Is offensive line help on the way?: Breaking down the Riders’ negotiation list reveal

Photo courtesy: AP Photo/John Amis

Somewhere out there, the Saskatchewan Roughriders’ next great star is waiting and he doesn’t even know it yet.

On Thursday, all nine CFL teams revealed ten names from their top secret negotiation list — a list of 45 potential prospects to whom they hold exclusive rights.

The vast majority of American players you watch in the CFL began their journey after being added to a team’s neg list and prospects can be claimed at any point in time, with years remaining in their college careers or after exhausting all NFL opportunities. Some will never travel north, while others are destined for illustrious careers in Canada.

The ten players revealed by each team provide a glimpse into that organization’s scouting priorities and serves as a public declaration of interest in those prospects. Several players listed could be on rosters before the end of this season.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at each of the players being targeted by the Riders and assess their potential CFL future.

Photo courtesy: AP Photo/Matt Ludtke

Ryan Anderson, DE, University of Alabama
Current status: Pittsburgh Steelers’ practice squad

A second-round pick by Washington in the 2017 NFL Draft, Anderson never took off as a high-effort tweener south of the border. The six-foot-two, 255-pound defender played 52 games over four seasons in the US capital but made just four starts, notching 86 tackles and six sacks.

After signing with the Giants in 2021, Anderson was suspended six games for violating the league’s performance-enhancing drug policy and wound up being cut. After sitting out all of last season as a result, the 28-year-old was signed to Pittsburgh’s practice squad this week as insurance for the T.J. Watt injury.

Anderson is unlikely to stick around the NFL for much longer and his skillset is a much better match for the CFL game. From a measurables perspective, he is a near-perfect comparison to Pete Robertson but with a higher pedigree and more refined pass-rushing toolbox.

Photo courtesy: AP Photo/Terrance Williams

Antoine Brooks, DB, University of Maryland
Current Status: Free agent

Checking in at five-foot-11 and 220 pounds, Brooks was a second-team All-Big Ten selection twice for the Terrapins while lining up primarily as a slot cornerback. The leader of his defence, he made a name for himself as one of the best tackling defensive backs in college football, delivering blows like a linebacker.

Drafted in the sixth round of the 2021 NFL Draft by Pittsburgh, Brooks failed to make it out of camp and spent last year on the practice squad of the Los Angeles Rams. He is currently a free agent, failing to find a true positional fit in the NFL due to his squat build and limited long speed.

Don’t expect the 24-year-old to come to the CFL and become a standout boundary corner but his college tape shows an intelligent, physical player who could blossom as a SAM linebacker north of the border, with enough versatility to help in other areas.

Photo courtesy: AP Photo/Doug McSchooler

Jack Coan, QB, University of Notre Dame
Current Status: Free agent

A pure pocket passer at six-foot-three and 218 pounds, Coan began his college career at Wisconsin before transferring to Notre Dame for his final season. He completed 65.7 percent of his passes in his lone season with the Fighting Irish, tossing 3,150 yards, 25 touchdowns and seven interceptions.

Coan has been highly efficient from a clean pocket — one of the best predictive metrics for quarterbacking — and has shown consistent year after year growth. He remains a below-average athlete but can win with his ability to get through progressions.

That wasn’t enough for him to stick with the Indianapolis Colts this season as an undrafted free agent, though expect a passer of Coan’s notoriety to burn through all his options before coming north. If he does arrive in Riderville, he would provide a different style of quarterback than they’ve recently employed.

Photo courtesy: David DeNoma/Duquesne Athletics

Jake Dixon, OL, Duquesne University
Current Status: Free agent

A former college volleyball player who started at tight end for Duquesne before transitioning to left tackle in the spring of 2021, Dixon checks all the boxes you look for in a developmental offensive lineman.

Though he remains raw, the six-foot-five, 310-pound blocker flashes some athletic feet and plenty of strength to match. Dixon is also highly intelligent, being named a semi-finalist for the William V. Campbell Trophy — known as the academic Heisman — as a senior.

A lack of length saw the Pittsburgh Steelers try to slide Dixon inside to guard as an undrafted signee, an experiment that did not last long. His 32-inch arms aren’t as pressing a concern in the CFL and the traits are there for him to be an outstanding tackle in Canada.

Photo courtesy: AP Photo/John Amis

Christian DiLauro, OL, University of Illinois
Current Status: Free agent

Something of a study in contrasts, DiLauro is a track star of an offensive lineman whose impressive athleticism has kept him bouncing around the NFL for five seasons, while his slight lower body and lack of play strength have always prevented him from making an active roster.

High pad level, a narrow base, and a concerning lack of anchor have held the six-foot-five, 300-pound swing tackle back in the more power-based NFL game but he could excel against smaller CFL defenders. Add in his tantalizing ability to make blocks in space and you have a worthy prospect.

After being cut by the Tennessee Titans in August — his sixth NFL team — DiLauro’s door down south may have closed. The 27-year-old has already done a stint in The Spring League and will be looking for another league to showcase his talents, with the Riders likely to have some competition for his services.

Photo courtesy: AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki

Dillon Gabriel, QB, University of Oklahoma
Current Status: Redshirt Junior

Entering his first season as a Sooner after starting 25 games over three seasons at Central Florida, Gabriel has up to three more years of NCAA eligibility remaining due to a medical redshirt last season and the COVID pandemic. What remains to be seen is how much of that he will use, after throwing for 8,037 yards, 70 touchdowns and just 14 interceptions as a Golden Knight.

His move to Oklahoma offers a chance to impress scouts against a higher level of competition, as Gabriel is currently projected as an undrafted prospect. At five-foot-11 and 200 pounds, he lacks prototypical size and has seen his statistics inflated in an Air Raid offence where he wasn’t asked to make many NFL-type throws. There are also concerns surrounding his ability to work through progressions.

Fortunately for the Riders, Gabriel’s mobility and quick release are the hallmarks of a great CFL quarterback prospect. They may have to wait a few years for him to make his way across the border, but fans should be intrigued.

Photo courtesy: AP Photo/Steven Senne

Jerald Hawkins, OL, Louisiana State University
Current Status: Free agent

A fourth-round pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2016, it was Hawkins’ inconsistent feet, stiff lower body, and lack of play strength that caused him to drop in the evaluation process. Viewed as a worthy project, early injuries prevented the six-foot-five, 305-pound big man from reaching the potential many saw in him due to his impressive length.

In six NFL seasons, he has bounced around to five different teams and had two stints with the Steelers. He’s made just 19 appearances and a single start, playing extremely sparingly. After being cut by New Orleans last month, Hawkins’ NFL window is likely closed.

The 28-year-old would be an intriguing addition to the Riders if he is seeking a place to settle down, particularly if the years of NFL experience have polished up some of his rough edges.

Photo courtesy: AP Photo/David Zalubowski

Zack Johnson, OL, North Dakota State University
Current Status: Free agent

A two-time FCS All-American at guard for the Bisons, Johnson can be filed under the category of nasty small-school maulers. The six-foot-six, 315-pounder showed himself to be extremely reliable in 46 consecutive college starts, though he largely flew under the radar as an NFL prospect due to his average foot speed and lack of bulk for an interior lineman.

Nonetheless, Johnson has had stints with the Packers, Cardinals and most recently the Broncos after going undrafted in 2020. Denver let him go following training camp this season, leaving him available to Saskatchewan.

The North Dakota State product looks like the type of interior offensive lineman who can kick out to tackle in the CFL but never had the measurables to do so in the eyes of NFL evaluators. His physicality and technical savvy would mesh well with what the Riders are looking to do up front.

Photo courtesy: AP Photo/David Zalubowski

Adrian Killins Jr., RB, University of Central Florida
Current Status: Free agent

A Florida state champion track star in high school, Killins has next-level speed that he put to good use as a runner, receiver and returner at UCF. In total, he racked up 3,323 yards from scrimmage and 33 touchdowns in four college seasons.

Unfortunately, all that speed is contained in a pint-sized five-foot-seven, 162-pound frame — disqualifying size in the eyes of many NFL teams. He stuck with the Philadelphia Eagles as an undrafted rookie in 2020 but was cut in training camp last year, before a cup of coffee with the Broncos ended in injury.

Killins oozes the type of game-breaking ability that has helped other vertically-challenged runners achieve long CFL careers but he will have other options, as there is already buzz in spring football circles about him being an XFL target. Saskatchewan is already flush with talent at the position, but losing out on Killins would be disappointing nonetheless.

Photo courtesy: AP Photo/Brandon Wade, File

Tanner Mordecai, QB, Southern Methodist University
Current Status: Redshirt Senior

A transfer from Oklahoma who failed to crack the Sooners’ starting lineup, Mordecai seized the SMU job with an outstanding 2021 season that saw him throw for 3,628 yards, 39 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He has another year of eligibility remaining after this one thanks to the pandemic but could enter the 2023 NFL Draft.

The six-foot-three, 218-pound pivot has not yet entered the upper echelon of prospects but has a big arm and enough mobility to intrigue. He’s tremendously accurate and throws a fantastic deep ball but has been known to flee the pocket too early while relying on his legs.

Bet on Mordecai finding an NFL home in the short-term, but file this name away if things don’t work out down the line.

J.C. Abbott is a University of British Columbia graduate and high school football coach. He covers the CFL, B.C. Lions, CFL Draft and the three-down league's Global initiative.