John Hodge’s 2019 CFL mock draft 1.0

The best time of the year is upon us — draft season.

I love the CFL draft. Watching young Canadian football players get the opportunity to live out their dreams is something I’ll never get tired of watching.

That said, I think it’s important to provide some context for this (and future) mock drafts of mine.

Some people write mock drafts with the goal of correctly predicting player selections. That’s awesome.

Other people write mock drafts as a means of assessing player talent. That’s awesome, too.

My mock drafts are a mixture of both — a combination of prediction and assessment intended to elicit fan engagement.

Because the CFL draft doesn’t get enough attention. It’s a super important event that sets teams up for success or failure for years to come.

I’m very happy to do my (small) part to ensure that these young players get the attention they deserve in the weeks leading up to this year’s combine (March 23-24), draft (May 2) and beyond.

So here we go.

Round One

1. Toronto Argonauts — OL Kyle Saxelid, UNLV

The first player in my mock draft isn’t currently featured on the scouting bureau top-20 rankings. Why? Because the Argos covet an offensive tackle and Saxelid is the only prospect that fits the bill.

A three-year starter at left tackle with the Rebels, Saxelid is a solid athlete with a great frame (6-foot-7, 295 pounds) who’s NFL draft year has already come and gone. This means that the Argos should be able to get the California native under contract right away.

2. Hamilton Tiger-Cats — REC Hergy Mayala, UConn

The Ticats use their top pick on an NCAA receiver for the second consecutive year. Hopefully they don’t botch the contract negotiations with this one, too.

Mayala led the Huskies in receptions in each of the past two seasons and would be a nice fit in Hamilton’s run-and-shoot offence.

3. Edmonton Eskimos — DL Mathieu Betts, Laval

The Eskimos are currently without a solid back-up for national edge rusher Kwaku Boateng. Enter Mathieu Betts, arguably the most talented player available in this year’s draft.

Already garnering NFL interest, Betts isn’t a lock to play in the CFL in 2019. That said, he’s one of the best Canadian pass rushing prospects to come around in a long time. He’d look great in green and gold.

4. Winnipeg Blue Bombers (via B.C. Lions) — OL Drew Desjarlais, Windsor

The Bombers lost grit and athleticism when Sukh Chungh left for B.C. in free agency. Chungh was more polished coming out of Calgary four years ago than Desjarlais is now but the nastiness and athleticism is there.

Desjarlais is a physical run blocker with a power-oriented game, making him a perfect fit in Winnipeg. With time the Lancer standout should develop the pass protection side of his game to become a well-rounded guard.

5. Winnipeg Blue Bombers — DL Connor Griffiths, UBC

Griffiths wreaked havoc in Canada West this past year, using his leverage and power to toss offensive linemen in run and pass situations. The UBC product is disruptive and plays with a mean streak that Winnipeg will covet.

The Bombers have talked about starting a national defensive tackle this season, recently signing Maxx Forde to compliment veteran Jake Thomas. Griffiths would be a great rotational addition to that group.

6. Saskatchewan Roughriders — OL Samuel Thomassin, Laval

Saskatchewan’s depth along the offensive line is thin. 2016 first overall pick Josiah St. John wasn’t retained in free agency, leaving a hole in an important depth spot.

Enter Thomassin, a product of USports football powerhouse Laval University. Thomassin will be able to contribute right away for a Rider team that needs bodies along the offensive line.

7. Ottawa Redblacks — OL Zach Wilkinson, Northern Colorado

The Redblacks grab a smooth offensive lineman in the first round of every draft, so this pick fits like a glove.

Wilkinson is an athletic big man who may yet draw NFL interest. He’s also seasoned, having started with the Bears for three seasons. This would be a strong selection for an Ottawa team that has become predictable in the first round of the CFL’s annual pick-fest (in a good way).

8. Calgary Stampeders — OL Alex Fontana, Kansas

The Stampeders have to address their offensive line with this selection after suffering a rash of retirements in recent years.

Fontana is the perfect fit for a team that’s started an American centre for the past two years. The Toronto native spent most of his college career at centre, making him a possible snapper of the future in Cowtown.

Round Two

9. Toronto Argonauts — REC Justin McInnis, Arkansas State

You can’t teach size and McInnis, a 6-foot-6 pass catcher, has that in spades.

Jim Popp has always coveted big receivers (S.J. Green, Jamel Richardson, etc.) and McInnis’ 748-yard senior season speaks for itself. Provided he signs right away, it shouldn’t be long before this Arkansas State product is ready to enter a CFL starting line-up.

10. Hamilton Tiger-Cats (via Montreal Alouettes) — OL Shane Richards, Oklahoma State

The scouting bureau’s second-ranked prospect falls into the second round where the Ticats would be lucky to pick the giant 6-foot-8, 325 pound guard.

Sixth-man Landon Rice wasn’t retained by Hamilton in free agency, opening the door for Richards to contribute as a rookie. You can never have too many offensive linemen, making this a solid pick for the Tabbies.

11. Hamilton Tiger-Cats — DB Jamie Harry, Ottawa

It appears the Ticats are planning to start a Canadian at both safety and strong-side linebacker this season, making Harry the perfect fit in Steeltown.

Harry has strong cover skills, a 6-foot-2 frame, and doesn’t shy away from contact. Reuniting him with former teammate and 2018 second-round pick Jackson Bennett is an added bonus.

12. Edmonton Eskimos — DB Malcolm Lee, UBC

This long-framed cover man isn’t currently on the CFL’s scouting bureau rankings but he will be after the combine later this month.

Capable of playing safety and cornerback, Lee is an outstanding athlete who will make an immediate impact on special teams. He’d make a great compliment for starting national field-side corner Arjen Colquhoun.

13. Montreal Alouettes (via B.C. Lions) — DL Robbie Smith, Laurier

Smith’s production dipped slightly in his senior season at Laurier but the 6-foot-2, 234-pound pass rusher is still a nice value pick at thirteenth overall.

Golden Hawk teammate Kwaku Boateng dropped to the fifth round of the 2017 draft and went on to earn a lucrative extension in Edmonton after developing into a starter. Teams slept on him — they shouldn’t sleep on Smith.

14. Winnipeg Blue Bombers — RB Brady Oliveira, North Dakota

Oliveira could have NFL options but the Bombers can afford to wait on the physical ball carrier if necessary.

Winnipeg is a perfect fit for the former Oak Park Raider as a potential heir apparent to Andrew Harris. Oliveira could bide his time by rotating at running back and contributing on special teams.

15. Saskatchewan Roughriders — DL Jonathan Kongbo, Tennessee

Kongbo is recovering from a torn ACL but the athleticism he displays at 6-foot-6 and 270 pounds is rare. I can’t see him falling too far.

When healthy, Kongbo could contribute at defensive end or defensive tackle as well as on special teams. He’s a physical freak with the NCAA Division I pedigree that many teams covet.

16. Ottawa Redblacks — REC Alexandre Savard, Laval

The NFL will likely come calling for this polished pass catcher but Ottawa would be the optimal place for this Laval product to play north of the border.

Savard is one of the 2019 draft class’s top-testing receivers despite playing primarily tight end. The 6-foot-6, 248 pounder will see his CFL stock climb or fall depending on the level of interest south of the border.

17. Calgary Stampeders — REC Brayden Dickey, New Mexico

With Savard off the board, the Stamps grab the draft’s next-best big-bodied pass catcher.

Dickey has tremendous size (6-foot-5, 230 pounds) and should be able to take reps at slotback while also contributing on special teams. Dickey’s father, Troy, played briefly for the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

Round Three

18. Toronto Argonauts — DL Nate Anderson, Missouri

An NCAA Division I product who can rush the passer at 6-foot-4 and 250 pounds. Won’t be a day-one starter but will be able to contribute on special teams right away.

19. Montreal Alouettes — REC Kurleigh Gittens Jr., Wilfrid Laurier

The two-time USports All-Canadian might be the quickest player in this year’s draft. His receiving numbers from Laurier are staggering — 200 receptions for 2,656 yards in 31 games — as are his four return touchdowns.

20. Hamilton Tiger-Cats — RB Maleek Irons, Ohio

Irons is the best player on the board for a Ticat team with no immediate positional needs. The Chilliwack native recorded more than 2,000 yards from scrimmage in 28 games with the Bobcats.

21. Toronto Argonauts (via Edmonton Eskimos) — DL Thomas Grant, Acadia

An underrated big man who will test well for his size at the national combine. Would provide Toronto with another depth option behind standout nose tackle Cleyon Laing.

22. Hamilton Tiger-Cats (via B.C. Lions) — FB Nikola Kalinic, York

No mock draft is complete without a fullback and Kalinic is the best one in this year’s class. He can block, run, and catch. Speed is a concern but Kalinic, weighing 256 pounds at last year’s East-West Bowl, can afford to shed some weight.

23. Winnipeg Blue Bombers — LB Fraser Sopik, Western

Sopik has 107.5 tackles in 26 games at linebacker with the Mustangs but projects as a CFL safety at 5-foot-11 and 198 pounds. Could be the best special teams tackler available in this year’s draft.

24. B.C. Lions (via Montreal Alouettes & Saskatchewan Roughriders) — LB Noah Robinson, Missouri

Massachusetts native with great size (6-foot-4, 225 pounds) and tremendous athleticism. Robinson would provide B.C. with solid depth behind starting linebacker Jordan Herdman.

25. Ottawa Redblacks — DL Derek Dufault, Manitoba

The Bison rush end will be one of the top testers at this year’s western regional combine and is a good candidate to earn an invite to the national event. An underrated prospect.

26. Calgary Stampeders — OL Jesse Gibbon, Waterloo

The Stamps grab their second offensive lineman of the day in this second-team All-Canadian. Gibbon spent the 2019 season protecting Tre Ford’s blindside but he should slot in to guard at the CFL level.

The best of the rest

These players weren’t listed above but could easily be considered for my mock draft 2.0 depending on how the combine/pro day circuit plays out. They are listed alphabetically by position.

QB Michael O’Connor, UBC; RB Jamel Lyles, Manitoba; FB Mario Villamizar, Laurier; REC Colton Hunchak, York; REC Kaion Julien-Grant, St. FX; REC Chris Osei-Kusi, Queen’s; OL Maurice Simba, Concordia; OL Eric Starczala, Guelph; OL Zack Williams, Manitoba; DL Sheriden Lawley, UBC; DL Evan Machibroda, Saskatchewan; DL Kyle Wilson, SFU; LB Philippe Dion, Western; DB Matthew Boateng, Fresno State; DB Shamar Busby, SE Louisiana; DB Ejaz Causer, Queen’s.

John Hodge is a Canadian football reporter based in Winnipeg.