Taylor Shire: Roughriders look ahead to rookie camp following CFL Draft

University of Saskatchewan photo. University of Saskatchewan LB Nick Wiebe (No. 43) celebrates during a game against the UBC Thunderbirds. Wiebe was drafted 12th overall by the Saskatchewan Roughriders in Wednesday’s CFL Draft.

Taylor Shire, Regina Leader-Post

The Saskatchewan Roughriders 2024 draft class is loaded with potential.

But that’s the thing about potential — you just never know.

When the Roughriders hit the field next week for rookie camp, they will be without their top two picks from the 2024 CFL Draft, which was held on Tuesday night.

Offensive lineman Kyle Hergel, who Saskatchewan took at No. 3 overall, and linebacker Nick Wiebe, who the Riders selected at No. 12 overall, won’t be on the field.

Hergel, a Boston University product, is currently south of the border in the NFL after signing as an undrafted free agent with the New Orleans Saints, while Wiebe, a University of Saskatchewan product, is currently rehabbing from knee surgery.

Despite knowing he wouldn’t have his top two picks at camp this year, Roughriders general manager Jeremy O’Day was comfortable making the selections anyway.

“We wouldn’t have taken them if we felt like we wouldn’t have a chance to get them at some point,” O’Day told reporters after the draft. “Obviously our first pick has an opportunity in the NFL and his goal is to go there and play and play for as long as he can in the NFL, so there’s a risk there.

“But if we do get him, we feel like he’s a very good player that can play a long time in our league and we expect everyone else to be available pretty quick.”

When you look at how the Roughriders manage the ratio and who the Canadian starters are, taking a gamble on players with plenty of upside — and risk — makes sense as the team doesn’t need a rookie to come in and start right away.

“We weren’t scared to take some risk going into it,” said O’Day. “We feel like we’re in decent position (and) we have some flexibility.

“There’s a lot of different routes we can go with our ratio right now, so it certainly helped.”

While CFL teams are mandated to start seven Canadians, there’s a chance the Riders start eight this year.

There will be three along the interior offensive line, one linebacker, one safety and two — if not three — receivers.

And if you look at who the starters are, there’s no way a draft pick would replace a veteran to begin the year, which is why O’Day had his eye on the future.

Along the offensive line, there isn’t a lot of room to crack the lineup with the likes of Canadians Peter Godber, Philip Blake, Logan Ferland and Ryan Sceviour on the roster alongside up-and-comers Noah Zerr, Zack Fry and Evan Floren. The Riders also drafted Purdue University product Daniel Johnson in the fifth round.

On the defensive side, Adam Auclair is the projected starting Canadian linebacker with A.J. Allen backing him up. The team also has Canadian linebackers Matt Dean, Nick Thomas, Jaxon Ciraolo-Brown, Justin and Jordan Herdman-Reed plus recent draftee Melique Straker expected to be at camp.

At defensive back, Jayden Dalke will start again at safety this year with Jaxon Ford (currently recovering from wrist surgery), Nelson Lokombo, Godfrey Onyeka, Kosi Onyeka and newly signed rookie Katley Joseph providing depth at that position. Saskatchewan also drafted Richard Aduboffour in the eighth round.

That leaves receiver, where the Roughriders will at least start two Canadians with Samuel Emilus and Kian Schaffer-Baker penciled into starting roles. Saskatchewan could start a third with Brayden Lenius and Mitch Picton battling for that role.

There’s a couple backup spots available and that competition is wide open after O’Day drafted three Canadians receivers on Tuesday — Dhel Duncan-Busby, D’Sean Mimbs and Ajou Ajou — who all carry upside and who are all expected at camp.

While Duncan-Busby, a Bemidji State product, and Mimbs, a Regina Rams product, have shown what they can do at the college level, the wildcard is Ajou, a former high school standout from Alberta who has bounced around three colleges in four years.

He was the 16th ranked prospect according to the CFL Scouting Bureau in the fall but completely fell off the rankings by the spring, allowing the Riders to grab him in the seventh round.

“Just see a lot of potential there and hopefully we can bring that out of him,” said O’Day.

Potential — maybe the best word to sum up the Riders latest draft class.