Ranking The Last Ten Number 1 CFL Draft Picks

By Chris Lawton

Everybody loves a good top ten list. They are ever popular for sparking debate. People also love to get involved with the Draft. And no pick generates more interest than who goes first overall. There can be a boom or bust nature to the pick that carries both a cache and weight for the player picked and team picking. But what of the last decade in CFL Draft picks? Who has done well and who less so with their first pick selections?

The 2024 CFL Draft is scheduled to take place on April the 30th this year, with the Edmonton Elks holding the top pick. The teams will be making 74 picks over eight rounds. No doubt looking for hidden gems along the way. But it is the first overall pick that is the headliner. That is where the attention goes. But are they always worth it?

Without further ado let’s answer that question. Who was the worst and best first pick of the last decade (2014-2023) and what happened in between?

10: Mark Chapman (WR, Central Michigan) - Hamilton Tiger Cats, 2018

CFL games played: 0

Games played for the team that drafted them: 0

With Chapman going first Central Michigan became only the sixth team to have players selected No. 1 in both the CFL and NFL drafts. 

Unfortunately for the Ti-Cats Chapman never made the field. Whilst other players inked contracts, their number one pick remained unsigned. After attending one of the Tiger-Cats early regular season games, he left without signing a contract.

Rookie Mini-Camps with the Giants & Broncos didn’t work out. Instead of returning to the CFL he headed for the short-lived AAF and their seemingly better offer. As we know things didn’t work out the AAF. However, Chapman never played there either, citing personal reasons.

Zero games played in the CFL, or any pro league for that matter. A wasted pick for the Ti-Cats who expended plenty of energy on trying to sign Chapman – had to take last slot in the top ten.

9: Fatih Ekakite (DT, Iowa) - Winnipeg Blue Bombers, 2017

CFL games played: 14

Games played for the team that drafted them: 14.

Ekakite proved you never really know until they hit the field at pro level. Plenty of people had Ekakite marked out as ”pro ready for the Canadian game” and a good fit for Winnipeg’s defensive rotation.

He mustered just 5 tackles in a rookie season that was followed by release from the team.

We’ll never know what could have been as Ekakite signed with the Alouettes in June 2018 only to tear his Achilles in practice a fortnight later. When Montreal released him after the 2018 season he announced his retirement in June 2019.

8: Jake Burt (TE/FB, Boston College): Hamilton Tiger Cats, 2021

CFL games played: 10

Games played for the team that drafted them: 10

Jake Burt was a surprise section by Hamilton in 2021 as the last player entered as a prospect. He signed his rookie contract on the same day of the Draft which was registered with the league on the 5th of May 2021.

Burt missed the 2021 season due to injury and appeared in 10 regular season games at Fullback last year before he suffered a season-ending knee injury at Montreal.

Unlike Chapman, at least he signed and played for the Tiger-Cats, but ultimately they released him in 2023 making this not a great investment of a first pick for the team.

7: Dontae Bull (OT, Fresno State) - Ottawa RedBlacks, 2023

CFL games played: 10

Games played for the team that drafted them: 10

*Player is still active with the team that drafted them

Bull began the season on Injured Reserve recovering from a broken leg but made the team in a Week 10 contest with Toronto before starting the following week against Montreal.

This pick sits here solely because it is far too early to make any real judgements about how his career will go. We will see…

6: Tyrell Richards (LB, Syracuse) - Montreal Alouettes, 2022

CFL games played: 18

Games played for the team that drafted them: 18

*Player is still active with the team that drafted them

Richards was part of a great class for the Alouettes. So far, he has logged 15 tackles, 1 interception, 1 forced fumble and scored a touchdown in his time with the team. It is still early in his career, but there is plenty of time for him to move up this list if he stays and keeps contributing in Montreal.

5: Shane Richards (OL, Oklahoma State) - Toronto Argonauts, 2019

CFL games played: 42

Games played for the team that drafted them: 42

In his first season Richards played in eight games with Toronto, starting one. He started the 2019 season opener against Hamilton, then spent the next 10 games on the injured list.

With the 2020 CFL season cancelled, Richards had to wait until 2021 for his next chance. In a shortened season he played in all 14 of the Argonauts’ games, starting 8. He was also their starting left guard in the Eastern Division Final.

In 2022 he made 16 appearances and 2 starts. As well as playing in the East Final and Grey Cup wins.

Last year however he appeared in just 4 games. He was on a long list o Argos Free Agents at the end of the 2023 season. At the time of writing, he has not re-signed with Toronto or been picked up by anyone else.

4: Josiah St. John (OL, Oklahoma) - Saskatchewan Roughriders, 2016

CFL games played: 42

Games played for the team that drafted them: 42

He may have bounced around some practice squads, but the Roughriders got more value out of their pick with St. John than any of the teams listed so far (although in some cases that could yet change).

Over four seasons with the Roughriders, he dressed in 36 games. After becoming a free agent in 2019 he was a practice squad member for the Argos, Lions & Esks. He did dress in 2019 for the final game of the year for an Edmonton team that lost in the East Final.

After becoming a free agent, St. John re-signed with the Roughriders in 2020, and appeared in 14 games for them in 2021 increasing the value of the selection that was originally spent on him.

3: Jordan Williams (LB, East Carolina) - BC Lions, 2020

CFL games played: 46

Games played for the team that drafted them: 32

* Player is still active but NOT with the team that drafted them

As a rookie Williams started all 14 games at linebacker and led all Lions with 92 defensive tackles. Good for second overall in the CFL. He also broke the Canadian rookie tackle record, (75) set by Mike O’Shea in 1993. He capped off the season by winning the CFL Most Outstanding Rookie award.

The following year he Played 18 games with the Lions. He recorded 89 defensive tackles, 7 special teams tackles, 3 forced fumbles, and 2 fumble recoveries. As well as 10 tackles over two playoff games.

This was followed by becoming a ‘double first rounder’ as Toronto traded their first-round draft pick, ninth overall, in the 2023 CFL Draft to acquire his services. There he recorded 48 tackles in 14 games as part of a record-setting Argos team.  Following a trade, he will start 2024 in Hamilton.

2: Pierre Lavertu (OL, Laval) - Calgary Stampeders, 2014

CFL games played: 41

Games played for the team that drafted them: 41

If you want to you could argue that other teams got more value. I am ranking Lavertu this high however because his career was brief, but he shone. He was voted a West Division All-Star in 2015.

Sadly, following that excellent season injuries limited him to eight games in 2016, and he was then out for the entire 2017 season because of a high ankle sprain.

Despite that, Lavertu played 41 career regular-season games and three post-season contests for the Stamps and was a member of the club’s Grey Cup-winning team in 2014.

It was the extra games played for the team that drafted him, that put Lavertu over Jordan Williams for me. However, Williams is still active in the CFL and if he ever returns to Vancouver to play this could easily change.

1: Alex Mateas (OL, UConn) - Ottawa RedBlacks, 2015

CFL games played: 88

Games played for the team that drafted them: 88

The REDBLACKS began play in 2014 and following a 2-16 debut season had their first, and before this year only number 1 draft pick. A pick they spent in the 2015 draft acquiring Mateas from UConn.

Mateas lived up to his billing as a top draft pick helping to anchor the line as a regular starter. From his debut season to 2018 Ottawa went 39-31-2, appeared in the playoffs 4 consecutive times, made 3 Grey Cups, and won it all in 2016.

Mateas spent his whole career in Ottawa. During that time, he was twice named a CFL Eastern All-Star. Showcasing versatility, that was as a Guard in 2017 and a Centre in 2018.

The likes of Henry Burris, Trevor Harris, Brad Sinopoli, Greg Ellingson and William Powell grabbed headlines for the REDBLACKS teams challenging for the Grey Cup.

But they could only do that because of good O line play. So, it only seems fair to put Ottawa’s first draft pick from 2015 top of the pile here. He was a key part of the line generating that success and it’s time an O-Lineman got the spotlight.

He announced his retirement after five successful seasons with the team.

Do You Agree?

There’s a strong chance you won’t agree with where we’ve placed people on this top ten list. These things are always very subjective. That’s OK though. Opening up debate and getting us all talking about the CFL is a win for this author at least anyway.

If you don’t agree and think this should have been a different order, or just want to let us know who you think should have come top, get in touch and let us know.



Chris originally started following the NFL with the ‘first wave’ of fans when it was shown on Channel 4 in the 1980’s. He has been a keen supporter of the Miami Dolphins since 1983. Chris first encountered the CFL in 2016 and instantly fell in love with the Canadian game. He has been writing about the CFL 2017. Chris has a degree in history, postgraduate degree in librarianship and can be found on twitter as @CFLfanUK