After seven CFL drafts, R-Nation has a pretty good idea of how general manager Marcel Desjardins likes to makes his selections. He has a formula that he likes to stick to and, for the most part, it’s worked well.
As anyone in Ottawa can tell you, the first round is reserved exclusively for offensive linemen unless your name happens to be Antoine Pruneau. Normally, rounds two through eight are spent eschewing the intriguing prospect in favour of the guaranteed special teams contributor. Although Desjardins has taken a few fliers on players with NFL options — defensive linemen Mehdi Abdesmad and Eli Ankou — those moves never paid off.
But with the arrival of head coach Paul LaPolice, could we finally see a new draft approach in the nation’s capital?
LaPolice has never hesitated to lean on Canadian starters at skill positions. In Winnipeg, he relied heavily on running back Andrew Harris and receivers Nic Demski and Drew Wolitarsky. In Saskatchewan, LaPolice utilized Rob Bagg, Jason Clermont, Andy Fantuz and Chris Getzalf in his aerial attack. Even back in 2006 with Toronto — with NFL star Ricky Williams on his roster — LaPolice still found ways to get the ball in the hands of guys like Jeff Johnson and Andre Talbot.
The point is that, with LaPolice in the fold, the Redblacks could change their drafting style this year.
Ottawa seems likely to manage their ratio by starting at least four Canadians on the offensive line — some combination of Mark Korte, Evan Johnson, Alex Mateas, Nolan MacMillan, Jason Lauzon-Séguin and Alex Fontana — along with receiver Brad Sinopoli, defensive lineman Cleyon Laing and safety Antoine Pruneau.
But with Anthony Coombs, Marco Dubois and Wesley Lewis on the roster, LaPolice has the flexibility to start another Canadian in his receiving corps should he choose to do so. If so, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Ottawa bolster their Canadian receiving corps content.
Defensive line is one area that Desjardins likely won’t be looking to address in the draft given that there’s already plenty of depth behind Laing. Ettore Lattanzio, Thomas Grant, and Clement Lebreux can rotate on the interior, while Nigel Romick, Samson Abbott, and Chris Larsen can rotate at defensive end while contributing on special teams.
Pruneau is among the best in the league at his position, but as last season’s injuries demonstrated, his backups (Justin Howell and Jean-Philippe Bolduc) aren’t capable of matching his level of production. Given the talent available at defensive back in this draft — especially in the early rounds with Quebecois players like Marc-Antoine Dequoy and Adam Auclair available — Desjardins might prioritize adding another impact Canadian to his secondary.
Although the Redblacks won’t start a Canadian at linebacker, they would be wise to add depth behind Christophe Mulumba-Tshimanga and Mickael Cote. Special teams have been a strength under coordinator Bob Dyce, so putting quality players at his disposal is never a bad idea.
Finally, however unlikely it seems to be, there’s always the possibility of adding a Canadian quarterback. Some in R-Nation were ticked off to see Ottawa native Michael O’Connor taken by the Argos in the third round of last year’s draft.
Adding Nathan Rourke, who many consider to be more pro-ready than O’Connor, would be a savvy move. Not only would it play well with the fan base, but throwing Rourke into the mix behind Nick Arbuckle and Dominique Davis would give LaPolice an intriguing project at the game’s most important position.
As things currently stand, the Redblacks are slated to pick at: six, as a result of Arbuckle trade; 10; 19, territorial selection; 29; 38; 47; 56; and 65.
For just the second time since 1984, the draft will feature territorial picks. These are selections given to the two worst teams in the league (currently Ottawa and Toronto). In effect, it’s an extra pick but there are strings attached; territorial picks must be used to select a player born in that team’s exclusive “territory.”
In the Redblacks’ case, that means whoever they select at pick 19 must be from “That portion of the Province of Quebec situated within 120 kilometres of the Peace Tower; the Cities of Kingston, Belleville, Quinte West, Brockville, Pembroke and Ottawa; the Towns of Smith Falls, Gananoque and Prescott; the United Counties of Prescott and Russell; the Counties of Frontenac, Hastings, Lanark, Leeds and Grenville, Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry, Lennox and Addington, Northumberland, Prince Edward, and Renfrew, all in the Province of Ontario.”
Some players who hail from the territory described above include Laval linebacker Daniel Basambombo, William & Mary offensive/defensive lineman Graydon Campbell, and Dallas Cowboys’ third-round pick Neville Gallimore.