Monday, April 23, 2018

CFL Draft 2018 Team Preview: Saskatchewan Roughriders

With mini-camp going down it seems like a good time to start talking Riders again.

The Riders are hoping to continue on an upward trend with respect to Chris Jones’ drafting. 2016 was fairly abysmal if we are being honest with ourselves. At present time all we have to show for it is a back-up Canadian receiver and Josiah St John diligently standing guard over the sidelines. 2017 was better but not great (as I will get to in the next section). Be nice to see Jones hit one of the park this time around. 

With only 2 picks in the top 35 and 5 total there won’t be much room for error if that is to happen.

Picks: 5 picks, first selection is 5th overall

2017 Draft Assessment: Certainly a better draft than 2016 but not a resounding success. A lot depends on the status of #2 overall pick Cam Judge. He got hurt early last year and then went on some nonsensical twitter tirade that left many questioning if he was done with football. No one ever really addressed that so while he’s still on the roster, there are some questions remaining. If he can step into a significant role in 2018 then the combo of him and Bladek make the draft a big success. He could also be the 2nd straight top Rider pick not to pan out. The immediate impact of the draft class is minimal. Outside of Bladek no one really saw any significant playing time. That said, almost all of their draft picks are returning in 2018 which is definitely a positive for a team that in recent years has struggled to retain draft picks. Zero 2015 picks and two 2016 picks remain on the roster
Potential Pipeline: DL David Oneymata (NFL – New Orleans), TE Anthony Auclair (NFL – Tampa Bay), DB Elie Bouka (NFL – Philly, we don’t officially own his rights but given that we released him early I imagine he’ll come back here if he doesn’t stick).

Current Strengths: The repatriation of Zach Evans solidifies the DT spot with a top end Cdn. Steele and Henry for depth have things looking good. The combo of Edem/Hecht/Brouillette leave safety looking solid (not outstanding but sold… though I’m not entirely convinced Brouillette will be a part of things given that we had to coax him out of retirement last season). O-line depth has come a long way. Bladek looks solid so really, as long as one of St John, Zver or Meredith pan out then we are sitting pretty (I still haven't given up on St John but even an eternal optimist like myself may have to concede defeat if he doesn't take a step forward this year). Good depth at Cdn WR with Bagg, Bailey and Harty. Lastly want to recognize the strength on special teams. Radford and Moore are beasts on teams and there is a crop of young LBs waiting in the wings (Bartlett, Grondin, Francis, Chevrier, Gagne) plus Jake Harty has a reputation for solid play on teams as well. Crapigna and Bartel are a rock solid pair of kickers.

Current Needs: Contributing Canadians who aren’t old as balls. Four of our projected starting Canadians are over the age of 30 (5 if Brouilette is included). A youth movement is needed. Additions like Evans and Bladek (and in theory Judge though I’m still not convinced he’s all there) help but more is needed. I don’t think any one area is more pressing than another. If we are set on starting Hurl (which I still pray we aren’t) then I would be looking for depth there. We have quantity of Cdn LBs but not sure they are more than special teamers. An impact receiver to replace Demski would be nice. With both Hecht and Brouilette being 32 and Edem being just alright, a safety would help. When your best O-linemen are all old, drafting hoggies is never a bad idea. Also when Dan Clark is one of your best OL drafting hoggies is never a bad idea. Argument could be made that depth is needed for Messam but I expect when he subs out (or proves to have passed his best before date) an American RB will go in and a Cdn WR sub in instead. Pick a spot we could probably use someone.

Prediction: Ever since the season ended, I fully expected us to go DL in round 1 of the draft but landing Evans and retaining Steele completely changed that. I expect the Riders to take a WR and an OL with their top 2 picks (just not sure what order). I think we are targeting Rashaun Simonise (for some reason I see an athletic freak with character issues and drug suspensions appealing to Chris Jones) but I think we gamble that he is still there in round 2 and grab an OL like Matt Korte or Trey Rutherford first (at least that’s what I would do). We may also take Simonise first and go defense in round 2 (if Jones really believes in the potential of St John, Zver, Bladek and Meredith). Another athletically gifted player like Micah Teitz or Jackson Bennett could be the target on D.

Many are expecting us to trade players for more picks (Hamilton being the obvious trading partner). I’m not expecting that but if we can get a decent pick for someone we don’t really need than perhaps. A guy like Dyakowski comes to mind.

Friday, April 20, 2018

CFL Draft 2018 Team Preview: Ottawa RedBlacks

From Grey Cup Champions in 2016 to an early playoff exit in 2017, the RedBlacks are a team looking to alter their downward trend. They also have some big holes to fill in terms of Canadian content with offseason departures to Zach Evans, Jake Harty, Patrick Lavoie, Arnaud Gascon-Nadon and Matt Albright.

Traditionally Ottawa has held on to their picks very tightly.  In the past 4 drafts combined (including 2018) they only traded away 3 of their picks. (How’s that for a useless fact?).

Picks: 7 picks, first selection is 4th overall

2017 Draft Assessment: First round pick Evan Johnson was a solid add as he finished his rookie season as a starter. But beyond that it’s tough to categorize the draft as anything better than mediocre. They oddly chose to draft 3 running backs including using a 2nd rounder on one. If 3rd round pick Eli Ankou ever ventures north it would significantly improve their draft grade.

Potential Pipeline: DL Mehdi Abdesmad (NFL), DL Eli Ankou (NFL – Jacksonville), TE Tyler Digby (lacrosse)

Current Strengths: Gotta love their OL and the ability to start 4 quality Canadians (Gott, MacMillan, Johnson, Lauzon-Seguin). Sinopoli is the top Cdn WR in the league at this point. Pruneau gives them a defensive starter. They have the quantity to start a Cdn DL with the likes of Waud, Lattanzio and Williams. They also have an abundance of Cdn RBs though I honestly don’t know why given that they start Powell.

Current Needs: Four things should be on Ottawa’s wish list. A receiver to back-up Sinopoli. A DB/LB to provide quality depth for Pruneau. An O-lineman (A team starting 4 Cdn OL needs to constantly be building depth there). And a D-lineman to replace Zach Evans. They did add Daryl Waud which helps a bit but a for a team whose D-line was not very good last season (and now without their best DL) it’s an area they should still be looking to strengthen. If their NFL prospects Ankou and Abdesmad ever came north it would suddenly turn DL into an area of strength.

Prediction: As much as I could see Ottawa going WR in round 1, I can’t see Chapman falling to them and I can’t see them taking Simonise that high. They will wait on that until the mid-rounds. That leaves the trenches as the likely target in Round 1. In each of the past 3 years they have gone OL in round 1 and I see that continuing (though Julien Laurent is a possibility). Hunter or Rutherford seem likely. In round 2 they would be well advised to target a DB/LB such as Bennett or Guztlak-Messam.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

CFL Draft 2018 Team Preview: Hamilton Ti-Cats

With 4 of the first 15 picks in the draft Hamilton is probably in the most enviable position in the draft. From loading up on top end prospects, to taking chances on people with NFL interest, to trading up/down/for other players, the Ti-Cats have pretty much every option available to them.

Picks: 8 picks, first selection is 2nd Overall

2017 Draft Assessment: It was primarily about building for the future. #4 overall pick Connor McGough made 18 special teams tackles in his rookie season and could see an increased role defensively. Good depth additions like OL Braden Schram and DL Justin Vaughn have them well positioned in the trenches. The best news for Hamilton may be that every single pick is still with team. Retain and develop is usually a recipe for longer term success.

Potential Pipeline: DL Brent Urban (Baltimore)

Current Strengths: D-line is pretty strong with 2 starters in Laurent and Cappicciotti with Vaughn, McGough for depth. Courtney Stephen gives them a 3rd bona fide starter on D. They have youth along the O-line. Bomben is their oldest Canadian at 30. Revenberg and Filer round out their interior. They also have a lot of solid depth guys like Prime, Davis, Shortil, Daly and Timmis. Newly acquired Lirim Hajrulahu gives them a Canadian kicker (something they haven’t had in a while and can help the ration)

Current Needs: Want a stat that I find utterly amazing? The Ti-Cats have drafted just 3 O-lineman over the past 5 years! In a league where Cdn OL are at the core of any good team that seems almost unthinkable. While they have quantity in terms of OL depth, I would argue they lack quality. That extends to the rest of the team. Outside of their bona fide starters they have a lot of Canadians but few with the potential to step in a thrive. In theory the combo of Chambers and Mike Jones leaves them set at receiver but both have failed to live up to expectations and aren’t really the type of player that can be impact guys like Fantuz.

Prediction:  As awesome as having 4 top 15 picks is it actually poses somewhat of a problem for the Ti-Cats (albeit a good problem to have). Actually drafting 4 people in the top 15 means paying them all a decent salary and finding a roster spot for them all. A high pick on a practice roster can and will be swooped (ask Chris Jones). So I expect them to draft only 2 people who actually be in camp with those picks. For the other 2 they will do some combo of picking someone with NFL interest (since they can afford to wait on them) and trading up to land to first round picks or trading for a roster player. Eric Tillman loves to trade so expect that (he also is historically an awful drafter). I see one fo 2 scenarios with the top pick. If the Als happen to pass on Mark Chapman, the Tabbies will take him. Otherwise they will take an OL (likely Hunter or Shepley). They will also look to add a DB in the mid rounds.

Monday, April 16, 2018

CFL Draft 2018 Team Preview: Winnipeg Blue Bombers

We start a new week by looking at the Bombers. These previews aren’t nearly as fun to write as when they had guys like Taman and Mack running the show. Comedy's loss is Winnipeg’s gain I guess.
Picks: 8 picks, first selection is 7th Overall

2017 Draft Assessment: While the immediate returns weren’t huge, the ’17 draft can still be considered a good one for the Bombers as it allowed them build depth and stock the shelves. They use 2 first rounders to nab Faith Ekakitie (#1) and Geoff Gray (#8). Ekakitie (I’ve already typed such a complicated name too many times for my liking) is expected to be a bigger contributor in year 2. Gray adds to the OL pipeline. They also got Spooner in round 2 for more immediate OL depth.

Potential Pipeline: OL Geoff Gray (Cleveland). They also have DL Andy Mulumba, WR Stephen Alli and DL Christo Bilukidi should they ever decide to play football again.

Current Strengths: What stands out is their Canadian OL talent. Crazy stat: None of the Cdn OL currently under contract have hit their 30s yet! In a position normally reserved for old, fat people, the Bombers have a ton of youth. Many GM’s would kill to have a young core like Chung, Goosen and Couture. Obviously Andrew Harris is a major asset (now with LaFrance for depth). Loffler is an impact player at safety. Demski should finally give them a quality Cdn WR (something they have spent many high picks trying to find… though the picks they made were generally questionable). Throw in some solid special teamers like Miller and Miles and you have a very good group of Canadians.

Current Needs: I don’t see a viable back-up for Loffler on the roster so they could certainly do with an addition there. Even with high picks like Corney and Ekakitie (dammit now that’s 3 times) they lack depth at D-line. Not a pressing need but even with Demski I would still be pursuing Cdn WRs (given their awful track record when it comes to drafting them). Lastly you can never go wrong with more OL (though they could afford to pass on one in the first round if they so choose). They have Neufeld as one of their starters and while many will argue he’s a good starter, I’m still not convinced.

Prediction: I expect the Bombers to focus on the trenches with their first pick. Though its not a major need, I could see them join in the first round run on O-linemen. I could also see them take Justin Laurent to shore up the depth on the D side. In the second round I expect them to target one of the remaining receivers (Peterman, Dubois, Cibasu).

Friday, April 13, 2018

CFL Draft 2018 Team Preview: Toronto Argonauts

After sitting out the first round last year due to the infamous Drew Willy deal, the defending champs once again find themselves with a 1st round pick. Incidentally they still had to give their 3rd round pick this year to Winnipeg as part of the Willy trade… it’s the gift that keeps on giving (much like an STD).
Picks: 7 picks, first selection is 9th Overall

2017 Draft Assessment: Not a great draft in terms of top end talent. They had no 1st rd pick and 2nd round pick Mason Woods played exactly zero games and was shipped to Edmonton to get James Franklin. They did not bad in the back end of the draft in terms of depth guys nabbing guys like Nakas Oneyka (5th rd) who had 14 STT and Evan Foster who can add to DL depth and Robert Woodson at DB.

Potential Pipeline: TE Luke Wilson (Detroit)

Current Strengths: Starts up front where they have two young studs in McEwen and Holmes in the middle and Van Zeyl on the edge who has been one of the better OL in this league for a long time. Plus a ton of depth behind them (Deane, Watman, Campbell, Sakey). Laing is an impact player on the D-line with Gaydosh and Foster for depth. Gabriel, Black and Woodson have them set an Cdn DB. Guys like Coombs and Cross are valuable offensive contributors. You don’t win a Grey Cup without strong Canadian talent (unless you are from Baltimore) and the Argos certainly have a strong base.

Current Needs: They have quantity but not quality at Cdn WR. Matt Jones has never developed into the impact guy they envisioned when they took him 4th overall in 2016 and the remaining guys (Ralph, Noel, Charette) are token Cdn WRs at best. Not a pressing need but not an area of strength. Van Zeyl is 34 so planning for life after him is a need. Unlikely you find a lock-down tackle like him but stocking the OL shelves so you can play 3 interior CDN OL is a need. Beyond that not much in terms of needs.

Prediction: Normally I would say a receiver makes sense with their top pick but Jim Popp avoids using high picks on WRs like the plague. The last time he drafted a WR above the 4th round was in 2006. And this is a guy who has used first rounders on kickers he didn’t need. So logically that leaves the lines as the top target for the 1st round. A OL to replace Mason Woods is a strong possibility. A DL like Justin Laurent is another possibility. In the second round I think they look to add a DB.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

CFL Draft 2018 Team Preview: BC Lions

Ed Hervey took a very different approach in free agency than Buono ever did and we will have to see if that extends into the draft as a new era in BC is underway.

Picks: 7 picks, first selection is 3rd Overall

2017 Draft Assessment: Overall not a bad draft. They used their 2 first round picks on guys who had minimal impact in year 1 but should see larger roles in year 2 (Danny Vandervoot, Junior Luke). They also nabbed a couple of solid special teamers in the later rounds in Herdman (7th rd) and Chagnon (3rd rd) who had 19 and 11 special teams tackles respectively. The big hurt was losing 2nd round pick Jeremy Zver to the Riders. Zver was always viewed as a developmental project but for a team whose OL played as poorly as it did to lose the only OL it drafted is definitely a setback. Incidentally, Zver became the 3rd Lion draft pick to be poached by Chris Jones in the past 2 seasons. Can’t imagine Jones got a Christmas card from the Buonos (though I can’t imagine he gets Christmas cards from many people).

Potential Pipeline: DL Christian Covington (NFL - Houston), OL Brett Boyko (NFL - San Diego)

Current Strengths: With the emergence of Shaq Johnson along with Vandervoot and Watson, the Lions are suddenly pretty strong at receiver. They found a real gem in kicker Ty Long last season who locked down all 3 kicking jobs as a rookie. I think David Menard is a very underrated D-lineman and they have Junior Luke to help build depth there. They also have a good crop of depth/ST guys like Lumbala, Herdman, Chagnon and Parker.

Current Needs: Over the past 5 years BC has drafted 8 O-lineman and when you factor out the 5 no longer with the team and the one currently in the NFL it leaves them just 2 OL to show for 5 years of drafting.  Not saying that is the sole reason their OL was garbage last year but that’s gotta be a contributing factor. Their line was awful and they have done little to remedy the interior. So that is priority 1,2 and possibly 3. If they are intent on playing a Cdn safety then I would recommend starting to groom some people behind Cauchy Muamba (who I don’t think is very good incidentally).

Prediction: I will be shocked if Hervey doesn’t take OL with his first 2 picks like he did in 2015 with Edmonton. From there he may look to add a receiver to the mix or look for guys on defense. Hervey is also not afraid to take the risk and draft a guy who is NFL-bound so that’s something to watch for. Sometimes it works out (like Arjen Colquoun), more times it does not (Stefan Charles, Tevaughn Smith).

Monday, April 9, 2018

CFL Draft 2018 Team Preview: Montreal Alouettes

We start our annual pre-draft look at each team with the team currently slated to pick first overall. Kavis has been very forensic about his preparation... or what ever weird word he uses to describe his "unique" way of running things.

Picks: 9 picks, first selection is 1st Overall

2017 Draft Assessment: Much like pretty much everything related to the 2017 season, the draft was not very good. They had no first rounder because they traded it to BC for Vernon Adams (solid return on that investment). They wasted their 2nd round on a D-lineman (who ended up dressing for just 3 games) despite that being the least pressing need they had. The only real good thing they did was Donte Wright in the 3rd round. Most shocking to me was the bold decision not to draft any O-linemen at all (the only team not to do so).

Potential Pipeline: n/a (at one point they had DL Tyrone Crawford on their neg list but not sure if they still do… not that it matters, he ain’t coming north anytime soon).

Current Strengths:
They have the ability to start 2 quality Cdn DL in the Westerman brothers with Joseph and Foote for depth. Chris Ackie is another starting calibre defender who can play safety or DB. They also have a decent crop of special teamers and guys like Patrick Lavoie, Tevaughn Campbell and Shaq Murray-Lawrence who can contribute.

Current Needs:
Their O-line is old and not very good. Gagnon is really all they have waiting in the wings with the rest of their starters over 32 (maybe they should have drafted an OL or 2 last season). This needs to be addressed. With the exception of DB and DL they pretty much have needs across the board. All their best Canadians are over 30 and very few of their sub-30 group have the potential to be starters.

Ideally what Montreal wants to do is trade down to lower in the first round a get another pick or 2. That said it doesn’t sound like anyone is too eager to make such a trade (especially with no consensus #1 prospect and every team still having a 1st rounder). Logic says if they keep the pick then it has to be an O-lineman and one that is not likely NFL bound. Guys like Dakota Shepley or Ryan Hunter come to mind. A few people have then taking WR Mark Chapman first overall which is a possibility but they need a better line more than they need another receiver Josh Freeman won't be able to complete a pass to. That said Kavis Reed has never been big on logic and may just say screw it and draft another D-lineman.

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Pausing To Honour The Broncos

Today I had planned to kick of my annual CFL Draft coverage with the first installment of the Team Previews. I will still be posting that shortly but before getting back to business as usual I did want to take a minute to pause and acknowledge the tragic crash that has so deeply impacted this province and the country as a whole.

I'd like to make special mention of a member of the CFL online community who was among those that died. I never met Tyler Bieber but I certainly read his stuff on CFL Daily and interacted online through things like Twitter and Rider Fans. His loss hits close to home. John Hodge wrote a very good memorial of Tyler and I would encourage you to have a read

There are no words that can do the tragedy justice or comfort those in pain. In a province as close nit as this I think everyone has been touched in some way. My prayers go out to all those affected.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Easter Thoughts

Hope everyone had a good Easter. You likely spent the day in a turkey coma while your children bounced off the walls to to sugar overload. The more I think about modern day Easter celebrations the more I think that a giant mutant rabbit who enters everyone's home and delivers children a huge dose of cavities and diabetes is something that we should find concerning not something we celebrate. Speaking of diabetes, that is a sufficiently awkward and poorly executed segue into my first sentimony.

- John Chick announced his retirement on Friday. There is so much about the man that is amazing. First and foremost he was an elite defensive end. His stats speak for themselves. He's a two time Grey Cup Champion, 3 time all-star and a defensive player of the year. But on top of being and immensely talented player, what's also amazing is that it did it all with diabetes, which is no small feat. In the process he became an inspiration to many. As if that wasn't enough, on top of all of that he is top notch guy. Active in the community, kind, humble. He's a rare combination of awesome. He also fathered a small army (and I somehow doubt his retirement extends to procreation).

- Chick is one of those once in a generation player that we were lucky to have for as long as we did. He was dominant in his first stint here. If not for a knee injury I honestly think he would have stuck in Jacksonville and never came back. but fate had other plans in mind as he returned to help propel us to a Grey Cup. In the process, he joined a very exclusive club of players who started in two Grey Cup wins for the Riders. I believe only Neal Hughes and Mike McCullough can boast the same feat (I don't really count guys like Getzlaf an Durant as they had zero role in their first ring). I can only assume that a man with that many mouths to feed has a solid post-football job lined up. All the best either way.

- The other big Rider news was the signing of John Ojo. Which is a big get both literally and figuratively. He's 6'3 and was a dominant DB last time we saw him in the CFL. Granted that was in 2015 and injury and NFL tryouts have left very little evidence that he's still the same guy. But he's 100% worth rolling the dice on. At only 28 he's got a lot of good football ahead of him. This definitely improves our secondary. A healthy Ojo is an upgrade over Kacy Rodgers (who was no slouch).

- Starting next week I will embark on my annual CFL Draft coverage, with Team by Team previews, a mock draft (aka Prophet's wild ass guesses) and other random opining and pontificating. 

- The other big CFL news has been Johnny... well you know his last name but I honestly won't waste even a minute discussing him until he actually does something in this league. Good lord, Stefan LeFors has had an illustrious CFL career when compared to he who shall not be named.  He's thrown as many CFL passes as me and no one seems to give a crap about my futile attempts to relaunch my football career (full disclosure, you technically need to replace 're-launch' with just 'launch' and 'attempts' with 'nothing' for that last statement to be accurate.