Heading into this year’s draft, the Ottawa Redblacks lacked Canadian depth on both sides the trenches, their receiving corps, their defensive line and their secondary. GM Marcel Desjardins wasted no time plugging holes, using his first four picks to shore up most of those positional groups.
If drafting can be compared to ordering a box of donuts at Timmy’s, Desjardins showed us last night that even though he likes an assorted mix (selecting a receiver, a defensive lineman, a linebacker, a defensive back), he still prefers his favourite (taking three offensive linemen).
Here’s a closer look at each of the newest the Redblacks:
First round (4th overall): OL Mark Korte, University of Alberta
For the fourth straight year, the Redblacks used their first-round pick to snag an offensive lineman. The 6-foot-2, 293-pound Korte was an All-Canadian at tackle for the Golden Bears in 2017 and an integral part of an offensive line that paved the way for Hec Crighton winner (and current Redblack) Ed Ilnicki to rush for over 1,400 yards. As a result of his fine play, Korte was named Canada West’s Most Outstanding Lineman.
Widely acknowledged as the most athletic lineman in this year’s draft, Korte fits a familiar mould in the nation’s capital. Much like Nolan MacMillan and Jason Lauzon-Séguin, Korte can play both tackle and guard. With no need to rush him onto the field, Korte instantly provides depth behind Lauzon-Séguin (who likely starts the season at right tackle) as he develops.
Although Korte has pending mini-camp invites from the NFL’s New York Giants and Jets, given Ottawa’s glut of National talent on the offensive line, the team can afford to be patient.
Second round (13th overall): WR Marco Dubois, Laval
Some will say taking the 6-foot-4, 217-pound was a reach, but Desjardins has never hesitated in taking a guy he’s high on. Much of the same “reaching” criticism was levelled last time Ottawa took a receiver in the second round, and yet Jake Harty turned out just fine.
In fact, Dubois fills a void left by Harty’s departure. With the Redblacks likely to start both Brad Sinopoli and Julian Feoli-Guidino at receiver, depth was sorely needed.
Furthermore, he checks off a number of boxes. Big frame? Check. Strong? Check. Tested well at the Combine? Check. Soft hands and a massive arm span? Check. Special teams ace? Check. Bilingual? Check.
The last two boxes are especially interesting to the Redblacks. Arguably the best special teams player in the draft, the former Laval special teams captain will step in immediately and contribute on all of Bob Dyce’s units as he hones his craft as a wide receiver.
As for him being French, bilingualism always plays well in the Ottawa market, specifically among the significant French speaking portion of Redblacks’ season ticket holder base. Plus he’ll fit in seamlessly off the field, joining numerous other French Canadian players in Ottawa’s “French Mafia”.
Third round (22nd overall): OL Andrew Pickett, Guelph
Even if Desjardins had plans to shore up another position with this pick, there was simply no way to look past the fact that Pickett was still on the board. Many mock drafts had the 6-foot-4, 300-pounder, slotted as a top 15 pick.
A two-time OUA all-star, Pickett provides immediate depth to the interior of Ottawa’s offensive line. Moreover, he’s not just a short-term contingency plan. Having a solid prospect at guard locked into a three-year rookie deal could be crucial next off-season, with the contracts of both Nolan MacMillan and Jon Gott set to expire. If either (or both) walk in free agency, Pickett (or 2017 first round pick Evan Johnson) could step into a starting role.
Fourth round (29th pick) : DE Kene Onyeka, Carleton
With the pick acquired in the Odell Willis trade, the Redblacks selected their first Carleton prospect. At 6-foot-2, 244 pounds, Onyeka is an explosive pass rusher capable of hunting down opposing QBs.
The 2017 season was Onyeka’s best to date; he compiled 10.5 sacks (tied for most in the country), 46 tackles (32 solo, 14 assisted), four forced fumbles and two knockdowns. He was also named an OUA All-Star, an All-Canadian and was named the OUA’s Lineman of the Year.
Although widely acknowledged to be among the draft’s best pure pass rushers, Onyeka slipped due to a weak Combine performance and because some around the league question his commitment to football. An engineering student, Onyeka has made clear his desire to finish his degree. That said, perhaps this post-Combine quote demonstrates why Desjardins believes that the Brampton native will indeed suit up for the Redblacks.
“I feel like going into this a lot of the questions were, because of the whole engineering thing, whether I was serious — whether I really want to play football,” he said. “I hope that the way I played, the way I carried myself — even though my personality is a little nonchalant — I just hope coaches can see past that and understand that I care.”
Even if Onyeka does return to Carleton for his final year before joining the Redblacks, he should continue to develop as a football player. In addition to having a final year of eligibility for the Ravens, he’s also been invited to play at the Football Canada Cup in Calgary this July.
Fourth round (30th pick) : LB Mickael Cote, Concordia
A five year player in university, the 6-foot-3, 225 pound Cote will earn a roster spot based on his special teams play. At the Combine Cote flashed good speed but lacked strength, putting up the second fewest reps on the bench press (11) among linebackers.
Fifth round (No pick):
Traded to Calgary for QB Drew Tate last off-season. Tate has since been released.
Sixth round (No pick):
Forfeited when Ottawa selected WR Austin Reuland last July in the CFL Supplemental Draft. Reuland was released last week.
Seventh round (55th overall): DB Justin Howell, Carleton
Through 23 games with the Ravens, the 5-foot-10, 199 pound Howell has proven himself to be a reliable special teamer and cover man in the secondary. Howell tested well at the CFL combined, running a respectable 4.69 in the 40 yard dash and putting up 18 reps on the bench press.
A strong open field tackler (he had 30 tackles in 2017), R-Nation can expect to see Howell contribute immediately on special teams. Perhaps even more importantly, Howell addresses a massive need by providing depth behind Antoine Pruneau.
If Howell fails to impress in training camp, he could return to the Ravens for another season, as he still has one year of university eligibility remaining.
Eighth round (46th pick): OL Jacob Czaja, St. Francis Xavier
Tipping the scales at 6-foot-3, 289 pounds, Czaja has played 34 games for the X-Men since joining team. A physical blocker known for playing to the whistle, Czaja’s mean streak should serve him well at the next level. Czaja is a work in progress but provides the Redblacks with another big body capable of playing guard down the road.
Like Onyeka and Howell, Czaja has one year of USports eligibility remaining.