If a strong group of Canadian players is considered the lifeblood of a CFL team, then the Eskimos are in good shape.
The Eskimos have been developing a good Canadian base out of the CFL Draft in recent seasons, allowing them more versatility with the lineup.
For example, Kwaku Boateng – a Draft Day steal in the fifth round in 2017 – is an up-and-coming star at defensive end, typically an American position.
If 2019 second-round draft pick Kyle Saxelid eventually finds a home at tackle on the offensive line, that’s another spot usually manned by an American player.
Or if 2018 sixth-round draft pick Alex Taylor can duplicate even a portion of his success as a running back at the U Sport level, he might become the next great Canadian running back.
Defensive lineman Mathieu Betts, the prize acquisition of the 2019 draft, could be another ratio-changer. The Eskimos chose Betts third overall in the first round after he won two Vanier Cup Canadian university championships with the Laval Rouge et Or and the J.P. Metras Trophy award as the top Canadian lineman in three consecutive seasons (2016-18).
The Eskimos knew the talented player likely wouldn’t be available until at least midway through the 2019 season because he had already signed a three-year contract with the NFL’s Chicago Bears, but decided he was worth the wait because of his tremendous upside.
Upon signing with the Esks on Sept. 9th, Betts played the remaining six games, making one start. In his first CFL game, he had a quarterback sack and forced a fumble. He also had a sack in his second contest.
Betts’ true value will become even more apparent once he has participated in training camp and played a few more games with the team from the start of a season.
But the rest of the Eskimos’ 2019 draft class should also be better prepared whenever the 2020 season starts.
Three players – Saskatchewan defensive lineman Evan Machibroda (fifth round, 41st overall), Calgary receiver Hunter Karl (seventh round, 59th overall) and McMaster defensive back Eric Blake (eighth round, 68th overall) – returned to their Canadian university teams for one more season last year while the other five 2019 draft picks have a year’s worth of CFL experience – including at least five games played – under their belts.
Saxelid, who grew up in the United States but qualifies as a national player because his mother was born in Canada, proved to be very valuable on the offensive line last year. He played all 18 regular-season games, mostly as a backup, but was available whenever injuries created an opportunity. He made his first CFL start at right guard in June, a second start at left tackle in August and started the final three games of the regular season and both playoff games at left tackle after veteran Tommie Draheim was injured.
Saxelid, 25, who fits in with the Eskimos’ monster-sized offensive line at six-foot-seven and 290 pounds, started 36 games during his final three years at UNLV in the NCAA’s top competitive level.
Meanwhile, six-foot-four, 245-pound fullback Peter Cender (Grand Valley State) played his first professional football game on Aug. 3rd in Calgary and made his first start on Aug 16th at Toronto. The 25-year-old, who was drafted in the fourth round, 32nd overall, played five games and made two special teams tackles last year.
Shai Ross (fifth round, 40th overall) was a backup receiver in five of the Eskimos’ first seven games last year. The 26-year-old six-foot, 180-pound speedster out of Manitoba had a 20-yard punt return and two kickoff returns for 48 yards on Aug. 3rd at Calgary, but also got hurt in that game and spent the rest of the season on the injured list.
Scott Hutter (sixth round, 50th overall) made his CFL debut on Aug. 9th against the Ottawa RedBlacks and played eight of Edmonton’s last 11 regular-season games and both playoff games. A 22-year-old backup safety out of Wilfrid Laurier, Hutter (six foot, 195 pounds) tied for fifth place on the Esks with 11 special teams tackles.
The Eskimos also have five of their eight selections from both the 2018 and 2017 CFL Drafts on the roster plus starting wide receiver Tevaun Smith, who was Edmonton’s first-round pick (eighth overall) in 2016.
2018 CFL DRAFT PICKS
- Defensive back Godfrey Onyeka (six-foot-two, 200 pounds) started the first three games at field corner last year before serving as a backup DB/special teams player the rest of the season. The 25-year-old out of Wilfrid Laurier, the first pick (10th overall) in the second round, has played 27 CFL games. He finished with three defensive tackles and 13 special teams tackles (tied with defensive lineman Mark Mackie for second place among the Esks) during the regular season last year.
- Jordan Beaulieu, 26, has played 30 games as a backup defensive back/special teams player during the past two seasons. The five-foot-11, 198-pound defensive back out of Western was drafted in the third round, 24th He had one defensive tackle and five special teams tackles last year.
- Tanner Green, 27, made his first CFL start on Aug. 9th against the RedBlacks. The six-three, 235-pound fullback out of Concordia in Montreal was selected in the fourth round, 32nd He registered 11 special teams tackles, forced a fumble and made his first three CFL catches for 33 yards in 2019.
- Alex Taylor (13 games) and receiver Harry McMaster (12 games) picked up a lot of CFL experience last year. Both Western products had returned to university for a fifth season with the Mustangs after being drafted by the Eskimos in 2018. Taylor (24, five-10, 207 pounds) rushed for 3,343 yards and 36 touchdowns over 25 games at Western while McMaster finished with 1,984 yards and 17 touchdowns on 111 receptions from 2014-18.
- Taylor, who was drafted 48th overall in the sixth round, rushed for 1,068 yards and 12 TDs on 99 carries as Western returned to the Vanier Cup for a second year in a row in ‘18. He could be a game-changer if he gets a chance to play tailback. Taylor had seven carries for 48 yards, two defensive tackles and five special teams tackles in 13 games with the Eskimos last year.
- McMaster (25, six-two, 198 pounds), who was drafted 53rd overall in the seventh round, was a backup receiver in last year’s season-opener as well as the final 11 games of the regular season and the East Division Semifinal at Montreal.
2017 CFL DRAFT PICKS
- Kwaku Boateng, initially ranked No. 2 by the CFL’s Scouting Bureau, didn’t get selected until the fifth round, 41st pick overall. The six-two, 257-pound force of power on the outside of the D-line has been named Edmonton’s Top Canadian Player each of the last two seasons after being chosen the Green and Gold’s Rookie of the Year in 2017. The 24-year-old Wilfrid Laurier product has 46 defensive tackles and 17 quarterback sacks during the last two seasons.
- The Eskimos also found another potential star-in-the-making in safety Jordan Hoover, who started the final 16 regular-season games and both playoff games last year. He has played all but one regular-season game during his first three years. Hoover (27, six-two, 190 pounds, Waterloo) was a fourth-round pick, 31st He made his first three CFL starts at cornerback during his first two seasons. In 2019, Hoover had 53 defensive tackles, a quarterback sack and two interceptions.