A new crop of Canadians are set to enter the league on Thursday and the Saskatchewan Roughriders are in solid shape ahead of this year’s CFL draft.
For a number of years, the Riders’ national depth had been questioned in this space. Following a 2013 season that saw the club often start more than the required seven Canadians — a year it also happened to win its most recent Grey Cup — Saskatchewan’s national depth slowly began to wither away.
When Chris Jones took over, the cupboards were pretty bare. Jones was forced to spend in free agency just to ensure his team had enough starters and a few appropriate backups. A situation like that isn’t sustainable. Canadian free agents are expensive; spending more on nationals via free agency hurts your ability to add depth throughout the roster.
Over time, the tide has turned. Today, the Riders’ national depth is looking pretty good.
It’s boring to say, but general manager Jeremy O’Day and his crew don’t have any glaring holes in their roster. They’re very much in a position to select the best player available with essentially all of their picks.
As 3DownNation’s John Hodge pointed out during his Canadian content series, the Riders have a strong group of possible starters. That group is led by weak-side linebacker Cameron Judge and the interior of their offensive line that features Dakoda Shepley, Dan Clark and Brendon LaBatte.
After you mix defensive tackles Zack Evans and Makana Henry, safety Mike Edem, receivers Justin McInnis and Brayden Lenius-Dickey, head coach Craig Dickenson has plenty of options for his starting Canadians in 2020.
One area where the Riders could use some help is along the offensive line after Dariuz Bladek and Phillip Blake departed via free agency. O’Day brought back former first-overall pick Josiah St. John in February, but it’s fair to question if he has what it takes to be a legitimate offensive lineman in the CFL.
Even if St. John performs above expectations, the team will need more than one dependable back-up. LaBatte played just six games in 2019 and Clark appeared in all 18 for the first time since 2013. More depth will be required.
Chris Gangarossa (Wagner) could be an intriguing option at seventh overall, though it’s possible the Riders will wait until their second pick at 30th overall to take a blocker. If so, the club will have to hope that one of Jakub Szott (McMaster), Coulter Woodmansey (Guelph), Mattland Riley (Saskatchewan) and Andrew Becker (Regina) remains available in the fourth round. Theren Churchill (Regina) and Jonathan Zamora (St. FX) could also be intriguing options in round five or six.
After that, some depth behind McInnis, Judge, and Edem would be welcome. Any and all picks that could help add some speed and youth to their special teams units would help, too. Some names to watch out for in the first round include linebacker/defensive back Adam Auclair (Laval), linebacker Jordan Williams (East Carolina), and linebacker Jack Cassar (Carleton).
All in all, the Riders are in a pretty good spot heading into this year’s draft. The club lacks picks — they don’t select in rounds two or three — but they don’t have any immediate needs, either.