Toronto Argonauts poised to kick off 2019 CFL draft with first overall pick

The Lions are scheduled to make their first pick in the third round, 26th overall

Toronto Argonauts’ general manager Jim Popp speaks to media at the Argo practice facility in Toronto, on Wednesday, November 29, 2017. On Thursday night, the Toronto GM will make the opening selection of the CFL draft for the first time in his 20-plus year Canadian tenure. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov)

Toronto Argonauts’ general manager Jim Popp speaks to media at the Argo practice facility in Toronto, on Wednesday, November 29, 2017. On Thursday night, the Toronto GM will make the opening selection of the CFL draft for the first time in his 20-plus year Canadian tenure. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov)

It’s a career first that Jim Popp would rather not have.

On Thursday night, the Toronto Argonauts general manager will make the opening selection of the CFL draft for the first time in his 20-plus-year tenure in the league. The Argos secured the No. 1 pick after posting a league-worst 4-14 record last season.

Popp, 54, has enjoyed much CFL success. As a GM with Baltimore (1994-95), Montreal (1996-2016) and Toronto (2017-present), his clubs have reached the Grey Cup 11 times, winning five.

Popp’s teams have traditionally made the CFL playoffs, meaning he’s often been relegated to the lower stages of the first round in the draft. So he’s in somewhat uncharted waters this time around.

READ MORE: CFL, CFL Players Association to resume collective bargaining talks

“Yeah, it’s a first,” Popp said with a chuckle. “Since we have the first pick, we need to celebrate it and make a big deal about it.”

Toronto has 10 picks during the eight-round draft, the most of any CFL team. With five in the first 23 selections — including to start the second round at No. 9 — the Argos have a chance to significantly upgrade their Canadian content.

The ’19 draft class is deep, particularly at receiver and the offensive line, and features several intriguing options throughout. But once again the NFL draft will give CFL general managers much to ponder.

Laval defensive lineman Mathieu Betts, the top-ranked Canadian draft prospect, signed as an undrafted free agent with the Chicago Bears on Saturday. Also, receivers Justin McInnis (No. 3 on CFL scouting bureau list), Brayden Lenius (No. 11), Chris Osei-Kusi, Shai Ross and Kurleigh Gittens Jr. (No. 16), offensive linemen Drew Desjarlais (No. 7), Alex Fontana (No. 10) and Maurice Simba (No. 13), defensive lineman Robbie Smith (No, 15) and quarterback Michael O’Connor (No. 17) will attend NFL rookie mini-camps.

There’s still plenty of talent without any NFL offers, though. The list includes offensive linemen Shane Richards and Zach Wilkinson (the second- and fourth-ranked prospects, respectively), receivers Hergy Mayala (No. 5) and Kaion Julien-Grant (No. 8), defensive lineman Jonathan Kongbo (No. 6) and running back Maleek Irons (No. 8).

The dilemma facing CFL GMs is deciding whether to select a prospect who can report to training camp immediately or take a flyer on a player who’s headed south and might report later.

“I can tell you the draft boards of all nine teams are different,” Popp said. ”Everybody’s top 10 would be in a different order and even maybe with different people.

“It’s what’s important to a team … and that’s what makes it fun.”

Popp said Canadian players heading to NFL mini-camps also are taking a risk because they’re unsigned. And the decision to head south could impact the prospect’s draft stock in Canada, causing him to drop and resulting in lost money.

“That decision might cost them as much as $10,000, $15,000, $20,000,” Popp said. “But many of them are chasing a dream and might have in their minds that they might not get another chance to do this. That’s what makes our draft really interesting.

“The great thing about having the first pick is you get to make that decision, you’re not dependant on everyone else and how it all falls to you.”

The Hamilton Tiger-Cats will make the second overall selection, followed by the Edmonton Eskimos. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers have the fourth and fifth picks, followed by the Saskatchewan Roughriders at No. 6. The Ottawa Redblacks and Grey Cup-champion Calgary Stampeders will complete the first round.

Neither B.C. nor Montreal have first-round selections although the Alouettes have three second-round picks (Nos. 13, 16 and 19) and nine overall. The Lions are scheduled to make their first pick in the third round, 26th overall, and have seven selections on the night.

Hamilton stands to fare well early with five selections in the first 24. After making the second overall pick, Hamilton will have two choices in the second (Nos. 10-11) and third (No. 22, No. 24) rounds.

Popp said the Argos have a clear idea of who they want to take first overall and the goal remains to have the player signed prior to opening Thursday’s draft. Popp added he’d be open to dealing the No. 1 pick, but it would have to be a sweetheart deal.

“It would have to be something that we just couldn’t pass up, something that was just too rich,” he said. “Right now, the Argos plan on drafting their guy with the first pick overall and it would have to be something shocking that’s presented to us, which I have not heard yet.”

Winnipeg GM Kyle Walters, with two picks, will be a definite power broker in the opening round. That’s a good thing for the Bombers, considering Winnipeg lost Canadian offensive linemen Sukh Chungh (free agent, B.C.) and Matthias Goossen (retirement) and safety Taylor Loffler (free agent, Montreal).

The two first-round selections give Walters much flexibility. He could use both on players for right now, one to fill a need immediately and the other on a future pick, or trade No. 5.

“It’s a nice spot to be in,” Walters told reporters in Winnipeg. “If we don’t do anything, I know we’re going to get two good football players.

“I’m going to guess if somebody really wants to come up to pick No. 5 we’ll listen, but like I said we’re in a nice spot because I’m perfectly comfortable. I’m not going to move for the sake of moving … if the strategy is to move down or move one of the picks then we’ll certainly listen.”

Walters feels the ‘19 draft class is deep.

“I think the top 20 picks are going to be as good as we’ve seen,” he said. “Betts is the only Canadian kid that’s got a priority free-agent deal, which generally helps our draft depth because you have to assume … . mini-camp invites rarely turn into NFL contracts so you’d have to play those odds.

“I think all of that contributes to a good draft.”

Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Just Posted

(Advocate file photo)
Red Deer down to 102 active COVID-19 cases

Central zone has 332 cases with 26 in hospital and five in ICU

Photo Courtesy of the Town of Sylvan Lake
Multiple edible parks found throughout Sylvan Lake

Apple trees, berry bushes and more have been planted in various parks around town

Curtis Labelle. (Photo Submitted)
More exciting music to come from Sylvan Lake’s Curtis Labelle

Curtis Labelle has been called Canadian Elton John or Billy Joel by fans

The Government of Alberta identified 115 new COVID-19 cases Sunday, bringing the provincial total to 3,089.
(Black Press file photo)
Red Deer COVID cases continue to fall

114 cases in Red Deer, down one from Saturday

Maskwacis Pride crosswalk (Left to right): Montana First Nation Councillor Reggie Rabbit, Samson Cree Nation Councillor Louise Omeasoo, Samson Cree Nation Councillor Katherine Swampy, Samson Cree Nation Councillor Shannon Buffalo, Samson Cree Nation Chief Vern Saddleback.
Pride in Maskwacis

The 4th inaugural Maskwacis Pride crosswalk painting took place on Saturday June 12th, 2021

People watch a car burn during a riot following game 7 of the NHL Stanley Cup final in downtown Vancouver, B.C., in this June 15, 2011 photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Geoff Howe
10 years ago: Where were you during the 2011 Vancouver Stanley Cup Riots?

Smashed-in storefronts, looting, garbage can fires and overturned cars some of the damage remembered today

(Black Press Media file)
Dirty money: Canadian currency the most germ-filled in the world, survey suggests

Canadian plastic currency was found to contain 209 bacterial cultures

A worker, at left, tends to a customer at a cosmetics shop amid the COVID-19 pandemic Thursday, May 20, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Half of cosmetics sold in Canada, U.S. contain toxic chemicals: study

Researchers found that 56% of foundations and eye products contain high levels of fluorine

Annamie Paul, leader of the Green Party of Canada, speaks at a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, on June 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Green Leader Annamie Paul facing no-confidence motion from party brass

move follows months of internal strife and the defection of MP Jenica Atwin to the Liberals

Tulips bloom in front of the Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa, Thursday, May 10, 2018. Day two of a full week of scheduled hearings will be heard in Federal Court today on a case involving Indigenous children unnecessarily taken into foster care by what all parties call Canada’s “broken child welfare system.” THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
AFN slams Ottawa for ‘heartless’ legal challenge of First Nations child compensation

2019 decision awarded $40,000 to each Indigenous child removed before 2006

A health-care worker holds up a sign signalling she needs more COVID-19 vaccines at the ‘hockey hub’ mass vaccination facility at the CAA Centre during the COVID-19 pandemic in Brampton, Ont., on Friday, June 4, 2021. This NHL-sized hockey rink is one of CanadaÕs largest vaccination centres. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
‘Vaxxed to the max’: Feds launch Ask an Expert campaign to encourage COVID shots

Survey shows that confidence in vaccines has risen this spring

Children’s shoes and flowers are shown after being placed outside the Ontario legislature in Toronto on Monday, May 31, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Ontario commits $10 million to investigate burial sites at residential schools

Truth and Reconciliation Commission identified 12 locations of unmarked burial sites in Ontario

Two hundred and fifteen lights are placed on the lawn outside the Residential School in Kamloops, B.C., Saturday, June, 13, 2021. The remains of 215 children were discovered buried near the former Kamloops Indian Residential School earlier this month. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Days after Kamloops remains discovery, Tk’emlups families gather to unite, move ahead

‘We have to work together because this is going to be setting a precedent for the rest of the country’

In this Saturday, May 29, 2021, file photo, people crowd the Santa Monica Pier in Santa Monica, Calif. California, the first state in America to put in place a coronavirus lockdown, is now turning a page on the pandemic. Most of California’s coronavirus restrictions will disappear Tuesday, June 15, 2021. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, File)
With COVID tamed, it’s a ‘grand reopening’ in California

No more state rules on social distancing, no more limits on capacity, no more mandatory masks

Most Read