Rod Pedersen is the Voice of the Saskatchewan Roughriders on 620 CKRM. You can check out his award-winning blog at www.rodpedersen.com. Follow Rod on Twitter @sportscage.
Don’t expect the Saskatchewan Roughriders to make a big splash in the 2011 Canadian Football League’s Canadian Draft like they did last year.
In one of his first big moves as General Manager of the Roughriders, Brendan Taman traded up on draft day a year ago to acquire the number one overall pick from Toronto. He used that pick on Queen’s star Shomari Williams.
The move paid off as Williams had an above-average rookie year, contributing greatly on special teams and rotating at defensive end more and more as the season went on.
This year, it seems, the Roughriders are content with the positioning of their first round selection (7th overall).
“We've had a lot of talks with a lot of teams both going up or down,” Taman said. “We could do both. We've had some discussions to go up but it has to make sense. If you can bonus yourself, you'll look at it. We're not solidified on staying with the 7th pick but that's where we're at today.”
Along with their first round pick the Riders also have a second round selection (15th overall), a pick in the fourth round and two in the sixth.
Taman says there has been tremendous hype surrounding this year’s available talent but at the end of the day, it’s not the deepest draft of all time. Not even close.
“In the top three picks, there are guys you'd want,” Taman said. “From 4-15 there's not a lot of difference. That's not to say they're not good players, they are, but we don't see the depth. There's not a lot of guys that are standing out.”
With that being the case, perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised if Taman pulls the trigger on a deal to acquire a top pick.
Despite back-to-back CFL West Division titles, the Riders’ offensive line is viewed as a potential Achilles heel and there could be a desire to move up and snag top prospect Scott Mitchell, an offensive tackle from Rice University.
“It's no secret that we're old but we have guys that people overlook like Patrick Neufeld (a past draft pick from the University of Saskatchewan),” Taman countered. “We have a young kid from Laval in Boudreau plus good young guys like
Dan Clark and Nick Hutchins. It takes awhile for offensive linemen to mature and guys like Gene Makowsky and Jeremy O'Day were no different.”
In the Eric Tillman regime which preceded Taman, the Roughriders preferred to look in their backyard come draft time and selected a wealth of University of Regina Rams such as OL Nick Hutchins, DB Tamon George and QB Teale Orban. Some worked out, some didn’t, while the team is still waiting for a verdict on the others.
That said, heading into this year’s draft, the offensive line really is the only spot the Riders could use some immediate help.
Their Canadian receiving depth is well-stocked with household names such as Rob Bagg, Chris Getzlaf, Jason Clermont and up-and-comer Jordan Sisco. They’re rich in the offensive backfield as well with FB/RBs Chris Szarka, Neal Hughes and Stu Foord.
Defensively they are strong with non-import defensive linestarters Keith Shologan and Luc Mullinder and platooning Canadian linebacker Mike McCullough.
If there’s a need on that side of the ball, it’s in the defensive secondary. The club released Donovan Alexander in the off-season, even though he started more than half the club’s games in 2010. In the Grey Cup they lost cornerback Leron Mitchell to a broken leg so at the very least they could use some depth.
All in all the Riders may be best-served to simply draft the best player available when their number is called.
“It depends who you talk to what's the best strategy,” Taman said. “The best player is always a good way to go but the problem sometimes is the best player will stay in school and as B.C. found out, you may never see the kid because he could be in the NFL.”
Clearly being successful at the draft table is not an exact science but the Roughriders have had their share of success over the years.
The team has been riding the fruits of the 2006 draft for quite some time having hit grand slams with picks Andy Fantuz and Luca Congi. However it appears neither player will be ready to start 2011 with Fantuz gone to the NFL and Congi recovering from a devastating knee injury.
It will be very interesting to see which direction Taman and his scouting staff elect to go in this year’s draft and fortunately we’ll know the answer soon.