Defence the Priority in Toronto Argonauts Draft

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MOSCOW, ID - SEPTEMBER 19: Offensive lineman Mason Woods #67 of the Idaho Vandals and defensive end Boston Bryant #52 of the Wofford Terriers grappling during second half action on September 19, 2015 at the Kibbie Dome in Moscow, Idaho. Idaho won the game 41-38. (Photo by Loren Orr/Getty Images)

The Toronto Argonauts went into the 2017 CFL Draft without a first round pick. For some teams this is not such a bad thing, but they were coming off a season full of on-field inadequacies and in-house conflict that ended in a 5-13 record, and their first rounder was to be the first overall pick. That pick went to Winnipeg as part of the trade that brought quarterback Drew Willy to Toronto, a deal which at the time was supposed to ensure Toronto’s place in the 2016 playoffs. Winnipeg lucked out with this pick and wasted no time in selecting defensive linesman Faith Ekakitie.

That was unlucky, but fortunately the Argos draft day would get a bit luckier later on. Toronto had a chance to trade their way into the tail end of the first round, but GM Jim Popp ultimately decided not to do so, and his time-biding paid off. Offensive linesman Mason Woods was still available after the first round despite high pre-draft rankings, and Popp did not hesitate to select the 6’8″ Idaho guard.

Defence the Priority in Toronto Argonauts Draft

After that, Popp continued to fare well with his picks. In addition to the first, Popp also didn’t have a 6th rounder as a result of the recent acquisition of veteran receiver SJ Green from Montreal. With five picks left, Popp could not afford to miss. Interestingly, his remaining picks were all used on defence rather than offense. Here are the six players who called themselves Argonauts by the end of the night:

2nd Round: OL Mason Woods, Idaho (10th)
3rd Round: DL Evan Foster, Manitoba (19th)
4th Round: DB, Robert Woodson, Calgary (27th)
5th Round: LB Nakas Onyeka, Wilfred Laurier (36th)
7th Round: LB Justin Herdman, Simon Fraser (54th)
8th Round: DL Matthew Carson, Calgary (63rd)

Woods was part of a great offensive line for the University of Idaho Vandals. They finished in the top 20% of the Football Bowl Subdivision. He was the third of 17 linesmen to be picked in 2017.

Foster is one of the latest youngsters to come from the development powerhouse that is the University of Manitoba Bisons. He made 30 tackles last year, along with 16 tackle assists, four sacks, and one forced fumble. He played three seasons with the Bisons, and was a Canada West All-Star all three years.

Robert Woodson is one of a record nine players from the University of Calgary Dinos to be selected this year. If the name sounds familiar, that is because his older brother Anthony played for the Argos for two seasons. Robert played all 12 games for the Dinos en route to their Vanier Cup loss to Laval. He made 21 tackles and 11 tackle assists, as well as a sack, an interception, and a pass block. 2016 wasn’t his only great year; in 2015 he was the Canada West Defensive Player of the Year, so he is set to burst onto the scene this year.

Onyeka was one of the key parts to the Golden Hawks’ Yates Cup-winning roster. The 2016 OUA Defensive Player of the Year made 60 tackles, and assisted on 33 others. He also had five sacks, three pass blocks, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery. These stats should appeal to just about anyone, and since he was one of just seven linebackers to get picked in 2017, he has a great chance to lead his draft class in everyday defensive play.

Herdman fared well individually, and was one of the lone bright spots on a disappointing and winless season for SFU. He has 43 tackles and 30 assists, as well as one interception, two recovered fumbles, and two sacks. Expect to see him play special teams as well as defense. He is a three time selection to the GNAC Football All-Academic Team.

Carson is another of the nine Dinos picked this year. He also played all 12 games, making 13 tackles and eight assists, as well as three sacks.

No Surprises from Popp

It’s no real surprise that Popp didn’t draft any offense. His history in Montreal indicates that he likes to get his offense through American free agency, and head coach Marc Trestman has shown early confidence in the offensive guys already available, a group that already sports some young Canadians in Brian Jones, Declan Cross, and Llevi Noel, as well as veterans like Anthony Coombs, SJ Green, Brandon Whitaker, and Jeff Fuller.

The big issue to be addressed this off-season was defense, and the team has certainly done that, signing a strong group of veteran free agents, and building through the draft. Between that and the front office changes, this team looks poised to make a run at a postseason berth. Now all they have to do is deliver.

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