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Redblacks GM Burke keeping an open mind about first overall pick in '23 CFL draft

Ottawa Redblacks general manager Shawn Burke could be swayed into giving up the first pick of the 2023 CFL draft. Burke said Friday from the CFL's regional combine in Kitchener, Ont., that he's keeping an open mind heading into the May 2 draft.
The logo for the Ottawa RedBlacks is displayed in Ottawa on Saturday, June 8, 2013. Ottawa Redblacks general manager Shawn Burke says he could be swayed into giving up the first pick of the 2023 CFL draft. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Patrick Doyle

Ottawa Redblacks general manager Shawn Burke could be swayed into giving up the first pick of the 2023 CFL draft.

Burke said Friday from the CFL's regional combine in Kitchener, Ont., that he's keeping an open mind heading into the May 2 draft.

"You're always looking at doing whatever helps your team," he said. "We're not going to be tied into anything but the reality is when you pick No. 1, you can control who you get.

"It would definitely have to be something we feel improves our football club in some regard."

Burke wouldn't say if he's entertained offers for the No. 1 pick, but added with roughly two months before the draft it's still very early in the process.

"What I've learned is until you get through the national combine, then teams get more piqued in interest," he said. "That's because it verified what they thought they saw on film.

"That month of April is where more conversations happen."

The CFL's national combine is slated for March 22-26 in Edmonton.

Should Ottawa keep the first selection, Burke said whoever the Redblacks picked could possibly be signed when the players' name was called. Burke was with Hamilton in '21 when the organization had all the details taken care of when it took fullback/tight end Jake Burt to open that draft.

"I'd say if we take the route at No. 1 . . . we'd definitely probably talk beforehand," Burke said. "We'll probably have a certain timeline where we're willing to hear offers (for first selection) and if nothing is done, then we're zeroing in on who we're going to draft"

Burke, entering his second season as Ottawa's GM, has plenty of '23 draft capital. The franchise has 10 picks overall, the most of any team, so any deal for the No. 1 pick that involves selections this year wouldn't seem appealing to the Redblacks. 

"I'd say it could involve players, maybe it's something for a future draft," Burke said. "You never know. 

"At the end of the day, how I find trades is a team has to come to you. It's what they're willing to give up, you hear it out and see if it makes sense."

Ottawa (4-14) secured the first overall selection after finishing last in the East Division last season. However, Burke doesn't have specific priorities to address heading into the draft.

"It's always finding the best players available," he said. "I think if you get too focused on what you think your team's needs are, it can tarnish your process.

"You have to stay true to your board and go with the best guys available."

Ottawa has three second-round selections after acquiring the No. 12 choice earlier this week from Edmonton for the rights to Canadian linebacker Woodly Applon. He returned to Tuskegee University for his senior campaign after being drafted in the fifth round last year by the Redblacks.

Last year, Burke made nine draft selections, including towering offensive lineman Zack Pelehos of the Ottawa Gee-Gees, second overall. He also took Penn State linebacker Jesse Luketa, an Ottawa native, to complete the second round, No. 20 overall, as a territorial pick.

Luketa is currently with the NFL's Arizona Cardinals.

This year, five CFL draft-eligible players are expected to be taken in the NFL draft April 27-29. They include: Matthew Bergeron, of Victoriaville, Que. (offensive lineman, Syracuse); twins Chase and Sydney Brown, of London, Ont., (running back, defensive back, respectively, Illinois); Sidy Sow, of Bromont, Que. (offensive lineman, Eastern Michigan); and Tavius Robinson, of Guelph, Ont. (defensive lineman, Mississippi).

Burke said while there's value in watching prospects perform during a combine, those results are just a piece of the overall evaluation puzzle.

"You want to see competitive guys out there," Burke said. "They might face some adversity where they lose a rep and you want to see how they respond.

"You want to see guys who're jumping to the head of the line, you're watching personality and natural leadership traits at events like this. But the (game film) is always going to be the verification."

In Edmonton, CFL officials will conduct 15-minute in-person interviews with prospects, which Burke said are important.

"That's a huge 15-minute component where you get to know a player better," Burke said. "You get to put them on the spot, they're in a nervous situation and you can see how they handle that."

Twelve participants in Kitchener qualified for the national combine, including Ottawa's Tolu Ahmed, a six-foot-two, 193-pound defensive who only started playing football during his second year at University of Toronto.

Ahmed said he was pleased with his broad jump of 10 feet 3 3/8 inches because it followed what he felt was a disappointing result in the 40-yard dash (4.60 seconds).

"I think I could've done better but I'm happy with it because my 40 didn't go as well as I wanted," he said. "That kind of got me juiced up for the jumps and I feel like I had a pretty good jump in the broad.

"When things don't go the way you want, you want to stay cool, focused and then execute."

The good news for Ahmed is he feels he can post better results in Edmonton, even if he gets a little nervous on the national stage.

"I feel nerves are good energy to feed off of," he said. "If they come, they come. 

"If they don't they don't. I'm ready for them if they come, though."

Also qualifying for Edmonton were receivers Gabriel Appiah-Kubi (York), Caleb Morin (Saskatchewan) and Zakariya Karim (St. Francis Xavier), defensive back Jacob Biggs (Calgary), linebacker Maxim Charbonneau (Ottawa), offensive linemen Theo Grant (Queen’s) and  Alexandre Marcoux (McGill), tight end Sebastian Howard (Saint Mary’s) and defensive linemen Markcus Jean-Loescher (Saint Mary’s), Aidan John (Saint Mary’s) and Collin Kornelson (Manitoba).

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 3, 2023.

Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press