Riders play it safe but also take some risks during 2016 CFL draft

When push came to shove, Roughriders’ general manager Chris Jones didn’t get the deal he wanted in order to move the first overall pick in the 2016 CFL Draft. That’s when he made the less sexy pick going with offensive lineman Josiah St. John out of the University of Oklahoma.

That pick, along with the addition of Alex McKay (Manitoba) in the sixth round, provides some much needed depth along the offensive line for the Green and White. Once signed, the team will have eight Canadian offensive linemen at training camp in Saskatoon. What’s really important about these picks is that St. John could one day slide out to a tackle spot, with McKay acting as his backup, allowing the team to start four Canadian offensive linemen, which is always a huge bonus. Saskatchewan also boasts a number of American offensive linemen, meaning there’s no need to rush either player out to the wings yet if they’re not ready. Instead, they could work for a year or two behind veterans such as Brendon LaBatte and Chris Best.

The other big story out of this draft for the Riders was their potential additions on defence, key word being potential. Heading into the selection process, adding depth on defence was key for the Riders at just about any position. Three defensive players were added on Tuesday night, however, two of them may not suit up for the team this season or possibly ever. Defensive back Elie Bouka (Calgary) was taken in the third round but he recently signed with the Arizona Cardinals of the NFL. Defensive lineman and potential first overall pick, David Onyemata (Manitoba) was chosen in the fourth. Onyemata could be the steal of the draft if he ever makes his way to Riderville after being chosen in the fourth round of the NFL draft by the New Orleans Saints. At this point, it’s a long shot the defensive lineman heads north in the next few years. It’s a big risk for Jones and vice president John Murphy to select a couple of players who may never suit up for a team that badly needs Canadians. That being said, it could pay off in spades down the road. Should Bouka and more importantly Oneymata return to Canada, the Riders Canadian depth at the time will instantly improve. The Riders also picked linebacker Alex Ogbongbemiga (Calgary Colts) with the 36th overall selection in the fifth round.

The surprise pick of the draft for the Riders would have to be taking UBC kicker/punter Quinn Van Gylswyk in the third round. It’s clear the team has chosen to make both the kicker and punter positions Canadian on the depth chart. Van Gylswyk will provide competition for both place kicker Tyler Crapigna and punter Josh Bartel. Odds are he will give Bartel more of a run for his money than Crapigna after the team gave up assets for the young kicker last season.

Many thought the Riders would make receiver a priority position in this draft but they used up only one pick on the position taking Joshua Stanford out of Kansas in the newly formed eighth round. At the moment, the team’s Canadian depth at receiver can get by with Rob Bagg, Nic Demski, Shamawd Chambers and Alex Carroll, among others on the roster.

Overall, the Riders made a few safe and smart picks but also took a couple of risks. Because of that, how Jones’ first draft in charge of the franchise went may not be known for a few years but it appears that he isn’t afraid to roll the dice once some other needs have been filled.

Joel Gasson is a Regina-based sports writer, broadcaster and football fanatic. He is also a beer aficionado.