You can feel the season inching closer to starting, can’t you? Especially with the 2023 CFL Draft just over two weeks away.
I know we’re still a couple months from kickoff, but we’re getting there. So with that in mind the good people (and me) at CFL.ca are rolling out our “Top of the Depth Chart” series.
» A hungry, fiery Masoli returns to the REDBLACKS
» REDBLACKS weigh options with first overall pick
» REDBLACKS hire Nadia Doucoure as offensive quality control coach
» Start Your Arguing Engines: The Way Too Early Power Rankings are in
» Ottawa re-signs defensive lineman Davon Coleman
My job is to attempt the impossible and predict who will be starting at every position for the 2023 season for the Ottawa REDBLACKS. There is no way I am going to get this right, but I will give it my best shot.
If I missed one of your favourite players, please feel free to e-mail Chris O’Leary with all of your complaints.
|Terran Vaughn (OT)
|Drew Desjarlais* (OG)
|Cyrille Hogan-Saindon* (C)
|Jacob Ruby* (OG)
|Zack Pelehos* (OT)
* denotes National
Jeremiah Masoli. Let’s get started with a layup to the player who is signed through the 2024 season. My not-so-hot take: If Masoli can stay healthy he will be the best quarterback in the East.
Jaelon Acklin, Nate Behar, Shaq Evans, and DeVonte Dedmon are my picks at receiver. Let me throw out another not-so-crazy prediction. If he can stay on the field for 18 games, Acklin will finish in the top three in receiving yards. In his fifth season, Behar had his best season in every receiving statistical category. No one is expecting Shaq to get back to his 2019 All-Star form but as a third option, Evans is more than qualified to help move the chains and provide the odd big play.
That’s right, it’s time for head coach Bob Dyce to embrace his inner June Jones and do for Dedmon what Jones did for Brandon Banks in Hamilton back in 2017. Up until that year, Banks was one of the league’s most feared returners but was an afterthought as a receiver. Jones saw all that talent and made him an integral part of the Tiger-Cats passing attack and Banks flourished, putting up three-straight 1,000-yard seasons. There is no way anyone in Ottawa isn’t excited about the idea of Dedmon getting five to eight targets a game.
With veteran William Powell no longer on the team, Devonte Williams is set to take a massive leap in production after a productive half season of work.
Can we please get the 13th overall pick of the 2018 draft, Marco Dubois, some carries? Fullbacks need love as well.
Terran Vaughn and Zack Pelehos are the my choice at tackle. We are now two years since Vaughn missed an entire season due to a shoulder injury. He started 10 games at left tackle in 2022 for the Saskatchewan Roughriders and there is no reason he can’t be a mainstay at left tackle this year. A fairly successful rookie season for the second overall pick in the 2022 draft, Pelehos appeared in 10 games last season and the future looks bright for him.
At guard, I have Drew Desjarlais and Jacob Ruby. I mean, you don’t make that sort of splash for a former West Division All-Star and two-time Grey Cup Champion and not play him. Desjarlais will play in a big part in stabilizing the left side of Ottawa’s offensive line. Ruby, the 2022 East Division All-Star, is a fixture on the right side of the line.
And at centre is Cyrille Hogan-Saindon. The 25-year-old played in every game in his rookie season last year.
|Monshadrik Hunter (CB)
|Frankie Griffin (WLB)
|Lorenzo Mauldin IV (DE)
|Cariel Brooks (HB)
|Jovan Santos-Knox (MLB)
|Cleyon Laing* (DT)
|Alonzo Addae* (S)
|Patrick Levels (SAM)
|Michael Wakefield (DT)
|Abdul Kanneh (HB)
|Francis Bemiy* (DE)
|Sherrod Baltimore (CB)
Lorenzo Mauldin IV is the Captain Obvious selection of this piece to start at defensive end. The other I’m adding at defensive end is Francis Bemiy. I’m jumping ahead to predict that not only will Ottawa take the rookie lineman from Southern Utah in the upcoming draft, but he will also start as well. Don’t take my word for how good Bemiy can be, just read this quote from Marshall Ferguson about what he has seen: “Bemiy looks like he was made in a lab,” Ferguson said. “If you were building a defensive lineman, he would pretty much be the prototype of what you would want. He has long arms, he’s extremely strong and has a good base that he plays with. He is a natural pass rusher.”
At defensive tackle, I have Cleyon Laing and Michael Wakefield. Always gotta love the durability of any defensive tackle who has missed just four games in the last four years and even at 32, Laing is still productive in the middle of it all. After two years in Montreal, Wakefield is back for his second tour of duty on the REDBLACKS defensive line.
Patrick Levels is set to start at the SAM linebacker spot this season. The 2019 All-Star is finishing his second year of his two-year contract he signed in 2021 and has 12 sacks in his past three seasons. Frankie Griffin should slot in on the weak side. If I can steal one more time from Ferguson: “One of the more underrated linebackers ascending through the CFL’s ranks, Frankie Griffin is a tackles for loss monster.” Who doesn’t want a tackles for losses monster patrolling their defence? And Jovan Santos-Knox is set to patrol the middle of the linebackers. He was second in the CFL in tackles while making the 2022 All-Star team… moving on.
Monshadrik ‘Money’ Hunter should slot in at cornerback. Did I include his nickname because it’s my favourite in the CFL? Yes, yes, I did. Oh, he also set a career-high with four interceptions last year as well. The other cornerback should be Sherrod Baltimore. Sherrod has only known Ottawa as his football home and he will again in 2023 after knocking down eight passes in 2022.
At safety is Alonzo Addae. Like Hogan-Saindon, Addae had a notable rookie year as the 25-year-old National from Pickering Ontario played in all 18 games.
Halfbacks are likely Cariel Brooks and Abdul Kanneh. Brooks is productive wherever he goes, the 2021 All-Star had six pass knockdowns in a dozen games in 2022. Who better to keep an eye on Addae than the eight-year veteran Kanneh, who at the age of 32 still had 32 tackles and two interceptions in 12 games.
|Lewis Ward/Richie Leone
Keegan Markgraf. You got some big shoes to fill with the departure of Louis-Philippe Bourassa.