Top 10 – CFL number one draft picks 2012-2021

Top 10 – CFL number one draft picks 2012-2021
Reading Time: 6 minutes.

Everybody loves a good top ten list. They are ever popular for sparking debate.

We certainly had some fun a few years ago for instance, ranking the CFL championship games from 2010-2019. Now we thought it might be fun to create some more debate. This time with a top ten list focused around the number one picks of the last decade.

Which might be ironic as we’re ignoring our own advice to ‘look beyond the headliners‘ here.

The 2022 CFL Draft is scheduled to take place on the 3rd of May. The teams will make 74 selections over 8 rounds with the Edmonton Elks holding the first overall pick.

So without further ado let’s get to it. Who was the worst and best first pick of the last decade (2012-2021) and what happened in between?

Top Ten – Number 10

2018 Mark Chapman Wide Receiver Hamilton Tiger Cats

CFL games played: 0 Games played for the team that drafted them: 0

With Chapman going first Central Michigan became only the sixth team to have players selected No. 1 in both the CFL and NFL drafts. 

Unfortunately for the Ti-Cats Chapman never made the field. Whilst other playes inked contracts, their number one pick remained unsigned. After attending one of the Tiger-Cats early regular season games, he left without signing a contract.

Rookie Mini-Camps with the Giants & Broncos didn’t work out. Instead of returning to the CFL he headed for the AAF and their seemingly better offer. As we know things didn’t work out for the AAF. However Chapman never played there either, citing personal reasons.

Zero games played in the CFL, or any pro league for that matter. A wasted pick for the Ti-Cats who expended plenty of energy on trying to signs Chapman – had to take last slot in the top ten.

Top 10 – Number 9

2021 Jake Burt Fullback Hamilton Tiger Cats*

*This one is subject to change as we don’t yet know how Burt’s career will play out.

Jake Burt was a surprise selection by the Ticats last year as the last player entered as a prospect. He signed his rookie contract on the same day of the draft which was registered with the league on the 5th of May, 2021.

These assessments are based solely on the value of the pick to the team who drafted them. We don’t know what that is for Jake Burt yet as has yet to start a game with Hamilton. In his first season in Hamilton, he missed the first seven games with a hamstring injury. Then was placed on six-game injured list in September.

There are players ahead who may end up having had worse careers – we just don’t know with Burt. The reason he is sat here is uncertainty alone. Let’s see how he does from here on in.

Top Ten – Number 8

2017 Faith Ekakite DT Winnipeg Blue Bombers

CFL games played: 14 Games played for the team that drafted them: 14

Ekakite proved you never really know until they hit the field at pro level. Plenty, had Ekakite marked out as ”pro ready for the Canadian game” and a good fit for Winnipeg’s defensive rotation.

He mustered just 5 tackles in a rookie season that was followed by release from the team.

We’ll never know what could have been as Ekakite signed with the Alouettes in June 2018 only to tear his Achilles in practice a fortnight later. When Montreal released him after the 2018 season he announced his retirement in June 2019.

Ekakite appeared in 14 games, hence why, so far he is ahead of Burt.

Top Ten Number 7

2019 Shane Richards OL Toronto Argonauts

CFL games played: 14 Games played for the team that drafted them: 14

Like Ekakite, so far Richards has appeared in 14 games with the team that drafted him. Unlike Ekakite however, Richards is still with his team.

In his first seasons he played in eight games with Toronto, starting one. He started the 2019 season opener against Hamilton, then spent the next 10 games on the injured list.

With the 2020 CFL season cancelled, Richardson had to wait until last year for his next chance. In a shortened season he played in all 14 of the Argonaut’s games, starting 8. He was also their starting left guard in the Eastern Division Final. There may well be more to come.

Top Ten Number 6

2013 Linden Gaydosh DT Hamilton Tiger-Cats

CFL games played: 53 Games played for the team that drafted them: 10

The former Calgary Dino has had a workmanlike 5 year career in the CFL. So why is he only at number 6 on the list? It’s not just about the career someone has but the value the team who drafted them got out of their top pick.

Less than a week after being drafted into the CFL, Gaydosh signed with the Panthers in the NFL. After spending the entire 2013 NFL season on injured reserve he headed to Hamilton for 2014.

He appeared to be developing into the squad player they envisaged with nine regular-season games seeing him register four tackles, two tackles for a loss and a pass knockdown. He also added four tackles in two playoff contests.

However he tore his Achilles tendon in the off-season and missed the entire 2015 season. He appeared in just one game in 2016. So the Ti-Cats number one pick amounted to 10 appearances over a 3 year period.

Between 2017 & 2019 he appeared in 43 games for the Argonauts. Including being part of the squad that lifted the 2017 Grey Cup. Toronto got more from him than Hamilton did in return for their first overall pick.

Top Ten Number 5

2020 Jordan Williams LB BC Lions

CFL games played: 14 Games played for the team that drafted them: 14

Like Burt, and Richardson this one is subject to change as we don’t know how Williams CFL career will pan out.

Due to the cancelled 2020 season, he has only played on full year for BC. But what a year! If this is an indicator of things to come then the Lions can be very happy with how they spent their first overall pick two years ago.

Williams started all 14 games at linebacker and led all Lions with 92 defensive tackles. Good for second overall in the CFL. He also broke the Canadian rookie tackle record, (75) set by Mike O’Shea in 1993. He capped off the season by winning the CFL Most Outstanding Rookie award.

Top Ten Number 4

2016 Josiah St. John OL Saskatchewan Roughriders

CFL games played: 36 Games played for the team that drafted them: 36

He may have played less games than Gaydosh, and bounced around some practice squads, but the Roughriders got more value out of their pick with St. John.

Over four seasons with the Roughriders, he dressed in 36 games. After becoming a free agent in 2019 he was a practice squad member for the Argos, Lions & Esks. He did dress in 2019 for the final game of the year for an Edmonton team chasing an impossible dream that lost in the Eastern Final.  

After becoming a free agent, St. John re-signed with the Roughriders in 2020, and appeared in 14 games for them in 2021 increasing the value of the selection that was originally spent on him.

Top Ten Number 3

2012 Ben Heenan OL Saskatchewan Roughriders

CFL games played: 49 Games played for the team that drafted them: 49

Heenan suited up for 49 games, making 34 starts for the Riders between 2012 and 2014.

He was also part of the squad that won the 101st Grey Cup delivering Saskatchewan the latest of their 4 titles.

In February 2015 he signed with the Colts in the NFL. However he had a torn meniscus, never made it past the practice squad and retired from football in April 2016.

Top Ten Number 2

2014 Pierre Lavertu OL Calgary Stampeders

CFL games played: 41 Games played for the team that drafted them: 41

If you want to you could argue that other teams got more value. Because, for example, Heenan has so far played 8 more games for the team that drafted him.

I am ranking Lavertu this high however because his career was brief, but he shone. He is the first player on this list to get an All-Star nod as he was voted a West Division All-Star in 2015.

Sadly following that excellent season injuries limited him to eight games in 2016, and he was then out for the entire 2017 season because of a high ankle sprain.

Despite that, Lavertu played 41 career regular-season games and three post-season contests for the Stamps and was a member of the club’s Grey Cup-winning team in 2014.

Top Ten Number 1

2015 Alex Mateas OL Ottawa REDBLACKS

CFL games played: 88 Games played for the team that drafted them: 88

The REDBLACKS began play in 2014 and following a 2-16 debut season had their first, and so far only number 1 draft pick. A pick they spent in the 2015 draft acquiring Mateas from UConn.

Mateas lived up to his billing as a top draft pick helping to anchor the line as a regular starter.

From his debut season to 2018 Ottawa went 39-31-2, appeared in the playoffs 4 consecutive times, made 3 Grey Cups, and won it all in 2016.

Mateas spent his whole career in Ottawa. During that time he was twice named a CFL Eastern All-Star. Showcasing versatility, that was as a Guard in 2017 and a Centre in 2018.

The likes of Henry BurrisTrevor HarrisBrad SinopoliGreg Ellingson and William Powell grabbed headlines for the REDBLACKS teams challenging for the Grey Cup. But they could only do that because of good O line play.

So it only seems fair to put Ottawa’s first draft pick from 2015 top of the pile here. He was a key part of the line generating that success and it’s time an O-Lineman got the spotlight.

Do you agree?

There’s a strong chance you won’t agree with where we’ve placed people on this top ten list. These things are always very subjective. That’s OK though. Opening up debate and getting us all talking about the CFL is a win for this author at least anyway.

If you don’t agree and think this should have been a different order, or just want to let us know who you think should have come top let us know at @NinetynineYards .

Banner Image: Lions LB Jordan Williams dives for a pick. Image from the Agassiz-Harrison Observer.

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