April 27, 2023

Cauz: My favourite CFL Draft picks of all time

Kevin Sousa/CFL.ca

I’ve written it many times in the past and bellowed into a radio microphone on countless occasions about how much I enjoy a good draft.

It represents hope for every fan base and signals that the coming season is just around the corner. Instead of saying how much I enjoy them again, I will just jump right into this column.

With the CFL Draft less than a week away, here are some of my favourite picks of all time.

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Yes, there will be obvious omissions and there is a good chance I will miss your favourite player. It is not personal, but I had to whittle down the list and my editors need a life beyond going over my writing.

In lieu of doing a traditional counting list, I have put each player into their own category as a way to minimize any rage about why Player X is not ahead of Player Y.

The obvious picks

Take a look at all these players who were selected after pick number 12: Gene Makowsky (23rd overall), Brian Chiu (18th), Scott Flory (15th) and Jon Cornish (13th).

You’re talking about either current Hall-of-Famers or those who will one day be enshrined into the Hall. I don’t want to make fun of a whole host of forgotten football players but wow, it is stunning to see who got selected before all this elite talent was taken off the board. Just like you, I have spent way too much time looking at old drafts and playing the “what if” game about who my team should have taken over who got picked. It’s a dangerous game to play but also wildly addictive.

The how did he go so low pick

There are so many players that fit into this category but I’m going with a Hall of Fame pass rusher. Brent Johnson won multiple Bowl games during his college days at Ohio State and was named to the All-Big 10 team in his final year. On top of that, Johnson was a national player, the pride of Kingston, Ontario.

Despite all the boxes he ticked off, Johnson ended up being the sixth defensive player scooped up in the 2000 Draft going 20th overall to the BC Lions. Johnson was an absolute terror off the edge twice leading the league in sacks and winning the CFL’s Most Outstanding Defensive Player Award in 2006.

The oddity pick

Brandon Bridge spent five seasons in the CFL, playing for four different teams (Matt Smith/CFL.ca)

Quarterback Brandon Bridge was taken in the fourth round by the Montreal Alouettes in the 2015 Draft. I understand Bridge never became a full-time starter, but in his own way he was at least a mini trailblazer. We had not seen a Canadian quarterback of any substance in decades and here cames Bridge as a rookie taking the field, something a Canadian had not done in years.

In 2017, he would throw three touchdowns in a game against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and in 2018 would start in the Western Semi-Final game. It had been over 30 years since a Canadian passer could make either claim. Bridge had a short career but it was a memorable one.

The no doubter pick

This may sound strange, but it is rare for the No. 1 overall pick to make a noticeable impact in the CFL. Trust me, it doesn’t happen as often as you think. Only two players drafted first overall have been inducted into the Hall of Fame: running back Gino Francas (Draft Class of 1955) and receiver Jim Young, drafted in 1965.

I have no idea if linebacker Henoc Muamba (Draft Class of 2011) will join Francas or Young in the Hall of Fame, but he is well on his way with three All-Star teams to his name and sweeping all the major individual awards at the 2022 Grey Cup.

Going into the 2011 draft, St. Francis Xavier’s own Muamba was the clear-cut number one pick having won the President’s Trophy as the most outstanding defensive player in U SPORTS football. Every mock draft had Henoc going first which is exactly what happened when the Winnipeg Blue Bombers selected the young linebacker.

The value pick

Brad Sinopoli hit the 1,000-yard mark in 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018 (Patrick Doyle/CFL.ca)

I will always be shocked that Brad Sinopoli fell to the 29th overall pick of the 2011 draft. There were six wide receivers taken ahead of the man who would have four seasons where he surpassed 1,000 yard receiving. I am going to assume that teams could not envision the University of Ottawa quarterback being able to make the transition to wide receiver but that is exactly when he did.

To be fair to all the other general managers, it took Brad five years to blossom into the star he became. In 2018, Sinopoli would set the single-season receptions record by a Canadian surpassing the legend Ben Cahoon.

My biased pick

Oh, you can find past draft picks with a greater resume than the Toronto Argonauts receiver Kurleigh Gittens Jr. but I wonder where he will rank five years from now? Gittens has gone from catching one single pass in his rookie year back in 2019 to being named a league All-Star this past year with over 1,100 yards.

Gittens has gotten steadily better each season and the sky is the limit for the 2022 East Division nominee for Most Outstanding Canadian. Not a bad start for a third-round pick from the 2019 Draft.

The organization knows what they are doing pick

Great teams always have a plan for that inevitable day when they lose one of their stars. After the Winnipeg Blue Bombers parted ways with Andrew Harris following the 2021 season, the question was who could fill the shoes of one of this generations greatest running backs? The answer was 2019 second round draft pick Brady Oliveira.

Oliveira picked up the slack with over a 1,000 yards and finished with a career high 130 yards in the Western Final and contributed 82 more yards in the team’s Grey Cup loss to Toronto. The Bombers managed that rare transition of going from a star Canadian running back to another star (in the making) running back.

The never been done before pick

Before becoming Commissioner of the CFL, Randy Ambrosie was a draft pick in the 1985 CFL Draft (Kevin Sousa/CFL.ca)

There have been so many offensive lineman drafted who have gone on to have long careers filled with All-Star teams and Grey Cup glory. But how many of them went on to become a full-time league commissioner? You think Gary Bettman could have made it on defence in the NHL or Adam Silver as a power forward in the NBA? Please!

Not only did our current commissioner play in the CFL but let me remind everyone Randy Ambrosie made two West Division All-Star teams and won a Grey Cup. The second overall pick had the most storied career of all 81 players selected in the nine round extravaganza known as the 1985 CFL Draft.

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