April 26, 2023

What should the REDBLACKS do with the No. 1 pick?

TCU Athletics

As we’re just six days away from the CFL Draft, let’s put on our general manager hats and make some decisions.

To maximize the fun in this scenario, that hat has to have a buzzsaw and a big capital R on it. Shawn Burke holds all (or at least a considerable amount) of the control in this year’s draft, as the Ottawa REDBLACKS have the first overall pick.

Burke told reporters back in March that his team would weigh all of its options ahead of the draft and that he felt like he had enough roster flexibility to choose the best player available, rather than being bound to drafting by positional need.

That’s great from a team-building perspective but it doesn’t help us much in terms of trying to figure out what the REDBLACKS may want to do with that No. 1 pick. So let’s take a look at a few different directions Burke and his staff could go on May 2.

» View: 2023 CFL Draft order 
» Mock 1.0: What will Ottawa do with the first overall pick?
» The Art of the Steal: 10 hidden Draft gems


With the first pick in the 2023 CFL Draft, the Ottawa REDBLACKS select…

Let’s start with a little in-house love for defensive lineman Lwal Uguak, whom CFL.ca’s Marshall Ferguson sent to the REDBLACKS first overall in the first edition of his mock draft. A six-foot-five, 271-pound d-lineman, Uguak spent three years at UConn before transferring to Texas Christian University for the 2022 season. The Edmontonian would be re-introduced to the Canadian game by some very qualified teachers, in veteran tackle Cleyon Laing and reigning Most Outstanding Defensive Player Lorenzo Mauldin IV. On-field impact this year is a possibility, but selecting Uguak would also be a move that would set the REDBLACKS up for the future, too.

If they wanted to look to a receiver, Pittsburgh’s Jared Wayne could enter the mix. That’s who John Hodge at 3DownNation has going first overall in his mock draft. Wayne was second-team All-ACC last year, on the heels of a 60-catch, 1,063-yard and five touchdown season. At six-foot-three and 210 pounds, Wayne would bring decent size to go with that impressive resume he has.

If Burke really wanted to draft with an eye to the future, he could look to the top of the spring edition of the CFL’s Scouting Bureau and take Syracuse offensive lineman Matthew Bergeron. The Victoriaville, QC product was a team captain in 2022, allowing just four sacks through 11 games and 686 snaps, taking just three penalties along the way. A second-team All-ACC and AP All-ACC second team selection, the six-foot-five, 322-pound tackle will likely hear his name called this week at the NFL Draft. Does the REDBLACKS’ roster flexibility allow for Burke to use such a high pick to ensure he has dibs on Bergeron should he turn his sights to the CFL in the future? That’s the debate that he and his staff would have to take on if they considered using the first overall pick on someone — Bergeron or otherwise — they likely wouldn’t see in the 2023 season.

We have a trade to announce…

If we’ve learned anything in the last few years it’s that the top pick in the CFL Draft can be had for a price. Last year the Edmonton Elks sent it to the Montreal Alouettes in a draft day deal that paved the way for GM Danny Maciocia to take Syracuse linebacker Tyrell Richards. In 2020, the BC Lions were all-in on linebacker Jordan Williams and traded up with the Calgary Stampeders, giving John Hufnagel and Co. their third overall pick as part of the deal.

This year’s draft is an interesting one, as it’s very top-heavy with NCAA players that will pursue NFL options. That could drive those players’ spots in the CFL Draft down and elevate the players that teams evaluated in-person in March in Edmonton at the CFL Combine presented by New Era. It could also leave teams open to the idea of potentially trading down, letting their rivals invest in the uncertainty of the NCAA players, while they focus on players that should be available from the first day of rookie camps opening on May 10.

That brings us to our final point.

It’s about more than the first round

Kian Schaffer-Baker went from a fourth-round pick in 2020 to a mainstay in the Riders’ offence (The Canadian Press)

Talk to enough team personnel about the draft and someone will eventually tell you that most years, the first round or two make up the easy part of the night. The challenge to a team’s scouting department comes in the later rounds of the draft, where talented players with perhaps a lower profile are still waiting to be chosen and bolster your roster.

Good scouting allows teams to find those late-draft gems. The Saskatchewan Roughriders snagged Kian Schaffer-Baker in the fourth round in 2020. Edmonton found Kwaku Boateng in the fifth round of the 2017 draft. Jamie Nye goes into great detail on this in his 10 hidden draft gems piece. For every hyped first and second-rounder in every year’s draft, there is a Schaffer-Baker, a Kurleigh Gittens Jr., a Justin Lawrence or a Tunde Adeleke, to name a few that are hiding in plain sight, waiting to make an impact for a team.

The REDBLACKS have three second-round picks (including a territorial selection at 17th overall) and two third-rounders as part of a nine-pick night ahead of them on May 2. The first overall pick gives them an advantage in the draft but Burke and his staff will have plenty of other spots to impact their roster this year and beyond.

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