TORONTO — Only two first round picks from 2012 still play for their original team, and that’s if you include Shamawd Chambers.
That’s the CFL Draft, where high-end talent and longevity are the ultimate prize but can be difficult to predict.
Chambers, of course, left the Eskimos via free agency in 2016 but re-joined the team this off-season.
First round picks and successful national players aren’t mutually exclusive — all-star rookie and 2016 third round pick Taylor Loffer is living proof — but they’re certainly connected. The draft’s top selections are building blocks, expected to contribute early and stay awhile.
“I think that’s the goal, that’s what every general manager should want to accomplish,” said CFL.ca’s Marshall Ferguson. “The goal is to add quality Canadian content where you can help your ratio and have somebody where, when he gets put in the game, there’s not this massive void.”
On Sunday, seven teams hold nine first round picks and look to build on that national foundation. With that said, we look back on the last five years of first round picks in the draft:
2016: OL Charles Vaillancourt (5th)
2015: DL Ese Mrabure (5th)
2014: No first round pick
2013: OL Hunter Steward (6th)
2012: DL Jabar Westerman (2nd), OL Kirby Fabien (7th)
Lions fans searching for insight into Sunday should look no further than recent history. All five of the Lions’ picks the last five years have come from the trenches, including three on the offensive line.
Kirby Fabien, Hunter Steward and Charles Vaillancourt have all started at one point or another and could all be slated for starting roles this season. The two defensive linemen, Ese Mrabure and Jabar Westerman, are off the roster after finding new teams.
Wally Buono has enjoyed moderate success with his first round picks over the years. Fabien and Steward are regular starters while Vaillancourt looks to make the jump in year two. Jabar Westerman started regularly before signing with Montreal as a free agent. And finally, while released after just one season, Ese Mrabure caught on quickly with the Riders and appears to have a future under Chris Jones.
While a receiver could be in the cards — especially after Shawn Gore announced his retirement — the Lions are likely to start four nationals on their offensive line this season. That means all signs point to Buono adding some more Canadian beef to his O-line early on.
2016: WR Tevaun Smith (8th)
2015: OL Danny Groulx (7th)
2014: REC Devon Bailey (6th)
2013: No first round pick
2012: OL Austin Pasztor (4th), REC Shamawd Chambers (6th)
At the moment, it’s fair to say the Eskimos haven’t gotten the best use out of their first round picks the last five years. On Sunday, barring a trade, new GM Brock Sunderland will commence a new era of Esks football with the fifth overall pick.
Shamawd Chambers helped the Eskimos win a Grey Cup in 2015 before bolting for Saskatchewan in free agency. He’s back and could take on a vital role as a wideout in Jason Maas’ offence.
But the other four selections have made little to no impact in the Canadian Football League: Pasztor is a free agent but has yet to join a CFL roster after five seasons in the NFL; Bailey’s playing time declined significantly in 2016 before leaving as a free agent; Danny Groulx spent the majority of last year on the six-game injured list; and Tevaun Smith remains a member of the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts.
While Ed Hervey often honed in on upside and long-term payout, Sunderland could alter the approach. We’ll find out shortly.
2016: LB Alex Singleton (6th)
2015: OL Karl Lavoie (9th)
2014: OL Pierre Lavertu (1st), DL Quinn Smith (7th)
2013: OL Brander Craighead (7th)
2012: DL Ameet Pall (5th)
John Hufnagel hit what might have been his biggest draft day home run with the selection of Alex Singleton sixth overall one year ago.
Singleton was late entry onto the draft list but that didn’t deter the Stamps. The Montana graduate rewarded them by taking over the middle linebacker role as a rookie on a 15-2-1 team boasting one of the league’s top defences.
The Stamps’ record hasn’t been perfect. Ameet Pall was released before ever suiting up for the Stampeders. Brander Craighead was solid but retired after only three seasons. Meanwhile, the verdict is still out on Karl Lavoie, who spent all of 2016 on the injured list.
In the end, though, Singleton, Pierre Lavertu and Quinn Smith give the Stamps a solid haul the last five years as it’s accurate to say that draft day success has contributed to the Stampeders’ league-wide dominance.
2016: OL Josiah St. John (1st)
2015: REC Nic Demski (6th)
2014: No first round pick
2013: OL Corey Watman (4th)
2012: OL Ben Heenan (1st)
Josiah St. John is and probably will remain the focal point of any discussion surrounding Chris Jones and the CFL Draft. The Riders’ first overall pick last year was a momentous one by the franchise but when it comes to St. John, much is still unknown.
Ben Heenan won a Grey Cup with the Riders in 2013 but played only three years in the green and white before going to the NFL and, in 2016, announcing his retirement. Corey Watman, the Riders’ fourth overall pick, underwhelmed in Saskatchewan but could start in his second season with the Argos in 2017.
The biggest question mark could be Nic Demski, who’s flashed talent both as a returner and a receiver. This season might be make or break for the former Manitoba star who’s had ups and downs throughout his first two seasons.
Last season, the Riders may have picked St. John based on need rather than talent. The payout could be high with the former Oklahoma Sooner, who will still work to play tackle on this side of the border, but there’s plenty of work to be done.
WINNIPEG BLUE BOMBERS
2016: Pick forfeited (2nd)
2015: OL Sukh Chungh (2nd)
2014: OL Matthias Goossen (2nd)
2013: DL Andy Mulumba (2nd)
2012: OL Tyson Pencer (3rd), pick forfeited (8th)
Since becoming the general manager in 2013, Kyle Walters has restored depth to the Bombers’ Canadian content in short order.
It starts on the O-line, where Matthias Goossen and Sukh Chungh formed the backbone of the league’s most-improved unit in 2016. Goossen was taken second overall in 2014 and Chungh in the same spot a year later. After improving from a franchise-worst 71 sacks allowed in 2014 to 59 sacks in 2015, the Bombers cut their total to 35 in 2016 — the third-fewest in the league.
Following the 2015 draft, Walters picked up Garrett Waggoner in the supplemental draft, giving up what would eventually become the second overall pick in 2016. The selection of Andy Mulumba in 2013 didn’t work out for the Bombers as Mulumba remains NFL property, while Tyson Pencer never made an impact throughout his three seasons with the Bombers.
Sunday will be important for Walters and the Bombers, who hold the first and sixth overall picks in the 2017 CFL Draft.
2016: OL Brandon Revenberg (3rd)
2015: No first round pick
2014: LB Beau Landry (8th), DL Evan Gill (9th)
2013: DL Linden Gaydosh (1st)
2012: No first round pick
The Ticats were adamant about getting offensive lineman Brandon Revenberg at this time last year, trading up with the BC Lions to snag him at third overall. The kid can play multiple positions up front and last year played all 18 games for the Ticats, even making six starts as a rookie.
2014 first round pick Evan Gill remains one of the draft’s greatest mysteries in recent times. The 6-foot-4, 303-pound interior lineman has been hindered by injury throughout his career, but he’s still only 24 and got to play in four games towards the end of last season. His story is still yet to be written but 2017 is an important year for him.
Beau Landry was the Ticats’ eighth overall pick in 2014, the second of two first round picks that year, and contributed 28 special teams tackles over 36 games before departing to Calgary as a free agent. And finally, Linden Gaydosh, the first overall pick in 2013, has dealt with injuries since returning from the NFL in 2014. The defensive tackle was traded to the Riders last season in the deal that brought Justin Capicciotti to Hamilton.
The O-line could be the area of focus for the Tabbies this season, where Hamilton has looked to get younger after moving on from international offensive tackle Brian Simmons and guard and fan favourite Peter Dyakowski. But many have also linked the Ticats to McMaster receiver Danny Vandervoort at No. 4 in the draft.
2016: WR Brian Jones (4th)
2015: OL Sean McEwen (3rd)
2014: RB Anthony Coombs (3rd)
2013: OL Matthew Sewell (8th)
2012: No first round pick
If the early returns are any indication, the Argos have made pretty good use of their first round picks over the last few years. Since picking Matthew Sewell in 2013, they appear to have landed solid contributors in the opening nine picks in three consecutive seasons.
Fourth overall pick Brian Jones was able to salvage an injury-shortened rookie season with strong play on special teams and four starts at slotback in Scott Milanovich’s offence. He’ll look to carve out a permanent starting role under Marc Trestman.
The third overall pick in 2015, Sean McEwen, also made his professional debut in 2016 after playing out his eligibility at the University of Calgary the year before. McEwen started 13 games for the Argos at centre, earning team Most Outstanding Rookie honours.
The true wildcard here is Anthony Coombs, drafted as a running back before transitioning to more of a slotback role in the mold of Andre Durie. Coombs has never reached 500 receiving yards in a season but has the potential to break out.
2016: OL Jason Lauzon-Seguin (7th)
2015: OL Alex Mateas (1st)
2014: DB Antoine Pruneau (4th)
2013: OL Nolan MacMillan (8th)
National talent has played a crucial role in Ottawa’s flight from expansion to Grey Cup Champions. The four first round picks by Marcel Desjardins are a perfect example.
Nolan MacMillan, Jason Lauzon-Seguin and Alex Mateas are long-term building blocks on the O-line and have already proven their ability. Antoine Pruneau, meanwhile, reclaimed his starting safety job last season and earned a contract extension.
While MacMillan would have been highly-coveted had he not re-signed in the dying moments before free agency, Lauzon-Seguin started 12 games as a rookie. Meanwhile, keep your eyes on former first overall pick Mateas this season as he looks to take the next step.
Ottawa is currently slated to pick ninth in the 2017 CFL Draft on Sunday as Desjardins adds what could be another key piece.
2016: OL Philippe Gagnon (2nd)
2015: DB Chris Ackie (4th), OL Jacob Ruby (8th)
2014: OL David Foucault (5th)
2013: DB Mike Edem (3rd), RB Steven Lumbala (5th)
2012: No first round pick
The first round has been a roller-coaster for the Alouettes the last five years.
Mike Edem was traded after a strong start to his career while Steven Lumbala, a former fifth overall pick, retired early. David Foucault finally arrived this off-season, three years after his draft year, but the Als traded his rights for Jovan Olafioye.
The last two drafts may have provided some sturdy talent but the verdict is still out. Chris Ackie played all 18 games last year but didn’t register a start while Jacob Ruby started 17 games as the team’s left tackle. While that was a good experience for the 6-foot-7 tackle who’s still just 24 years old, Ruby’s role may be undefined as the team looks to start two international tackles.
Not so for Philippe Gagnon. Last year’s second overall pick made an easy transition from Laval to Montreal, starting all 18 games at guard for the Als. He’ll be a huge factor on that unit moving forward.
Expect the Alouettes to hone in on defensive line and linebacker talent after changing up their ratio this off-season.