Extra first-rounder could help Montreal Alouettes gamble on ‘futures pick’ in 2023 CFL Draft

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The Montreal Alouettes are the only team with two picks in the first round of the 2023 CFL Draft and they could use their extra draft capital to roll the dice on a top prospect that garners interest from the NFL.

“It does give us some flexibility, yes,” general manager Danny Maciocia told the media. “You have to be extremely strategic when you take a look at some of these kids who are either going to get drafted (by an NFL team) late or are going to be priority free agents. And that goes into the work of our football [operations] department. We need to call the team that drafts them or puts them under contract and see what their plans are for these players, collect all the data, and then sit down and decide what we want to do.”

There are always a handful of top prospects who garner interest from the NFL, meaning clubs must draft them knowing there’s a chance they will never play a down in the CFL. Personnel staff generally refer to these players as “futures” picks and Montreal has had plenty of success selecting them over the past few years.

The club selected defensive back Marc-Antoine Dequoy in the second round of the 2020 CFL Draft despite him being under contract with the Green Bay Packers. The speedy defender was cut late in Green Bay’s training camp and signed with Montreal following the CFL’s cancelled 2020 season. He filled a depth role as a rookie in 2021 before becoming the team’s starting safety in 2022, recording 38 defensive tackles, four interceptions, and one forced fumble.

In 2021, Montreal drafted offensive lineman Pier-Olivier Lestage in the second round mere days after he signed with the Seattle Seahawks. The native of Saint-Eustache, Que. spent one season on Seattle’s practice roster before signing with the Alouettes this past summer. Lestage quickly entered the starting lineup, replacing veteran offensive lineman and former first-round pick Philippe Gagnon at left guard.

The Alouettes also selected offensive lineman Carter O’Donnell in the third round of the 2020 CFL Draft, though his rights have since been traded to the Edmonton Elks. O’Donnell was under contract with the Indianapolis Colts at the time and remains with the club despite having missed this past season due to injury.

Montreal also made a futures selection last year, though it had nothing to do with the NFL. The club selected Rodeem Brown out of the University of Alberta knowing that he planned to return to school for his final year of U Sports eligibility. He has since signed with the Alouettes, inking a deal with the team in December.

Scouts from around the league generally believe that the top four or five prospects in this year’s draft will never play in the CFL. Traditionally, these players aren’t selected until the final two rounds of the draft or simply don’t get picked.

Those who are expected to garner interest from the NFL but may eventually come north include Pittsburgh receiver Jared Wayne, Fresno State offensive lineman Dontae Bull, TCU defensive lineman Lwal Uguak, and Penn State defensive back Jonathan Sutherland.

As such, a team like Montreal could be prepared to risk a high selection in order to secure one of these top prospects. It’s also worth noting that the Ottawa Redblacks hold three of the top 12 selections in this year’s draft, albeit with only one pick in the first round.

Maciocia also indicated that Tyrell Richards, the first overall pick in last year’s draft, has recovered from the knee and elbow injuries that limited him to only seven games in 2022. The six-foot-four, 232-pound linebacker started two games this past year, recording five defensive tackles and four special teams tackles.

“He’s going to get the green light medically to come out and compete first day of camp. I’m a big, big fan of Richards. Unfortunately, he was hit with a couple of injuries that shortened his season but we’ve got big expectations for Richards. We think he can be a dominating player on special teams and we think he can possibly have an impact on the defensive side of the ball,” said Maciocia.

“He’s the type of guy that you can line up at middle linebacker, at outside backer or off the edge. We’ve seen him do it at Syracuse and let’s not forget that preseason game (against Ottawa in 2022) where he came clean to the quarterback, jostled the ball free and we turned it into a big turnover. He’s got that big-play potential. His biggest challenge is to stay healthy and if he comes in with the right mindset, which we anticipate, he should be a force to be reckoned with.”

Montreal’s incumbent starting middle linebacker, Micah Awe, departed for Calgary as a free agent, though the club signed veteran linebacker Avery Williams following his release from Ottawa. With starting weak-side linebacker Tyrice Beverette back for 2023, it appears Richards will have to unseat a veteran American or wait for an injury if he hopes to be in the starting lineup this season.

John Hodge is a CFL insider and draft analyst who has been covering the league since 2014.