Friday, May 24, 2024

Edmonton is on the clock, with Ottawa picking second in 2024 CFL draft

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If past history is an indication, it’s a good bet the Ottawa Redblacks will take an offensive lineman with the second overall pick in the Canadian Football League draft Tuesday night.

But don’t go to the bank with that just yet either, because according to GM Shawn Burke, he and his staff were not 100 percent decided on their choice less than 31 hours before decision time.

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“We’re getting there,” Burke said in a phone conversation Monday afternoon. “We tabled it until after the NFL draft (on the weekend) so we didn’t didn’t talk in circles and had more clarity. We’re circling in now. I think we’re close to who we’re going to decide to (take) but we’ve still got a couple of minor things to go through.”

The Redblacks have selected offensive linemen with their first round pick in each of Burke’s two years on the job.

In 2022 it was Ottawa’s Zack Pelehos, and in 2023 they took Fresno State’s Dontae Bull with the No. 1 overall selection.

This year’s class is again top-heavy with the big boys who protect QBs and open holes for running backs.

“It’s been talked about widely, that the O-line is definitely a good group this year,” said Burke. “There’s some good receivers in the draft, and then I look at the linebacker types and it’s a good group, where there’s some high-end guys.

“I think there’s several groups that have pretty good talent, and then like all drafts there’s other groups that maybe are a little less, where there’s a couple of top-end guys and then it sort of bottoms out from there.

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“But overall, it’s very good draft.”

Top players who almost certainly won’t be selected early include the four Canadians who were drafted by NFL teams over the weekend: Ajax OL Isaiah Adams (Arizona Cardinals, third round), Windsor WR Theo Johnson (New York Giants, fourth round), UBC tackle Giovanni Manu (Detroit Lions, fourth round) and Lethbridge TE Tanner McLachlan (Cincinnati Bengals, sixth round).

Others likely to be bypassed with early picks Tuesday are three players who signed with NFL teams following the draft. North Vancouver’s Theo Benedet, a UBC tackle who was Canadian university football’s top linemen the last two years, was inked by the Chicago Bears, Toronto’s Kyle Hergel, an offensive lineman at Boston College, joined the New Orleans Saints, and Brampton’s Anim Dankwah, a tackle out of Howard, took a deal with the Philadelphia Eagles.

There’s plenty of speculation Edmonton will take linebacker Joel Dublanko out of Cincinnati with the first pick and that the Redblacks — who have the second pick in every round except the fourth (when they’ll have the sixth pick), and the fifth (when they have no picks) — will follow up by making Laval wide receiver Kevin Mital the second choice.

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Don’t be surprised if the Redblacks will go in a different direction, however.

“We always base our draft based off our board,” said Burke. “I find if you get too fixated on needs instead of best players, you get yourself in trouble. So we’ll be looking at our board and make decisions based off that.”

Likely on Ottawa’s radar are offensive linemen Gabe Wallace (Buffalo) and Nathaniel Dumoulin-Duguay (Laval).

“The reality is it’s where we play a good chunk of our Canadians,” Burke said of the O-Line. “We’ve been trying to start four Canadian offensive lineman. We’ve drafted three in the last two years with very high picks and that gives us the ability to look at other positions (for Americans). So we’ll see what happens.”

This season will be a big one for both Bull, whose progression was limited in 2023 as he was coming off a broken leg that cut short his college career, and Pelehos, the Gananoque product who played 14 games last season.

“With not having an off-season, it inhibits you from being able to do things you want to do as an athlete to get ready for season,” said Burke. “So it was a learning season for (Bull). We think he has a very high talent level and there’s some things we’ve challenged with him to get better at and be a better pro, but we’re excited to see him come into the second season.

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“(Pelehos) plays the same position as Bull and we’re trying to develop that position, right tackle, as a Canadian starting spot so we can start four on the O-line. Zach will be competing with Dontae and some Americans at that spot. Both Dontae and Zach have the ability to play guard as well. I could see one of them being the starter, if we decided to go with the Canadian tackle, and the other being a backup offensive lineman to start with. They won’t beat out the guards we have but they can be the sixth man on our roster.”

Meanwhile, this Tuesday night is a big one for Chad Hudson, the Redblacks’ director of Canadian scouting and analytics, as well as the rest of the team’s scouts, coaches and, of course, Burke.

“It’s a culmination of a lot of work,” said Burke. “First by Chad, (whose job is) 365 days a year. Legitimately the day after the draft, he’s driving to Waterloo to go to the East-West to focus on next year’s draft. He does a ton of the legwork for us and the coaches. Myself and the rest of scouts get involved in the latter half of the process in the draft, and we put in a lot of time, effort and discussion.

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“The reality is is that the draft is the lifeblood of your Canadian ecosystem of your football team, so it’s an exciting time. I think all nine teams will come out of the draft and think they did great, hit it out of the park. You have to see the realities of it in the next two to four years. Our expectations are for progression from (the picks of) last year’s draft. We’re excited to see last year’s draft picks and their jumps this year and then we’re excited to welcome a new crop this year.”

The Redblacks also have the second pick in each round of the two-round Global Draft, which gets underway at 11 a.m. Tuesday.

Last year they had the first overall selection and took Blessman Ta’ala, a Hawaii alum and American Samoan-born defensive lineman who had six tackles and two sacks while suiting up for 12 games.

dbrennan@postmedia.com

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