Redblacks’ Desjardins sticks with bread and butter in the draft

Prior to Thursday’s draft, I wondered if this was the year Ottawa Redblacks general manager Marcel Desjardins would finally switch his draft habits up.

Mainly because on paper, the Redblacks already had good depth at the positions in which they start nationals.

Spoiler alert; he did not.

For the sixth time in seven years the Redblacks used their first round selection on an offensive lineman and in later rounds, instead of taking some riskier and (perhaps more interesting choices), went with the safe and reliable option. Eschewing the wow for the guaranteed special teamer has been Desjardins’ modus operandi since day one. Fans may not like it but it’s been hard to argue with the results.

Here’s a closer look at the seven newest Redblacks.

First round (seventh overall): OL Alex Fontana, Kansas

Desjardins has repeatedly preached that there’s no such thing as too much national depth on the offensive line and his actions prove his belief in that philosophy.

Checking in at and six-foot-one and 298 pounds, the Toronto native started nine games for Kansas in 2018. Prior to playing for the Jayhawks, Fontana spent time with the University of Houston and New Mexico Military college where he split playing time between guard and centre.

Fontana projects to play centre in the CFL, which makes his selection by Ottawa a bit strange since they’ve already got an all-star at the position in Alex Mateas and value the ability to play multiple positions in their offensive linemen. Evan Johnson, Mark Korte, Jason Lauzon-Séguin and Nolan MacMillan are all former first rounders with that trait and who can (and have at various times) played guard, centre and tackle.

According to our Justin Dunk, Fontana will attend the Kansas City Chief’s rookie mini-camp before potentially signing his deal with the Redblacks. Given the depth Ottawa already has at the position, if the 24 year old takes some time to join the team, it won’t hurt. Whenever he does end up in Ottawa it will be to learn, develop and bide his time before seeing regular action.

Third round (27th overall): FB Gabriel Polan, Sherbrooke

With a thin group of linebackers in the draft, it was no surprise to see Ottawa use their second pick in the draft to select a player capable of making an immediate impact on special teams. The six-foot-two, 220 pound Polan joins a fullback group in the nation’s capital that includes two other former Vert et Or fullbacks in Anthony Gosselin and J.C. Beaulieu.

A powerful runner with soft hands and the ability to make defenders miss in space, Polan led the RSEQ in rushing in 2018 with 666 rushing yards on 122 carries, averaging 5.45 yards per rush.

Although Polan likely won’t have many opportunities to carry the ball during his rookie season (Beaulieu, Gosselin and Dakota Brush may slot in ahead of him on the depth chart), he will get plenty of action on special teams.

Fourth round (36th overall): DL Thomas Grant, Acadia

You can’t teach size and Grant has plenty of it. The six-foot-six, 290 pound Halifax native will cut his teeth on special teams and be a developmental project for Hall of Fame defensive line coach Leroy Blugh. In 27 games with the Axemen he notched seven sacks and provides depth behind Michael Klassen, Ettore Lattanzio, Nigel Romick and Kene Onyeka.

One thing to keep an eye on is that the Redblacks decide to convert him to the offensive line. Even if he has no previous experience, he’s got the frame for it.

Fifth round (45th overall): REC Wesley Lewis, Houston Baptist

At six-foot-six, 225 pounds, Lewis boasts a massive catch radius that will create mismatches against opposing secondaries, especially in the red zone. Known for his ability to high-point the football and win contested catches, Lewis fills a need in Ottawa’s receiving corps.

Depending on how many Canadians the Redblacks choose to start on the offensive line, Ottawa may need to rely on two receivers as weekly national starters. Brad Sinopoli is a lock but there will be reps up for grabs behind him, with Julian Feoli-Gudino, Nate Behar, Marco Dubois, Stephen Ugbah, Jacob Scarfone, Tyrone Pierre and now Lewis battling for the other spot.

Sixth round (54th overall): DL Chris Larsen, Manitoba

Tipping the scales at six-foot-five, 255 pounds, in nine games with the Bisons in 2018 he made 16 tackles, had a sack and recovered a fumble. Larsen will contribute on special teams as he develops into a rotational player on Ottawa’s defensive line.

Seventh round (63rd overall): DL Simon Abbott, Manitoba

Much like his university teammate drafted a round before him, Abbott’s CFL career will begin as a special teamer. In nine games in 2018, the six-foot-four, 240 pounder made 18 tackles and 1.5 sacks. Before joining the Bisons, Abbott played for the Alberta Golden Bears, where he led the team in sacks as a rookie in 2015.

Eighth round (72nd overall): DL Clement Lebreaux, Laval

The six-foot-four, 296 pounder mainly played nose tackle for the Rouge et Or. Unfortunately for him, after crushing the bench press at the Eastern Regional Combine with 33 reps (which would have been a national Combine best), Lebreaux suffered a torn ACL during the one-on-one portion of the event.

That injury will keep him off the field for the entirety of 2019, but as the Redblacks showed when they waited for Kene Onyeka to finish his engineering degree at Carleton last season, they don’t mind waiting if they believe in a player.

Santino Filoso is originally from Ottawa and has written about the Redblacks since 2013. He is the only CFL writer currently living in Brazil (as far as we know).