Which CFL teams have had the most success acquiring, developing, and securing talent long-term through the draft?
We analyzed all nine rosters during the 2021 off-season to determine how many original draft picks remain on each team, how many games they’ve played, and how many games they’ve started.
The results vary incredibly from team to team.
Even without free agent departures Jason Lauzon-Seguin and Evan Johnson, the Ottawa REDBLACKS are poised to enter the new season with a league-high 20 original draft picks on their roster (not including 2020 or 2021 selections). Going into 2021, Ottawa leads the CFL in career games and starts from original draft picks currently on the roster.
|TEAM||ORIG. PICKS ON ROSTER||CAREER GAMES||CAREER STARTS||STARTS IN ‘19|
In Winnipeg, GM Kyle Walters has demonstrated his keen eye for the draft, developing several prospects into stars, from the departed Matthias Goossen (retired) and Sukh Chungh (BC via free agency) to current core players Michael Couture, Drew Desjarlais, Geoff Gray, and Drew Wolitarsky.
And in Edmonton, David Beard, Kwaku Boateng, Jordan Hoover, and Tevaun Smith lead a long list of prospects turned contributors in 2019, all of whom are expected to play a pivotal role in the upcoming season.
When it comes to Canadian content, a strong record on draft day is a big part of the equation. But it’s still only one piece of the puzzle. Each successful CFL prospect requires a significant investment, including a roster spot, dedicated coaching, and if all goes well, a contract extension.
Which teams will lean the most on their draft picks in 2021? CFL.ca takes a team by team look:
Note: The team lists only include players drafted prior to 2020.
*Indicates previous tenure with a different team.
Longtime offensive lineman Hunter Steward leads four BC Lions original draft picks that are likely to make an impact in 2021. Steward anchors an interior that could benefit from the presence of two highly-touted tackles in Americans Ryker Mathews and Joel Figueroa. Recent draft picks Peter Godber and David Knevel, with four combined starts, need to show the new regime that they can be long-term contributors.
Isaiah Guzylak-Messam started 11 games for BC in 2019, recording 37 tackles and a sack when pressed into duty. Even if he’s not a starter next season, the versatile 6-foot-1, 207-pound defender can definitely contribute on special teams after compiling 22 tackles in his first two seasons.
Receiver Shaq Johnson, who electrified scouts at a regional combine in Toronto in 2016 with a 4.39 40-yard dash, had a career year in 2019 with 56 catches for 597 yards and two touchdowns. A second season with Mike Reilly could see him take the next step while forming a Canadian trio alongside Lemar Durant and Jevon Cottoy.
One possible breakout player for 2021 is running back Jamel Lyles, who played seven games as a rookie in 2019. The former eighth round pick hopes to follow up the success of fellow Manitoba Bisons running backs Nic Demski and Anthony Coombs. However, opportunities don’t come around often for Canadian running backs, and Shaq Cooper appears entrenched as the starter in Vancouver.
From the 2020 draft, East Carolina linebacker and first overall pick Jordan Williams will look to make his mark. Despite losing Jordan Herdman-Reed, the Lions are likely to start one Canadian at the position, with Adam Konar, Noah Robinson, and Bo Lokombo also in the mix — though Lokombo could serve as the team’s starting safety.
Edmonton Football Team
Brock Sunderland has the shelves stocked with intriguing young talent. Yes, some key prospects have moved on, including recent draft picks Godfrey Onyeka, Arjen Colquhoun, and Christophe Mulumba. In addition, veteran Stefan Charles left through free agency, Matt O’Donnell is unsigned, and Calvin McCarty has retired.
Still, there’s a lot to be excited about when it comes to the team’s recent draft picks, starting on the O-line where David Beard and Kyle Saxelid could become long-term cornerstones. Beard started all 18 games in 2019 on an O-line that allowed a CFL-low 25 sacks. Saxelid, the 12th overall pick in 2019, has the versatility to play guard or tackle, starting five of 18 games as a rookie.
Patience paid off with Tevaun Smith, the eighth overall pick in 2016 who took three years to arrive. Smith had NFL aspirations before joining Edmonton last season, recording 632 yards and six touchdowns on 55 catches in his first season. The 28-year-old has tantalizing potential and could reach his potential as the CFL’s best Canadian receiver as early as 2021.
One of the biggest draft steals in recent memory, Kwaku Boateng is a true CFL ratio-breaker at the defensive end position, contributing 21 sacks in three seasons. The 25-year-old was a fifth-round pick back in 2017, but has started 34 of his 52 games, including 17 starts in 2019.
Finally, fans can expect a breakout season from Mathieu Betts in 2021. The third overall pick in 2019 eased into his first CFL season with six games and one start, recording two sacks and a forced fumble. Betts, a product of the football factory of Laval, was one of the most hyped draft prospects in recent memory, and could provide his team plenty of ratio flexibility.
Not listed above, 2020 fourth overall pick Tomas Jack-Kurdyla out of Buffalo gives Edmonton another top prospect on the O-line to go with follow nationals Beard, Saxelid, Jacob Ruby, Kwabena Asare, and Jean-Simon Roy.
Several of the Stampeders’ recent draft selections were put to the test in 2019, as Justin Lawrence, Hergy Mayala, Royce Metchie, and Ryan Sceviour all emerged as first-time starters either in their first or second season. All are likely an important part of the team’s plans next season, as GM John Hufnagel re-tools his roster surrounding star franchise quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell.
On the offensive line, guards Sceviour and Lawrence join star free agent signing and centre Sean McEwen in the middle. McEwen and Sceviour are from Calgary while Lawrence reigns from Edmonton, adding some hometown muscle to the Stampeders’ offensive front. At an average age of 26 years old, Calgary’s interior O-line could be together for years to come.
At receiver, Hergy Mayala, Colton Hunchak, and Richie Sindani could all see larger roles in 2021 following some off-season departures. Reggie Begelton is in the NFL, while Eric Rogers and Juwan Brescacin signed with Toronto. Along with the prior subtractions of DaVaris Daniels and Lemar Durant, the Stampeders’ receiving corps from the 2018 Grey Cup can barely be recognized.
While running backs Charlie Power, William Langlais, and Ante Milanovic-Litre have unheralded roles, Mayala might be asked to take a big step next season. The former eighth overall pick had 562 yards and five touchdowns as a rookie in 2019.
On the other side of the ball, Metchie is a rising star for the Stampeders. The 2018 third round pick became Calgary’s starting safety before his 23rd birthday, edging out longtime veteran Courtney Stephen for the job and recording 48 tackles and three interceptions as a sophomore. Longtime veteran Derek Wiggan anchors the defensive line, while 2019 second round pick Vincent Desjardins will look to make his first career start in 2021.
The Stamps hope they will one day have a ratio-breaker from the 2020 draft, in third overall pick and Southeastern Louisiana defensive end Isaac Adeyemi-Berglund. With Medicine Hat, Alta. native Connor McGough coming over via free agency, the Stamps are primed to start a Canadian at the defensive end position.
|Josiah St. John*||OL||2016||1||1||3||22||8||0|
With Cameron Judge and Dariusz Bladek signing in Toronto, and Dakoda Shepley pursuing NFL opportunities, the Riders have little to show for their recent drafts, with a combined seven starts between their original draft picks currently on the roster in 2019. Still, the club has some intriguing prospects on both sides of the ball.
On defence, Elie Bouka was a third round pick with first-round talent in 2016, falling only because of his NFL aspirations — but the talented 28-year-old has yet to crack the starting lineup, owning just one career start to his name. With Mike Edem locked in at safety, Bouka has limited playing time options with the Green and White.
Linebacker and second round pick Micah Teitz made his first career start in 2019, and could finally take over a starting role permanently for Saskatchewan moving forward. Larry Dean locks down one linebacker job, but the other may go to a Canadian as the Riders have piled up national linebacker depth. Teitz has been grooming for the job and might have an edge over Jordan and Justin Herdman-Reed.
Offensively, Justin McInnis and Brayden Lenius offer big potential, in the literal and figurative sense. The 6-foot-5, 210-pound McInnis was the sixth overall pick in 2019 before catching 10 passes for 149 yards. Selected nine picks later, Lenius, at 6-foot-5, 230 pounds, contributed just two catches as a rookie. Still, both should be in the team’s long-term plans, and their physical presence would be welcomed alongside Kyran Moore, Shaq Evans, and Jordan Williams-Lambert.
The Riders had only one pick in the first three rounds in 2020, which was used to select Saskatchewan product and offensive lineman Mattland Riley seventh overall. The 2021 draft will be critical to re-stocking the shelves as Saskatchewan holds three of the first 20 picks, including second overall.
Winnipeg Blue Bombers
Key 2021 Departures: DB Derek Jones, DL Jonathan Kongbo, DB Kerfala Exume, WR Daniel Petermann
A model of sustainability in recent years, the Bombers owe some of their success to their Canadian content. GM Kyle Walters has surrounded free agent signings Andrew Harris and Nic Demski with impactful draft picks, creating the ratio flexibility and roster depth that ultimately helped the team capture the 2019 Grey Cup.
The Bombers have already overcome key free agent departures including Sukh Chungh, Matthias Goossen, and Taylor Loffler, but this winning core could be tested in future years with franchise running back Harris about to turn 34 in April.
If the front office continues its recent track record, however, that won’t be an issue. Michael Couture, Geoff Gray, and Drew Desjarlais form a promising young trio on the offensive line that’s ready to compete now. And while the offence loses Daniel Petermann to Ottawa, 2017 supplemental draft pick Drew Wolitarsky has become a mainstay with over 1,000 yards in his first three seasons.
The club also has high expectations for up-and-coming running back Brady Oliveira after selecting him 14th overall in 2019. Not that Harris has shown any sign of slowing down, but Oliveira and undrafted free agent Johnny Augustine could allow the Bombers to keep the position Canadian even after Andrew Harris decides to retire.
After missing out on the first round in 2020 (their first round pick completed the Zach Collaros trade with Toronto), Winnipeg will select third overall in 2021.
|David Ungerer III||WR||2019||2||11||1||10||0||0|
|Sean Thomas Erlington||RB||2017||8||66||3||32||4||4|
|Joel Van Pelt||DL||2018||8||62||0||0||0||0|
Key 2021 Departures: WR Mike Jones, DB Jay Langa, DL Connor McGough
Brandon Revenberg, Darius Ciraco, and Sean Thomas Erlington all took strides in 2019, but other than that several of the Ticats’ recent draft picks still have a lot to prove. That’s not to say this isn’t an impressive list loaded with potential, which could be unlocked as early as 2021.
Revenberg and Ciraco are major building blocks on an O-line that could look very different next season following the departure of Ryker Mathews and potentially Mike Filer. Chris Van Zeyl, 37, is a lock at tackle, leaving 2019 second overall pick Jesse Gibbon, 2017 third round pick Kay Okafor, and 2020 first round pick Coulter Woodmansey to compete for jobs. Woodmansey was the second offensive lineman off the board in last year’s draft.
The Ticats clearly intend to go national at the running back position, with Jackson Bennett, Maleek Irons, and Sean Thomas-Erlington all capable of shouldering the load. The latter was on track for stardom before suffering an injury early in 2019, combining for 417 scrimmage yards in just four games. Irons, meanwhile, was a third round pick in 2019, and showed promise in three starts as a rookie.
As a veteran team on the cusp of a Grey Cup, the Ticats’ starting lineup won’t be easy for younger players to crack. Two players who could see their role increase in 2021 are Nikola Kalinic and David Ungerer III. Both went in the second round in 2019 and Kalinic scored his first career touchdown, a 31-yard reception vs. the Argos.
Defensive end Mason Bennett, the second of two first round picks by the Ticats in 2020, will also try to make his mark on the roster following the departure of Connor McGough. Hamilton also owns the first overall pick in the 2021 CFL Draft after winning a lottery weighted equally among all nine teams.
|Kurleigh Gittens Jr.||WR||2019||3||23||1||13||1||1|
Despite losing Cleyon Laing (OTT), Sean McEwen (CGY), Tyler Holmes (FA) and Jermaine Gabriel (EDM), the Argos’ Canadian talent is among the best in the CFL entering 2021 thanks to several high-profile free agent signings. Henoc Muamba, Cameron Judge, Cody Speller, Fabion Foote, Dariusz Bladek, Juwan Brescacin, Arjen Colquhoun, and Philip Blake are all new additions that could start next season.
But the Argos have some promising young prospects of their own, starting with offensive tackle Jamal Campbell. The third round pick from 2016 slots in at right tackle for the Boatmen, where he made the jump as a full-time starter in 2019. With other proven veterans up front, the Argos are allowed to be patient with 2019 draft picks Maurice Simba and Shane Richards, the latter of whom went first overall.
While Kurleigh Gittens Jr. and Llevi Noel are joined by last year’s second overall pick and receiver Dejon Brissett, the defence also has some key figures for the future. Matt Boateng and Robert Woodson could push for a starting role after combining for 12 starts last year, while defensive end Robbie Smith has ratio-breaking potential, contributing four sacks and a forced fumble despite starting only four games as a rookie.
Canadian talent has become a priority for the Argos’ new front office under Michael ‘Pinball’ Clemons and John Murphy, who kick off their 2021 CFL Draft with the seventh and 12th overall selections.
The REDBLACKS continue to mine the CFL Draft for some of the league’s best young offensive linemen, though that group will be a little lighter in 2021 following the departures of former first round picks Jason Lauzon-Seguin (Montreal) and Evan Johnson (Saskatchewan). Philippe Gagnon also returned to Montreal via free agency following one year in the nation’s capital.
Still, Ottawa is not struggling in ratio department, with Alex Fontana, Mark Korte, Nolan MacMillan, and Alex Mateas — all former first round picks — poised to start games in 2021. The club may not field an all-Canadian O-line again like it did in 2019, but the talent up front is impressive.
On the defensive side of the ball, former fourth overall pick Antoine Pruneau locks down the starting safety job for a seventh season. He’s joined by Canadian free agent signings Cleyon Laing, Ese Mrabure, and Stefan Charles, all defensive linemen, along with linebacker Christophe Mulumba. On offence, the club has also added Canadian receivers Anthony Coombs and Daniel Petermann.
Though 2019 was a step back for the franchise, which failed to make the playoffs following several high-profile departures including Trevor Harris and Greg Ellingson, Marcel Desjardins’ draft work has helped Ottawa contend since 2015, including three Grey Cup appearances and a Grey Cup Championship in 2016.
Building on last year’s sixth overall selection of Laval defensive back Adam Auclair, the brother of NFL tight end and recent Super Bowl Champion Antony Auclair, Ottawa will select sixth overall in the 2021 CFL Draft.
Key 2021 Departures: RB Ryder Stone, LB Paul Kozachuk, LB Jean-Gabriel Poulin, OL Tyler Johnstone, OL Trey Rutherford, DL Nate Anderson, DL Fabion Foote
On a list topped by Chris Ackie, Sean Jamieson and Kristian Matte, the Alouettes are likely hoping for more from some of their more recent draft picks. The return of David Foucault and Philippe Gagnon should fortify the O-line, which is without first round picks Tyler Johnstone (free agent) and Trey Rutherford (retired). Foucault was an original Alouettes draft pick but has yet to play a game for the Als after starting his career in the NFL and then being traded to BC.
The loss of Rutherford stings. He was emerging as one of the CFL’s most promising young guards before retiring in the off-season — however, the addition of Jason Lauzon-Seguin, who signed as a free agent from the REDBLACKS, gives Montreal the option to start a Canadian at tackle. Lauzon-Seguin played both tackle and guard in Ottawa.
On a deep Alouettes receiving corps, there’s a chance a Canadian could earn a starting role, though the return of American pass-catcher Quan Bray creates even more competition. Chris Osei-Kusi and Kaion Julien-Grant came highly-touted during the 2019 draft, but neither made much of an impact as rookies. Former Ticats draft pick Felix Faubert-Lussier is also on the roster.
Montreal added a handful of intriguing yet unproven nationals in free agency — including Regis Cibasu, Natey Adjei, and Junior Luke — which could make for an interesting training camp come the spring. The Als also hope 2019 draft picks and offensive linemen Zach Wilkinson and Samuel Thomassin can take strides, especially considering the team didn’t have a first round pick in 2020, waiting until 14th overall to select Montreal product Marc-Antoine Dequoy.