Tuesday was a busy day for general manager Shawn Burke, as the man in charge of shaping the Ottawa Redblacks’ roster added 12 new players to his team through the 2023 Global and CFL Drafts.
Here’s how they’ll fit going into the team this upcoming season.
First round, first overall: OL Dontae Bull, Fresno State
For the eighth time since the franchise’s first draft in 2013 — and the second consecutive year in the Burke era — the Redblacks used their first-round pick on an offensive lineman. Tipping the scales at six-foot-six and 322 pounds, the Victoria, B.C. native instantly becomes one of the biggest players on Ottawa’s roster.
Soaking it all in, a warm welcome for @belmontbulldog ❤️#CFLDraft pic.twitter.com/SZfuKwtion
— Ottawa REDBLACKS (@REDBLACKS) May 3, 2023
The 24-year-old started 33 of the 37 games he played at either right or left tackle during his four years at Fresno State. Although some have speculated Bull could play inside, that doesn’t seem to be the plan.
“We believe in his ability to play tackle, and in the NCAA he showed his versatility playing both the right and left side, so that’s how we project him,” said Burke.
When asked if he has a preference as to where he’ll line up, Bull replied, “I’m comfortable on both sides of the line and wherever I fit best for the team is what I’m going to do. I did play a lot on the right side last year and I got pretty good there, but I’m comfortable on the left side as well.”
Given his size and the fact that Pro Football Focus (PFF) graded him as the eighth-best run blocker amongst all Division I tackles last season, Bull should have garnered NFL interest. A broken leg cut his 2022 season short and likely scared American teams away.
Those injury concerns don’t exist in Ottawa. He’s passed a medical and, despite not being 100 percent at his pro day, still managed to put up 20 reps on the bench press as well as a 25.5-inch vertical jump and eight-foot, three-inch broad jump.
“The leg is feeling good. I’ve definitely made a lot of progress since my pro day and the injury has recovered well, so I’ll be ready to roll during camp,” said Bull.
Come training camp, Bull will be battling Dino Boyd, Justice Powers and Uzoma Osuji for playing time. It’ll also mark the first time he’ll be on a field doing live football drills since breaking his leg last year.
“When it comes to draft prospects, we never put a label on someone and say ‘He’ll be a day one starter’. Our job in year one is to help them progress in their career and develop, but some guys are ahead of others,” said Burke. “Dontae does have the ability to push for playing time. That said, there’s a progression coming back from injuries like that, and he’ll be evaluated through training camp to see how he’s doing.”
Second round, 10th overall: DB Lucas Cormier, Mount Allison
With Canadian defensive backs Alonzo Addae, Justin Howell, Ty Cranston, and Danny Valente already on their roster, adding the six-foot-one, 205-pound Cormier might seem like an unnecessary luxury. That’s not at all how the Redblacks’ front office views it.
“Lucas brings us a ton of roster flexibility. With his frame, he can move into a linebacker spot or play in the secondary. He’s got the athleticism and range to do both,” said Burke. “He’s going to upgrade our special teams right away and we can figure out where he fits exactly down the road. He’s just such a good football player and is always making plays.”
In 21 career games, the Mount Allison product made 74.5 tackles, forced a fumble, recovered three, snagged nine interceptions and broke up eight passes.
The Redblacks have been monitoring the Maritimer for a while, but the fact that the three-time AUS all-star shone at the CFL Combine sealed the deal.
“He was a guy we loved before the process, during the Combine and he was just someone we wanted to make a Redblack,” said Burke.
The 21-year-old’s closing speed, football intelligence and nose for the ball mean R-Nation can expect him to make plenty of plays, whatever his role winds up being in 2023.
Second round, 12th overall: LB James Peter, Ottawa
In a tidy bit of business, Burke managed to turn the rights to Woodly Appolon, last season’s fifth-round pick, into the 12th overall pick of the 2023 draft. With that selection, Ottawa added a 23-year-old who played high school and university football in the nation’s capital.
The five-foot-ten, 214-pounder has incredible instincts, quickly diagnosing plays and arriving at the ball with force. The former high school running back relishes contact and is known for delivering punishing tackles.
After making 58 total tackles, three for a loss, forcing two fumbles and knocking down a pass in eight games last season, Peter was named a first-team U Sports All-Canadian.
He’ll contribute immediately on special teams and joins Canadians Adam Auclair, Dan Basambombo, Subomi Oyesoro, and Shaydon Philip at the linebacker position.
Second round, 17th overall (territorial pick): REC Daniel Oladejo, Ottawa
With the way the draft unfolded, the Redblacks could have done much worse than selecting a player of Oladejo’s ilk when limited to players from their local area.
What the Ottawa native lacks in speed, he more than makes up for in strength — putting up 20 reps on the bench press at the Combine. Oladejo excels at using his five-foot-10, 192-pound frame to box out defenders and catch the ball at its highest point.
Special moment🤗 https://t.co/EviZQsWwtt pic.twitter.com/mNPC1VO0jM
— Ottawa REDBLACKS (@REDBLACKS) May 3, 2023
A second-team OUA all-star and the Gee-Gees’ Most Outstanding Offensive Player in 2022, Oladejo joins a receiving corps that already boasts Canadians Nate Behar, Keaton Bruggeling, Lemar Durant, and Tevaun Smith. Until he beats one of them out for offensive snaps, the rookie will ply his trade on special teams.
Third round, 19th overall: DL Aidan John, Saint Mary’s
A Combine star — he recorded a 35-inch vertical jump at six-foot-three and 248 pounds — John boasts elite athletic ability but is the definition of a work in progress. He’s raw but if Ottawa’s coaches can refine his technique, he could blossom into a serious impact player.
The Halifax native only has 15 career U Sports games under his belt, but made a team-high 29 tackles in seven games in 2022.
Third round, 25th overall: LB Josh White, Regina
With the pick received in return for flipping returner Terry Williams to the B.C. Lions, the Redblacks selected 3DownNation‘s No. 18-ranked prospect.
Similar to Peter, White is another physical linebacker with stellar instincts. The six-foot-one, 222-pounder has the necessary coverage skills to play weakside linebacker at the pro level. He’s also got a great burst and his speed makes him effective when called upon to blitz.
In 31 career games with the Rams, White amassed 150 tackles, 21 for a loss, 9.5 sacks, forced a fumble, and had three knockdowns.
As for where he fits with the Redblacks, the Regina native will make an impact on special teams and could back up Auclair if the third-year pro winds up starting.
Fifth round, 37th overall: REC Daniel Perry, Saskatchewan
The Huskie’s leading receiver last season, Perry averaged 13.9 yards per reception, making 57 catches for 797 yards and three touchdowns en route to being named a first-team U Sports All-Canadian and a Canada West all-star. The six-foot, 196-pounder is quick — as demonstrated by his 4.58 forty-yard dash — and runs precise routes.
The pair of All-Canadians connect on the nation's biggest stage 🇨🇦 https://t.co/Cn9qvLHJLj pic.twitter.com/NBqUTtJSFK
— Huskie Football (@skhuskies) November 26, 2022
With Perry added to an already talented group, the Redblacks have more than enough depth to start two Canadian receivers should they choose to go that route.
Sixth round, 46th overall: DL Quintin Seguin, Charleston Southern
Over the course of 49 career college games, the six-foot-two, 271-pounder recorded 118 tackles, 18 tackles for loss, and 11 sacks.
At the pro level, the Windsor native’s excellent lateral quickness and strength should make him an effective run-stuffer, but in order for him to become an every-down player, Seguin’s pass rushing will need to improve.
With Ottawa, Seguin could work in as a rotational player, spelling veteran Cleyon Laing.
Seventh round, 55th overall: DL Alexander Fedchun, St. Francis Xavier
If you’re looking for an easy comparison for the Calgary native, think of someone in the Nigel Romick mould. The six-foot-three, 226-pounder is likely a bit too lean to be a regular on the defensive line, but he will be a significant contributor on special teams.
In the 30 games he played for St. FX, the three-time AUS all-star notched 17 sacks, made 135 tackles, 31.5 for a loss, forced two fumbles, recovered three, made two interceptions and broke up seven passes.
Seventh round, 58th overall: RB Amlicar Polk, Ottawa
With the pick acquired from trading Canadian receiver Llevi Noel to Edmonton, the Redblacks added a speedy running back who will contribute immediately on special teams.
While some might scoff at Polk’s five-foot-nine, 198-pound frame, the Hamilton native put up 25 reps on the bench press at the Invitational Combine and made 22 special teams tackles in 24 career games at the university level for the Gee-Gees. Despite only being used in spot duty last year, Polk still gained 434 all-purpose yards and scored four touchdowns.
Polk becomes the third national running back on the team, theoretically providing enough depth behind veterans Jackson Bennett and Ante Milanovic-Litre that Ottawa could start a Canadian at the position if they needed to.
First round, first overall: DL Blessman Ta’ala, Hawaii
A five-year starter at the University of Hawaii, the six-foot-one, 291-pounder played 64 games, amassing 142 total tackles, 20 tackles for loss, four sacks and three knockdowns.
At the Combine, the three-time All-Mountain West honourable mention put up 29 reps on the bench press and recorded a 5.22 forty-yard dash, a 30-inch vertical jump and a 4.69 short shuttle.
Here’s a rep of @REDBLACKS’ first overall selection in the #GlobalDraft, DL Blessman Ta’ala, from the CFL Combine earlier this year. pic.twitter.com/eWZM6IYFW3
— Kristina Costabile (@kcostabile1) May 2, 2023
“Some teams do things a bit differently than us, but I’m proud of what our Globals produced last year,” said Burke. “(Linebacker) Tyron Vrede has been an excellent special teams contributor and we definitely missed him when he wasn’t in the lineup last year. We believe Blessman gives us the opportunity to have two Globals on our game-day roster.”
Second round, 10th overall: OL Lucas Lavin, UT Chattanooga
The six-foot-four, 322-pound native of Nykoping, Sweden bounced around during his college career, spending time at the City College of San Francisco and the University of Northern Colorado before landing with the Mocs.
Lavin has spent time playing every position on the line except for centre and spent 2022 flipping between left and right tackle as Chattanooga dealt with injuries on their offensive line.
With six picks in the top 25, Ottawa had a real opportunity to add impactful talent. As things stand today, their special teams are significantly deeper and a unit that was already amongst the league’s best should be even stronger.
One area that Burke didn’t address because of the way the draft played out was long snapper.
“We knew this scenario could play out, and it is possible we add a body before camp via the free agent route, but we’re very happy with the guys already have,” said Burke. “Keegan Markgraf has snapped at an NCAA level and we want to see what he can do. Connor Ross did a good job for us last pre-season too, but we’re not going to leave any stones unturned.”
In a rarity, the Redblacks’ French Mafia didn’t grow at all this draft, as the team selected zero Quebec-born players. Overall, the Redblacks took four players born in Western Canada and six from the East.
In the past, Ottawa has watched productive draft picks like Mark Korte and Evan Johnson leave in free agency to be closer to home but that isn’t something that concerns Burke.
“I believe in what we’re doing within these walls and what we’re building as an organization, both on and off the field. Ottawa has shown the ability to keep good players in this town, which is a huge credit to both the city and the franchise,” he said. “The reality is guys want to stay around when they feel they have a chance to win. We’re building towards and heading in that direction.”