The Saskatchewan Roughriders, the CFL’s most active team this off-season, may not be done creating waves around the league.
The main event of the off-season for Chris Jones’ Riders is the upcoming CFL draft in May, and with razor-thin Canadian depth on the roster, the idea of trading back in the 1st round for additional draft picks is not only an attractive option, but perhaps even the best option for Saskatchewan.
After the 1st overall pick, the Riders don’t have another selection until late in the third round with the 24th and 27th overall picks – not ideal for a rebuilding team. With only one Canadian linebacker on the roster – second-year player Nehemi Kankolongo – and other significant holes, the Riders could see several of this year’s draft picks suit up in 2016, further emphasizing the importance of this draft.
Although there’s room to improve at every position except, perhaps, defensive end, the Riders are particularly in need of Canadian receivers, fullbacks, defensive backs and, of course, offensive lineman.
The Riders have Rob Bagg and the oft-injured Shamawd Chambers penciled in to start at receiver, however only have Nic Demski and, to some degree, Alex Carroll as suitable depth players. Brandon, Manitoba native Jordan Reaves, who spent training camp with Winnipeg in 2015, and journey-man Seydou-Junior Haidara are also on the roster, but neither are expected to make final cuts.
The Riders made some nice signings at running back in Matt Walter and undrafted UBC product Brandon Deschamps, but are weak at the fullback position with Spencer Moore and former Blue Bomber Carl Fitzgerald – both considered below-average among their peers.
Graig Newman, a former-Rider who the team signed in free agency, is expected to start at safety after spending the 2015 season as a special-teams player for the Bombers. Behind Newman is Matt Webster, Kwame Adjei, a 5th-round pick from last year, and another former Bomber, Dan West, to serve as depth and vital special-teamers. Assistant GM John Murphy acquired one of his most recent draft picks, University of Regina CB Tevaugh Campbell, from the Stampeders in exchange for a fourth-round pick, and although there’s no lack of bodies, the Riders could certainly upgrade the talent-level at the position for Canadians. Someone such as UBC safety Taylor Loffler would be an excellent addition in the middle of the 1st round.
If Chris Jones doesn’t receive an offer he likes, the Riders would likely hang on to the 1st overall pick and select either an offensive lineman – Laval RG Charles Vaillancourt or Okalahoma RT Josiah St. John are logical fits – or perhaps Michigan State CB Arjen Colquhoun, who may receive NFL interest after an impressive pro-day.
While offensive line is a need for the Riders – Chris Best isn’t getting any younger, and not everyone is sold on Dan Clark – it is not nearly as much as a pressing need as linebacker, defensive back, receiver or even fullback. And if Saskatchewan wants effective upgrades – and also a chance to draft exceptional UBC punter Quinn Van Gyslwyk to challenge Tyler Crapigna – in a relatively weak draft class, it’ll likely require them to trade back in the 1st round for a second and mid-to-late round pick.
Whereas Saskatchewan has needs virtually everywhere, the Bombers primary focus is on offensive lineman, as only 33-year-old free agent acquisition Jeff Keeping is under contract to serve as depth behind Patrick Neufeld, Mathias Goossen and Sukh Chungh. And with two second-round picks and no first-rounder, the Bombers are, indeed, in a realistic position to trade for the top pick.
It’s a top-heavy offensive line class, and there’s no guaranteeing that the Bombers will get a guy they are completely sold on at ninth overall. The emergence of SFU centre Michael Couture at the combine into the top-tier really helps – he could push a player such as Buffalo’s Dillon Guy or Laval’s Jason Lauzin-Seguin and Philippe Gagnon into the second-round – but given the dire need of help at the position, Bombers’ GM Kyle Walters must be looking for a future starter with the pick.
The Bombers have some leverage and should not, by any means, force the issue and give up any more than they need to reach an agreement with Saskatchewan. The Riders need to accumulate more draft picks, and be it with Winnipeg or another team, would be wise to trade the top pick in the 2016 CFL draft.