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 2023 CFL Draft is scheduled to take place on May the 2nd, with the Ottawa REDBLACKS holding the number one overall selection. The teams will be making 72 picks over eight rounds. No doubt looking for hidden gems along the way. But it is the first overall pick that is the headliner. That is where the attention goes. But are they always worth it?
Without further ado let’s answer that question. Who was the worst and best first pick of the last decade (2013-2022) and what happened in between?
Top Ten – Number 10
2018 Mark Chapman (Central Michigan) 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.
2017 Faith Ekakite (Iowa) 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 of people 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.
2022 Tyrell Richards (Syracuse) LB Montreal Alouettes*
CFL games played: 7 Games played for the team that drafted them: 7 (so far)
*This one is subject to change as we don’t yet know how Richards’ career will play out.
The Als signed their entire Draft class last year. His fellow first rounder, (9th overall), Tyson Philpot, made perhaps the most obvious contributions. Meanwhile, Richards logged 5 tackles in 7 apperances.
This ranking could easily change in years to come ar Richards’ career develops. Although he (so far) has played in less games than Ekakite for the team that picked him his career is ongoing, and lasting beyond a single year, which is why he is ranked higher.
2021 Jake Burt (Boston) Fullback Hamilton Tiger Cats
CFL games played: 10 Games played for the team that drafted them: 10 (so far)
Jake Burt was a surprise selection by the Ticats in 2021 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.
Burt missed the 2021 season due to injury, and appeared in 10 regular season games at Fullback last year before he suffered a season-ending knee injury at Montreal.
He will need to stay healthy and appear in more games to move up this list. However he sits ahead of Richards for now as he has slighlty more on-field time.
2013 Linden Gaydosh (Calgary Dinos) 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. Crucially, for a list like this, Toronto got more from him than Hamilton did in return for their first overall pick.
Top ten – Number 5
2016 Josiah St. John (Oklahoma) 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.
2019 Shane Richards (Oklahoma State) OL Toronto Argonauts
CFL games played: 38 Games played for the team that drafted them: 38 (so far)
In his first season Richards 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, Richards had to wait until 2021 for his next chance. In a shortened season he played in all 14 of the Argonauts’ games, starting 8. He was also their starting left guard in the Eastern Division Final.
Last year he made 16 appearances and 2 starts. As well as playing in the East Final and Grey Cup wins. He has added depth to the line for the Boatmen and remains in Double Blue.
2020 Jordan Williams (East Carolina) LB BC Lions
CFL games played: 32 Games played for the team that drafted them: 32
As a rookie 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.
Last year he Played 18 games with the Lions. He recorded 89 defensive tackles, 7 special teams tackles, 3 forced fumbles, and 2 fumble recoveries. As well as 10 tackles over two playoff games.
Now he is a ‘double first rounder’ as Toronto traded their first-round draft pick, ninth overall, in the 2023 CFL Draft to acquire his services.
2014 Pierre Lavertu (Laval) 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. 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 (UConn Huskies) 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 before this year 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 Burris, Trevor Harris, Brad Sinopoli, Greg 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 in the comments below.
Banner Image: Tyrell Richards of Syracuse went number 1 overall last year. It remains to be seen how his CFL career will go. Image from 247sports.com