After an off-season of departures, particularly on the offensive side of the ball, Thursday’s draft is one of the final opportunities for Ottawa Redblacks’ GM Marcel Desjardins to re-shape his roster before training camp.
Barring trades, the Redblacks are schedule to pick seventh, 27th, 36th, 45th, 54th, 63rd and 72nd. It’s worth noting that Ottawa is without its second round pick, which was flipped to Montreal at the deadline for a five game rental of Canadian hybrid LB/DB Chris Ackie.
In an attempt to discern what positions Desjardins may shore up in the draft, let’s first examine where the nationals on Ottawa’s roster are located.
Offensive line: Jacob Cjaza, Philippe Gagnon, Evan Johnson, Mark Korte, Jason Lauzon-Séguin, Nolan MacMillan, Alex Mateas, Andrew Pickett
If history has taught us anything, it’s that Desjardins loves building from the trenches out, specifically along the offensive line. Since 2013, Desjardins has used all but one of his first round picks on offensive linemen (the exception being DB Antoine Pruneau). It’s a strategy that’s paid off in spades, with MacMillan, Mateas, Johnson, Lauzon-Séguin and Korte all becoming more than serviceable starters.
But with the off-season addition of Gagnon plus the Redblacks’ existing depth, 2019 may be the year Desjardins doesn’t use his first rounder on the offensive line. There’s only so many starting jobs to go around and even if the Redblacks chose to start four Canadians on the offensive line, they already seem to have enough depth.
Fullbacks: Jean-Christophe Beaulieu, Anthony Gosselin, Dakota Brush
The average age of Ottawa’s fullbacks is 26 and aside from running an occasional swing route, they are rarely used in the offensive attack. Beaulieu, Gosselin and Brush will see the bulk of their playing time on special teams, so Desjardins is unlikely to add another fullback to his roster unless it’s in a special team role late in the draft.
Running Backs: Brendan Gillanders, Greg Morris
Here’s where things get interesting. With William Powell out of town and three relatively unproven American backs on the roster in Mossis Madu, Dalton Crossan and Devine Redding, perhaps the Redblacks will be tempted to go with a Canadian starter.
Although Gillanders hasn’t gotten many touches during his three seasons in the nation’s capital, he has proven to be highly productive when handed the ball, averaging 4.1 yards per carry and 8.3 yards per reception.
If the Redblacks are entertaining the idea of using Gillanders as their starting running back, Desjardins will need to add another back or two in the draft.
Receivers: Brad Sinopoli, Julian Feoli-Gudino, Nate Behar, Marco Dubois, Stephen Ugbah, Jacob Scarfone, Tyrone Pierre
Depending on how many Canadians the Redblacks chose to start on the offensive line, Ottawa may need to rely on two nationals as starters in their receiving corps. Sinopoli is a lock to be on the field and following a quiet season, Feoli-Gudino could build off a strong Grey Cup performance. Former Carleton star Behar should also push for playing time. Dubois was mostly used as a special teamer in 2018 but in his sophomore year could be a nice red zone target with his six-foot-four frame.
If Desjardins is intending to put two Canadian receivers towards the ratio he’ll certainly need more depth at the position.
Defensive line: Nigel Romick, Kene Onyeka, Ettore Lattanzio, Michael Klassen
Typically, the Canadians in Leroy Blugh’s unit are used as rotational players and special teamers. Last season Klassen started a handful of games and Carleton Ravens 2018 MVP Kene Onyeka should also make an immediate impact.
If the Redblacks do add a defensive lineman in the draft, it’ll be someone they bring along slowly, or perhaps someone with NFL opportunities. In the past, Desjardins has taken fliers on guys like Eli Ankou and Mehdi Abdesmad, both of whom have yet to play a down in the CFL.
Linebackers: Nicolas Boulay, Charles Brousseau, Mickael Cote, Kevin Francis
With no projected national starters at the linebacker position, any linebacker selected in the draft will have to cut their teeth on special teams.
Defensive backs: Antoine Pruneau, Justin Howell, Jean-Philippe Bolduc, Mandella Loggale
Pruneau will certainly start and with the emergence of 2018 seventh round pick Howell and fourth year pro Bolduc behind him, the Redblacks have depth should Pruneau miss any time to injury.
Much like the linebacker position, any defensive back drafted by Desjardins will likely come in the later rounds and fill a special teams role.
Given that the Redblacks are one of the few CFL teams without a clear starting quarterback and that neither of the current pivots are expected to challenge for that role are signed past this season, Ottawa could be a dark horse candidate to select Michael O’Connor.
Not only is O’Connor the most pro ready Canadian quarterback to enter the draft in years, he’s also got ties to the region, hailing from Orleans and having played high school football at Ashbury College. Adding the Vanier Cup winner to the fold would provide head coach Rick Campbell with an interesting option at the game’s most important position.
If the Redblacks were to draft O’Connor, he’d have the luxury of sitting behind Dominique Davis and Jonathan Jennings and being groomed into the starting role. On the other hand, if the hype surrounding him is real, he might even surprise at training camp if given a fair opportunity to challenge for the main job.