There has never been a CFL draft like this one.
Isolated, without combine numbers, and with the certainty of a season hanging in the balance, a draft that is historically volatile is now completely unpredictable. If there was ever a year for a CFL team to draft another dead guy, this would be it.
Amidst this uncertainty, the B.C. Lions are a team that is desperately trying to get better. General manager Ed Hervey has managed the turn-around off-season deftly thus far. He made the solid choice in hiring Rick Campbell and assembled a well-structured staff.
Free agency saw him vastly improve the defensive line, upgrade at American receiver, sign a stud right tackle and repatriate star strong-side linebacker Kenny Ladler. Now, he has to build upon what is a solid base of Canadian talent on the Lions’ roster.
To do that, Hervey, Neil McEvoy and CFL draft coordinator Geroy Simon will have to maximize a limited amount of draft capital. The Leos have seven picks in the eight-round draft and just two of them come in the often talked about top 20 selections. Only one more selection, number 23, comes in the top 40.
The Lions have had success in recent years with later round drafting but its no secret that the team hasn’t drafted a starter in the first round since Hunter Steward in 2013, though 2018 pick Peter Godber could still break that trend after suffering with a freak injury during his first two seasons.
Given their dismal record a year ago, the Lions have the potential to draft a blue chip prospect at third overall. It’s likely that the Lions go offensive line with this pick for obvious reasons. No position is more coveted in the Canadian draft than the o-line and the team struggled visibly there last year.
With Americans entrenched at both tackle spots, three nationals will start along the interior next season. That looks to be the imposing Sukh Chungh, who disappointed in his first season as a Lion, and the veteran Steward at guard with the hopefully-recovered Godber at centre. Project tackles David Knevel and Brett Boyko are the key depth pieces, with third-year undrafted centre Andrew Pierson still trying to crack the full time active roster.
American snapper Phillip Norman remains an option after getting them out of the season a year ago, but teams rarely choose to build around interior Americans. Chungh’s large contract could leave him on the chopping block, which makes this pick even more important.
With linebacker Jordan Williams seemingly a foregone conclusion at first overall, two big men could be in play for the Leos. Tomas Jack-Kurdyla was a bruising multi-year starter at guard for the University of Buffalo who was once the projected top pick before Williams was nationalized. He’s a power run blocker who could be the ying to Sukh Chungh’s yang, or his replacement, if the Lions want to create the nasty offensive front of Hervey’s dreams. I have some questions about his consistency and leverage, but scouts universally love this kid and he could be off the board at second overall.
The other obvious choice is Carter O’Donnell of Alberta, who has been dubbed the best U Sport offensive lineman since Laurent Duvernay-Tardif. A player who could excel at guard or tackle, he dominated the East West Shrine Bowl and has an NFL undrafted free agent contract with the Indianapolis Colts. In any other draft season, he is likely a late-round NFL draft pick. I like O’Donnell’s chances of sticking down south, but Hervey has never shied away from drafting NFL prospects highly. It would be boom or bust, but should O’Donnell come north Hervey would look like a genius.
If the Lions choose to bear the fan outrage and go with a non-offensive lineman in the first round, several options exist but the value added, in general, becomes less immediate. Montreal defensive back Marc-Antoine Dequoy is a freaky athlete who could start at safety, but he also has a contract with the Green Bay Packers.
An outside dark horse could be Southeastern Louisiana defensive end Isaac Adeyemi-Berglund. He could bring immediate special teams value and rotational upside, but the team has loaded up with Americans on the defensive line and drafting a Canadian highly would be a change in philosophy. That said, he could be the best player immediately available at that spot.
Once the draft exits the first round, priorities become far more difficult to discern as drafting for need becomes increasingly ridiculous and teams take the best player available. However, the Lions could look to improve a handful of vulnerable areas or follow historical trends.
The Lions could target a physical linebacker beginning at the top of the second round, something both Hervey and the Lions have done several times over the years. B.C. It started Isiah Guzlyak-Messam as a Canadian linebacker last season but he is likely in the mix to start at safety when the Lions return a Canadian to that spot following the departure of Branden Dozier in free agency.
If the Lions decide to start only two Canadian receivers or Norman retains his centre spot, linebacker seems to be a natural ratio position on defence. The Lions retained Adam Konar and he could start as he did the last time he played for position coach Travis Brown and Jordan Herdman-Reed has experience in a key role as well. The Leos have four other backers behind them, but a young developmental prospect with starter potential would be enticing.
Following draft history, the team likes linebackers big, physical and are willing to overlook some movement deficiencies. Carleton’s Jack Cassar will be familiar to the Ottawa component of the coaching staff and fits the mould. He’s a nasty downhill player who could develop into a starter and could be available in the second round or later due to questions over his speed. Should they wait to address the position, Montreal’s Brian Harelimana could be a sleeper pick in the third, while Alberta’s massive Aaron Chabaylo could be worth a late round pick.
With three proven potential starters at Canadian receiver, and the addition of quality back-up Devon Bailey, B.C. doesn’t need a player at that position to step in right away but they will need some special teams contributions. Local Simon Fraser University product Rysen John has a special frame that has earned him a contract at tight end with the New York Giants and could be worth the wait in the second or third.
The X-factor is former University of British Columbia receiver Trivel Pinto, who is expected to fall due to a cocaine suspension last year. The team should be very familiar with the draft’s most athletic receiver and the question will be how patient they are to grab him. He’s a first round talent but could be their’s in the second or third.
The Lions have some experienced backups at safety with the addition of Derek Jones and Josh Woodman, but I expect another defensive back to be added before the end of the draft. The athletic traits of a player like McMaster’s Noah Hallett could be intriguing, but local kid Matt McConnell has the size and physicality teams covet. A lengthy U Sports’ drug suspension could have him fall into the Lions’ lap in the later rounds.
More than one offensive lineman will likely be selected by the club and there are a ton of options. Carleton’s Jesse Lawson is a smooth moving tackle prospect that comes from Surrey and will appeal to all parties. He would follow the developmental trajectory of someone like Knevel and the Lions could take him as early as the third.
Other prospects could be available later on. Guelph’s Coulter Woodmansey could be a match for their desired physicality and Mattland Riley of Saskatchewan might be effective insurance at centre. In the final rounds, SFU’s Stephane Tanguay is a former recruit of OL coach Kelly Bates and fits the blocking schemes he likes to run.
Among the other late selections, the Lions could continue to add potential at Canadian running back with a player like Waterloo’s Dion Pellerin or York’s physical specimen Kayden Johnson. I expect a defensive lineman with primarily special teams value could be taken as a late flyer as well, perhaps personal favourite Mickael Badra of Sherbrooke or Manitoba’s Brock Gowanlock if he falls that low.
Ultimately, the results of one CFL draft will not make or break the Lions season when the CFL resumes, but a good one has the potential to set them up long term. It’s also not out of the realm of possibility that the team has one or more year-one starters taken in this class. For a team that didn’t give fans a lot to cheer about last year, this could be the real event to root for.