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April 27, 2020

Another look at 15 draft day steals

The Canadian Press

TORONTO — In a world where we often seek finality (right vs. wrong, yes or no) — terms like ‘bust’ and ‘steal’ are used often to describe a player’s success relative to his draft position.

It’s a simple but effective approach, though the reality is many players fall somewhere in between the realm of either total success or waste of a pick.

Some instances, of course, are just too glaringly obvious to ignore. Just as a first overall pick who never plays in the CFL is an obvious bust, a sixth-round pick who becomes a multi-year starter can impact a franchise in a positive way.

And in the end, that’s the goal on draft day: to choose players that outperform their position. Enough of these players will lead to strong Canadian content, which directly correlates to long-term sustained success on the football field.

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Boateng continues to excel in the CFL, coming off his third season with the Esks (Adam Gagnon/CFL.ca)

Let’s break down the top draft steals dating back to 2011. We won’t include 2019 because it’s too soon to draw any real conclusions from last year’s draft. And finally, while most players come from rounds three and beyond, there will be the rare first- or second-round pick (think Alex Singleton) that clearly exceeds his draft position.

1. Kwaku Boateng (Round 5, pick 41 in 2017)

Considered a top prospect going into the combine, Boateng didn’t generate much buzz that weekend in Regina in 2017 and fell to the fourth round. In three years the 25-year-old has already made plenty of draft analysts, along with the other eight teams that passed on him multiple times, look foolish.

Boateng is considered one of the league’s top ratio-breakers, coming off an eight-sack third season with the Eskimos. The 6-foot-2, 257-pound end may not dominate against the run, but his ability as a pure pass rusher provides ratio flexibility few other teams could dream of.

2. Shane Bergman (Round 6, pick 48 in 2013)

It takes time for offensive linemen to be recognized, but Bergman has been a pillar of the Stampeders’ success since he took over as the club’s starting guard. The Stamps’ O-line has earned a reputation as one of the CFL’s best, protecting Bo Levi Mitchell on the way to three straight Grey Cup appearances and two championships dating back to 2014.

3. Taylor Loffler (Round 3, pick 19 in 2016)

Despite falling to the third round, after questions about his durability surfaced, Tay Loffler quickly emerged as a starter and became one of the premiere safeties in the CFL. He spent three years with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers before signing with the Alouettes as a free agent last off-season.

The 28-year-old, who’s known for his aggressive, hard-hitting style of play, tallied 27 tackles and an interception in his first campaign in Montreal.

4. Brad Sinopoli (Round 4, pick 29 in 2011)

There’s no denying Sinopoli would be higher on the list, but we also have to consider his impact with his original team, the Calgary Stampeders. The Stamps fostered Sinopoli’s professional development in 2011, first as a quarterback and then as a receiver, but didn’t see the fruits of their labour. After recording 614 yards in two seasons with the Stamps, Sinopoli signed with the REDBLACKS and has recorded at least 1,000 yards in four straight seasons (2015-2018).

Sinopoli had a down year, in his standards, in 2019 due to instability at the quarterback position in Ottawa. But with Nick Arbuckle ready to lead the charge, the 32-year-old should bounce back in 2020.

Sinopoli found his way in the CFL after switching from QB to receiver (Johany Jutras/CFL.ca)

5. Alex Singleton (Round 1, pick 6 in 2016)

How do you justify calling a sixth overall pick a steal? Well, Singleton is a rare circumstance, arguably the best Canadian linebacker of his current generation. In three seasons with the Stamps Singleton made 311 tackles and forced six fumbles, anchoring a defence that won three straight division titles and appeared in three consecutive Grey Cups.

After signing with the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles, Singleton may never return to the CFL, but his impact will be memorable and there’s no doubt that in a 2016 re-draft, he would be the No. 1 pick — which is no slight on Brandon Revenberg or Jason Lauzon-Seguin.

6. Sean Thomas Erlington (Round 8, pick 66 in 2017)

He missed most of 2019 due to injury but before his season ended, Sean Thomas Erlington was on pace for a stellar sophomore year. The 27-year-old was handed the starting role in the Ticats’ backfield and in four games, he tallied 224 rushing yards and 193 yards through the air before suffering a season-ending knee injury.

Thomas Erlington appears to be on track to start for Hamilton in 2020 as he looks for a bounce-back year.

7. Derek Wiggan (Round 4, pick 34 in 2014)

The run of Calgary draft picks continues with defensive lineman Derek Wiggan, a regular starter on the Stamps’ D-line dating back to 2015. The numbers don’t jump off the page, but Wiggan has been a reliable starter at defensive tackle on one of the best defences in the CFL. Canadian depth at the position has made a difference on the defensive side of the ball.

8. Jordan Herdman-Reed (Round 7, pick 60 in 2017)

One of the mysteries of the 2017 combine, Jordan Herdman-Reed somehow fell to the seventh round before being picked by the BC Lions with the 60th overall selection. That seventh-round dart throw may have turned into something really good for Lions GM Ed Hervey, who appears to have a starting Canadian linebacker and ratio-breaker on defence for the foreseeable future.

In his third season in BC, Herdman-Reed tallied a respectable 37 tackles, a sack and a forced fumble, while also adding eight tackles on special teams.

9. D.J. Lalama (Round 8, pick 70 in 2016)

D.J. Lalama was the last players selected in the 2016 draft, and three years into his CFL career has found a home in Montreal. The six-foot, 222-pound linebacker had a career-year with the Alouettes in 2019 after finding himself in a regular role on the defensive line. He also made an impact ahead of the playoffs, being named a Shaw Top Performer after tallying a personal best 11 tackles (10 defensive, one special team) and his first career sack against Ottawa.

Lalama signed a one-year extension this off-season as the ratio-breaker appears to be a part of the Alouettes plan moving forward. Not bad for a last pick.

D.J. Lalama has found a home with the Alouettes in Montreal (MontrealAlouettes.com)

10. Mike Daly (Round 6, pick 45 in 2013)

After four seasons as an impact special-teamer, Daly became a full-time starter when he overtook Courtney Stephen at safety in 2018. After that stellar season where he tallied 53 defensive tackles and three interceptions, Daly moved aside for Tunde Adeleke, who took over the final line of defence for Hamilton ahead of the 2019 season. Daly saw time on defence and special teams last season and signed a contract extension in December.

11. Mike Filer (Round 5, pick 31 in 2012)

Originally drafted by Calgary, Filer has spent eight seasons with the Ticats and evolved into one of the most reliable centres in the CFL. The 29-year-old contributed to the league’s top offence last season, helping the Tiger-Cats get to the 107th Grey Cup presented by Shaw.

12. Shaq Johnson (Round 4, pick 32 in 2016)

The star of the 2016 regional combine in Toronto, Johnson came on strong in 2017 as a sophomore, recording 521 yards and two touchdowns over 18 games — including a stellar 17.4 yards per reception. Johnson’s speed and athleticism make him a constant vertical threat, and he had a career-year playing with Mike Reilly. The 26-year-old hauled in 597 yards and two major scores in his fourth CFL season.

13. Calvin McCarty (Round 4, pick 27 in 2007)

Calvin McCarty played his entire 13-year CFL career with the team that drafted him back in 2007, the Edmonton Eskimos. The 35-year-old fullback became a staple in the Esks offence and has tallied 1,615 rushing yards and hauled in 2,005 yards through the air.

Calvin McCarty has become a staple on the Esks offence since getting drafted in 2007 (Johany Jutras/CFL.ca)

14. Philip Blake (Round 3, pick 23 in 2011)

The Als had to wait a few years for Blake to arrive, but the 6-foot-2, 311-pound offensive lineman has emerged as one of the league’s best since showing up in 2015. Blake has flown under the radar on some under-performing teams in Montreal, but the 34-year-old has made strong contributions whether at tackle or guard. Blake was traded to the Riders at the deadline in 2018, adding some veteran experience up front and just finished his second season in Saskatchewan.

15. Boseko Lokombo (Round 3, pick 21 in 2013)

Despite two separate stints in the NFL, Lokombo has provided solid value throughout four seasons with the BC Lions and most recently with the Montreal Alouettes. The 29-year-old has excelled on special teams, recording 68 tackles in 76 games and in 2019 the linebacker made his name known as a hard-hitting, playmaker, talling 51 tackles to go along with two interceptions.