Argos zeroing in on offensive lineman with first overall pick in CFL draft

The Toronto Argonauts are trying to patch the holes in the ship that sunk the boatmen to the bottom of the CFL standings last season.

The last place finish (4-14) had one positive: selecting first in the 2019 CFL draft. It wasn’t the Argos’ Canadian talent that caused the poor record in 2018 – the early-season injury to Ricky Ray and rookie CFL defensive coordinator Mike Archer were two of the main factors.

Toronto wants to get younger on the offensive line after using just one pick on the position in the past two drafts under general manager Jim Popp. 2017 second rounder Mason Woods was traded to Edmonton in the deal for quarterback James Franklin and 2018 first-round pick Ryan Hunter spent the year developing on the Kansas City Chiefs practice roster.

That’s why the Argos brought in three offensive line prospects from the 2019 class for visits after the CFL combine — Waterloo’s Jesse Gibbon, Oklahoma State’s Shane Richards and Northern Colorado’s Zach Wilkinson.

Wilkinson has the same agent – Zeke Sandu – as current Argos running back James Wilder Jr. and slotback Anthony Coombs. The most famous client Sandu has on his Elite Athlete Management roster: Odell Beckham Jr. That familiarity could help broker a deal with Popp and potentially avoid a holdout similar to the one 2018 first overall selection Mark Chapman and the Hamilton Ticats went through.

A Vancouver native, Wilkinson played for the University of Colorado, starting 11 games at right guard during his senior season. He played two games in 2017 before a shoulder injury led to a medical redshirt for the rest of the season. Wilkinson is big, athletic and brings an NCAA pedigree to the table.

The agent for Richards, Johnathon Hardaway, can play hardball for his clients. Popp experienced it first-hand during the Chris Ackie training camp holdout while in Montreal. Sign-ability is a factor when choosing between highly graded prospects.

Richards used his redshirt year in 2017 to fine-tune his body for the final season of NCAA eligibility in 2018. He started two games at right guard and three at right tackle for the Cowboys last season – including his first career start in the season-opener against Missouri State.

Back to back years the two top choices Popp has made during his time in Toronto were both NCAA offensive linemen, Mason Woods (Idaho) second round, 10th overall in 2017 and Ryan Hunter (Bowling Green) first round, ninth overall. Expect the trend to continue.

More than just No. 1

After the first pick, Toronto has two selections in the second round — thanks to the added territorial choice — two in the third, one in the fourth, one in the fifth, one in the sixth and two in the seventh round for a total of 10.

The Argos put a high value on players being able to contribute on special teams which is why some picks might surprise the average draft follower. But there’s a reason behind the choices — Toronto likes players who can contribute right away and develop at their respective position for the future.

Nelkas Kwemo is a prime example. The Queen’s University product was selected in the second round last year and many felt it was a reach, including rival scouts, but the Argos felt Kwemo could be a special teams force and he was, recording 15 special teams tackles.

Canadian starters

At the onset of the 2018 season, Toronto went with three nationals on the offensive line, two receivers, one defensive lineman and one safety for seven starting spots. The Canadian positions were the same in the final game of the regular season. At times the Argos did play with four Canadian offensive linemen and used an American safety or started another international receiver.

Adding more offensive line talent and an impact receiver should be high on Toronto’s priority list. Nabbing a pass catcher to develop should be on the list. The Argos also lost a lot of veteran savvy when DB Matt Black retired, so look for the club to add a defensive back who can also contribute on special teams. A stout defensive lineman to rotate with Cleyon Laing and Jeff Finley on the interior would also make sense.

The free agent signing of running back Mercer Timmis could potentially signal a ratio shift in Toronto’s future. Maleek Irons is an absolute stud who many teams feel has starting potential, while Brady Oliveira or Jamel Lyles could also prove options in the backfield.

Must Read