There is shift going on in Saskatchewan. And the way the Riders drafted was indicative of how their roster will look in 2014.
Simply put, Saskatchewan’s starting lineup will feature a few less non-imports.
During the 2013 campaign, the Riders were spoiled with their non-import talent, att one time having nine starters (six on offence and three on defence.”
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Those totals are two higher than the minimum of seven starters a team needs, which is really a great cushion to have.
With the departures of two of those starters on the defensive side of the ball – Keith Shologan and Craig Butler – there will definitely be a shift in that thinking.
The question going into Tuesday’s Draft was how would the Riders replace the big losses of Canadian talent through the off-season? Shologan fellow defensive tackle Zack Evans were plucked by Ottawa, while hybrid linebacker/defensive backs Craig Butler and Graig Newman left via free agency.
The answer: They didn’t.
You see, the Riders didn’t need to replace Butler and Shologan with non-import draftees, they feel they have them replaced with import talent.
Instead, the Riders focused on the positions they know they’ll need lots of depth at if they move from nine Canadian starters to seven. Those positions were defensive end, receiver and offensive line. That’s where five of their eight picks fit right in.
First, the Riders focused on special teams needs by picking their top player on the special teams board, Dylan Ainsworth out of Western.
Ainsworth helps the team fill the departures of Butler and Newman in punt and kickoff coverage. The latter two were exceptional at getting down field and that’s where Ainsworth excels as well.
As far as his natural position at defensive end, that’s a project. This season, it does help the team’s depth behind starter Ricky Foley, who could be the only full time non-import starter on defence out of the gate in 2014.
Although some other teams were clambering to move up and get pro ready players, Draft day in Saskatchewan wasn’t as important for the immediate future for the Roughriders.
The way General Manager Brendan Taman conducted himself during the Draft showed that. Taman decided to trade down to pick up more picks than he had going in.
Getting Ainsworth at 11th overall in the second round was just a bonus.
If you pencil in the Riders non-import starters on day one you will find Foley, receivers Chris Getzlaf and Rob Bagg and offensive linemen Brendon LaBatte, Dominic Picard, Chris Best and Ben Hennan. With depth behind Foley covered off, the Riders continued to pile the depth behind their receivers and o-line.
Alex Pierzchalski and Kris Bastien were two of the top receivers in the draft and the Riders got them both in rounds two and three.
Pierzchalski impressed the Riders at the Combine, as the brass were reminded of Chris Getzlaf. His personality jumped out right away and his size and speed may be a little different but they hope Pierzchalski surprises as Getzlaf did, climbing from a fifth round pick to one of the best non-import receivers in the league.
As for Bastien, they feel they may have a steal with him falling to the bottom of the third round.
Offensive linemen Kyle Paterson and Terry Hart came later on, as Saskatchewan is well stocked behind their four starters with last year’s fourth overall pick Corey Watman, fifth round pick Matt Vonk and fourth year Rider Dan Clark.
The biggest surprise for the Riders was picking kicker John Mark in the third round. The Riders have Chris Milo, Josh Bartel and Brett Cameron all on the roster.
But the Riders way is making sure they have the next guy up in case something goes wrong. Right now, they don’t have a place kicker behind Milo and that’s why they felt it was worth taking the best kicker in the draft.
If you’re looking for a grade based on impact of the 2014 roster, I’ll give it a C.
But keep in mind the change in the Draft eligibility rules decreased the talent pool and the Riders weren’t panicking to find players who can have instant impact on this season.
If Ainsworth is the only draftee that makes it on their game day roster this season, the Riders will be fine.
This is a futures draft class for the Riders and you’ll have to look back in three or four seasons to assess if they deserve a higher grade.