Canadian content: Saskatchewan Roughriders

Canadian content is an off-season series I’ve created to look at how each club deployed its starting nationals in 2019 and project how they may do so in 2020. This information can give us an idea of how teams will approach the draft in May.

We’ve already looked at the B.C. Lions, Calgary Stampeders, and Edmonton Eskimos. Today we will be covering the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

Photo Scott Grant / CFLPhotoArchive.com

Saskatchewan’s national players accounted for 129 starts in 2019, slightly more than the required 126. The team fielded eight Canadians when Justin McInnis started after K.D. Cannon was hurt in July and again when Micah Johnson missed a game late in the year due to injury.

Below is a breakdown of how the Roughriders fielded their national starters last season. Players who appear at multiple positions have been marked with an asterisk.

Wide receiver

Justin McInnis (1)
Mitchell Picton (1)

Slotback

Cory Watson (15)
Justin McInnis (2)

Guard

Dakoda Shepley (14)
Dariusz Bladek (8)
Phillip Blake (8)
Brendon LaBatte (6)

Centre

Dan Clark (18)

Defensive tackle

Makana Henry (11)
Zack Evans (7)
Charbel Dabire (1)

Weak-side linebacker

Cameron Judge (14)*
Micah Teitz (1)

Middle linebacker

Cameron Judge (3)*

Halfback

Elie Bouka (1)

Safety

Mike Edem (18)

The Riders were consistent with their national starting positions through most of 2019, deviating only in the case of injuries. That pattern is unlikely to change much in 2020 with almost all of the team’s Canadian starters back for another season.

Brendon LaBatte, Dan Clark, and Dakoda Shepley form a solid interior to the offensive line, though Dariusz Bladek and Philip Blake — now with the Toronto Argonauts — will be missed as reserves. Saskatchewan’s five backup offensive linemen combine for a total of just eight career starts, all of which come courtesy of former first overall draft pick Josiah St. John.

Photo Scott Grant/CFLPhotoArchive.com

Justin McInnis and Brayden Lenius-Dickey are intriguing prospects in the receiving corps. Saskatchewan was the league’s only team to start a national slotback last season — the now-retired Cory Watson — while playing an American at field-side wide receiver. The Riders would be prudent to flip those spots in 2020, starting a young Canadian (likely McInnis) at wideout while starting an extra American slotback.

Kienan LaFrance is a nice depth option at running back, while Patrick LaVoie and Albert Awachie are consistent role-players at fullback.

Zack Evans leads a strong group of defensive tackles that includes veteran Makana Henry and young prospects Charbel Dabire and Mathieu Breton. Dabire didn’t look out of place in one start in 2019, while Breton — a six-foot-seven kid out of Bishop’s — practices on both the offensive and defensive lines.

Photo Scott Grant / CFLPhotoArchive.com

Cameron Judge is one of the CFL’s best national defensive players and Micah Teitz is a solid depth player behind him. The club will miss Alexandré Gagne following his departure to the Montreal Alouettes as he made 43 special teams tackles over the past two seasons. Look for Saskatchewan to boost its depth at this position in the draft.

Mike Edem continues to play well at safety, while Elie Bouka remains a mystery. For a player who spent two years in the NFL — albeit through injury trouble — he has yet to produce much in 22 games with the Riders.

Summary

Saskatchewan overhauled its receiving corps in the 2019 CFL draft, selecting Justin McInnis and Brayden Lenius-Dickey with their first two selections. Both players could be starters in 2020, while Jake Harty — out the past two seasons with a torn ACL — might factor into the lineup if healthy.

Expect the Riders to use this year’s deep draft class at linebacker to enhance its depth behind Cameron Judge, while adding an offensive lineman and pass catcher in the mid-to-late rounds.

Receiver — Justin McInnis (1)
Guard — Brendon LaBatte, Dakoda Shepley (2)
Centre — Dan Clark (1)
Defensive tackle — Zack Evans (1)
Weak-side linebacker — Cameron Judge (1)
Safety — Mike Edem (1)

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