As things currently stand, the defending Grey Cup champions are slated to pick 9th overall in Sunday night’s draft. Without a glaring need at any position, the Ottawa Redblacks will be able to be flexible in their drafting approach. Much like every draft in recent memory, this year’s edition isn’t a straightforward process. Due to uncertainly surrounding playing opportunities down south, many of the highest ranked prospects will not be among the first players chosen.
Here’s a look at some of the avenues Ottawa might consider exploring with their first round pick. Keep in mind that I’ve included players invited to mini-camps (on a try out basis) but excluded those who have already signed with an NFL team as a priority free agent.
Build offensive line depth
If history has proven anything, it’s that GM Marcel Desjardins has never seen a first round pick he couldn’t turn into an offensive linemen. In fact, since 2013, Desjardins has selected one in the first round of every draft. First it was Nolan MacMillan, then a trade swapping the 1st overall pick in 2014 brought perennial All-Star Jon Gott to the nation’s capital, while 2015’s pick was Ottawa native Alex Mateas, and last year’s first rounder turned into Laval’s Jason Lauzon-Séguin. Given that three of the four players mentioned have become anchors on the offensive line, Desjardins’ affinity for stocking up on big men up front has proven to be effective. The one thing that could hold the Redblacks back from selecting another offensive lineman is that despite losing J’Michael Deane to the Argos, Ottawa still boasts excellent Canadian depth (Matt Albright, Alex Mateas, Randy Beardy and Kadeem Adams).
All that being said, if one of Jean-Simon Roy, Jeremy Zver, Mason Woods or Braden Schram is on the board when the Redblacks go on the clock, don’t be surprised to see Desjardins scoop him up.
Boost the pass rush
With Cleyon Laing signing in Toronto and a distinct lack of game changing defensive lineman sitting on the free agent market, the only option left for teams looking for help along the defensive line is the draft. And there’s no denying that Ottawa’s pass rush could use a spark. In 2016 the Redblacks were a middle of the pack team in terms of bringing down the opposing QB. Given that defensive line coach Leroy Blugh is a Hall of Famer with a knack for getting the best out of his players, if the Redblacks were to select one of Kwaku Boateng, Randy Colling, Faith Ekakitie, Robert Woodson, Junior Luke or Justin Vaughn, they would quickly become an important rotational player.
Keep things local
Given that Carleton University is just a stone’s throw away from TD Place, there’s no doubt Ottawa’s management has had ample opportunity over the last four years to watch WR Nate Behar star at Carleton for the Ravens. In fact, Behar has a history of playing well at TD Place, as some of his best CIS performances took place on the turf between the North and South side stands in the annual Panda Game. While drafting Behar might not seem to address a huge need since the Redblacks already boast an impressive corps of starting receivers, it would provide valuable insurance in case of an injury to Brad Sinopoli. Plus, as has been demonstrated time and time again, a team can never have too many quality Canadians at skill positions.
Make a trade
Whether it was trading the 1st overall pick in 2014 for Jon Gott, or flipping a disgruntled Kevin Glenn for the 5th overall pick, then dealing that pick to Montreal to move up and select Antoine Pruneau, Desjardins has shown that he isn’t gun shy on draft day. If a team seeks to move back into the 1st round, Ottawa could be willing to move their pick for a starting-calibre CFL player.
On the flip side, perhaps Desjardins will move a roster player for another early round draft pick of his own. The Redblacks boast five capable starting receivers, and that was before they went out and signed Tori Gurley. With only a handful of spots to split between Greg Ellingson, Brad Sinopoli, Juron Criner, Kenny Shaw, Diontae Spencer, Jake Harty, Scott MacDonell and now Gurley, it’s fair to wonder if Desjardins would consider dangling one of them to a receiver needy team.