The Edmonton Football Team made six selections in the 2021 CFL Draft, using each one to address a different position group — running back, receiver, offensive line, defensive line, linebacker, and defensive back.
This team is well-set at kicker with veterans Sean Whyte and Hugh O’Neill plus 2020 draft pick Dante Brown, but maybe with a seventh-round pick they would have taken a quarterback!
Sadly, none of the players they chose were Alberta-raised stars Chuba Hubbard or Amen Obgongbemiga out of Oklahoma State. Even worse, both ended up being selected by the Calgary Stampeders.
Edmonton only had one chance to select Ogbongbemiga before the Stampeders snatched him up at No. 8 overall. Passing on him is easy criticism to make with Edmonton making their surprising pick of Cole Nelson at No. 5 overall rather than immediately filling their most obvious need at linebacker.
General manager Brock Sunderland has always been very clear how aware he is of the probability of players with an NFL contract coming to Canada, and you can be sure he carefully weighed the odds in the first round. You need look no further than Mathieu Betts to see how fast these gambles can pay off, so clearly the team is extremely high on Nelson.
Obviously Ogbongbemiga — who signed an NFL undrafted free agent contract with the Los Angeles Chargers — is the likelier of the Oklahoma State pair to come north, which is why he was selected so much sooner. With Hubbard being chosen in the fourth round of the NFL draft, there is a very real chance he never plays in Canada, or as Sunderland put it, at least not for four or five years worth of a NFL rookie contract.
Philip Blake, the now 35-year-old drafted by Montreal in 2011, seems to be the last Canadian NFL Draft pick to sign a CFL contract.
Sunderland was more focused on players who are available now and immediately ready to contribute, and it’s time to talk about them. Let’s start, as always, with an estimation of Edmonton’s depth chart.
Green is national, gold is American, and blue is global. A few players around the edges of the chart may not actually be under contract, but it’s everybody listed on the team website.
I’m not a prospect guru, but I’ll be examining how all six new players might fit into their new team.
DL Cole Nelson, No. 5
A product of the University of Alberta, Nelson grew up as an Edmonton fan from about an hour south of the city. Sunderland mentioned after the draft that, no, that’s not why they drafted him. Rather, they believe in his excellent athleticism for a man his size and trust he will develop given the chance to focus on being a defensive tackle.
They seem to think his being moved around the Golden Bears defence may have contributed to his lack of university production. He’s also said to have performed well against the very strong University of Calgary Dinos, which is a major plus.
Looking at the depth chart, Kwaku Boateng is a starting lock. Mathieu Betts will get plenty of playing time. Behind them, there’s a building crowd including Alain Pae (2020 draft, second round), Evan Machibroda (2019 draft, fifth round), and now Nelson. That seems like enough for two national spots on the defensive line, but they also have Mike Moore, Jake Ceresna, and Shawn Lemon as Americans. Pretty stacked.
Edmonton won’t have any trouble finding the required seven starting nationals, and we might even see an eighth in a rotation here.
LB Grant McDonald, No. 14
After passing on Amen Ogbongbemiga in round one, Edmonton filled its long-standing hole at linebacker with McDonald in round two. He’s coming from the University of Calgary, so that’s another guy with Alberta connections. Measuring at six-foot-four and 232 pounds, he’s a big linebacker, and reportedly his best trait is his motor.
You can see above, his only fellow national in Edmonton’s linebacking group will be 2020 draft pick Malik Tyne, at least for now. CFL teams make great use of linebackers and fullbacks on special teams; Edmonton used mostly the latter under Jason Maas, but McDonald might indicate a trend the other way. He will be an immediate contributor there, and if things go well he could soon see playing time on defence, too.
RB Deonte Glover, No. 23
Glover put up huge numbers playing for Shepherd University in West Virginia. He was eligible for the draft by virtue of his mother’s Canadian citizenship.
He’ll join Alex Taylor and 2020 pick Mitch Raper as national running backs, although Raper is a fullback. It’s an interesting spot to have three players; despite having James Wilder Jr. and Terry Williams under contract at the moment, Edmonton might be eyeing an eventual ratio change at the position. There’s also a chance of sneaking a roster spot away from a fullback if they can be special teams contributors.
REC Dominic Johnson, No. 32
Another very big player at six-foot-five and 225 pounds, Johnson gets added to what is a strong group of national receivers from top to bottom. Tevaun Smith is a lock to start. Anthony Parker, Mike Jones, and Jimmy Ralph are all CFL veterans. Other names like Shai Ross and Harry McMaster were well-liked by their previous coaches, but the question becomes which ones impress the new coaching staff the most.
It’s likely that at least one of the young group becomes an impact player. If Johnson has an advantage, it’s probably his size, which no one else in the group can match. He’s planning to return to the University of Buffalo in 2021, so Edmonton won’t see him until 2022.
OL Peter Kourtis, No. 41
Interesting note: Hamilton was the only team to not choose an offensive lineman.
Kourtis was the selection for Edmonton, and he’ll have to show he’s worth developing with a lot of other names ahead of him. Jacob Ruby is the incumbent at one guard spot, and recent draft picks Kyle Saxelid (2019, second round) and Tomas Jack-Kurdyla (2020, first round) are the favourites to fill in the large hole left by Matt O’Donnell at the other spot.
Local product David Beard has one of the safest jobs on the team at centre. He’s under contract through 2023, which is beaten only by the recently extended Brian Walker (2024) and he’s also the longest serving member of the Green and Gold following the departures of Calvin McCarty, Almondo Sewell, and O’Donnell.
DB Kenan Clarke, No. 50
With the signing of Jonathan Rose, it seems clear that Edmonton plans to flip field corner to an American spot to accommodate him, Jonathon Mincy, Aaron Grymes, and Forrest Hightower. The team has also lost Arjen Colquhoun and Godfrey Onyeka to free agency, further cementing the change.
Clarke will take part in a competition for duties at safety behind the more well-known Jermaine Gabriel, Jordan Hoover, and Jordan Beaulieu. In the sixth round you’re not expecting an immediate starter, so the best path for Clarke likely runs through the practice roster.