April 22, 2019

Steinberg’s MMQB: First overall pick no guarantee

Jason Halstead/CFL.ca

Drafting first overall is never a bad thing, but it’s also anything but a sure thing. As the last five years have proven, holding the number one selection in the CFL Draft doesn’t guarantee an immediate franchise-changing player. In fact, a look at the last five top selections shows us just one cornerstone player.

As Toronto prepares to make this year’s first selection in just under two weeks’ time, they’ve got a lot to consider to ensure they maximize their position.

2018: Mark Chapman, WR, Hamilton Tiger-Cats

The most recent number one overall pick is an example of the crapshoot nature of drafting. While Chapman was without question one of the most talented players available, he’s yet to play a game in the CFL. In Chapman’s case, it was a contract stalemate that prevented him from getting on the field, which is why his CFL future remains uncertain.

The Central Michigan product opted to sign with the Denver Broncos last July and was released a few months later; he then signed in the AAF but didn’t suit up in the ill-fated league for personal reasons. Once those personal reasons are sorted, I’m curious to see whether the Ticats circle back and attempt to sign Chapman once again. As of now, though, the book on this former first overall pick is very much incomplete.

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2017: Faith Ekakitie, DL, Winnipeg Blue Bombers

It’s safe to say Winnipeg didn’t get a great return on their first overall pick a couple years ago. The Bombers opted to release the Iowa defensive tackle after just one season with the organization; Ekakitie dressed in 14 games in 2017 but was used sparingly. His second CFL experience didn’t go much better, for different reasons.

After finishing his time in Winnipeg, Ekakitie signed on with the Montreal Alouettes but suffered a torn Achilles tendon before ever seeing game action. After missing the entire 2018 season, Ekakitie is currently a free agent with an uncertain pro future. While Ekakitie’s story isn’t fully written, the Bombers went in a different direction after just one season, rendering their last first overall pick unsuccessful.

2016: Josiah St. John, OL, Saskatchewan Roughriders

The Riders were hoping St. John would be the anchor of their offensive line for years to come when they took him first overall in 2016. Unfortunately, injuries and circumstance saw the hulking Oklahoma offensive lineman suit up in just 22 games over three seasons in Saskatchewan. Now a free agent with cloudy prospects for 2019, this number one overall pick can only get a middling grade at best.

A contract impasse wreaked havoc on St. John’s rookie year, while injuries ruined a 2017 campaign that saw him suit up just once. 2018 saw him appear in a career-high 11 contests, including Saskatchewan’s playoff loss to Winnipeg. While he’s expressed an interest in staying in Regina, St. John doesn’t have a contract for 2019 as it stands right now. Knowing the players who were taken after him in the first round (Alex Singleton, Jason Lauzon-Seguin, Brandon Revenberg), it’s safe to say St. John’s time with the Riders didn’t go as planned.

2015: Alex Mateas, OL, Ottawa REDBLACKS

Slam-dunk. Home run. Touchdown. Whatever sports cliché you want to use, that’s what Mateas has been since Ottawa drafted him first overall out of UConn in 2015. In his first four seasons, Mateas has suited up in all but two regular season games, which is just scratching the surface of what he’s accomplished.

A crucial part of Ottawa’s offensive line at centre, Mateas has been named an East Division All-Star the last two seasons. Additionally, he’s been an integral part of three Grey Cup appearances, including a 2016 triumph over Calgary. When you factor in their 2016 selection of the aforementioned Lauzon-Seguin, it’s safe to say the REDBLACKS know how to pick offensive linemen in the first round.

» Marsh ranks his top 50 prospects
» The Waggle, Ep. 154: Getting ready for the draft
» More on the 2019 CFL Draft

Alex Mateas has played a key role in the REDBLACKS success on the offensive line (Adam Gagnon/CFL.ca)

2014: Pierre Lavertu, OL, Calgary Stampeders

The Stampeders made the right call selecting Lavertu with the first overall selection in 2014. Unfortunately, unforeseen injuries prematurely ended things for the Laval standout, which is really too bad. In his short tenure in the league, though, Lavertu proved to be the correct choice at number one.

Lavertu had a great rookie season that culminated in a 2014 Grey Cup win for the Stamps. He’d follow that up with an even better sophomore season; 2015 saw Lavertu dress in all 18 regular season games en route to a West Division All-Star nod. After spending much of 2017 on injured reserve, though, Lavertu made the decision to retire. Even still, it’s tough to label Lavertu a bust knowing what he accomplished in a short period of time. You really can’t game plan for bad luck, which is why drafting remains as imperfect a science as there ever was.

Quick hits

One of the most important weekends on the annual calendar is approaching for CFL teams, and they have no control over how things play out. The NFL Draft starts Thursday in Nashville and will play a large part in how the CFL Draft plays out one week later. Keep an eye on two things in particular.

The obvious one is whether any Canadians are drafted this weekend. Last year saw Nathan Shepherd selected by the New York Jets in the third round; he was the lone CFL Draft eligible player taken. Just as important, though, is what happens in the hours following this weekend’s festivities. NFL priority free agent signings will also impact the CFL Draft order and we see numerous Canadians signed every year.

Finally, a recommendation to wrap up the week: go check out Chris O’Leary’s feature on Dave Hawkshaw from late last week. The veteran official has taken full advantage of the CFL’s partnership with the NFL and he’ll be calling games south of the border next season. It’s a great precedent to set and is a nice recruiting tool for the CFL going forward.