Rookie Redblacks: where do Ottawa’s 2024 draft picks fit on the roster?

Photo courtesy: Austin Perryman/Auburn Athletics

Ottawa Redblacks general manager Shawn Burke was a busy man on Tuesday, adding nine new players to his team through the 2024 Global and CFL Drafts.

Here’s how they’ll fit into the roster this upcoming season:

First round, second overall: REC Nick Mardner, Auburn

Multiple mock drafts had Ottawa snagging a receiver with this pick, which is what they wound up doing, but Mardner wasn’t the player for those prognosticators. What ultimately set the Oakville, Ontario native apart from Kevin Mital, who went fifth overall to Toronto, was the fact that he’s a unicorn.

It’s practically unheard of for a Canadian receiver to be six-foot-six and 208 pounds, let alone run a 4.6-second forty-yard dash at that size. A finalist for the Jon Cornish Trophy in 2021, Mardner caught 81 passes for 1,488 yards and 11 touchdowns during his NCAA career.

At first glance, the fact that he split his time at the collegiate level between three teams — Hawaiʻi, Cincinnati and Auburn — seems like a red flag, but it’s not. His jumping around between teams wasn’t due to behavioural issues, but rather a reflection of how things now work at the collegiate level. Two of those transfers came about when Mardner followed his receivers coach to new teams, and at the end of the day, should fans really hold it against players when they seek the best opportunities for themselves? Coaches do it all the time in college and in the pros, it’s a daily reality.

Mardner wasn’t selected by any team in the 2024 NFL Draft but will attend the New York Giants’ upcoming rookie mini-camp. Should he fail to stick there, he’ll join the Redblacks and could become a day one starter at wide receiver with serious big-play ability.

Being the tallest receiver on the team — and only shorter than OL Dontae Bull, Jacob Ruby and DL Thomas Schaffer — means Mardner will be a huge factor in the red zone as a rookie.

Second round, 11th overall: DL Daniel Okpoko, San Diego State

Every front office will say they’re pleased with their picks at the top of the draft but in this case, it seems like the Redblacks were genuinely shocked and thrilled to have Okopoko fall into their laps at the start of the second round.

Born in Lagos, Nigeria but raised in Saskatoon, the six-foot-five, 275-pounder spent six years playing with the San Diego Aztecs. Although he didn’t see a ton of reps until his final season, he flourished once he became a full-time starter and racked up 23 tackles, 3.5 tackles for a loss, two sacks, and three batted passes last year.

Despite playing mainly at defensive end in college, Okopoko will line up at defensive tackle for the Redblacks. His athleticism lends itself well to Ottawa’s scheme, which is heavy on stunts, loops, and twists. As he provides important National depth and works on refining his technique, he’ll be learning from one of the game’s best in Cleyon Laing.

Okopoko will join a Canadian defensive line rotation that already includes Kene Onyeka, Aidan John, Alexander Fedchun, and Nigel Romick.

An interesting aside, Okopoko is the cousin of former NFL defensive lineman Israel Idonije.

Third round, 22nd overall: LB Dawson Pierre, Concordia

The six-foot-two, 219-pounder was an RSEQ all-star at safety but will be shifted to linebacker with the Redblacks. The native of Longueuil, Quebec had a productive college career amassing 81 total tackles, a sack, a forced fumble, and three interceptions in 23 games.

Pierre tested well at the Combine, banging out 17 reps on the bench press and running a 4.7 in the forty-yard dash. The Stinger product will ply his trade on special teams as he competes with fellow Canadians Lucas Cormier, James Peter, Deshawn Stevens, and Josh White for rotational snaps on defence.

Fourth round, 35th overall: REC Jahquan Bloomfield, Prairie View A&M

With the pick acquired from the B.C. Lions when Ottawa traded returner Terry Williams back in September of 2022, Burke kept things local, adding a six-foot, 190-pound speedster to the Redblacks’ receiving corps.

Born in Ottawa and raised in Châteauguay, Que., the 24-year-old gives the Redblacks more Canadian depth in the receiving corps. He’s also another pass-catcher athletic enough to contribute on special teams, as demonstrated by a Combine performance that saw him run a 4.61 forty-yard dash and leap 121 inches in the broad jump.

By adding Bloomfield to the fold, Burke has given his coaching staff plenty of ratio flexibility. It’s likely the team will initially start the season with one Canadian receiver in the starting lineup, but should they need to start a second, Bloomfield could push Keaton Bruggeling, Daniel Oladejo and Daniel Perry for playing time.

In college, Bloomfield averaged 20.9 yards per reception and 13 yards per rush.

Sixth round, 49th overall: DB Yani Gouadfel, Bishop’s

Gouadfel won’t count as a Global player, but maybe he should. Born in France, and having lived in three different countries — France, Algeria and Canada — he was nationalized after graduating from Bishop’s University based on the CFL’s recently changed eligibility rules.

At six-foot-three and 201 pounds, Gouadfel has length that defensive back coaches love. When paired with his athleticism — he ran a 4.64 forty-yard dash, put up 16 reps on the bench press, and recorded a 32.5-inch vertical — you get a guy capable of contributing immediately on special teams.

An AUS all-star at safety, Gouadfel made 61 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, a sack, 19 pass breakups, eight interceptions, and a fumble recovery in 20 games for the Gaiters. He also scored two touchdowns and was the team’s punter, averaging 37.9 yards over his 99 attempts.

Look for Gouadfel to provide depth at safety behind Canadians Justin Howell, Alonzo Addae and Ty Cranston.

Seventh round, 58th overall: LB Zachary Philion, Concordia

The progeny of four-time East Division all-star defensive lineman Ed Philion, Zach checks in at six-foot-one, 221 pounds. While he might not have his father’s raw strength and nastiness, the younger Philion does have excellent instincts and a motor that doesn’t stop.

A native of Lorraine, Que., Philion tallied 20.5 tackles and a sack in eight regular season games last season. He’ll cut his teeth on special teams as he joins Cromier, Peter, Stevens, White, and Pierre as another Canadian at linebacker.

Eighth Round, 67th overall: TE Russell Dixon, Connecticut

Do you like your six-foot-three, 225-pound H-backs (a tight end lined up behind the line of scrimmage, thus counted as a back) to catch or block? Because Dixon can do both.

Due to his continued recovery from a shoulder injury suffered last season, the Edmonton native won’t actually participate in training camp with the Redblacks — other than as an observer — and is thus a true “futures” pick.

Instead, he’s focused on rehab and is enrolling at Carleton University to play football with them this fall, with an eye on turning pro in 2025.

GLOBAL DRAFT

Second overall pick: P Matt Hayball

Don’t worry Richie Leone-stans, your favourite punter isn’t on the verge of being replaced. In fact, given that Hayball signed with the NFL’s New Orleans Saints as an undrafted free agent this week, it’s likely quite some time before R-Nation sees him in Ottawa.

The West Adelaide, Australia native spent two seasons kicking for Vanderbilt, where he averaged 47.6 yards per punt.

11th overall pick: LB Heston Lameta

The 25-year-old Lameta had a highly productive career with Northern Arizona. In 31 career games, he notched 142 tackles, three sacks, knocked down a pass, and recovered a fumble.

Given that the Redblacks already have three Globals in DL Ta’ala Blessman, LB Tyron Vrede, and OL Hector Zepeda, Lameta may face an uphill battle to survive training camp cuts.

Other quick hits

It was surprising not to see the Redblacks add a long snapper in the draft, but it made sense when they swung a trade with Edmonton the following day for Peter Adjey.

A third-round pick in the 2025 draft is a low cost for a 24-year-old long snapper with 36 games of experience under his belt. Despite being traded for, the Queens University alum won’t simply be gifted the starting job. He’ll need to beat out Simon Chaves in camp for it.

You know times are changing when the Redblacks complete an entire draft without selecting a single offensive lineman. More than anything, that speaks to the quality depth already assembled at the position. Ottawa boasts seven Canadian OLs, including the likes of Cyrille Hogan-Saindon, Drew Desjarlais, Dontae Bull, Zack Pelehos, Dariusz Bladek, Jacob Ruby, and Eric Starczala.

A year after the Redblacks’ French Mafia didn’t grow at all during the draft, Burke added two Quebec-born players — Pierre and Philion — and two others — Gouadfel and Bloomfield — with strong French ties. In a bilingual market like Ottawa, having that kind of representation truly does play well among fans.

Overall, the Redblacks took two players born in Western Canada and five with ties to the East.

Santino Filoso is originally from Ottawa and has written about the Redblacks since 2013. He is the only CFL writer currently living in Brazil (as far as we know).