General manager Shawn Burke will be guiding the Ottawa Redblacks through uncharted territory during the Canadian Football League’s May 3 draft.
Arguably for the first time in franchise history, the Redblacks won’t be heading into a Canadian pick-fest with a glaring roster deficiency that demands immediate attention.
That’s largely a result of two things. The first is Burke’s handiwork in overseeing one of the most thorough roster turnovers in recent memory. Nearly every single position on offence will boast a new starter heading into training camp. On defence, roughly a third of those expected to start are also off-season additions.
The second thing is former GM Marcel Desjardins’ parting gift to the franchise, the 2021 Redblacks draft class. Coming off a coronavirus cancelled U Sports season and an erratic NCAA schedule, Desjardins’ eighth draft focused on players who would only join the team in 2022 and beyond. Specifically his first and second round picks, the defensive duo of linebacker Deshawn Stevens and defensive back Alonzo Addae, might pay dividends.
Neither turned pro in 2021, instead returning for their final years of NCAA eligibility at West Virginia. While it remains possible that Stevens and Addae sign with NFL teams as undrafted free agents or earn rookie mini-camp invites, should either make their way north, Ottawa will suddenly find itself with a player capable of rotating in for specific defensive packages and contributing immediately on special teams.
Even if neither wind up in the nation’s capital for the 2022 season, Burke has done an excellent job solidifying the Redblacks’ national depth. A quick glance at the ratio shows that.
There are three starters on the offensive line, Jacob Ruby at left guard, Darius Ciraco at centre and Hunter Stewart at right guard, with Ketel Asse, Andrew Pickett, Jakub Szott and Eric Starczala as depth.
There are five receivers: Shaq Johnson, Nate Behar, Llevi Noel, Marco Dubois and Will Corby competing for one spot.
Kwaku Boateng and Cleyon Laing will both start on the defensive line, at end and tackle respectively, with Clement Lebreux, Ese Mrabure, Kene Onyeka, Nigel Romick, Shaiheem Charles-Brown and Reshaan Davis capable of rotating in to keep them fresh.
Finally at safety veteran Antoine Pruneau boasts the most experience, but Justin Howell, Treshaun Abrahams-Webster, Jordan Beaulieu and Ty Cranston round out a deep group.
As we can see from the above breakdown, Burke doesn’t have to force anything come draft day. In fact, with three Canadians already on the roster at linebacker and two at running back, he might even be able to create enough depth at another position to provide head coach Paul LaPolice with more flexibility than seven starting options.
With no pressing need, Burke can let the chips falls as they may and simply select the best player available. That will take some getting used to in R-Nation since that typically hasn’t been the case in the past.