May 9, 2014

Campbell: Desjardins set on who will go first overall

In the days when Marcel Desjardins was a young, up-and-coming executive at the CFL office, his biggest challenge in preparing for the CFL draft was identifying just what players at U.S. Colleges were eligible. That, in itself, was no easy task.

“I was basically building a draft list from scratch … trying to go through a whole stack of media guides, looking to ID any guys with Canadian hometowns,” said Desjardins. “Then the next biggest thing was trying to get some film in on these guys for teams to look at.

“So we’re leaps and bounds ahead of where we were back when I started in 1994.”

And that’s just about where the second-year GM of the Ottawa REDBLACKS hopes his roster of Canadian talent is after Tuesday night’s 2014 CFL draft; better by leaps and bounds.

Barring a trade — and Desjardins says no offer is on the table — the REDBLACKS will make the first overall selection in the draft and land two of the top 10 prospects. The club will also select an additional seven candidates for the REDBLACKS’ first roster.

“We’re basically ready to draft today,” said Desjardins. “If it was right now, we know who we would like to make No. 1 and we would be very happy to choose that person.”

That said, Desjardins wasn’t going to ruin the surprise. Not for the ever-expanding REDBLACKS nation. Certainly not for the TV people who cut the time teams have to make a pick from 15 minutes to about five in order to get the first round done within an hour. And certainly not for the eight rival GMs.

So the first name called could be any of the top-rated prospects in offensive linemen Laurent Duverny-Tardif (McGill), David Foucault (Montreal) or Pierre Lavertu (Laval).

Or Desjardins, along with assistant GM Brock Sunderland and scouts Jeremy Snyder and Miles Gorrell, may go outside the box.

The unique opportunity with the REDBLACKS is to play sooner rather than later as opposed to draft picks with established teams.

“In our situation, we really don’t have the depth of Canadian talent other teams have so we may have to rely on (our picks) earlier than others might,” said Desjardins. “Where you would like to give them more time to develop, we might need to put them in there quicker and let them develop that way.

“It would all depend on the player and where he is coming from but potentially, we may call on them faster.”

In a perfect world, the REDBLACKS would love to hit the jackpot on a player like last year’s CFL Most Outstanding Rookie Brett Jones, selected 16th overall by the Calgary Stampeders. The product of the University of Regina exceeded all expectations by becoming just the fifth Canadian to win the top rookie award and first since 2002.

Or perhaps find someone like last year’s third overall pick Mike Edem, who started all 18 games at linebacker for the Montreal Alouettes, an outstanding achievement.

“The intent and the plan has always been to go ahead and take our picks while, at the same time, explore all (trade) options,” said Desjardins. “You never know … but I doubt (that offer) will come.”

In the interim, Desjardins will focus on the long, drawn-out NFL Draft, which began Thursday night and runs through Saturday evening.

Then he has to wait and see what NFL clubs do with respect to any undrafted Canadians he has interest in, some who may entertain free agent offers from NFL teams in the days leading up to the CFL draft.

One thing Desjardins is sure of is that he will not bring the No. 1 pick to town prior to the draft unless he has the prospect signed. That’s unlikely given the tight time frame.

The REDBLACKS do have the good fortune of already having drafted four players in 2013 with the 9th, 18th, 27th and 36th overall picks.

That landed them offensive lineman Nolan MacMillan out of the University of Iowa with the last pick of the first round. They followed by taking a pair of defensive ends in Connor Williams, of Utah State, and Eastern Michigan University’s Kalonji Kashama. Ottawa used its final pick on tight end Tyler Digby, out of Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh.

MacMillan, Williams (the former Kanata Knight and Myers Rider) and Kashama all want to wait and see if there’s any NFL invites in the cards. Digby, meanwhile, has a passion for lacrosse and has already tried the pro ranks in that sport.

The 6-6, 294-pound MacMillan played in just five games at right guard for the Hawkeyes after being shutdown in the spring due to injury.

“Three or four of them want to explore the NFL opportunity and it’s up to them to determine if one exists,” said Desjardins. “So we’re being patient with them and there’s no real urgency.”