With seven picks in the draft – and none until the middle of the third round – the B.C. Lions will be hoping to unearth a handful of mid-to-late-round gems.
On paper, Lions’ general manager Ed Hervey has already won the off-season. He’s rebuilt his coaching staff on the fly, added arguably the best quarterback in the league in Mike Reilly, anchored his offensive line around national Sukh Chungh, gambled on a game-changing running back in John White, bolstered his receiving corps with two all-star calibre players in Lemar Durant and Duron Carter and shored up his secondary with Aaron Grymes.
Yet for all those sexy big name additions, those are mostly starters and won’t play a lot of special teams. That’s significant as a third of the Canadian game consists of covering and returning kicks. Enter the players Hervey will draft on Thursday night. Whoever the Lions select with the 26th, 33rd, 42nd, 49th, 51st and 60th picks will cut their teeth by plying their trade on cover and return units.
But the Lions won’t be drafting players just for their ability to play special teams, they’ll also be looking to build up national depth.
In last year’s season-ending playoff loss in the East Semi-Final, the Lions met the ratio by starting three nationals on the offensive line, two in their receiving corps, one at linebacker and one in the secondary.
After sorting through this off-season’s massive turnover, a picture starts to emerge of how the Lions may meet the ratio in 2019.
Sukh Chungh, Hunter Steward and Peter Godber appear to be locks to start on the offensive line with David Foucault and Andrew Peirson adding depth and potential to be in the lineup. 2018 draftee David Knevel might have a chance to play right tackle. Pencil in Shaq Johnson and Lemar Durant at the receiver position and potentially Jordan Herdman-Reed at linebacker. That leaves some variations open.
Currently, the Lions have four Canadians among their defensive linemen (Junior Luke, Julien Laurent, Rashari Henry, Edward Godin), four in their linebacking corps (Herdman-Reed, Terrell Davis, Frederic Chagnon, Mitch Barnett) and four in the secondary (Josh Woodman, Dominique Termansen, Nate Hamlin, Isaiah Guzylak-Messam). From that group, there could be players counted upon to start week in and week out based on how the ratio plays out for the Lions.
Like every good CFL general manager, Hervey knows the premium placed on Canadian offensive linemen. Assuming he’ll start by addressing that position is a safe guess. With two Canadian receivers set to be on the field every play, B.C. will also draft at least one receiver. After that, all bets are off.
If defensive lineman Luke is viewed as a reliable starter, the Lions will need more depth than just Laurent behind him. In 2018, defensive back Anthony Thompson was a regular starter at safety but is currently a free agent. Guzylak-Messam could potentially replace him as he builds off a rookie season that saw him go from the practice squad to playing meaningful reps in the playoffs. Despite a lack of early draft selections, Hervey should still find plenty of depth options for his secondary in the later rounds.
One final thing to keep in mind is that with the release of Mike Benson on May 1, the only long snapper currently on the roster is Tanner Doll. It wouldn’t be a shock to see the Lions give him some training camp competition by adding another in the draft.