Not all drafts are created equally but one thing remains the same: when you have the first overall pick, you need to make the best possible selection.
The CFL draft is highly unpredictable, so this is easier said than done. Prospects come from a wide variety of backgrounds with unique skills, traits, frames, and levels of athleticism. There’s also the possibility of top prospects garnering opportunities in the NFL, which further complicates draft day.
Below I’ve ranked the past twenty first overall CFL draft picks, dating back to 2002. These rankings put players who were drafted recently at a disadvantage as they’ve not had as many seasons to contribute on the field. Look for a number of recent picks to rise in the coming years from where they are currently positioned on the list.
Asterisk (*) denotes players who are still active.
20) REC Mark Chapman, Central Michigan (Hamilton Tiger-Cats, 2018)
The six-foot, 180-pound target looked ready to become the CFL’s next great Canadian slotback but never signed with the Ticats due to a contract dispute. He had brief stints with the Denver Broncos and the Salt Lake Stallions of the AAF but ultimately decided to move on from football at the age of 25.
19) TE Jake Burt, Boston College (Hamilton Tiger-Cats, 2021)*
The former New England Patriot was a late addition to last year’s draft and ended up getting selected with the first overall pick. He missed his entire rookie year due to injury but hopes remain high for the versatile six-foot-three, 230-pounder who will move up this list as he eventually makes an impact in Steeltown.
18) DL Faith Ekakitie, Iowa (Winnipeg Blue Bombers, 2017)
The Brampton, Ont. native showed up to his first training camp out of shape and went on to make five tackles over 14 regular season games. He was cut the following year and signed with the Alouettes, though he chose to retire after suffering a torn Achilles in training camp.
17) DL Linden Gaydosh, Calgary (Hamilton Tiger-Cats, 2013)
The defensive tackle signed with the Carolina Panthers after draft day, pushing his professional three-down debut until the 2014 season. His six-year CFL career with Hamilton, Saskatchewan, and Toronto was marred by injury as he recorded 25 total tackles and four sacks over just 53 career games.
16) OL Josiah St. John, Oklahoma (Saskatchewan Roughriders, 2016)*
The Toronto native missed his rookie training camp due to a contract dispute, which hurt his early development. He started six games along the offensive that year but never turned into the ratio-breaking tackle that Saskatchewan hoped he’d become, starting just three games over the past three seasons.
15) DL Miguel Robédé, Laval (Calgary Stampeders, 2005)
The six-foot-four, 298-pound defender played five seasons in Cowtown, recording 42 total tackles and seven sacks over 41 career games. He was traded to the Toronto Argonauts with receiver P.K. Sam and in exchange for receiver Reggie McNeal and defensive tackle Adrian Davis in May 2011 but was cut the following month.
14) OL Shane Richards, Oklahoma State (Toronto Argonauts, 2019)*
The blocker lost 75 pounds after a disappointing rookie season that saw him balloon to 350 pounds and dress for only eight games. He started ten games at guard in 2021 including the East Final at BMO Field and should only get better in 2022 as he continues to rebuild his six-foot-six frame.
13) LB Jordan Williams, East Carolina (B.C. Lions, 2020)*
Williams was named the CFL’s Most Outstanding Rookie in 2021 after recording 97 total tackles, one sack, and one interception over 14 starts at middle linebacker. He’s already a third of the way up this list and should continue to rocket up the rankings over the coming years.
12) REC Chris Bauman, Regina (Hamilton Tiger-Cats, 2007)
The native of Brandon, Man. was pressed into action immediately as a rookie and posted a respectable 30 receptions for 370 yards that season. He finished his six-year career with 141 catches for 1,855 yards and seven touchdowns over 79 games, which included 40 starts as a member of the Ticats, Elks, and Stampeders.
11) DB Dylan Barker, Saskatchewan (Hamilton Tiger-Cats, 2008)
The native of Moose Jaw, Sask. missed his entire rookie season due to a leg injury but came back the following year to tie the all-time single-season record with 37 special teams tackles. He became Hamilton’s starting safety in 2010 and made 34 defensive tackles, three interceptions, and one sack before retiring due to a back injury.
10) DL Adam Braidwood, Washington State (Edmonton Elks, 2006)
The six-foot-four, 250-pound edge-rusher was a starter for his first two CFL seasons, recording 54 defensive tackles, 11 sacks, and three fumble recoveries. He missed the 2008 and 2009 seasons due to injury and took up professional boxing. Braidwood has faced a number of serious legal issues since his CFL career ended in 2011, including a sentence for sexual assault in 2013.
9) OL Pierre Lavertu, Laval (Calgary Stampeders, 2014)
The six-foot-three, 297-pound centre got off to a strong start in the CFL and was named a West Division all-star in 2015. He appeared in only eight games in 2016 due to injury and missed the entire 2017 season with a high ankle sprain. He retired ahead of the 2018 season at the age of 27 due to injuries.
8) LB Shomari Williams, Queen’s (Saskatchewan Roughriders, 2010)
The versatile defender was productive over three seasons in Riderville, recording 120 total tackles, five sacks, one interception, and one fumble recovery over 54 game with 22 starts. Williams missed most of the 2013 season with Hamilton due to a knee injury before returning to Saskatchewan in 2014, making 17 special teams tackles.
7) OL Ben Heenan, Saskatchewan (Saskatchewan Roughriders, 2012)
The six-foot-four, 316-pound blocker started 46 games over three seasons with the Riders, winning a Grey Cup with his hometown team in 2013. He spent the 2015 season as a member of the Indianapolis Colts before electing to retire in April 2016 at the age of 26 to pursue farming full-time.
6) OL Alex Mateas, UConn (Ottawa Redblacks, 2015)
The local product spent two seasons developing behind Jon Gott before becoming one of the CFL’s best centres, earning two East Division all-star selections. He announced his retirement at the age of 30 in July 2021, electing not to return to professional football coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic.
5) OL Steve Morley, St. Mary’s (Calgary Stampeders, 2003)
The six-foot-seven, 330-pound blocker started nine games at left tackle as a rookie with the Stamps before departing for the NFL with the Green Bay Packers, New York Jets, and Seattle Seahawks. He spent one season in Toronto (2007) and Saskatchewan (2008) before finishing his career with a six-year stint in Winnipeg.
4) OL Simeon Rottier, Alberta (Hamilton Tiger-Cats, 2009)
The native of Westlock, Alta. became a full-time starter in his second season with the Ticats before signing with Edmonton as a free agent in 2012. He played 124 career games over ten CFL seasons with Hamilton, Edmonton, and Saskatchewan and was named a CFL all-star in 2014.
3) OL Alexandre Gauthier, Laval (Ottawa Renegades, 2002)
The six-foot-seven, 330-pound offensive tackle played ten seasons in the CFL as a member of the Ottawa Renegades, Calgary Stampeders, Winnipeg Blue Bombers, Hamilton Tiger-Cats, and Saskatchewan Roughriders. He dressed for 149 career games and was named an East Division all-star in 2007 while with the Blue Bombers.
2) OL Wayne Smith, Appalachian State (Hamilton Tiger-Cats, 2004)
The six-foot-two, 305-pound blocker experience tremendous longevity in professional football, playing 15 seasons as a member of the Washington Commanders, Denver Broncos, Hamilton Tiger-Cats, Saskatchewan Roughriders, and Toronto Argonauts. He was named to the CFLPA all-star team in 2008 and finished his career with 173 games played.
1) LB Henoc Muamba, St. FX (Winnipeg Blue Bombers, 2011)*
The 33-year-old has had an excellent CFL career, recording 594 total tackles, 14 sacks, six interceptions, and 14 forced fumbles. The three-time all-star was named the league’s Most Outstanding Canadian in 2019, making him the only player on this list to capture the award.
Selections by team: Hamilton Tiger-Cats, seven; Calgary Stampeders, Saskatchewan Roughriders, three; Ottawa Renegades/Redblacks, Winnipeg Blue Bombers, two; B.C. Lions, Edmonton Elks, Toronto Argonauts, one; Montreal Alouettes, zero.
Selections by position: offensive line, nine; defensive line, four; linebacker, three; receiver, two; tight end, defensive back, one; quarterback, running back, kicker, zero.
Selections by school: Laval, three; Saskatchewan: two; Alberta, Appalachian State, Boston College, Calgary, Central Michigan, East Carolina, Iowa, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Queen’s, Regina, St. FX, St. Mary’s, UConn, Washington State, one.
Selections by school affiliation: U Sports, eleven; NCAA, nine.
Selections by U Sports conference: Canada West, five; RSEQ, three; AUS, two; OUA, one.