Redblacks’ GM Shawn Burke: CFL Combine will clarify likelihood of trading first overall pick

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The Ottawa Redblacks have held the first overall pick in the upcoming CFL draft since finishing the 2022 season with a 4-14 record, though it remains unclear whether or not the pick will be traded.

General manager Shawn Burke is in Edmonton for this week’s CFL Combine alongside over a half-dozen team coaches and personnel staff. Though the draft remains six weeks away, he suspects other teams will want to have conversations regarding the possibility of acquiring the first overall pick.

“In the last month, the draft really heats up,” said Burke. “You saw that with the NFL — they got out of the combine and then the pick was traded about seven to 10 days later. I don’t know if that’s ever happened that quickly in our league but when you get a bunch of likeminded people together, they like to discuss things. You can occupy a lot of time be it rules committee or scenarios that can help your football club.”

The Chicago Bears recently traded the first overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft to the Carolina Panthers in exchange for two first-round picks, two second-round picks, and star receiver D.J. Moore. The Panthers are expected to use the selection on a new franchise quarterback with Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud, Anthony Richardson, and Will Levis as the primary options.

The CFL draft is a different than the NFL draft in many ways, though there is recent precedent for the first overall pick being traded.

The Edmonton Elks traded the top selection in last year’s draft to the Montreal Alouettes, who subsequently took linebacker Tyrell Richards out of Syracuse. In 2020, the B.C. Lions picked linebacker Jordan Williams with the first overall pick in the draft, which had previously belonged to Ottawa and the Calgary Stampeders.

Offensive linemen often dominate the first round of the draft, though it wouldn’t be surprising if Ottawa used the pick on another position. The club signed former West Division all-star Drew Desjarlais to a big-money deal following a stint in the NFL and used their two top picks last year to draft Zack Pelehos out of Ottawa and Cyrille Hogan-Saindon out of Laval.

The Redblacks did well to stock up on offensive linemen when they could as this year’s group of blockers isn’t particularly deep. The consensus among CFL insiders is that the strongest position group is defensive line, though Burke doesn’t plan to draft players based primarily on positional need.

“Our draft philosophy is best player available and go by the board. When there’s ties or close measures, that’s when we talk about positional need,” said Burke. “I feel we have the opportunity to definitely be not drafting based for need, to draft the best player that’s available to us when we pick each and every time.”

The 2023 CFL Draft will take place on the evening of Tuesday, May 2. The Redblacks have not made the first overall pick in the draft since 2015 when they selected offensive lineman Alex Mateas out of the University of Connecticut.

John Hodge’s 2023 CFL Mock Draft 1.0

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