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May 2, 2019

Primer: What you need to know about the 2019 CFL Draft

TORONTO — The future is now for general managers and front offices from across the Canadian Football League.

After months of film study, scouting trips and combines, the wait is over as the country’s top amateur football prospects will be distributed among the CFL’s nine teams.

The 2019 CFL Draft kicks off at 8 p.m. ET on Thursday, May 2 in Toronto and can be viewed on TSN, RDS and TSN Direct.

With more than a hundred draft-eligible players and exactly 73 set to join a new roster, we’ve got everything you need to know going into Thursday.


1. WHAT IS THE PRIORITY DRAFT ORDER?

The priority draft order was set in reverse order of the 2018 CFL Standings, with the Toronto Argonauts holding the first pick and the Grey Cup Champion Calgary Stampeders finishing the first round.

The Montreal Alouettes are without their first round pick, which was given up in the supplementary draft last year to select offensive lineman Tyler Johnstone.

Meanwhile, the BC Lions don’t have a pick in either of the draft’s first two rounds. They aren’t at the podium until 26th overall but still have seven picks in the draft.

The priority selection order is as follows: Toronto, Montreal, Hamilton, Edmonton, BC, Winnipeg, Saskatchewan, Ottawa, Calgary.

ROUND 1

PICK TEAM
1 Toronto Argonauts
Montreal Alouettes
2 Hamilton Tiger-Cats
3 Edmonton Eskimos
4 Winnipeg Blue Bombers (via BC)
5 Winnipeg Blue Bombers
6 Saskatchewan Roughriders
7 Ottawa REDBLACKS
8 Calgary Stampeders

 

2. AND THE FIRST OVERALL PICK IS…

Unlike in years past, mum’s the word on who will be the first overall pick heading into the draft. Argos general manager Jim Popp has said he’d like to keep it a secret right up until the selection is made. Doing so would certainly help keep the other eight teams off balance.

“We get to dictate the draft,” Popp told CFL.ca. “We get to dictate by who we draft and then everybody’s got to adjust from there. People are waiting to see the domino fall. Everyone’s speculating and nobody knows. Hopefully we’ll keep that under wraps and it keeps everyone speculating what the next move is.”

To complicate matters, there’s no real consensus top overall pick.

Laval defensive lineman Mathieu Betts, ranked number one in the latest CFL Scouting Bureau rankings, likely won’t be in play at first overall after signing an undrafted priority contract with an NFL team last weekend.

Oklahoma State offensive lineman Shane Richards, Arkansas State receiver Justin McInnis and Kansas offensive lineman Alex Fontana are all highly-touted, but could see their stock drop after skipping the CFL Combine presented by New Era back in March.

CFL.ca’s Marshall Ferguson has placed Waterloo offensive lineman Drew Desjarlais at the top of his last two mock drafts after a dominant combine showing for the seventh-ranked prospect, while Northern Colorado lineman Zach Wilkinson and UConn receiver Hergy Mayala are other top prospects that have been mentioned often.

Given the hit-or-miss nature of the CFL Draft, including a number of failed first overall picks, the gravity of Thursday’s selection isn’t lost on the Argos’ veteran GM.

Previous 10 first overall selections

YEAR PLAYER POSITION TEAM
2018 Mark Chapman REC HAM
2017 Faith Ekakitie DL WPG
2016 Josiah St. John OL SSK
2015 Alex Mateas OL OTT
2014 Pierre Lavertu OL CGY
2013 Linden Gaydosh DL HAM
2012 Ben Heenan OL SSK
2011 Henoc Muamba LB WPG
2010 Shomari Williams LB SSK
2009 Simeon Rottier OL HAM

 

First overall picks by position (1980-2018)

POSITION NO. OF PICKS PERCENTAGE
OL 18 46%
DL 9 23%
REC 4 10%
DB 3 8%
LB 2 5%
RB 2 5%
TE 1 3%

 

3. ALSO KEEP AN EYE ON…

While we’ve mentioned a handful of contenders for the top pick, there are plenty of other selections that will highlight Thursday’s draft, from two Canadian quarterbacks to a particularly strong running back class.

Here are some of the ‘other’ intriguing names to keep an eye on.

Kaion Julien-Grant — Despite a deep and talented receiver class, Julien-Grant has become a ‘trendy’ choice throughout mock drafts after a dominant showing at the combine. The St. FX pass-catcher looked good in one-on-ones and ranked second among all receivers in the 40-yard dash, broad jump and vertical jump, helping him surge into the top 10 in the CFL Scouting Bureau.

Kyle Saxelid — The UNLV product has the versatility to play play multiple positions on the offensive line, including tackle, making him an intriguing prospect going into Thursday’s draft. Despite not ranking in the scouting bureau top 20 at all this year, Saxelid is viewed as a first round pick by most prognosticators.

Brady Oliveira — All the top up-and-coming running backs seem to come from Winnipeg. A product of North Dakota, Oliveira headlines what could be the best running back class in years, with Maleek Irons and Jamel Lyles rounding out a three-headed monster of bonafide top running back prospects. There’s no reason one of these players can’t break into the first round as teams look to target a possible ratio-breaker.

Jonathan Kongbo — The top prospect in the first of three scouting bureau rankings last September, Kongbo suffered a season-ending injury that could sideline him well into 2019. That shouldn’t deter anyone, as the Surrey, B.C. native started at defensive end for a Division I NCAA school with the Tennessee Volunteers.

Shai Ross — A regional combine invite, Ross tested exceptionally across the board throughout the month of March, eventually being rewarded with a New York Giants rookie camp invite. His odds of getting a contract south of the border may be slim, but Ross is a potential sleeper in the midst of a deep receiver class in 2019.

Michael O’Connor and Chris Merchant — Could 2019 become a storybook year for Canadian quarterbacks? UBC’s Michael O’Connor has garnered plenty of hype, carrying a pro-style repertoire that’s even earned him an invite to Seattle Seahawks rookie camp. But another national signal-caller should also see his name called, as Western’s Chris Merchant put on a strong display at the combine, with one scout telling CFL.ca’s Marshall Ferguson that he could have a higher ceiling than O’Connor.

Hunter Karl — Handpicked by Marshall Ferguson as a possible steal of the draft, the Calgary receiver has been productive everywhere he’s gone, including a stellar 2017 season in which he racked up 767 yards, 50 catches and seven touchdowns in just seven games.


MORE ON THE CFL DRAFT
» Mock Draft 3.0: All Betts are off!
» View: Draft Order | Broadcast Info | Combine Results
» Nye: Riders have options at sixth overall
» O’Leary: Argos can dictate draft with No. 1 pick
» WATCH: Profiling the draft’s top prospects
» Play New Era Predict the Pick to win $1,000!
» Draft Rewind: 5 years of 1st round picks
» Rankings: Scouting Bureau Top 20 | Ferguson’s Top 50


4. BOMBERS GO BACK TO BACK

While the Argos hold the first overall pick, the Bombers will also dictate how the first round unfolds on Thursday night in Toronto. With the fourth and fifth overall picks, some have speculated Kyle Walters could be open for business come draft night. Not so fast, says the Bombers’ general manager.

“There’s been a ton of talk over the last two weeks and we’ll see what gets serious,” Walters told BlueBombers.com. “It’s generally not good philosophy to be trading first round draft picks for American players unless they’re proven, top-notch American players, which you don’t see happen very often in our league.”

Walters has a proven track record with his first round picks and while some teams could come knocking, it would likely take a lot for Winnipeg to give up a top-five pick.

Where the Bombers go with those picks, positionally, is a different question. After losing two premium starters on the O-line in Matthias Goossen (retirement) and Sukh Chungh (free agency), there’s a need to re-stock the cupboards with big men. On the other hand, the Bombers could start three Canadian receivers this year, while the heir apparent to Andrew Harris might also be available in the first round in Brady Oliveira, opening up other possibilities.

As a footnote, Walters said this about the high-end talent available at running back this year:

“If you can find a Canadian that plays a non-traditional or American position it does allow you to do some things ratio-wise,” said Walters.  “The tailbacks in this draft are pretty darn good . . . like we haven’t seen in a while. I would say this is a bit of an anomaly where you see two Canadians playing big-time roles at American schools.”

5. EYES ON THE ALS

If Kyle Walters does take offers for one of his first round picks, expect the Montreal Alouettes to be on the phone. Due to various circumstances, namely last year’s supplemental draft pick Tyler Johnstone in addition to the Johnny Manziel trade, the Alouettes are without a first round pick until 2022.

They do, however, have the wherewithal to move up, holding four picks in the 13-21 range as a result of the picks acquired in last year’s deadline deals (Chris Ackie and Philip Blake were moved for second round picks) as well as a territorial draft pick that cannot be traded.

Despite losing some first round picks, the Alouettes’ ratio flexibility ranks among the best teams in the CFL. Trey Rutherford and projected starting tackle Tyler Johnstone are pillars of the offensive line for years to come, allowing the team to start four Canadians up front. Free agent additions Taylor Loffler and Bo Lokombo join Henoc Muamba as defensive starters with Canadian status.

That kind of flexibility gives the Alouettes’ front office plenty of options come Thursday night, including the chance to take possible ‘futures’ that other teams may avoid.

“We’re thinking long-term, particularly this year,” Director of National Scouting Miles Gorrell told MontrealAlouettes.com. “It’s crucial for us to recruit guys who will want to stay with us more than two seasons.

“We have four picks in the first 21, considering we have the right to a territorial exemption. We should be able to get our hands on players who won’t necessarily start this year, but will grow in our system.”

The Alouettes’ Canadian talent could allow them to start all Americans at receiver this year, though the team could stockpile pass-catchers in the draft given the depth of the position.

 

6. ALL ABOUT THE BIG MEN

Players like Mike Reilly, Micah Johnson and Willie Jefferson got all the attention in free agency earlier this off-season, and rightly so. But at the CFL Draft the spotlight shifts to the offensive linemen, by far the most popular position group every year on draft day.

Positional needs vary across draft boards throughout the CFL, but offensive line depth will always be coveted no matter what.

“Every CFL team every year looks to upgrade the offensive line,” said Bombers GM Kyle Walters, who has back-to-back picks in the first round. “The rule of thumb in our league is that O-linemen go early, teams just replenish them and develop them so when you do have some losses in free agency each year you expect your young guys to step in and play.”

The CFL Draft is often about being one step ahead. Despite losing offensive pillars Matthias Goossen and Sukh Chungh, the Bombers were prepared after drafting Geoff Gray and Michael Couture over the last few seasons. If Walters goes O-line again in the first round, he’ll be thinking about two years down the road.

This is a league-wide trend, and last year was no different as 20 offensive linemen selected in the entire draft, the most since 1987 (26) and tied for the fourth-highest total all-time. Last year marked the most players drafted at one position group in a single draft in the past 15 occasions, with seven of nine first round picks being offensive linemen, a new draft record.

In the big picture, offensive linemen have accounted for 25.2 per cent of all draft picks since 2004, the most for any position group. Defensive linemen are next at 18.3 per cent, followed by receivers 17.4 per cent. Since 2003, of the 125 first round picks, 55 selections, a total of 44 per cent, have been offensive linemen, the most for any position group.

7. GETTING TERRITORIAL

Prior to the 2019 Draft, it was determined that the two teams with the highest waiver priority would each get to make one territorial draft pick at the end of the second round.

The Toronto Argonauts and Montreal Alouettes will be the first teams to benefit, receiving the 18th and 19th overall picks respectively in Thursday’s draft.

Despite being limited by region, there are several players that could come into play for both the Argos and Als, and both clubs are excited by the possibilities.

“A territorial exemption is one more local talent, one more guy who knows the environment, who knows the culture and who won’t struggle to get used to the pace of this city,” said the Alouettes’ director of national scouting, Miles Gorrell.

“When we speak to guys, we examine their path, we look at where they’ve been. If a player lived with his parents in a village of Western Canada his whole life, he is far more likely to be home sick when he lands in a big city where everybody speaks French. The psychological aspect shouldn’t be underestimated.”

In his final of three mock drafts, CFL.ca’s Marshall Ferguson has the Argos taking Fresno State defensive back and Toronto native Matthew Boateng with the 18th pick, and the Alouettes going with Western linebacker and Blainville, Que. native Philippe Dion with the 19th pick.

 

8. DINO DOMINANCE

With eight more players chosen in the 2018 draft, the Calgary Dinos are distancing themselves from Laval as Canada’s top professional football factory, at least of the last 15 years.

Calgary leads the nation with 56 players drafted dating back to 2004, moving ahead of second-ranked Laval (52). The Dinos have had 17 players drafted into the CFL in the last two years, marking the highest total over a two-year span out of any team since 2004.

The Dinos have had multiple first round selections in four of the last eight years, ranking first in the CFL over that span:

2018: OL Darius Ciraco (6, HAM) and OL Ryan Sceviour (8, CGY)
2015: OL Sukh Chungh (2, WPG) and OL Sean McEwen (3, TOR)
2013: DL Linden Gaydosh (1, HAM), LB Mike Edem (3, MTL) and RB Steven Lumbala (5, MTL)
2011: WR Anthony Parker (3, CGY), WR Nathan Coehoorn (5, EDM)

Calgary and Laval are the only schools that have produced three first-round picks in a single draft. In addition to Calgary’s feat, Laval also had three first round picks when OL Philippe Gagnon (2, MTL), OL Charles Vaillancourt (5, BC) and OL Jason Lauzon-Seguin (7, OTT) were drafted in 2016.

Calgary leads all schools with 14 first round selections since 2004, followed closely by Laval with 10. They’re on their own island as the next closest schools, McMaster and Saskatchewan, have had five. Calgary has had at least one first round pick in nine of the last 15 years.

This year, Marshall Ferguson has three Laval players being drafted in his final mock draft (DL Mathieu Betts, DL Vincent Desjardins, OL Samuel Thomassin) compared to just two Calgary players (RB Jeshrun Antwi, REC Hunter Karl). Perhaps some other schools will have a chance to catch up.

9. TRADES THAT IMPACT THE CFL DRAFT

ROUND 1

First Round Selection – Montréal Alouettes

Montréal forfeited its original first round selection after selecting national offensive lineman Tyler Johnstone in the 2018 CFL Supplemental Draft.

4th overall – Winnipeg Blue Bombers via BC Lions

Winnipeg acquired BC’s original 2019 first-round selection (4th overall) along with BC’s original 2018 second round selection (12th overall) in exchange for Winnipeg’s original first-round selection (7th overall) and original second round selection (16th overall) in the 2018 CFL Draft.

ROUND 2

10th overall – Hamilton Tiger-Cats via Montréal Alouettes

Hamilton acquired Montréal’s original 2019 second round selection (10th overall) along with Montréal’s original 2018 first round selection (1st overall), Montréal’s acquired 2018 fourth round selection (31st overall – originally Saskatchewan’s) and Montréal’s original 2018 sixth round selection (44th overall) in exchange for national offensive lineman Ryan Bomben, international wide receiver Jamal Robinson, the rights to a player on Hamilton’s negotiation list and Hamilton’s 2018 original first round selection (2nd overall), Hamilton’s 2018
acquired fourth round selection (34th overall – originally Calgary’s) and Hamilton’s 2018 acquired seventh round selection (56th overall – originally Saskatchewan’s).

Montreal originally acquired Saskatchewan’s best 2018 fourth round selection (31st overall) in exchange for national defensive back Andrew Lue.

Hamilton originally acquired Calgary’s original 2018 fourth round selection (34th overall) along with international defensive lineman Charleston Hughes in exchange for Hamilton’s original fourth round selection (28th overall) in the 2018 CFL Draft and Hamilton’s original fourth round selection in the 2019 CFL Draft.

Hamilton originally acquired Saskatchewan’s original 2018 seventh round selection (56th overall) along with international wide receiver Ricky Collins Jr. in exchange for international defensive lineman Mike McAdoo and Hamilton’s original sixth round selection (45th overall) in the 2018 CFL Draft.

13th overall – Montréal Alouettes via BC Lions

Montréal acquired BC’s original second-round selection (13th overall) along with BC’s original 2020 sixth round selection in exchange for international running back Tyrell Sutton and Montréal’s acquired third round selection (26th overall – originally Saskatchewan’s) in the 2019 CFL Draft.

Montréal originally acquired Saskatchewan’s original (and best) 2019 third round selection (26th overall) along with national defensive back Tevaughn Campbell, Saskatchewan’s best 2018 third round selection (23rd overall) and the rights to a player on Saskatchewan’s negotiation list in exchange for international quarterback Vernon Adams Jr., Montréal’s original fifth round selection (36th overall) in the 2018 CFL Draft and the rights to a player on Montréal’s negotiation list.

16th overall – Montréal Alouettes via Ottawa REDBLACKS

Montréal acquired Ottawa’s original second round selection (16th overall) in exchange for national linebacker Chris Ackie.

ROUND 3

23rd overall – Toronto Argonauts via Edmonton Eskimos

Toronto acquired Edmonton’s original (and best) third round selection (23rd overall) in exchange for international running back Martese Jackson and a conditional original six-round selection in the 2020 CFL Draft.

24th overall – Hamilton Tiger-Cats via BC Lions

Hamilton acquired BC’s original third round selection (24th overall) in exchange for international defensive lineman Davon Coleman and Hamilton original sixth round selection (49th overall) in the 2019 CFL Draft.

26th overall – BC Lions via Montréal Alouettes via Saskatchewan Roughriders

BC acquired Montréal’s acquired third round selection (26th overall – originally Saskatchewan’s) and international running back Tyrell Sutton in exchange for BC’s original second round selection (13th overall) in the 2019 CFL Draft and BC’s original sixth round selection in the 2020 CFL Draft.

Montréal originally acquired Saskatchewan’s original (and best) 2019 third round selection (26th overall) along with national defensive back Tevaughn Campbell, Saskatchewan’s best 2018 third round selection (23rd overall) and the rights to a player on Saskatchewan’s negotiation list in exchange for international quarterback Vernon Adams Jr., Montréal’s original fifth round selection (36th overall) in the 2018 CFL Draft and the rights to a player on Montréal’s negotiation list.

ROUND 4

31st overall – Calgary Stampeders via Hamilton Tiger-Cats

Calgary acquired Hamilton’s original 2019 fourth round selection (31st overall) along with Hamilton’s original 2018 fourth round selection (28th overall) in exchange for international defensive lineman Charleston Hughes and Calgary’s original fourth round selection (34th overall) in the 2018 CFL Draft.

ROUND 5

40th overall – Edmonton Eskimos via Hamilton Tiger-Cats

Edmonton acquired Hamilton’s original 2019 fifth round selection (40th overall) along with Hamilton’s best 2018 seventh round selection (53rd overall) in exchange for national wide receiver Shamawd Chambers.

ROUND 6

49th overall – BC Lions via Hamilton Tiger-Cats

BC acquired Hamilton’s original sixth round selection (49th overall) and international defensive lineman Davon Coleman in exchange BC’s original third round selection (24th overall) in the 2019 CFL Draft.

ROUND 7

62nd overall – Toronto Argonauts via Saskatchewan Roughriders

Toronto acquired Saskatchewan’s original (and best) seventh round selection (62nd overall) in exchange for national wide receiver Brian Jones.

ROUND 8

65th overall – Hamilton Tiger-Cats via Toronto Argonauts

Hamilton acquired Toronto’s original eighth round selection (65th overall) in exchange for international defensive back Abdul Kanneh.