island. Sell speed up the arc, hit the inside counter at full speed when the opponent tries to strike. Watch Betts' left hand find the tackle's elbow and shove it aside to clear the path to the pocket. Textbook stuff.

How about the speed rush? Admittedly, I'm not sure if his tools will translate to success in this area at the next level, but Betts' has the skill to give himself more favorable angles despite not being the fastest or most flexible. Dips the shoulder here and keeps his inside arm active to trim the edge. Nice flatten too, showing a little ankle flexibility.

A lot of the time you'll get dominant players at lower levels of football simply because they can out-athlete people. I think Betts is actually a fairly comparable athlete to most of the players he competes with, but he's far more skilled. Also, his effort is absolutely fanatical, allowing him to simply out-hustle his opponents at every turn.

The man's motor truly never stops running. When I mentioned I was studying him on Twitter, several Canadian coaches chimed in to let me know he is all-around off-the-charts as a player/worker up there.

That's a great sign for his pre-draft process, as Betts stands a good chance of impressing against the somewhat technically challenged competition he'll face in St. Pete, and we know he won't back down from anyone. His NFL prognosis is a lot more difficult to predict however, as he'll need more than just a few moves and a great motor to make an impact at that level.

Even at the Canadian level, Betts isn't much of a stack-and-shed guy in the run game, provided his opponent is at least competent anyway. He's a gap-shoot type of player who thrived on quickness and scheme to make plays against the run more than point-of-attack dominance. Betts' odd frame, shorter arms and lack of overall bulk could make him an ill-fit for an every down role in the NFL.

That means he'll need to make it as a pass rusher first and foremost, hopefully earning time as a situational player who can also win as an inside rusher (he did often at Laval). To project favorably there, athletic testing will be important for Betts. A Combine invite likely isn't guaranteed at this point, but if he can dominate the Shrine Game and potentially get called up to the Senior Bowl, he'll have officially put himself on the NFL's radar.

I won't put Betts on Onyemata's level for me until I see his athletic testing numbers, but I think he's skilled enough on tape to be one of the big winners of Shrine Week. In a weak pass rush group in St. Pete, expect to hear Betts' name early and often, potentially emerging as one of the more fun day three storylines of the pre-draft process.

Featured Image selected from TVA Sports.

Written By:

Jon Ledyard

Chief Operating Officer

COO & Senior NFL Draft Analyst for The Draft Network. Co-host of the Locked on NFL Draft podcast. Passion for all things Pittsburgh.