May 21st, 2024

Elks head coach/GM Jones has no shortage of options heading into CFL draft

By Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press on April 29, 2024.

Edmonton Elks head coach Chris Jones speaks about the season at a year-end press conference in Edmonton, Monday, Oct. 23, 2023. Jones has no shortage of options heading into the CFL draft. The Edmonton Elks head coach/GM will have six selections in the first 31 of the draft, which goes Tuesday night, including the first overall pick.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

Chris Jones says he has fielded offers for some of his 2024 CFL draft picks, but hasn’t found one to his liking.

However, the Edmonton Elks head coach and general manager is keeping an open mind up to the start of the draft Tuesday night.

Jones currently has six of the first 31 picks in the CFL draft, including the first selection overall. Jones will also open both rounds of the league’s global draft Tuesday afternoon.

“There’s been some calls about the first one, there’s been calls on the second (No. 10) and even the third (No. 18),” Jones said Monday afternoon. “I guess they think we’re stupid or something (because) they give us offers we have no interest in even considering.

“But the good thing is every year there’s at least two in the first round that you go, ‘Oh my God, what are they doing,’ because people view things differently.”

The abundance of early selections will allow Jones to select players who could bolster Edmonton’s Canadian content this year. But Jones, who has nine overall picks, can also have an eye toward the future and take Canadians who will be attending NFL training camps.

Or Jones could deal any of his early selections to potentially land a veteran CFL player. Edmonton last made the league playoffs in 2019 and has won a combined 11 regular-season games the past three years.

This isn’t the first time Jones has held the first overall selection. In 2016, as Saskatchewan’s head coach/GM, he kept it to take Oklahoma offensive lineman Josiah St. John.

Two years ago, Jones traded the first overall selection to Montreal for the fourth pick and rights to Canadian offensive lineman Carter O’Donnell, who’s currently with the Arizona Cardinals. Alouettes GM Danny Maciocia then took Syracuse linebacker Tyrell Richards first overall.

All nine CFL teams will have first-round selections. Following Edmonton, in order, will be: Ottawa; Saskatchewan; Calgary; Toronto; B.C.; Hamilton; Winnipeg and Grey Cup-champion Montreal.

The Blue Bombers have the most overall picks (10).

Should Jones keep the first pick, the sentiment is he’ll use it on a receiver. Nick Mardner, a six-foot-six, 206-pound Oakville, Ont., native, is the top-ranked receiver on the CFL Scouting Bureau’s list of top-20 prospects at No. 7 and has NCAA experience at Hawaii, Cincinnati and Auburn.

Mardner wasn’t taken in last weekend’s NFL draft but received an invitation to the New York Giants rookie mini-camp. Many CFL officials consider Mardner as the most pro-ready receiver of the draft.

Laval receiver Kevin Mital moved up 10 spots to No. 10 in the final Scouting Bureau list. The six-foot-one, 215-pound Mital was the ’22 Hec Crighton Trophy winner as Canadian university football’s top player.

Arguably the most pro-ready prospect is Cincinnati linebacker Joel Dublanko. The six-foot-three, 240-pound American spent time with the NFL’s New Orleans Saints and Seattle Seahawks before playing in 2023 with the USFL’s Philadelphia Stars.

He was deemed eligible for the ’24 CFL draft because of a Canadian parent.

But Jones could also look to the future as four of the top-eight Scouting Bureau players were selected in the NFL draft. Top-ranked Isaiah Adams of Ajax, Ont., an offensive lineman at Illinois, was a third-round pick of the Arizona Cardinals while tight ends Theo Johnson (Penn State) and Tanner McLachlan (Arizona) were selected by the New York Giants and Cincinnati Bengals, respectively.

UBC tackle Giovanni Manu was a fourth-round pick of the Detroit Lions. Teammate Theo Benedet, fellow offensive linemen Kyle Hergel (Boston College), Anim Dankwah (Howard) and quarterback Casey Bauman (Augustana University) all signed free-agent deals with Chicago, New Orleans, Philadelphia and the Los Angeles Chargers, respectively.

All four offensive linemen were also on the final Scouting Bureau list. The six-foot-seven, 225-pound Bauman, also an American, is eligible for the CFL draft because of a Canadian parent and participated in the league combine.

With so many Canadian prospects already tied to NFL clubs, Jones said a deep draft has become somewhat lessened.

“It was good but with all the NFL kids, all of a sudden your deep draft class becomes not so deep,” Jones said. “If you had a crystal ball and knew which two of those kids might bounce back, you could possibly consider it deep.

“But I think when (McGill offensive lineman Laurent Duvernay-Tardif) when down and did so well with the Kansas City Chiefs, I think those GMs now are much more willing to give the Canadians a look.”

Kansas City drafted Duvernay-Tardif in the sixth round of the ’14 NFL draft. He made the Chiefs’ active roster as a rookie and quickly cracked the starting lineup, eventually helping the franchise win its first Super Bowl title in 50 years in 2020.

Edmonton definitely has draft needs but Jones said those are best left within the team’s office.

“I’ve been on the coaches about not saying anything so I don’t think it probably would be good for me to say it.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 29, 2024.

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