For the first time in their existence, the Ottawa Redblacks don’t hold the 1st overall pick in the CFL draft. As a result of finishing as the Grey Cup runner up, GM Marcel Desjardins gets to make Ottawa’s first pick at the number seven slot.
Desjardins is in an interesting position, as the Redblacks have never boasted the type of Canadian talent they currently have on their roster. In past years, Ottawa lacked National depth at basically every key position and wound up starting players who frankly should’ve been used as strictly depth special teamers. This year, unlike previous ones, Desjardins doesn’t need to overhaul his National talent but rather bolster it.
Based off of how the team lined up in mini-camp, it seems that Ottawa intends to start four Canadian offensive linemen, with Nolan MacMillan moving out to right tackle (replacing Colin Kelly who signed with the NFL’s 49ers) and Matt Albright and Alex Mateas slotting in at guard. If that is indeed the case, the Redblacks would be left with J’Michael Deane, Aaron Wheaton and Simon Legare as backups. Though Ottawa managed to start the same five players every game last season, the reality is that if they roll with four Canadians on the offensive line, they need more depth.
Defensively, the departures of Keith Shologan and Justin Capicciotti have been well documented. Though players like Zack Evans, Kalonji Kashama, Connor Williams, Andrew Marshall, Ettore Lattanzio, Arnaud Gascon-Nadon have opportunities to step up, don’t be surprised to see Desjardins add another defensive lineman or two, perhaps someone like Rupert Butcher or Trent Corney.
Based on his drafting history, which includes nine offensive and defensive lineman over the past three seasons, it’s quite clear that Desjardins believes in building from the trenches out and that he’s not afraid to mix things up and swap picks.
Considering the players projected to be available at the seven spot, it’ll be interesting to see which direction Desjardins goes. Does he trade back, trying to amass more picks? Does he take a chance on a top prospect such as WR Tevaun Smith who may slide as a result of NFL interest? Does he just take the best player available or does he instead continue to build from the interior and go the safe route of taking an offensive lineman?
While I hate making CFL draft projections, simply because the draft itself is so volatile and unpredictable, if I was a betting man, I’d bank on the Redblacks selecting an offensive or defensive lineman with their first round pick.
If Ottawa doesn’t look to the trenches, they could add depth behind Antoine Pruneau and select a guy like LB Alex Singleton, who was nearly signed off of the Redblacks’ negotiation list before he realized his eligibility for the CFL draft.
Another player worth keeping an eye out for is DB Anthony Thompson, who could provide valuable depth behind off-season acquisition Ryan Hinds.
To sum up, while the Redblacks aren’t yet in a position to draft players with tangible NFL opportunities who might not contribute for a couple of seasons, Ottawa has enough depth to think outside the box and not just select the best lineman available.