May 10, 2016

Preview: Top talent takes centre stage at the CFL Draft

Johany Jutras/

TORONTO — Put two and two together and it might make sense for the Saskatchewan Roughriders to pick Oklahoma tackle Josiah St. John with their first overall pick.

Of course if you assume that’s how it shakes out, you might not know Chris Jones.

The CFL Draft kicks off Tuesday night at 7 p.m. on TSN 1, 3, 4 and 5 and RDS2 as all nine CFL teams zero in on the country’s top amateur talent. And while they only have one pick in the first two and a half rounds, everyone will be watching the Riders as they lay eyes on the fruit of a labourious three-win season.

A busy off-season tear down and re-build has led them here, where Jones and co. have the opportunity to add a major building block of the future – a future that, whether the Riders trade the pick or not, starts in 2016.

“Certainly you want people that can come in and help you this year when you’re in the position that we’re in,” said Jones. “And we’ve got a lot of good choices.”

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Johany Jutras/

Josiah St. John is the fifth-ranked player on the CFL Scouting Bureau list and the favourite to go first overall, a 6-foot-6 offensive lineman out of Oklahoma and one of the few in the draft with the ability to play tackle.

Just behind him is Laval guard Charles Vaillancourt, the first of three offensive linemen from Laval slated to go in the first round and considered by many the most reliable, well-rounded and pro-ready player in the draft.

For both players, going first overall would be an honour.

“For myself, if ever I could end up at number one for sure it would be great,” said Vaillancourt, a 6-foot-4, 329 pound native of Coaticook, Que. “But you never know what can happen on this day. For now there’s nothing I can control and just wait.”

“Being taken first overall would be a blessing,” added St. John, a Toronto native, “but with the draft no one knows what’s going to happen yet.

“If I was number one I’d be very happy and very proud and my family would enjoy that also and I’d get to go to Saskatchewan and contribute to the team.”

That of course is if the Riders are the ones picking first overall. Jones continues to weigh his options less than 24 hours before the draft.

“We’ve talked to multiple teams so there have been people that have tried to buy the pick and people that have tried to switch spots in the first,” said Jones. “We’re going to look at the best offer and then we’ll make the best decision for us.”

While St. John and Vaillancourt have generated the most buzz among prospects, they lead a talented group of offensive linemen that should benefit any team looking for men up front.


Vaillancourt’s fellow Laval teammate Philippe Gagnon (No. 8) is strong and nasty, known for his toughness and the way he dominated the field with 40 reps on the bench at the CFL Combine. Jason Lauzon-Seguin (No. 17) is the third Laval O-lineman with first round aspirations, projected to go as high as second on Justin Dunk’s Mock Draft.

If all three go in the first round, Laval would become just the second school ever with three first round draft picks in the same year (Calgary did so in 2013 when Linden Gaydosh, Mike Edem and Steven Lumbala were all first round picks). Meanwhile it would mark five Laval players, all offensive linemen, taken in the first round over the last two years (Danny Groulx and Karl Lavoie in 2015) – the most successful two-year stretch of any school in CFL Draft history.

Last year six of nine first round picks were offensive linemen, and an even bigger run of big men this year wouldn’t surprise anyone.

“There’s a case to be made for seven out of the eight first round picks to be offensive linemen,” said Argos GM Jim Barker, who likely has his sights on one of them with the fourth overall pick.

The Argos are one of the deepest teams in the league as far as national depth on the O-line after adding free agents Josh Bourke and Corey Watman, especially if last year’s third overall pick Sean McEwen joins them in training camp this year. But as Barker pointed out, the purpose of today’s draft is for tomorrow.

“You don’t draft a guy expecting him to come right in and play for you,” said Barker. “You draft a guy for the future.

“We have some guys that are getting up in years and there’s going to be a natural attrition and addition that has to happen and having guys that are in your system that you can replace current players as they get older or as they get too expensive is part of what the draft is all about.”

“You don’t draft a guy expecting him to come right in and play for you. You draft a guy for the future.”

Johany Jutras/

Argos GM Jim Barker (right) looks on at the CFL Combine (Johany Jutras/

The Bombers were originally slated to pick second overall but forfeited their pick after using it to select Garrett Waggoner in the supplemental draft last season. They’ll open the second round with back to back picks.

GM Kyle Walters said he has no regrets over Waggoner, who he added has a bright future in the CFL – and that the Bombers have accumulated enough national depth to focus strictly on the best player available rather than any specific need.

“I think when you look at the board, we’re going to get two good football players,” said Walters. “I just don’t know what positions.

“That’s a little bit different from the draft last year when we all stood in here and said ‘yeah we’re taking an O-lineman, it’s a done deal it’s just we’ll see which one’.”

While the first four players in the CFL Scouting Bureau rankings come highly touted, all of them are slated for NFL camps later this summer – including the top-ranked David Onyemata, a Manitoba graduate and a fourth round draft pick of the New Orleans Saints. Don’t expect him or one of Iowa receiver Tevaun Smith, Boston College defensive lineman Mehdi Abdesmad or Michigan State defensive back Arjen Colquhoun to go early.

Instead, the Alouettes have an opportunity to inject a little more youth into a veteran O-line that’s taken on some wear and tear the last couple of years, while the same goes for a Stampeders team that may look to fortify an offensive line that allowed a league-low 33 sacks in 2015. The Als will pick second in the first round and third the rest of the way, while the Stampeders pick sixth in the first round.

Somewhere in between is Hamilton, which some project may look for a receiver with its first round pick. Juwan Brescacin of Northern Illinois (No. 12) and Acadia’s Brian Jones are two names that have been mentioned, especially with Andy Fantuz entering his age 32 season.

The BC Lions will pick fourth overall while rounding out the first round are the Ottawa REDBLACKS and the defending Grey Cup Champion Edmonton Eskimos.

In the end, the key to the draft could be that first overall pick and whatever the Riders decide to do with it. Jones must be tempted to fill the large gap between his team’s first and second pick, but at the same time he’s not going do anything rash.

“That has been kind of a stumbling block for us this year when we’re doing our mock drafts is the hole we have in the second,” said Jones. “But I feel like we’ve got some pretty good names there in the third.”

For everyone else all that’s left to do is wait, and the waiting game is almost over.