The 2020 CFL season, and the security of the league itself, remains very much in doubt but the draft provided an escape for rabid football fans and a glimpse into the future of the league.
For fans of the B.C. Lions, it was eventful to break even the most serious case of quarantine cabin fever.
For those who missed out on 3DownNation’s live draft coverage, it can be difficult to know how to feel about a CFL draft class based simply on first round headlines. If that describes you, here is a deep dive into each of the selections made by Lions’ general manager Ed Hervey and what they mean for the team going forward.
Round one, first overall: Jordan Williams, LB, East Carolina Pirates
The Lions pulled off the draft day deal of the decade to move up to first overall, gave up virtually nothing in return and both teams came away happy. That’s a win in and of itself, but the player they were able to select is an absolute slam dunk.
Williams was a star at East Carolina University. A walk-on who transferred from tiny Shaw University, he was among the team’s top two tacklers for each of his final three seasons in the American Athletic Conference. That is impressive enough, but his athletic traits are simply eye-popping.
Williams tested at the Ontario regional combine and ran a blazing 4.48 forty-yard dash. Only two linebackers were clocked faster than that at the NFL combine. In change of direction, Williams rounded the three-cone drill in 7.09-seconds and ran the shuttle in 4.40. He reps 225 pounds 20 times on the bench, can jump 39-inches in the air and leaps 10-feet-8.5 inches in the broad. All of these are elite athletic numbers and the list of Canadian linebackers who can even come close to comparing is both short and illustrious.
There is exactly one reason why Williams is not in the NFL right now: he stands at five-foot-11 and 220-pounds. That lack of size is disqualifying in the bruising NFL game but par for the course among elite linebackers in the wide open CFL. He would have been a contributing CFL American for the Ottawa Redblacks had his mother’s Canadian citizenship not been discovered during the signing process.
What the Lions got in their draft day trade is a Day One, plug and play, ratio-breaker on defence. Williams may as well be a unicorn. He moves with fluidity, attacks with ferocity, and can do all the things expected of an elite CFL defender. They got all that for the low price of moving back three spots in the second round.
Don’t get me wrong, the Stampeders should be content with their end of the bargain. Isaac Adeyemi-Berglund and Trivel Pinto are two of my favourite players to have ever gone through the draft process and I expect both to become impactful players and long-time starters in this league. Yet, for the B.C. Lions, neither would have filled a need or completely reinvigorated a unit like I believe Williams will.
Even before this selection, I felt it was likely that the Leos would start a national at linebacker. The team had three realistic options at the position. Isaiah Guzylak-Messam finished the season in that role but is probably a better candidate to compete at safety. I’ve always held Adam Konar in high regard as a starting linebacker, but it’s no secret that injuries have made him unreliable for most of his career. Jordan Herdman-Reed has shown himself capable of starting as well, but his movement skills limit him in the role.
Williams is a significant upgrade over all three and could legitimately be considered the team’s top non-coverage linebacker whenever a season does happen.
Round two, 15th overall: Nathan Rourke, QB, Ohio Bobcats
With the second rounder they swapped with Calgary, B.C. made another splash by selecting the most highly touted Canadian quarterback in a generation.
Rourke has his limitations as a quarterback prospect, there is a reason he didn’t get an NFL contract, but they are the typical limitations that send players to the CFL. He doesn’t have ideal height, lacks a cannon arm and doesn’t fit perfectly into the drop-back passer mould. While the NFL continues to adapt, Rourke doesn’t have the transcendent athletic traits of a Lamar Jackson or Kyler Murray. Instead, he is the picture of a CFL quarterback, and many scouts believe him to be superior to the backup on the majority of teams. He can throw with timing and anticipation, get the ball out quick, and threaten defences with his legs.
Rourke may never start for the Lions, there is no guarantee he becomes a starter in the league period, but he brings instant value to the team. Mike Reilly has long been one of the league’s finest short yardage quarterbacks but, as anyone who watched the 2019 Lions can tell you, he takes far too many hits for a starting quarterback. Rourke can take that short yardage role off Reilly’s plate and will perform it at an extremely high level.
In three seasons at Ohio, Rourke rushed for 49 touchdowns. That is the seventh highest mark by a quarterback in NCAA history. For context, NFL MVP Lamar Jackson had 50 in his college career. Rourke accomplished this feat by pure force of will. He isn’t a blazing fast runner with a bevy of moves. Instead, he rumbles and stumbles with physicality and balance that often seemed to defy logic. He never stops and never says die.
I believe Rourke, regardless of his nationality, is the second best quarterback currently on the Lions roster and will contribute instantly as a rookie in goal-line packages. That’s great value to get after moving back in the second round. If he becomes the heir to Reilly or a highly touted enough backup to get significant resources back in a trade, then that is simply gravy.
Round three, 23rd overall: Court Hammond, DL, Western Oregon Wolves
Court Hammond is another pseudo-Canadian from a U.S. school, this time tiny Division II Western Oregon. The big draw here for the Lions is length, Hammond is six-foot-six and 275-pounds, and strength. Both are attributes that B.C. covets highly. Hammond was a bull-rushing force along the defensive line with long arms and plenty of twitchiness, but he’s still a raw projection.
The Lions are virtually all American along the defensive line, with only Charles Nwoye and Cameron Walker as exceptions, and given the lack of long-term sustainability for that roster construction, it was a safe bet the team would add a national in the draft.
Hammond has plenty of upside, fits their prototype, and can play inside or outside. He’s probably a reach this high in the draft but he was easily the most versatile interior presence left on the board and the front office must have felt they simply couldn’t afford to let him slip by.
I don’t expect to see Hammond make an early impact, but simply based on the construction of the roster he will likely be an active roster player from the get-go.
Round Ffive, 40th overall: Matt Guevremont, OL, Indiana University of Pennsylvania Crimson Hawks
B.C. finally addressed its offensive line with the first of two fifth round picks. While that might be a sore spot for many fans given the unit’s performance last season, it is difficult to fault the Lions here given the early run of reaches for offensive line talent in this draft.
They made talented selections that addressed other needs and the offensive line will already be improved with the additions of Ryker Mathews and the return of Peter Godber from injury. I become significantly less comfortable with the unit if Sukh Chungh is released for cap reasons, but I’d imagine a move of that magnitude would first require Brett Boyko or David Knevel to prove themselves at guard.
Guevremont is another prospect from a U.S. college with a pro style frame. At six-foot-four and 310-pounds he showed he could win with impressive physicality and crisp footwork. On tape, he explodes into pass protection with power and quickness.
Like most lower tier college prospects, you have to wonder how much of that is elevated by his level of competition, especially given that his Ontario regional combine numbers were below average in virtually every category. Nonetheless, he will be a worthwhile project at an important position at this stage in the draft. I don’t expect him to see any sort of significant time in year one.
Round five, 43rd overall: Cordell Hastings, REC, Acadia Axemen
The Lions have a wealth of options at Canadian receiver but Cordell Hastings gives them something they don’t have: a true deep threat. He’s tall, skinny, and absolutely blazing fast. It’s accurate to place Hastings among the most athletic prospects in the entire 2020 draft and he might have challenged for the top forty-yard dash time had the full combine slate gone ahead.
Hastings has been a consistent producer in the Atlantic University Sport Conference (AUS) despite often playing on the wide side of the field. He could easily compete as a CFL Z-receiver and provide an option to stretch the field.
My big question with this selection, however, is how well Hastings can hold up on special teams. His body type might be described as string bean-esque and he hasn’t added much bulk to his six-foot-four frame since he was in high school. If he proves able to handle CFL level physicality, this could be a genuine steal for the Lions.
Round seven, 58th overall: Kayden Johnson, RB, York Lions
If we want to talk about enticing athletic traits, Johnson could make you salivate. At six-foot-three and 245-pounds, he won a U Sports gold medal in the 60 metre hurdles. That combination of speed and power made him force in the York backfield, yet injury prevented him from reaching his potential in 2019.
A straight-line power runner, Johnson could take situational carries in the CFL but will likely thrive in a fullback role. I expect his usage to be somewhat similar to Wayne Moore’s last season. This late in the draft, his injury history is a palatable risk and the team is placing a safe bet on a core special teamer. The potential pay-off associated with his unique size and strength make this just about as intriguing as any seventh round pick you’ll see.
Round eight, 67th overall: Damian Jamieson, LB, York Lions
The Lions’ final draft pick was a second York Lion and another potentially impactful special teamer. While Williams, the first overall pick, blew up the Ontario Combine, Jamieson was quietly the second best linebacker there. He ran a very respectable 4.66 forty-yard dash, jumped a hair under ten feet and broke the elusive sub-seven second mark in the three-cone drill.
At York, Jamieson showed great burst and range on the field. You have to feel confident that he gives you some special teams’ value and will have a higher ceiling than most eighth rounders. Special teams was also an area in need of an upgrade for the Lions, who only had two teamers record double digits in tackles last season. That was by far the fewest in the league and both York players should help improve the unit.
The Lions got better in this draft. Another decisive off-season move by Hervey means they’ve almost certainly added a starter who will challenge for Most Outstanding Rookie next season and each of the remaining selections adds valuable depth in areas of weakness for the club.
It’s clear that the front office targeted premier athletic traits and prototypical length in order to give the team a truly super-charged injection of Canadian talent. Like any draft class, the success of the 2020 crop will be determined by the coming years and there is plenty of room for failure, but Lions fans should feel confident in the calibre of players they have acquired.