It has been often said that solid Canadian content is what separates contenders from pretenders in the chase for a Grey Cup in any given year. As he and the Lions brass continue the process of tackling the CFL Draft (Tuesday, May 4th/4 PM PT), that belief is foremost in the mind of Neil McEvoy.
The Lions’ co-GM and director of football operations joined 1st and Now to talk about the process of this year’s National Draft, particularly the importance of finding future Canadian cornerstones in the early rounds.
“At the end of the day, you want a guy for six, seven, eight years like the Hunter Stewards of the world, like the Jason Clermonts of the world, who stayed with us for eight years,” said McEvoy.
“You want to get guys who are going to be with you and be a part of your team so you can build around them. You want to bring guys in so they can complement the current National guys you have so that the next group of guys you can just slot them in and all of a sudden you have a pretty good football team with good Nationals.”
If McEvoy and company can find just one or two examples as he mentioned above, then 2021 will be considered a successful class. Steward enters this season as the club’s longest-serving player on offence and has shown his versatility by playing both offensive guard and tackle.
Clermont, of course, can probably be considered a top-three all-time draft pick by the organization. The chance to find a real building block is yet another thing that makes tackling the draft process all that more exciting.
Whether through the draft itself or free agency, the squad’s Canadian content has only gotten better in the last 2-3 years. With impact players like Lemar Durant, Shaq Johnson, a solid group of offensive linemen plus last year’s fireworks that led to selecting Jordan Williams 1st overall, Tuesday only presents a chance to get even better with the Lions currently holding the 4th, 15th, 22nd, 40th and 51st overall selections.
Tackling The Depth At Top Of Board
Based on the CFL Spring Scouting Bureau rankings released on Monday, McEvoy and company will have the chance to covet a solid prospect at whatever position they choose with their first selection.
Scanning the top ten below, you’ll find standout running back Chuba Hubbard, a native of St. Albert Alberta, four offensive linemen, three defensive backs, one linebacker and wide receiver Josh Palmer from Tennessee currently ranked number one. An array of talent at multiple positions will be music to the ears of anyone making a selection.
“I’d say the Canadian Football League Draft always has the potential to bring in top-notch players to compliment your football team,” explained McEvoy.
“At the fourth pick, 15th pick and 21st pick, I believe that we’re going to have three quality football players come in and not only make our team but make us a better team.”
Lions Co-GM Neil McEvoy
Where it also gets tricky is the possibility of picking someone early you may not see in 2021. Hubbard and his Oklahoma State teammate Amen Ogbongbemiga are projected to be mid-round picks in this weekend’s NFL Draft, while Oregon defensive back Jevon Holland could project to be the top Canadian drafted.
A few of the projected early picks also have one more year of school eligibility. Finding guys they project can be long-time Lions will be paramount. The experience itself can be exciting for the brass as well.
“It’s always great to call guys and draft day and let them know they’re going to be BC Lions,” added McEvoy.
“It’s a big deal for their families, a big deal for them and it’s a big deal for Canadians. The Canadian Football League and the Canadian Football Draft have been around for a long long time. It will be around long after we’re gone. It’s a great institution. I love being part of the draft and as a personnel guy, it’s one of the most exciting times of the year for me.”
Bloodlines A Big Storyline In 2021 Draft
You probably recognize a few last names on that top prospect chart. Bo Lokombo’s younger brother Nelson enjoyed three solid seasons with the Saskatchewan Huskies and like Bo, starred at Abbotsford’s WJ Mouat High School. Ogbongbemiga spent part of 2017 on the Lions practice squad and won back-to-back Hardy Cups with the Calgary Dinos.
In addition, Holland is the son of former Lions, Edmonton Football Team and Saskatchewan Roughriders DB Robert Holland and grew up in Coquitlam. McEvoy claims it’s yet another reminder of how the CFL providing opportunities for players continues to pay dividends for the newer generation of prospects.
“That’s the beauty of Canadian professional football,” said McEvoy.
“These guys who have no ties to Canada other than football come here, have families and now you have great young men who are hoping to come back and even guys born in Canada are going to be drafted in the NFL. The Canadian Football League just gives guys throughout North America, and now with the Global Draft, throughout the world to come to Canada, come to Vancouver, lay down some roots and just bring great stuff to our community. We’re just hoping to continue that trend.”
And if you find a few franchise studs, it’s all worth it in the end. Tackling the draft is just one intriguing step of this 2021 journey.