With the seventh overall pick in the 2022 CFL Draft, the Saskatchewan Roughriders faced a choice.
Looking to upgrade their depth at receiver, two players fit the bill.
With twin brother Jalen already off the board at pick number five, many may have suspected Canada West player of the year Tyson Philpot would be the next to go. After all, the extremely productive pair from the University of Calgary had dominated so much of the pre-draft conversation.
Instead, the Riders went south of the border to grab Samuel Emilus of Louisiana Tech. The Montreal-born pass catcher was highly regarded around the league, but didn’t have nearly the same hype after forgoing the CFL National Combine.
Both prospects were ranked highly on Saskatchewan’s board, but one factor ultimately made their decision.
“For us, it was about the difference in the measurables,” Riders’ general manager Jeremy O’Day admitted post-draft.
“Emilus is a little bit bigger, a little bit heavier, tested out just a smidge better than the Philpots. They’re both really good football players and to be honest with you, that was our conversation going into that pick, which one we were going to take. We just had Emilus a little bit ahead.”
The measurables were the concern for the Philpot twins despite their gaudy university statistics, raising eyebrows with a lacklustre Combine outing in Toronto. Checking in at five-foot-eleven and 189-pounds, Tyson ran a 4.59 forty-yard dash, but managed just a 30.5-inch vertical and nine-foot, five-inch broad jump, while clocking 7.24-seconds in the important three-cone drill.
The six-foot, 194-pound Emilus matched Philpot’s forty speed exactly at his pro day in Ruston, Louisiana, but leapt 37-inches in the vertical and 10-foot, four-inches in the broad. He also ran a 6.88-second three-cone and proved to be quicker over the first ten yards of his run, with a 1.47-second split compared to Tyson’s 1.53.
That difference in athletic testing was enough to tilt the Riders’ table in favour of Emilus. He’s a player that O’Day feels can contribute out wide or in the slot, once he re-adjusts to the Canadian waggle.
“The waggle is only going to benefit a receiver in the long run. He played a stationary position because he played in the NCAA, but he is fast enough and has good enough ball skills where he attacks the ball,” O’Day noted. “Some of his highlights are pretty impressive, him going over top of DBs and making plays. He’s a high character kid that we put a lot of time into.”
Emilus played just one season at Louisiana Tech, recording 17 receptions for 257 yards and three touchdowns in eight games as a senior. Prior to that, he played 22 games over three seasons at the University of Massachusetts, catching 59 passes for 653 yards and seven touchdowns.
The newest Rider was never considered a star at the NCAA level, but he rarely played in offences that allowed him to be. What he did show was the ability to haul in the 50/50 ball, making some spectacular contested catches down the field.
That was an element that Saskatchewan was heavily criticized for missing last season, but it was not a topic of conversation in the Riders’ draft room.
“To be honest with you, we didn’t think about that at all. We certainly like his ball skills, going up and making big plays over DBs, but I don’t think we looked at it and said: ‘We didn’t have very many of those last year.’ And made it the deciding factor,” O’Day said dismissively.
“I think we’ve got some receivers that can go up and make plays on the ball. I think it was just a little bit of an off year.”
Regardless, they’ll need a bounce back season in that area if the team wishes to fulfill the promise of a home Grey Cup, but Emilus won’t be required to be the driving force behind it. His was a necessary depth acquisition following the departure of Brayden Lenius to the NFL and the retirement of 2021 second-round pick Terrell Jana, but having a significant offensive role in a rookie season is rare.
“It’s not easy to come in and have an impact,” O’Day acknowledged. “I think we saw it last year with Kian Schaffer-Baker, he had an impact here for us and he was only a fourth-round pick, but it’s not the easiest.”
Nevertheless, Emilus will get every opportunity to do so. The Riders plan to start two Canadian receivers and dress four, just as they did last season, but one of those spots is vacant. Schaffer-Baker and Justin McInnis appear to be the projected starters, with local hero Mitch Picton pushing them from behind, but a strong training camp could put anybody in the mix.
“There’s an open position there that was left when Lenius left and there’ll be a competition for that,” O’Day said. “The best guy would win that.”