Did the NFL Draft Change Toronto's Plans?
With the 2022 NFL Draft in the books, it’s time to gauge how this past weekend impacted the Toronto Argonauts, both in updating the status of players they drafted last year, and forecasting who they may draft this year.
In 2021, the Argos drafted a few lottery tickets. This hasn’t been a modus operandi for the Argonauts in drafts past. They’d occasionally take a chance with a late pick, but not like they did in 2021. For example, in the 2020 CFL Draft, all seven drafted players reported, and in fact, are still on the team. The only slight exception is WR Sam Baker, who decided to return to school after last year’s Argos training camp, but is expected to rejoin the team this season. The were no NFL draft picks, UDFA signings, NFL Mini-Camp invites, nothing.
So, what has happened to these 2021 lottery tickets, and what else can we glean from this year’s NFL Draft?
Sage Doxtater – OL – New Mexico State
Among their 2021 selections was OL Sage Doxtater out of New Mexico State. The Argos absolutely loved him as a player, but they knew it was a bit of a gamble to take him in the second round since he was returning to play another season for the Aggies and could draw NFL interest.
Sure enough, following this year’s NFL Draft, the New Orleans Saints announced they’d signed the 6’7”, 317lb Doxtater to a UDFA deal. Doxtater was graded as the 62nd best tackle prospect by Dane Brugler of The Athletic, but this ranking doesn’t take into account the 30-40 pound he dropped to get in NFL shape.
Based on percentages, it’s still quite possible, in fact likely, Doxtater will end up in the CFL, but it probably won’t be this season. The hope is that Doxtater will impress at camp and never look back, but that rarely happens with UDFAs. More commonly they spend a year or two bouncing around from practice squad to practice squad, all the while staying in shape, waiting for their next NFL opportunity.
The Argos may never see Doxtater, but if they do, it will almost certainly be in 2023 or later.
Luiji Vilain – DE – Wake Forest
In the third round of the 2021 CFL Draft, the Argonauts took DE Luiji Vilain out of Michigan. Like Doxtater, Vilain returned to school for the 2021 season, transferring to Wake Forest where he got a lot more playing time. The 6’4”, 254lb edge rusher had a great year with 30 quarterback pressures and a team-high nine sacks. This was enough for Brugler to profile Vilain as the 39th best edge rusher in the 2022 NFL Draft.
Not surprisingly, Vilain was signed as a UDFA by the Minnesota Vikings immediately following the NFL Draft.
Vilain seems to be regarded as a slightly better prospect than Doxtater, but their timeline is probably going to be similar, so seeing him in Double Blue this year is highly unlikely.
Benjamin St-Juste – CB – Washington Commanders
Unlike Doxtater and Vilain, St-Juste spent last season playing in the NFL. The way the Washington Commanders handled the corner position in this year’s draft might be an indication of St-Juste’s future with the club.
The Argos took St-Juste with the third last pick in the 2021 draft, knowing he was definitely heading to the NFL. Just days earlier, he was drafted by Washington in the 3rd round, signing a four-year contract. St-Juste played meaningful minutes as a rookie, but was sidelined late in the season with lingering issues related to a concussion he sustained. He’s projected to be a starting corner for the Commanders this season, the supporting evidence being that they didn’t look to replace him in free agency, and they didn’t select a corner in this year’s draft until the 7th round.
At this point, it’s hard to imagine St-Juste will ever play in the CFL, but it wasn’t a bad gamble for the Argonauts, spending only a 6th round pick for the chance at him. Historically, 6th round picks rarely produce CFL contributors, while a large percentage of CFL defensive backs were once NFL draft picks or UDFA signings who didn’t work out for whatever reason.
Tre Ford – QB – Waterloo
The plot thickens. Tre Ford has been on every CFL team’s radar for a long time, but he’s been mocked all over the place because of the belief he’d sign as a UDFA in the NFL. And he still might ink a contract, but he hasn’t yet. He’s been invited to the Baltimore Ravens’ Rookie Mini-Camp, which is exciting, but less of a guarantee than many were expecting. Tre Ford belongs in the NFL, but if you think there’s a bias against Canadian quarterbacks in the CFL (there is), the NCAA and the NFL are ten times worse.
With only a Mini-Camp invite, it suddenly seems a long shot for the Waterloo quarterback to end up on an NFL roster this season. There’s still a chance he spends the year down south, but there’s also a chance he’s on a CFL team as soon as this spring.
Does this impact Toronto’s draft plans? Probably. It probably impacts the draft plans of a lot of teams. If he’d been drafted by an NFL team, he’d have slid down to the 5th-6th rounds on a lot of CFL Draft boards. If he’d signed as a UDFA, he might have been projected as a 2-4th round selection. If there was no interest at all, he’d have been an early first round pick. So where is he now? Where does Toronto have him now?
It’s no secret the Argos struggled to convert 2nd or 3rd and short situations last season. Antonio Pipkin was generally used in those instances, and while he had his moments, it’s an area the team needs to improve. Recently signed quarterback Chad Kelly is a good athlete, but he doesn’t have the 4.4 speed of Tre Ford. Quarterbacks rarely do. Ford isn’t ready to take over a CFL team, but he’s ready enough to contribute in short yardage situations and as a change of pace quarterback. Even having him on the roster means the opposing defense needs to spend valuable practice time game-planning for him.
If they didn’t before, it’s a good bet the Argos now have Tre Ford circled and highlighted as an early possibility with one of their three picks of the first 15 in the draft.
Deionte Knight – DL – Western
Deionte Knight was invited to both the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Washington Commanders Rookie Mini-Camps. If Knight had signed as a UDFA, that could really have shaken things up at the top of CFL Draft boards. Xs and Argos had him ranked second after consensus top pick Tyrell Richards, and no mock drafts had him getting out of the first round. Has that changed?
A few days ago, there seemed very little chance Knight would still be available by the time the Argos made their first selection at sixth overall. There’s a chance now. CFL teams know how gifted a player Knight is, and for two NFL teams to express this sort of interest must be concerning for those at the top of the draft. Would teams who need immediate help, like Ottawa or BC, go ahead and draft a player they don’t know they’ll definitely see in the near future? If he’s still there when the Argos pick, should they take him? The correct answer is yes. The Argos don’t “need” anyone right now. They have a complete roster as is. If they have a future shot at a player like Knight, with a chance he’ll actually be able to contribute this season, they have to take it.
Tyrell Ford – DB – Waterloo
Like Deionte Knight, Tyrell Ford has also been invited to two NFL Rookie Mini Camps with both the Steelers and Jets expressing interest. He received a second round grade from Xs and Argos, and most mocks have him going in the second round, where Toronto has two picks.
If he was in the Argos’ second round plans before, this shouldn’t change anything. The Argos spent a second rounder on Sage Doxtater last year, knowing it would at least be a year before they saw him, if not more, so this shouldn’t scare them off. As with Knight, Tyrell Ford doesn’t need to be in the plans for this season, so even if his camp invite turns into something, it’s a risk worth taking.
Jesse Luketa – LB – Penn State
It might seem strange, but Jesse Luketa’s CFL Draft stock may have gone up even though he was selected in the 2022 NFL Draft. Luketa was projected by many to be a 4th or 5th round selection, but he dropped all the way to the 7th round where he was selected by the Arizona Cardinals. This fall could make him more attractive to CFL teams.
It’s reasonable to believe teams with interest in Luketa will now consider spending a third round pick on the Ottawa native. At 26th overall, after already logging three picks, the Argonauts could be in the right place to gamble on him eventually making his way to the CFL.
The Argos have a strong Canadian contingent on their roster, and truthfully, unless the draft really falls their way, there may not be a lot of prospects in the second half of the draft with a realistic shot at contributing to the club, so why not try Luketa?