It has become an annual post-draft event here over the past few year. I'm talking about the annual "What was Chris Jones thinking?" discussion. From using a 4th round pick on Onyemata in 2016, to drafting a guy most recently out of football in 2017, the 2018 draft brought the latest installment in that discussion.
By now it should not surprise us. Chris Jones has made no secret about his approach to the first round of the draft... He swings for the fences and has about as much use for worrying about the associated risk as he does for a light coloured short sleeve shirt. He passed on safer options when he took Josiah St John, seeing only the potential of an athletic tackle. He passed on safer options when he took Cameron Judge (To be fair, Judge was a far safer pick than St John). So Thursday when safer options were passed on in favour of Dakota Shepley, Jones was just being consistent. He takes who he sees as the best athlete with the highest ceiling, its as simple as that.
From a purely talent standpoint, Shepley is a great pick. He was among the top 3 OL in the draft, he can play any position on the line, he tested through the roof, he's got game film to back it all up. But the problem is that he has already signed a free agent deal with the NY Jets (my condolences). So there is no chance we see him in Regina before the fall and most likely not for a year or possibly 2. Are we so desperate for Canadians that we can't afford to wait? No. Were there other options that would have had a more immediate impact? Yes. The bigger issue is that Chris Jones currently has essentially nothing to show for his first 3 1st round draft picks (all in the top 5). Hell if it wasn't for Bladek Jones would essentially have nothing to show at all. It has led to us needing to fill our Canadian content via free agency (Muamba, Evans, Hurl, Harty, etc.) It obviously doesn't make it impossible to be competitive but it does make it hard.
As for our other draft picks:
LB Micah Teitz (2nd Round) - Much like Shepley, Teitz is a fine pick. He's the best LB in a relatively thin LB group. He can have an early impact on special teams and depending on what we do with Judge and Hurl, he could provide depth. So it was a good pick, but given that we have 6 Cdn LBs on the roster already I won't say this is a great pick. Personally I would have targeted another OL (like Pickett) or at least a DB (like Guzylak-Messam) as we are thinner at safety and likely will be starting a Cdn there.
DL Mathieu Breton (Round 5) - Can't imagine what Jones would see in a 6'7 D-lineman :) The odds of a 5th rounder panning out are low but additional competition at DL is a good thing so this does hit an area of need. He may also be flipped to OL (which Jones has been known to do a time or two).
DL Tresor Buama-Mafuta (Round 6) - Based purely on name, I already love him. If you say it to the tune of Hakuna Matata its catchy (that's the kind of informative football analysis you can only find here). Big strong guy to add to the DL mix, about as good as you can expect in Round 6.
OL Christopher Smith (Round 8) - A guy who was a starting left tackle in college is not a bad flyer in the final round.
Overall the draft is rather "meh" but if/when Shepley reports we may look back fondly on it.
One last thing to touch on today and that is the retirement of Jerrell Freeman.
Its rare for a player who had such a short stint here to be beloved and revered as much as Freeman was. But he was no ordinary player. From obscure Div 3 beginnings it wasn't until the later part of his second year here that most even became aware of his existence. He did a lot of back-up/special teams duty until later in 2010. I was an early convert to his fan club (though I won't lie and say I knew he was a stud from day 1). He impressed me with his ability to make plays all over the field. I started lovingly referring to him as Freakman. The West-Final of 2010 is probably the moment that most Rider fans can pin point as the starting point of their man crush on him. As Grease-Mullen let a key kick through his useless hands and onto the turf, Freeman slid through the snow and a bunch of Stamp defenders and into our hearts.
While the 2011 season was painful to endure, one of the lone bright spots was the play of Freeman. He was indeed a freak on the field. The level he was playing at made it no surprise when the NFL came calling. And once he got to the show he wasn't just a back-up/role player, his hustle and play making ability that he was famous for up here continued in the NFL. Look at 2014 where he had 6 forced fumbles, 2 INTs and 5.5 sacks. He was a special player. The kind that only come around every so often. His path from Div 3 to the Riders to 6 year starter in the NFL is pretty amazing. More amazing was how much he loved this province. He loved coming back here every chance he got and that only made us love him more.
He's one of the most talented defenders I've seen suit up for the Riders and one of my favourite all-time players. My only regret is that we wasted his only full year as a starter on such a crappy season.