Stampeders ‘got better’ after defying consensus with CFL Draft strategy

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The Calgary Stampeders reached off the consensus board at the top of the 2024 CFL Draft, but believe they made the moves needed to get back into winning form.

“We got better tonight,” the team’s draft coordinator and defensive backs coach Dwayne Cameron told the media following the annual Canadian pick-fest on Tuesday.

The Stampeders took swings on players coming off injuries or facing extenuating circumstances, but believe many of their draft picks would have been higher on other teams’ draft boards if they had played all of their games last year. Chief among those names is Ben Labrosse, the uber-athletic McGill defensive back that they snagged at fourth overall despite him sitting out 2023 with an academic suspension.

“I think he is different from everybody else in this draft. He is a guy that athletically could fit in down south,” head coach and general manager Dave Dickenson said of his first-round selection. “Meeting him at the combine, he’s a football guy. He’s a guy that’s committed to the game.”

Labrosse calls himself “an electric football player” and says he is always looking to “turn nothing into something,” adding that an interception isn’t enough when it could be accompanied by a score. The native of Greenfield Park, Que., who began his collegiate career at Syracuse, mentioned that while he was surprised to get the call from the Stampeders, the coaches in Calgary had mentioned their need for playmakers on the defensive side of the ball in previous meetings.

Overall, the Stampeders made eight selections and restocked the National cupboards at several key positions, including along the offensive line. Dickenson executed the only trade of the night when he swapped a pair of second-round picks with Winnipeg to move back into the first round and select Washington State’s Christy Nkanu at eighth overall.

Super versatile, the Montreal native started at four different spots prior to transferring to the Cougars from Southern Utah. He struggled to get on the field last year but impressed at the Combine in his one-on-ones and could play tackle if needed, which was a weakness for the team last season.

Using the additional third-rounder from the Nkanu trade, the Stampeders snagged local kid George Idoko from the University of Saskatchewan, before coming back to grab Jason Janvier-Messier from York in the fourth round. According to Cameron, the two undersized defensive ends will need to develop as pass rushers while beginning their careers on special teams. Nevertheless, they were necessary depth for a team that lost Isaac Adeyemi-Bergland and Derek Wiggan this offseason.

Similarly, the team’s fifth-round addition from Montreal, Paul-Antoine Oullette, will be looking to replace the recently retired Charlie Power at fullback. Standing at six-foot-three and 239 pounds, he will be a big body on a roster that needs new blood on special teams

Tanner McLachlan, a sixth-round pick of the NFL’s Cincinnati Bengals from Lethbridge Alberta, fulfilled a similar body type when taken in the sixth round. He’s a reach and a futures pick given his opportunity south of the border, but the tight end was impossible to ignore as a potential size mismatch at six-foot-five and 244 pounds.

Moving down the board to 60th overall, the team selected Jackson Sombach, a defensive back from Regina. Cameron described him as a player who won’t stand out physically at five-foot-eight but will get after the football and make plays.

Calgary also rounded out the draft with a nice selection in the eighth round, snagging defensive back Kaylyn St-Cyr from the Montreal Carabins. Described as bigger than they thought, the Stampeders were happy to see him still available once the draft got to pick number 69.

Despite what TSN may have said in error at the top of their draft broadcast, the Red and White still made playoffs last year — even after having the worst season since the Feterik family sold the team. The talent pool in this Stamps class will help keep that streak alive, with a pair of potential starters in Labrosse and Nkanu, and a load of special teams contributors that can step in after a year of uncharacteristic return touchdowns surrendered.

Rookie camp begins May 8th at McMahon Stadium for this new crop of Stampeders, though it is expected that Labrosse will not be in attendance as he has an invite to a New York Giants minicamp.

Ryan Ballantine is a lifelong Stamps fan and host of the Go Stamps Go Show Podcast. He has been covering the team since 2008.