July 24th, 2024

Chris Jones, Shawn Burke open to talking about their early ’24 CFL draft picks

By Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press on March 11, 2024.

They've both been active this off-season so it's not surprising Chris Jones and Shawn Burke are keeping an open mind regarding what they do with the first two picks of next month's CFL draft. Jones speaks about the Edmonton Elks' season at a year-end press conference in Edmonton, Monday, Oct. 23, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

Chris Jones and Shawn Burke are both keeping an open mind about the 2024 CFL draft.

Jones, the Edmonton Elks head coach/GM, currently holds the top selection of the April 30 draft with Burke, the GM of the Ottawa Redblacks, slated to pick second. Both teams posted 4-14 records last year and split their season series 1-1 with the Redblacks finishing ahead on point differential.

Ottawa and Edmonton picked 1-2 in last year’s draft, with Burke taking Dontae Bull, an offensive lineman from Fresno State, first overall. Jones then selected Montreal linebacker Michael Brodrique.

Jones also had the first overall pick in 2022. He dealt it to Montreal for the fourth selection and rights to Canadian offensive lineman Carter O’Donnell.

Montreal then took Syracuse linebacker Tyrell Richards first overall.

Furthermore, Jones had the 2016 top pick as Saskatchewan’s head coach/GM. That year, he used it on Oklahoma offensive lineman Josiah St. John.

“You always have to listen, you’ve got to see what they have to offer,” Jones said. “We’ve not got a call this year “¦ what will happen is they’ll try to catch you off-guard where you haven’t thought about it and get you to jump on something that maybe isn’t good for your football team.

“We’ve gone through a lot of different scenarios with the personnel department, we’ve talked about the different teams that could call so we’ll just wait and see.”

A factor working in Jones’ and Burke’s favour is this year’s draft is regarded as a deep one. And it only got deeper with the CFL adding linebacker Joel Dublanko to the ’24 class.

The six-foot-four, 240-pound Dublanko was born in Aberdeen, Wash., but qualified for Canadian citizenship as his father hails from Edmonton. Dublanko played collegiately at Cincinnati and after being bypassed in the ’22 NFL draft spent time with the New Orleans Saints and Seattle Seahawks before playing in the USFL last season.

Dublanko is projected to participate in the CFL’s national combine next week in Winnipeg.

Dublanko’s journey is similar to that of linebacker Alex Singleton, who was selected sixth overall in the ’16 CFL draft by Calgary. Following his college career at Montana, Singleton, a native Californian, signed with Seattle after the ’15 NFL draft and also spent time with New England and Minnesota before being deemed eligible for the CFL draft because he was a dual citizen as his mother was born in Toronto.

After three productive CFL seasons (two-time league all-star, ’17 top defensive player and ’18 Grey Cup champion) Singleton, 30, has gone on to shine in the NFL with Philadelphia (2019-21) and Denver (2022-present).

Once again, there’s no shortage of Canadian talent drawing NFL interest. Offensive linemen Isaiah Adams and Anim Dankwah and tight ends Theo Johnson and Tanner McLachlan all participated in the league’s recent combine in Indianapolis.

Adams was the top-ranked CFL draft prospect in December ahead of Johnson (No. 3), McLachlan (fourth) and Dankwah (eighth). Theo Benedet, UBC’s towering offensive tackle and the No. 2 prospect, has also garnered NFL interest.

Jones has been busy this off-season signing quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson, returner Javon Leake and kicker Boris Bede as free agents while acquiring Canadian receiver Kurleigh Gittens Jr. in a deal that sent American defensive lineman Jake Ceresna to Toronto.

“We feel strongly the last two years that we’ve brought in some good, young Canadians and a lot of them were playing special teams for us this past year,” Jones said. “We’ve put ourselves in a pretty good position because we have six of the top-31 picks (this year) so we’re hoping we can identify guys who can come in and certainly help our football team.”

Burke has also been active, most notably acquiring the rights to Dru Brown from Winnipeg before signing the American quarterback to a two-year deal. Burke also added linebacker Adarius Pickett during the negotiation window and offensive linemen Phillip Norman and Dariusz Bladek as free agents.

The ’24 campaign is an important one for Jones and Burke. Both are entering a third season with their respective franchises, which have posted consecutive 4-14 records.

Ottawa hasn’t reached the CFL playoffs since its ’18 Grey Cup loss to Calgary. Edmonton last reached the post-season in 2019.

Burke is also keeping his options open regarding the No. 2 pick.

“We’re looking to be an improved football club, we have to be,” Burke said candidly. “We owe that to our ownership group and fan base.

“We’ll (take) any avenue necessary to improve that.”

Ottawa currently has seven selections, including four in the first 35.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 11, 2024.

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