March 26, 2014

Dunk: REDBLACKS ready for true draft experience

Pawel Dwulit/

It will be the first CFL Draft with no restrictions for the Ottawa REDBLACKS.

In 2013, the Canadian Football League’s ninth team was only allowed to select NCAA redshirt juniors, and had stringent rules to follow in the Expansion Draft as well.

This year, the REDBLACKS have been unchained.
The REDBLACKS are free to operate like every other CFL team and select whatever players they want in the 2014 CFL Draft. Or if the opportunity presents itself, and the team believes trading any one of their picks could benefit them, they can explore that route as well.

Rewind: 2013 Draft

The REDBLACKS were only allowed selecting redshirt juniors out of the NCAA in last year’s draft, resulting in four picks.

» 1st: Nolan MacMillan, OL, Iowa
» 2nd: Connor Williams, DE, Utah State
» 3rd: Kalonji Kashama, DE, East. Michigan
» 4th: Tyler Digby, TE, Robert Morris

“There are a lot more layers to it and a lot more people are involved in it – a lot more opinions, General Manager Marcel Desjardins said about the difference between preparing for a full draft compared to one with limitations.

Ottawa currently holds nine selections for their initial, full CFL pick-fest. An extensive contingent of REDBLACKS coaches and player personnel staff were in Toronto for the National CFL Combine getting an up-close look at the top talent available in this year’s draft.

“The more sets of eyes we have on guys, the more opinions we have, the better decisions we’re going to make, Head Coach, Rick Campbell explained.

“With all of us at the combine we got a pretty good handle on what’s available, Canadian Scout, Miles Gorrell said.

Of course the REDBLACKS are in possession of the precious number one overall draft pick. All eyes are on Desjardins, Campbell and the entire football operations department to see what the franchise decides to do with the top selection.

“In a perfect world we pick with that pick and we take who we feel is the best guy, that’s how we would approach it,” Desjardins said.

“If something comes our way that we could get a guy or two that could come in and play right away, versus a draft pick that you may have to wait a few years in terms of him being a significant contributor, than maybe that’s something we consider.”

“I’m not going to close the door on anything at this point.”

A key factor that will play into Ottawa’s decision on who to select with the first pick is how much interest some of the top prospects will garner from the NFL.

More and more top CIS players are garnering attention from the NFL. It used to be difficult for teams to try and project whether or not Canadian individuals were going to get drafted or signed as free agents by the pro league south of the border. But this year, and in the future, the CFL Draft will be held after the NFL’s. So teams will have a much clearer picture on high-end prospects come draft day in Canada.

“Looking at NFL opportunities, if it’s a free agent-type scenario than that probably doesn’t impact us nearly as much. If it’s a – depending on what you hear or what you read – player who would be a mid-to-late round pick it is probably a little less enticing, potentially, than a guy who is going to be a free agent,” Desjardins said.  

“But if we feel that one player that we’re all talking about is that much better than everybody else, depending on when he gets taken-up by the NFL, we may have to wait on him.”

“I think our first rule of thumb would be to take the best possible player available. I don’t think we would mind waiting on a guy,” Campbell added.

“We’re taking the approach of the big picture. We obviously want to win now, but not at the expense of not building the team correctly. We’re going to have enough patience that we make sure we build this team correctly for not only this year, but the years to come. And sometimes that means you have to be patient and wait on a guy that’s going to be a really good player for you in a couple years.”

In preparing for the draft Ottawa is taking a full team approach. All opinions on various players will be heard and taken into account as the team puts together its draft board.

“Our scouting group and coaches give their opinions. I always think it’s great to get multiple opinions because sometimes people see things in a different way,” Campbell said. “It’s a ‘we’ effort, Marcel and I share that philosophy. It’s not about him and it’s not about me, it’s about us working as a whole group.”  

“Everybody has an opinion. You talk about what everyone feels and how players could fit into our scheme,” Gorrell explained. “You have to always remember that you’re trying to fit kids into your scheme. You want to know if they’re flexible enough to be able to adapt to a scheme that you’re going to run.”

Each athlete eligible for the 2014 CFL Draft will be ranked by the REDBLACKS.

“They will be sorted by grade and we’ll narrow it down and reshuffle based on certain other criteria, outside of what you see on the film,” Desjardins said.

“This process isn’t only for the draft, it’s for training camp if you start having problems. Or when September, October rolls around and you’re short on Canadians. That’s the reason for doing not only the obvious guys, but every player.”

Between now and draft day Ottawa will pour through all of the information gathered from the combine and put together a list of prospects they would like to target and get on their team.

“At the end of the day it’s still going to be drafting the best players available, certainly early on. And as we get later on in the draft, we do have two extra picks at the end of the draft, so at that point it will probably be a little more position specific,” Desjardins said.

Traditionally in the CFL the teams with the best Canadian content are among the top competitors for the Grey Cup annually. And the draft provides a crucial opportunity for the REDBLACKS to continue to add to their corps of Canadian players.

“There is still a lot of work to do on the ratio,” Desjardins said. “It’s set in terms of we would like certain spots to be Canadian. Who are the Canadians at those spots is what’s to be determined. Some of them are kind of obvious and some of them are still works in progress.”

Ottawa’s first official CFL Draft as the REDBLACKS will be vitally important in order to select a group of strong Canadian talent for the present and future. A productive 2014 draft class could help put a competitive team on the field in the Nation’s Capital for the inaugural season and build a strong non-import base for years to come.