The Hamilton Tiger-Cats enter the 2022 CFL Draft without any glaring holes to fill.
There are definitely areas they need to address, but the Tabbies’ Canadian talent is on par with anyone else’s in the league, which allows them to once again take the patient, steady draft approach they have used to great success in recent years.
The Ticats could start ten Canadians if they so choose with three of them coming on the defensive side of the football. Veteran defensive tackle Ted Laurent is as steady as they come, while defensive backs in Tunde Adeleke and Stavros Katsantonis played well down the stretch last season.
Only one of them will likely start — Adeleke — with Katsantonis providing excellent special teams play and spot duty on defence. Laurent will provide reliable veteran savvy behind the returning Dylan Wynn and 2022 free agent acquisition Micah Johnson along the interior of the defensive line.
The Ticats could also start five players along the offensive line — guards Brandon Revenberg and Coulter Woodmansey, centre Jesse Gibbon or Alex Fontana, and veteran tackles Chris Van Zeyl and the newly-acquired Kyle Saxelid — and two in the receiving group.
Hamilton could also start a Canadian at tailback if needed with both Sean Thomas-Erlington and Maleek Irons re-upping with the team in the winter. The club’s unlikely to make either their primary ball carrier as they also brought back American running back Don Jackson on a two-year deal, but there’s no such thing as too much Canadian depth.
The Ticats should field the majority of their starters on the offensive side of the ball with six of their seven Canadian starters likely playing on that unit. Whether that ends up being five linemen and one receiver or four linemen and two receivers remains to be seen. Knowing how the Ticats could deploy their starting Canadians could tip their hand as to what they might do on draft night.
If Hamilton plans to start two Canadian receivers they will need some reinforcements. Currently, the Ticats only employ three Canadian pass catchers on their roster: Lemar Durant, who they signed just prior to free agency after he was a cap casualty in B.C.; 2019 second-round pick David Ungerer III; and 2020 third-round pick Tyler Ternowski.
Durant and Ungerer are the likely starters if the Ticats opt to start two Canadian receivers, with Ternowski filling in on special teams and seeing some duty on offence.
Last year’s first overall pick Jake Burt is slated to return from his season-ending quad injury, but relying on someone who hasn’t played a meaningful game in almost three years isn’t how championship teams should operate.
If Burt is healthy he will likely carve out a big role for himself on offence — especially with the departure of Nikola Kalinic to the NFL — but snagging a pass catcher or two to help buttress what the team already has would not be a bad idea even if the Saxelid trade makes starting two Canadians in the receiving corps less likely.
Staying on offence, the trade for Kyle Saxelid helps the Ticats tremendously and means they are not as in need of offensive line help as they were 24 hours ago. That doesn’t mean they still couldn’t look to add a lineman or two, however. The addition of Saxelid, coupled with the signing in February of former Redblacks centre Alex Fontana to replace the departed Darius Ciraco, gives the Ticats the ability to start five Canadians along the offensive line.
While the Ticats have developmental players in the pipeline such as Kay Okafor, Joe Bencze, Gibbon, and Fontana, one has to wonder how much longer the club can wait for them to reach their potential. Gibbon was the second overall pick in 2019 and hasn’t transformed into the foundational piece his high draft status would suggest he should be on the path to becoming, while Okafor has been given ample opportunity to seize a starting spot and has yet to make one his own. Either man could still turn into valuable players, but the clock is ticking on both of them.
Defensively, Hamilton has always drafted versatile players dating back to when Kent Austin took over the franchise back in 2013. The ability to be multiple is a key cornerstone of the Ticats’ defensive identity.
Hamilton always goes after linebackers and defensive linemen who can contribute on special teams, which is where the bulk of their draft picks find their path to the roster. Mason Bennett, Nic Cross, and Stavros Katsantonis are three recent examples of guys who gained valuable experience by plying their trade on special teams. Katsantonis even used it to find a starting spot late in the season, where he was phenomenal in the playoffs and showed he will be a future starter in the league, be it with Hamilton or someone else.
The Ticats have options when it comes to who they will take with their six picks in Tuesday’s draft, and with a draft class low on depth do not be surprised if assistant general manager and director of Canadian scouting Drew Allemang uses his deft touch to unearth a couple hidden gems that will be making plays in black and gold this season.