CFL Draft preview: Grey Cup win means Argonauts pick last

As the CFL draft approaches, the best way to get a sense of what any given team might do is to assess their current Canadian talent. With that in mind, in the days leading up to the May 3 talent grab, we’re doing a deep dive on the state of each squad’s Canuck components that examine their starters, backups, special teams depth while also taking a look at what they need.

Here’s the past pieces on the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, Ottawa Redblacks and Montreal Alouettes.

Up next: the Toronto Argonauts.

Where they’ll likely play their seven Canadian starters:

Offensive line (4): Centre Sean McEwen, guards Tyler Holmes and Cory Watman, tackle Chris VanZeyl
Receiver (1): Anthony Coombs
Defensive tackle (1): Cleyon Laing
Safety (1): Jermaine Gabriel

Backups and other possible starters: offensive lineman J’Michael Deane, Jamal Campbell and Chris Kolankowski, receivers Jimmy Ralph, Malcolm Williams, Llevi Noel and Alex Charette, fullback Declan Cross, defensive tackles Jeff Finley and Linden Gaydosh and safety Matt Black.

Analysis: general manager Jim Popp inherited a decent group of Canadians from former GM Jim Barker with assistant general manager Spencer Zimmerman and director of Canadian scouting Vince Magri (who are still with the club) playing key roles. The offensive line is solid with McEwen earning the nod as the CFL’s Most Outstanding Lineman last season at the tender age of 24 and Van Zeyl is a legit ratio breaker at tackle (although he’ll turn 35 in September.) They have decent depth, though an injury to Van Zeyl would be problematic.

Coombs, the 2014 third overall pick, is a versatile offensive player who could start at both receiver (ideally) and running back (if necessary) though the extension for American RB James Wilder Jr. is a pretty clear signal that the Argos want to go international there. Ralph started one game at receiver last season after going undrafted and put up the best numbers of any rookie receiver (26 catches for 278 yards) while Noel was second in the CFL in special teams tackles while posting limited offensive numbers (one catch.)

Laing was an all-star at defensive tackle despite playing in just 11 games and Finley and Gaydosh are capable backups who can start if need be. Gabriel is a very good player who has had injury issues the last three seasons (36 total games) while his back up, Grey Cup hero Matt Black, is 33.

Needs and possible draft targets: Barker dealt away the team’s 2017 first round pick in the disastrous Drew Willy deal and don’t pick this year until No. 9, the one downside of winning the Grey Cup (based on last season’s win totals, they’d be picking fifth.) They also dealt Canadian offensive lineman, Mason Woods, the No. 10 pick in 2017, to the Eskimos for the rights to quarterback James Franklin (who they signed to a contract extension.)

On the plus side, this draft is deep in spots where they play their Canadians: offensive line, receiver and defensive back. Grabbing one of the highly-touted linemen at No. 9 makes sense as does an athletic defensive back like a Godfrey Onyeka or a Jackson Bennett.

The final word: Popp’s recent draft record is spotty at best – just look at the mess Kavis Reed inherited in Montreal – and he seems to have a willingness to trade Canadian assets for American quarterbacks (in addition to trading Woods for Franklin he also coughed up a first rounder for Vernon Adams while in Montreal.) Still, the foundation of those great Montreal teams was a Canadian-heavy offensive line (and some guy named Calvillo) and he’s got some knowledgeable people around him.