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TSN’s Lalji weighs present, future picks in CFL Draft

TORONTO — In a draft year unlike any other, Farhan Lalji finally found some comfort and familiarity once the names started filling up draft boards on Tuesday night.

“Watching this play out, it’s always amusing how it comes full circle on certain players or certain teams in any given year,” Lalji, the longtime TSN reporter and CFL Draft expert told Donnovan Bennett in this week’s post-draft edition of The Waggle.

“This was a totally different draft because of the number of kids that were going back to school. All the NCAA guys that had the extra year, all the U SPORTS high end players that deferred because they wanted to get another year under their belt.

“When I talked to GMs a couple of weeks ago I got the sense that it was going to be a lot of futures (chosen) early. I’m not surprised at all that Jovon Holiday didn’t get picked or that Josh Palmer didn’t get picked and I’m a little surprised that Benjamin St-Juste did get picked. I thought he might not, given how he was taken.

“Those other guys that signed (NFL) undrafted free agent deals and those guys that are going back to the NCAA, I did think they were going to go early. Then I got the sense in the days leading up to the draft that the GMs kind of turned a little bit. Then in the first two rounds I expected each team to take a future and take a now guy.”

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Lalji thought teams would take a future pick in the first round and a now guy — someone that could be drafted, show up to camp and start playing this year — in the second round. That’s where things got familiar. As teams started making selections, the draft took on a life of its own.

“I think the feeling became that there were more good futures available. There might not be as many good now guys available so we better get them earlier and we can wait until Round 2 to get some more futures and that’s how it turned out for the most part,” he said.

While teams’ approaches differed somewhat — BC used its first two picks to take futures in d-lineman Daniel Joseph and o-lineman Alaric Jackson and Winnipeg used its first-round pick to take OL Liam Dobson — the Saskatchewan Roughriders went the route that Lalji described, taking Saskatchewan Huskies DB Nelson Lokombo second overall and snagging receiver Terrell Jana in the second round. Both selections will have their eyes on making the Riders’ roster this summer.

“Unlike BC, I think they wanted to get guys in the building to help them right away,” Lalji said.

“There’s always that pressure in Saskatchewan and they’ve got two needs. They’ve got a need at defensive line and they’ve got a need at defensive back.”

Lalji sees Lokombo as a possible option at safety or fieldside corner behind Mike Edem and Elie Bouka, respectively.

“He could right away be your third defensive back that can come in and play either spot. I think they like what he can do,” Lalji said.

“Talking to other defensive coordinators around the league, opinions vary on what position he can play, what his physicality is. The one thing everyone says is his burst and his change of direction is at a high NCAA level. I had one guy say that he can burst at the sideline and go to the far hash in the blink of an eye, which in the CFL is not easy to do.”

In taking Jana, the Riders get some more options with ratio flexibility this season.

“They’re saying Jana is going to come in and compete for a starting spot right away and I’m not sure that it’s Justin McInnis’ spot, because he’s likely going to get a spot as well,” Lalji said.

“They’re talking about Jana playing in the slot so they may go with two Canadian receivers. If that does happen, that changes their ratio entirely.”

The present-versus-future approach that teams took in this year’s CFL Draft will play out over this season and seasons to come.

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