In his time with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, general manager Kent Austin has never drafted an offensive lineman.
To be fair, he’s only been at the helm for two seasons but he’s continued a trend that has seen the team draft only three offensive linemen in the last five years — tied with Winnipeg for the fewest number in the league. By contrast, the Calgary Stampeders — a perennial contender with excellent Canadian depth — have taken 12 in that same span.
But this might be the year for Austin and the Ticats to get back into the hog business.
The 2015 version of the CFL Draft goes Tuesday and it features a number of highly-touted offensive linemen. Of the top-20 prospects ranked by the league’s own scouting bureau, six play up front on offence — a position that has typically been as bastion of Canadian players for teams across the league.
The Ticats could certainly use some depth along the line: they started just two Canadians for much of last season. Most teams start at least three offensive linemen among their seven National starters while some play four or even five. It’s traditionally been easier to find homegrown offensive linemen than skill players like receiver Andy Fantuz.
Hamilton will likely try and start three this season as well, with centre Mike Filer lining up between guard 31-year-old Peter Dyakowski (finally all the way back from injury) and either veteran Tim O’Neill, who is 35, or 27-year-old Landon Rice at the other guard spot. Of those four, only Dyakowski was a Ticat draft pick — and that was eight years ago.
Behind them, the team has 27-year-old Joel Reinders and 25-year-old Carson Rockhill, who was the last offensive lineman selected by the Ticats when he was drafted by the club in 2012 (he was traded to Edmonton before being re-acquired.) Whether either one of these players will develop into solid starters remains an open question.
The other two offensive linemen drafted by the Ticats were both selected in 2011. Moe Petrus went 10th overall but, after a tryout with the NFL’s Tampa Bay Bucaneers, elected to retire from football. Pascal Baillargeon was a third round pick, released after two unremarkable seasons, and is now with Montreal.
So the Ticats could use an infusion of both youth along the line. The team has moved a couple of defensive lineman to offence, including 2014 draft pick Matthieu Girard, but those conversions are notoriously risky: adding one or two more big bodies would certainly help.
That said, Hamilton doesn’t draft until No. 8 and, barring a trade up, will be forced to wait-and-see. Hamilton has enough Canadian depth on the roster and along the line that they can afford to take the best player available if there isn’t a lineman left that has a bunch of stars next to his name on their draft board.
Where else might they look? Well, there are a couple of highly-touted receivers that could help provide some depth behind Fantuz (though this week’s trade for Seydou Junior Haidara helped address that.) A defensive back could also make some sense given that Hamilton starts both Craig Butler and Courtney Stephen in the secondary.
Austin has consistently said the team’s strategy is take to the next player available, regardless of position, a philosophy which has netted them finds like linebacker Frederic Plesius and a bunch of highly-touted defensive tackles who just happened to fall to the Cats. The team has consistently taken the long view, avoiding panic picks to fill outwardly perceived holes.
But while there are quality offensive lineman in this draft, there aren’t that many of them: the Ticats may well need to use that first round pick if they want to nab one. It may be time to break the streak and get back to taking some big boys who can push the pile.
Three players who make sense for the Ticats:
Karl Lavoie, OL, Laval
While the Ticats may be interested in some of the highly-touted offensive line prospects like Calgary’s Sukh Chung and Sean McEwen, the team may find a number of them already gone by the time they select at No. 8. Lavoie isn’t ranked in the top-20 by CFL scouting and didn’t attend the combine due to injury but he’s 6-foot-4, 285 pounds and has played three positions at a powerhouse program.
Nic Demski, WR, Manitoba and Lemar Durant, SFU
With Fantuz entering the last year of his monster contract, the Ticats may need to develop the next Canadian pass catcher. Demski is the more polished of the two but Durant likely has the higher ceiling. At 6-foot-1, 215 (Demski) and 6-foot-2, 231 (Durant) both have the size to play special teams while they develop.
Tevaughn Campbell, DB, Regina
Campbell set a new record in the 40-yard dash at CFL combine in March (4.35 seconds) and could provide depth at corner behind Courtney Stephen (who’s also a free agent at year’s end.) At 6-feet, Campbell has decent size to go with that speed, though being able to run with receivers could be even more valuable with the new pass interference rules.