Redblacks’ 2020 CFL draft class creates ratio flexibility

The first draft in the Paul LaPolice era tells us a lot about how the Ottawa Redblacks will manage their ratio in 2020 and potentially beyond.

For general manager Marcel Desjardins, it was his seventh draft at the helm of the organization. Typically he’s leaned towards the offensive side of the ball, specifically the offensive line. That’s because in previous seasons, the Redblacks have started, at minimum, four Canadians on their offensive line.

There had been some speculation about Ottawa potentially starting two Canadians in their receiving corps in 2020 (Brad Sinopoli + Anthony Coombs/Marco Dubois/Wesley Lewis), but the fact that they didn’t draft a single receiver potentially dampens the idea.

With the way the roster is currently constructed, LaPolice will have plenty of flexibility in how he decides to handle his Canadian ratio. One immediate outcome from the draft is that Ottawa won’t be stuck doing things the way they’ve always done them.

With the Canadians currently on the team, the Redblacks have the ability to start as few as three offensive Canadian lineman, a receiver (Brad Sinopoli) and three defensive players (Cleyon Laing, Antoine Pruneau and someone else; another defensive tackle or a linebacker).

Six of Ottawa’s eight picks were on the defensive side of the ball. Overall, Desjardins added notable size to his roster (only one player drafted was under six-foot-one) and kept things local, with seven of his picks hailing from Ontario or Quebec.

Let’s take a closer look at the newest Redblacks.

First round, sixth overall: DB/LB Adam Auclair

After five consecutive years of taking an offensive lineman in the first round, the Redblacks finally went another direction, selecting Québec City native Adam Auclair.

Auclair, the younger brother of Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Antony Auclair, instantly boosts Ottawa’s secondary and special teams units.

The six-foot-two, 205-pounder checks multiple boxes. Physiclity? Check. Excellent blitzer? Check. Capable of playing multiple positions? Check. Immediately admitted to the French Mafia on the basis of being bilingual? Check. Ottawa Senators fan? Check.

Auclair managed to sneak in his pro day before the COVID-19 outbreak and his numbers highlight his athletic ability: a 4.64 40-yard dash, 18 reps on the bench and seven seconds flat in the three-cone drill.

It will be very interesting to see how defensive coordinator Mike Benevides chooses to deploy the 24-year-old. Auclair could cut his teeth on special teams and rotate in at safety or weak side linebacker. Perhaps he sees the field on second and long situations as an extra defensive back, depending on the package.

Regardless of where he lines up, the one thing Auclair straightaway brings to the table is incredible depth behind Antoine Pruneau. Auclair joins a deep group of backup Canadians in the secondary that include Justin Howell, Jean-Philippe Bolduc and Nate Hamlin. Should Pruneau miss any time with injury, Auclair likely becomes first man up.

Another intriguing possibility is that if Ottawa considers Auclair a weak side linebacker, they suddenly have enough depth at that position to start a Canadian. Between Auclair, free agent addition Christophe Mulumba-Tshimanga and three-year veteran Michael Coté, the Redblacks find themselves with enough Canadians to seriously consider the option.

The 2017 U Sports Outstanding Defensive Player made 41 tackles and three interceptions on his way to being named an All-Conference player for Laval in 2019.

Second round, 10th overall: DT Michael Hoecht

Much like he did with Mehdi Abdesmad and Eli Ankou, Desjardins chose to roll the dice on an NFL-bound prospect to start the second round. There’s no disputing that in terms of pure talent, Hoecht was among the upper echelon of available Canadians.

The six-foot-four, 290-pound defensive tackle played running back in high school, which helps explain how he ran a 4.65 40-yard dash at his virtual pro day.

On top of his crazy athleticism, Hoecht is highly intelligent, both on and off the field. The former Bell Warrior tutored calculus to colleagues and teammates during his time at Brown University, an Ivy League school.

Despite the fact that R-Nation will have to wait to see Hoecht in town (he signed an undrafted free agent contact with the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams), if he does make his way north, Ottawa will have landed a stud.

Should he arrive, Hoecht will provide depth behind Laing or could even potentially join him as another Canadian starter on the interior of Ottawa’s defensive line, given the existing depth on the roster with Ettore Lattanzio, Thomas Grant, and Clement Lebreux.

Over the course of his four-year NCAA career, Hoecht racked up 174 tackles and 16.5 sacks from his position at the interior of the defensive line.

Second round, 19th overall, territorial pick: LB Dan Basambombo

Considering the limitations on territorial picks, I love this selection. Not only is Basambombo an Ottawa native who went to high school at Franco-Cité, but the six-foot-one, 232-pound linebacker was an All-Star the last time he took the field, notching 31.5 tackles and two sacks in eight games.

Granted, Basambombo didn’t play football in 2019 due to academic eligibility issues but he did continue to train. And even if he is returning to Laval in 2020 for a fifth season, he’ll be in training camp with the Redblacks (assuming there is one.) And come 2021 Ottawa will have an absolute special teams monster on their hands.

Fourth round, 29th overall: OL Jakub Szott

Given his drafting history, it felt pretty strange to see Desjardins wait until his fourth selection to add an offensive lineman. Like many others taken before him, Szott fits the mold of offensive lineman the Redblacks covet; big (six-foot-five, 280 pounds), nasty and athletic. In high school, Szott played offensive line, tight end, fullback and linebacker.

Although Szott spent his university career at guard with the Marauders, he’s more than capable of sliding to centre at the next level due to his quick feet and high football intelligence.

Bringing the Toronto native to the fold gives Ottawa a third option at centre, behind incumbent starter Alex Mateas and 2019 first round pick Alex Fontana. Look for him to begin his career backing up Evan Johnson and Nolan MacMillan while seeing the field as an extra blocker in tight end heavy sets.

Fifth round, 38th overall: DB Treshaun Abrahams-Webster

What the Calgary product may lack in size (five-foot-11, 185 pounds), he more than makes up for with speed and versatility.

Abrahams-Webster has won at every level; OFSAA medals in high school, national champions at the Canada Cup and most recently, a Vanier Cup title with the Dinos. In 11 games in 2019 Abrahams-Webster made 25 tackles, broke up eight passes, forced two fumbles and blocked a kick.

The Pickering native will contribute immediately on special teams and provides more depth in Ottawa’s secondary, which will be crucial if they do indeed use two Canadian starters.

Sixth round, 47th overall: LB Brad Cowan

The six-foot-three, 228-pound Ottawa native has good speed and is another player special teams coordinator Bob Dyce will immediately put to use. If Ottawa chooses to start a Canadian at linebacker, Cowan is extra insurance.

Cowan made 28.5 tackles, 2.5 sacks and one knockdown in 2019 the for the Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks.

Seventh round, 56th overall: DE Reshaan Davis

The six-foot-three, 250-pound Gee-Gee product gets to continue playing football in the nation’s capital.

Known for a quick first step coming off the edge, Davis boasts strong technique and a variety of pass rush moves. Those tools led to 32.5 tackles and seven sacks in eight games for the University of Ottawa in 2019.

Much like fellow Gee-Gee alum Ettore Lattanzio, Davis doesn’t give up on plays and often chases them down from behind.

The Oshawa native will cut his teeth on special teams but could also rotate in at end along with fellow Canadians like Nigel Romick, Samson Abbott, Chris Larsen and Kene Onyeka.

Eighth round, 65th overall: OL Kétel Assé

The fact that Assé was available at the start of the eighth round is mind-boggling. Heading into the draft, he was a consensus top-20 pick by draft gurus around the country.

The six-foot-seven, 300-pounder, two time All-Star has ideal size for the pro game. At Laval, Assé played tackle but could be shifted to guard in the CFL. One theory as to why he slid is due to the fact that some coaches don’t believe he can play tackle at the next level and will struggle to shift to guard.

That doesn’t seem to be a concern in Ottawa, and getting him with the 65th pick might be the steal of the draft, especially as offensive line coach Bob Wylie is widely renown not only for his ability to “Hut, hut” his stomach but as one of the most experienced coaches in the game at developing young players.

Assé attended the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl in January and figures to provide depth behind Mark Korte and Jason Lauzon-Séguin, the other two Canadian tackles currently on the Redblacks’ roster.

Fun fact, Assé loves pancakes.

Other thoughts:

  • With the addition of Auclair, Basambombo and Assé, Ottawa’s French Mafia grows by three, which is never a bad thing in a bilingual market like Ottawa
  • If there was ever a year for TSN to show the entire draft process, this was it. With fans across the nation starved for sports, it’s not like there was anything else going on. And would it really have been that difficult to get the four guys in their basements to talk over YouTube highlights for eight rounds?
  • In terms of the TV coverage itself, the on-air personalities did a good job, but it would have been nice to see a little more reaction from the players being picked. Nobody was expecting an NFL style broadcast with each top prospect being mailed every team’s hat and a camera package to set up a live stream. However, given that we here at 3DownNation profiled more than 50 draft prospects, surely TSN could have scheduled a couple more video interviews.
  • On a similar note, it was quite surprising that even TSN 1200 didn’t carry the radio broadcast of the entire draft. Seemed like a no-brainer, but apparently not.
  • Lastly, count me among those pleased Ottawa did not waste a pick drafting
    Neville Gallimore. Is he an incredible talent? Absolutely. Has he made it clear throughout his entire NFL draft process how proud he is to be from Ottawa? Definitely. Would he be an instant starter if he came to the CFL? Yes. Does that mean the Redblacks should have used a pick on him? No. To his eternal credit, Gallimore was taken in the third round of the NFL draft, which naturally implies he’ll have a few seasons to make his mark. He’s so skilled that a long NFL career beckons, rendering his odds of ever coming to Canada to play the three-down game about as close to zero as you can get.
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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).