When it comes to the draft, the Ticats are anything but conventional.
Last year, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats traded up from the fifth pick to the third pick to select offensive lineman Brandon Revenberg, a player who was not listed on the Scouting Bureau’s top-20 prospects. Two years ago, they selected 6,459 linebackers — that’s an exaggeration, it was only four — and traded their top pick to Montreal for offensive lineman Ryan Bomben.
With the Ticats sitting with the fourth overall pick, no one knew what they were going to do. Would they select the player most fans wanted, McMaster receiver Danny Vandervoort? Maybe it would be Bethune-Cookman offensive lineman Dariusz Bladek? Or perhaps they would grab Idaho offensive lineman Mason Woods? They did none of the above and instead selected University of Calgary defensive lineman Connor McGough.
If you had McGough in your draft pool or mock draft, you are either the best CFL Draft handicapper alive or are lying (and my bet is on the latter).
But going against the grain is the Kent Austin way, and last year’s Revenberg pick is paying massive dividends just a year removed from the draft. No one expected him to go third overall, and now he is a starter having supplanted Peter Dyakowski as one of the team’s starting guards last season.
It is unlikely that the McGough pick will pay off as substantially and as quickly, but it was the beginning of a very interesting draft for the Ticats that could help clarify what their ratio situation could look like come June.
McGough was just one of three defensive linemen the Ticats drafted on Sunday. The team also picked St. Francis Xavier’s Kay Okafor in the third round (who Justin Dunk has said is a project, but could end up being the best defensive end in the entire draft class) and Fordham’s Justin Vaughn in the fifth round.
The Ticats now have the type of Canadian depth along the defensive line that could allow them to start two Canadians in their front four. With Ted Laurent already penned in as a starter, either Michael Atkinson or Justin Capicciotti could start if the team so chooses. Atkinson came on last year, and his play allowed the team to deal former No. 1 overall pick Linden Gaydosh to the Saskatchewan Roughriders in a deal that netted the Ticats Xavier Fulton and the aforementioned Capicciotti. Capicciotti was a two-year starter in Ottawa, amassing 23 sacks over those two seasons, before signing as a free agent in Saskatchewan prior to the 2016 season. Capicciotti had a down year last year, but he has proven he can be a viable starter in this league. The team also still has a quality backup in 2014 No. 9 overall pick Evan Gill.
The Ticats also lack a bona fide American defensive tackle, with Delano Johnson being the only American on the roster that has played tackle in the CFL before. The team did have a number of guys at mini-camp a couple weeks ago, and one of them could step up to replace the departed Drake Nevis (who signed with Winnipeg in free agency), but the team doesn’t need to start an American at defensive tackle, and part of the reason is because of what the team did during Sunday’s draft.
The selection of so many defensive lineman also lessens the team’s need to start a Canadian receiver. If the Ticats do go to an all-Canadian interior defensive line, they could fill out their other five Canadian starters along the offensive line (Mike Filer, Ryan Bomben and Brandon Revenberg) as well as in the secondary (Craig Butler and Courtney Stephen). This also lessens the blow of missing out on Vandervoort. The Ticats likely will still start Spencer Watt at wide receiver, but they don’t have to.
But the defensive line wasn’t the only spot for the Ticats picked up some much needed depth, as the team selected two offensive linemen in McGough’s Calgary teammate Braden Schram and Wilfrid Laurier’s Brett Golding. After the retirement of Mathieu Girard and the release of Peter Dyakowski, the Ticats needed some Canadian depth along the offensive line.
Enter Schram and Golding.
Neither of these players should be thought of as a starter heading into the 2017 season, but expect at least Schram to contribute at some point as one of the team’s reserve offensive lineman. Also, Schram took reps at every offensive line position at the combine, so his selection might also signal that the Ticats could go to a four-Canadian offensive line sometime in the future.
The Ticats also grabbed a couple of skill position players in receiver Jacob Scarfone of Guelph and Montreal running back Sean Thomas-Erlington. Scarfone missed all of last season with an injury, but had excellent numbers in 2015. He may not be Vandervoort or Carleton’s Nate Behar (who went No. 5 overall to Edmonton), but he could be a solid addition to a somewhat lacklustre Canadian receiving corps. Thomas-Erlington is likely a special teamer at the pro level. But you can never have enough solid, Canadian special teamers, especially since the Ticats lost a couple good ones in free agency in Beau Landry and Anthony Woodson (both signed with the Stampeders).
There was no home run pick this year, but the same would have been, and probably was, said about Hamilton’s draft haul last year and by the end of the season Brandon Revenberg was one of the top three or four first-year players in the CFL.
There may not be a star player among the group they selected — although people seem bullish on both Schram and Okafor — but the team now has options they didn’t have prior to Sunday’s draft, and acquired the thing they covet most: ratio flexibility.