The Ottawa Redblacks addressed the trenches with their first round pick in the CFL Global Draft last season, selecting Hector Zepeda. This year they double dipped selecting linemen with both picks. Having secured the top pick overall there were several ways this could go but after watching their QB1 get injured early last season, no one can argue their logic here.
The Redblacks held the top overall pick in the Global Draft, and also hold the top pick in the CFL Draft as well. This could be a transformative draft cycle, IF the Redblacks choose wisely. Last season two of their three global picks didn’t pan out, but French defensive back Edris Jean-Alphonse not only made the roster but appeared in games as a rookie second round Global draft selection.
Given the way the CFL structures their drafts, no team will ever be 100%. There is simply too much money, and too big of a draw from the NFL. It didn’t help them at all with this concern when the USFL, and XFL relaunched the last two seasons. Now the talent left behind by the NFL in the wake of their draft and immediate undrafted free agent frenzy can be further picked apart by two more American leagues where many of these players attended college. The belief is their game play also translates better to the NFL which further prompts players to stay in the US and pursue options.
While this creates a larger challenge than before, Just say there is a lack of talent simply isn’t true. If anything it just means teams must get more creative to find talent. The Global Draft in itself is a sign of how the CFL has adapted to its market share of the talent and created unique ways of building international pathways into the Canadian game.
Blessman Ta’ala, DL, Hawaii, American Samoa
Born in the American Samoas, during high school he played two different sports, football and soccer. Ultimately it was football that called him to college. After competing in the 2017 JPS Paradise Classic to help improve his stock, ranking number two overall in his province, he received an offer from Hawaii.
After joining the school in 2018 he immediately stepped into the lineup, playing in all 14 games and developing a role on special teams. He managed 32 tackles with 3.5 for a loss on the year. Also logging a blocked kick. As a sophomore he would play in 15 games, and log his first sack, but his stat line looked very similar to his first season: 19 tackles, 3.5 tackles for a loss, 1 sack, 2 tipped passes and 1 more blocked kick.
In 2020 he would play in 9 games thanks to a COVID shortened season. He also got an extra year of eligibility out of the situation. In 9 games he had 21 tackles, and 1.5 for a loss. Finally as a Junior he gets more involved. Playing in 13 games he sets a career high with 6 tackles for a loss, nearly matched his career high in tackles with 30, added another sack, and 1 pass deflection.
As a senior he doubled down on his junior performance putting up a career high in tackles, and sacks. Falling just short of his career high in tackles for a loss as well. Finishing the season with 40 tackles, 5.5 for a loss, and 2 sacks. Ta’ala is more of a run stopper than he is a pass rusher but he can collapse a pocket when called upon. At the CFL combine he ran a 5.22 40-yard dash, but put up 29 reps on the bench press. He could be a long term answer at defensive tackle for the Redblacks, who seemed ready to part with Davon Coleman this offseason.
Lucas Lavin, OL, Northern Colorado/Chattanooga, Sweden
Born in Nykoping, Sweden, Lavin played his high school football in Sweden but attended college In the United States in an effort to open up his options as a professional. Originally beginning with City College of San Francisco, where he spent two seasons. In his second season he was named a team captain after helping his team to a 7-4 record on 2018. They would repeat that record in 2019 before UNC came calling. He would ultimately jump to University of Northern Colorado spending two seasons with the program.
Lavin decided to exhaust his final year of eligibility in 2022 with Chatanooga. If there is one thing that stuck out to me about Lavin, it was his relative lack of strength compared to his size. Putting up 19 reps, he was third in terms of offensive linemen, and 8th overall. Now that may not sound terrible at first glance, but at 6’4 323 pounds, only one player above him on this ranking was larger than Lavin. He was bested by multiple linebackers, and defensive linemen who weighed anywhere from 35-100 pounds less than Lavin.
Did I point all of this out to say this was a wasted pick, and that he won’t pan out? Absolutely not, quite the contrary. When I’m trying to evaluate players that haven’t played a professional snap yet, I like to be able to point to quantitative data that can be compared to other players at his size, or position group. While this is far from 100%, it will show you some indicators of what may have prevented a player from making it into the NFL draft class.
This lack of strength isn’t ideal, but it’s something that the CFL and its strength and conditioning staff can help to correct over the next couple seasons, which in theory will only help him develop as a blocker as well. Having jumped around in college, he should be accustomed to learning new systems which could help him find a role on the active roster from day one. Lavin is also currently under contract with the Hamburg Sea Devils of the European League of Football as well.
Thoughts, and Opinions
In my personal opinion both of these moves make sense to me. There are clear cut reasons why these players find themselves looking to the CFL for their next opportunity, as well as obvious needs for help in that area on the team. Ottawa has done a great job of identifying and bringing in CFL level talent, however it’s up to the coaches to develop and play to the players’ strengths.
It’s hard to say whether or not these players make the team right away, but judging based on last season, these players feel more likely to be there whether on the active roster or the practice roster come week one of the 2023 CFL Season. With the CFL National Draft Class still to come this franchise is still looking to infuse some youth into this roster, after a 2022 free agency period that saw them load up on aging veterans. It’s the teams that marry these two approaches that always find the most success. We will see if Shawn Burke and company have struck gold in the Global Draft, or swung and missed on more rookies in 2023.
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