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5 Takeaways: Draft experts Forde, Ferguson dish on Draft

TORONTO — We’re just two days away from the 2020 CFL Draft, and who better to break down the draft than two of the best in the business?

On Tuesday, TSN’s Duane Forde and CFL.ca’s Marshall Ferguson spoke to the media about the branching headlines around the league heading into Thursday’s draft.

Here are the five takeaways and storylines to keep an eye on heading into the draft:

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1. The Great Debate

With the draft set to get underway on Thursday night, the Calgary Stampeders are waiting to be on the clock. There’s still some speculation surrounding the Stamps and what they may do with the selection.

Calgary acquired the pick through a trade with the Ottawa REDBLACKS that saw Nick Arbuckle head out to the nation’s capital. The teams swapped first-round picks in the draft, vaulting the Stamps into the first position and Ottawa to No. 6. It was a good bit of business by general manager John Hufnagel, who was likely looking at Arbuckle departing in free agency to pursue a starting position elsewhere.

It seemed clear that the rich were going to get richer, with Calgary presumably nabbing an offensive lineman to add to an already strong stable of blockers. University of Alberta offensive tackle Carter O’Donnell seemed like the easy pick, as the Red Deer, Alta., product was also the best in the class at his position. However, those plans may have been spoiled by the NFL Draft.

While O’Donnell went undrafted, he quickly agreed to a deal with the Indianapolis Colts following the draft. That raised questions about the likelihood of the Stamps moving back in the first round in order to add additional assets.

If they do keep the pick, however, there is one man that’s been surging up the draft boards that would fit in well with the Stamps.

“I think the name that everyone kind of knows is Jordan Williams,” Ferguson said. “I think it’s such a good fit because he’s significantly more athletic than Alex Singleton. Cory Greenwood did a good job there in Calgary but (Williams) is a true angry downhill middle linebacker that plays as physically as he does and is excited to join the CFL. That combined with the size, speed and style of play along with the National status, I think that’s just such a great pick for them.”

Williams would be able to lock down the MIKE linebacker spot previously occupied by Greenwood. The East Carolina product was a beast at the Ontario Regional Combine and his athleticism and tape quickly earned him attention in CFL circles.

The Fayetteville, North Carolina native has the ability to step in and be a difference-maker right away. He’d also be stepping into a linebacking corps that already features Wynton McManis, 2019 Most Outstanding Rookie Nate Holley and Jamar Wall.

While Williams could very well be the first man to hear his name called this year, because of the pandemic, it’s been hard for draft pundits to get a feel for how this draft class may be ranked. With O’Donnell possibly headed to the NFL, both Forde and Ferguson admitted that they aren’t sure if there’s another consensus No. 1 selection, making the first pick even more intriguing.

But there’s a number of ways Calgary could go with this pick, making the first selection in this year’s class one of the most intriguing of the entire draft.

East Carolina linebacker Jordan Williams is poised to be a first-round pick in the 2020 CFL Draft. (ECU Athletics Media Relations)

2. Where do the NFL signees land?

Despite O’Donnell’s status with the Colts, that likely won’t stop a team from taking a chance on him early. Because of the role offensive linemen play when it comes to the ratio, the position is always at a premium. But he wasn’t the only Canadian to receive a look from teams down south.

Receiver Chase Claypool and Neville Gallimore were both selected in the draft, with the former going 49th overall to the Pittsburgh Steelers and the latter heading to the Dallas Cowboys at No. 82.

Claypool and Gallimore are the top two prospects on the spring edition of the Scouting Bureau rankings, but with their

Following the draft, Brown University defensive lineman Michael Hoecht signed with the Los Angeles Rams, University of Montreal defensive back Marc-Antoine Dequoy inked a deal with the Green Bay Packers and Simon Fraser University receiver Rysen John agreed to terms with the New York Giants. That makes five of the top 20 prospects in the CFL Draft who will likely fall down the board due to their NFL opportunities.

So where could we see some of these names start to go off the board?

Because of his ability, both Forde and Ferguson agreed that they could see O’Donnell still go off the board in the first round. As for Gallimore and Claypool, they’re both unlikely to be cut from their respective rosters, which means that they’ll likely slide to later in the draft.

As for John, Dequoy and Hoecht, there’s still a chance that they could land back in Canada in the near future, as they could be released by the NFL teams ahead of the 2020 CFL season.

A perfect example of this was Mathieu Betts last year, the Edmonton Eskimos took a chance and selected the talented defensive lineman third overall despite Betts signing with the Chicago Bears. They were rewarded as he signed with the club after being one of the final cuts of the Bears.

“I think you have to look at things like the signing bonus and the roster and try to project (where they could end up),” Ferguson said. “I think they’ll all slide, I don’t think it’ll be overly significant. The fact that they are involved in the NFL process does make it an interesting dynamic.

“I think people weigh that and believe that because of that risk, there’s a point where it makes too much sense — if you were to get that person on your roster — to not want to invest in that kind of possibility.”

3. Who will be the first pivot off the board?

Quarterback is always at the forefront of the conversation in the CFL, especially when it comes to the draft, as there haven’t been as many picks at the position compared to previous decades.

In last year’s draft, UBC signal-caller Michael O’Connor was the lone quarterback to hear his name called. There looks like there could be more than that this time around.

Two men, in particular, look to be in a perfect position to go first, with former Hec Crighton Award winner Adam Sinagra and two-time Jon Cornish Award winner Nathan Rourke both being available for selection.

But which one will be the man to go first?

“I think everyone expects the first quarterback off the board to be Rourke,” Forde said. “He’s a bit of a unique guy because of where he’s been. It allows people to compare him as a Division I quarterback competing at a mid-major school as a two-year starter. I think it makes it easier for skill comparisons against Americans from competing against them than to evaluate against U SPORTS quarterbacks.”

Forde added that Rourke could go as high as the second round.

Playing in 39 career games for the Bobcats, Rourke completed nearly 60 percent of his passes for 7,457 yards and 60 touchdowns while only throwing 20 interceptions. He also helped the program take home the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl this past season.

As for Sinagra, Ferguson believes that there’s a good chance that he’s taken in the back half of the draft.

Sinagra was named the Hec Crighton Award winner in 2018 as U SPORTS’ Most Oustanding Player for that season. He followed up that effort by leading the University of Calgary to a Vanier Cup victory in 2019, their first championship since 1995.

The only thing going against Sinagra is the fact that he’s in the same class as a National product who played Division 1 ball.

“I think that the energy he brings is infectious and the way he delivers the football is excellent as well as his footwork,” Ferguson said. “If he were the size of a Michael O’Connor, I think we’d all be going crazy and falling in love with the measurables and everything else. I think you can watch what he’s been able to accomplish in Calgary, and it’s no small feat to win a Vanier Cup for the first time in a long time with a program that’s deserved to win it for a long time.

“I just love the guy. I love his attitude and the way that. he carries himself. The way that he plays the game is fearless and it’s certainly shown on paper with the things he’s done over the past couple of years.”

University of Calgary quarterback Adam Sinagra is one of the top quarterbacks available in the 2020 CFL Draft. (University of Calgary)

4. Winnipeg, Montreal on the outside looking in

There are a pair of teams that will be without first-round picks this year. Those squads are the reigning Grey Cup champion Winnipeg Blue Bombers and the Montreal Alouettes.

Winnipeg gave up their first as a result of the Zach Collaros trade with the Toronto Argonauts back in August. After winning the championship, they opted to re-up Collaros to be their starter for the future. That officially gave the ninth overall selection to Toronto.

In 2018, the Alouettes swung a massive deal with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, acquiring quarterback Johnny Manziel, offensive linemen Tony Washington and Landon Rice in exchange for defensive lineman Jamaal Westerman, receiver Chris Williams and first-rounders in both 2020 and 2021.

You won’t hear the Bombers complaining, as they were more than happy to swap a first for a championship.

That leaves them waiting until the No. 18 pick in the draft to select their first player this year. However, Ferguson thinks that there’s a chance they could be selecting sooner.

“I see them possibly dabbling up the board and taking a risk to try and make a move,” Ferguson said. “I don’t necessarily know if Kyle Walters wants to be around No. 18, and if he does, it’s just before the territorial selection. I think it could be receiver or offensive line. I think with Cody Speller and Drew Desjarlais, they’ve filled in that depth pretty well, but every year, you’re kind of filling in that depth a little more.

“They could also look at a pass-rusher. Mason Bennett is a good one and also has a local connection, which is not that different from Brady Oliveira who they drafted last year. That was a name I floated if they got to that point but maybe they try to move up again.”

As for the Alouettes, they’ll have a pair of second-rounders at No. 14 and 16 respectively, meaning they’ll still have the chance to land a pair of solid contributors to their roster.

It’s been a different process all-around in Montreal, as the football operations staff has only been whole for a few months. New general manager Danny Maciocia comes with a vast knowledge of the college game, especially RSEQ, where he spent the most time while serving as the head coach with the University of Montreal.

With a number of Quebec natives on the board around Montreal’s first two picks, it wouldn’t be surprising at all to see Maciocia stay local in his first draft as the Als’ GM.

“We all know what Danny Maciocia wants to do, and that’s build a product that the French football audience can be extremely proud of,” Ferguson said. “What better way to view talent in-person than to coach in the RSEQ? He knows everyone that has come out in the last couple of years.”

Forde did have a different outlook when it came to Maciocia and the Als.

“The challenge maybe with it being a Francophone school is that you haven’t necessarily recruited nationally the way other schools and other U SPORTS coaches have. You’re going to have a limitation in terms of your student body.

“But with Montreal, you’re looking quite often at making it to bowl games, so there’s definitely a knowledge of U SPORTS players from across the country and certainly players that come from that province.”

As for local products that could be available, Dequoy, Samuel Rossi and Brian Harelimana — who all were coached by Maciocia with the Carabins — should all be available, as should Laval defensive back Adam Auclair. It seems as though defence would be the avenue that they would do well to address early.

Danny Maciocia is getting prepared for his first CFL Draft since becoming the general manager of the Montreal Alouettes. (The Canadian Press)

5. What do the REDBLACKS do with their Territorial Pick?

As the teams that finished in the bottom two of the standings, the Argonauts and REDBLACKS will receive territorial picks at the end of the second round.

The Argos will have a bevy of individuals to choose from, including a number of top 20 prospects. Ottawa, on the other hand, doesn’t have as many options.

They do have the caveat of having the chance to select Gallimore with their pick, but that might be a long-term play to hold his rights.

Ferguson said that they do have the opportunity to forego the pick in order to use it later to avoid paying a player a second-rounder salary if they so choose.

“If you’re Ottawa, it’s obviously early in the draft to do it, but if you don’t have surefire guys from your region available at that point, maybe you do feel like you should take a guy like Gallimore,” Forde said.

“You’re really not losing anything from spending that territorial selection on Gallimore and seeing whether or not it turns out,” Ferguson added. “If he ever comes to the CFL and he doesn’t play for Ottawa, I think Ottawa would absolutely regret that. He is the name, there’s no doubt about that.”