Edmonton Elks select linebacker Joel Dublanko first overall in CFL draft

Joel Dublanko didn’t have to wait long to learn where he’ll start his CFL career.

The Edmonton Elks selected the rugged linebacker first overall in the CFL draft Tuesday night. The six-foot-three, 240-pound Dublanko was regarded as the most pro-ready draft prospect.

The 26-year-old from Aberdeen, Wash., declared for the CFL draft in early-March after learning he counts as a Canadian because his father was born in New Westminster, B.C. His grandfather was born in Thorsby and attended seminary school in Edmonton.

After his college career at Cincinnati, Dublanko spent time in the NFL with the New Orleans Saints and Seattle Seahawks before playing in 2023 with the USFL’s Philadelphia Stars. An American, Dublanko was eligible for the CFL draft because his father is from Edmonton.

Dublanko was in Edmonton on Tuesday night but still felt nervous waiting to hear his name called. In all, 74 players were taken over eight rounds.

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“I had a good feeling about it,” he told reporters Tuesday night during a CFL video conference. “It’s an exciting time for me and my family.

“My family was here and was able to celebrate with me so it feels good to be back home. I’ve heard a lot of stories about the Elks and actually, my grandma and grandpa had their first date here (at Commonwealth Stadium).”

Dublanko became the ninth Bearcat taken in the draft but first in the opening round. He joins an Edmonton team that hasn’t made the CFL playoffs since 2019 and won just 11 regular-season wins combined since then.

“My goal is to be a starter,” Dublanko said. “I’ve got to go in there and win my job (but) I hold myself to a really high standard and I believe I can accomplish that.

“I came from a winning program at Cincinnati, my expectation is to win. I know we haven’t done a lot of winning here in the past couple of years but I think we’ve got a good shot to turn this thing around and that’s what I’m all about.”

Elks head coach and general manager Chris Jones said picking Dublanko first overall is a no brainer on and off the field.

“He’s high character and that’s before you talk about all of the football stuff,” Jones said. “We made the calls with all of the teams he’s been involved with and they all had nothing but good things to say about his character, his work habits and his ability to fit within a team. He checks all of the boxes.”

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Dublanko will be in rookie camp starting on May 8, with main training camp scheduled to begin on May 12. Dublanko said he’s ready to make an immediate impact.

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“I’m really excited about winning games here, packing this stadium out and bringing some football pride back to this city.”

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The Ottawa Redblacks then took receiver Nick Mardner. The six-foot-six, 206-pound Oakville, Ont., native played in the NCAA at Hawaii, Clemson and Auburn but last season had no catches in just four games with the Tigers.

Over his collegiate career, Mardner had 81 receptions for 1,488 yards (18.4-yard average) and 11 TDs. Mardner was invited to the New York Giants rookie mini-camp.

“I just want to prove to myself that I am who I say I am,” Mardner said. “Regardless of where it is, I just need to put it on film and show everybody what I’m capable of.”

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Mardner became the first Auburn player selected in the CFL draft. This marked the first time the Redblacks had ever selected a receiver in the first round.

The Saskatchewan Roughriders looked to shore up their offensive line at No. 3, taking Boston College guard Kyle Hergel. But the six-foot-two, 300-pound Toronto native signed a free-agent deal with the NFL’s New Orleans Saints.

“I didn’t have any expectations going into (CFL draft),” Hergel said. “I’m looking forward to getting down to New Orleans, any opportunity is a great opportunity I’m just thankful.”

Hergel is the 11th Boston College player taken in the draft. His selection marked the fourth straight year at least one offensive lineman went in the top-three picks.

At No. 4, the Calgary Stampeders took McGill defensive back Benjamin Labrosse. The six-foot, 190-pound was a 2022 first-team All-Canadian but was also invited to the Giants’ rookie mini-camp.

The Toronto Argonauts, who dealt Canadian receiver Kurleigh Gittens Jr. to Edmonton this off-season, landed Laval’s Kevin Mital with the fifth pick. The ’22 Hec Crighton Trophy winner impressed at the CFL combine, posting a 4.58-second 40-yard dash time as well as 20 reps in the 225-pound bench press.

Laval has had at least one player taken in the CFL draft since 2002.

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The B.C. Lions then selected Windsor offensive lineman George Una. The six-foot-three, 300-pound Toronto native became just the second Lancer taken in the first round.

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The Hamilton Tiger-Cats followed suit, taking Laval offensive lineman Nathaniel Dumoulin Duguay at No. 7. The six-foot-two, 293-pound Rimouski, Que., is a two-time All-Canadian.

Calgary acquired the eighth pick from the Winnipeg Bombers and selected Washington State offensive lineman Christy Nkanu. The six-foot-one, 309-pound Nkanu can play multiple positions up front.

The Grey Cup-champion Montreal Alouettes concluded the opening round by taking Memphis linebacker Geoffrey Cantin-Arku. The six-foot-four, 235-pound Levis, Que., native had 79 tackles (41 solo, 4.5 for loss), a sack, interception, two forced fumbles, a fumble recovery and blocked kick last season.

Cantin-Arku, who began his college career at Syracuse, was invited to the Miami Dolphins’ rookie mini-camp.

Winnipeg’s first pick came in the second round, No. 13 overall, with UConn receiver Kevens Clercius. The six-foot-two, 217-pound Montreal native had 49 catches for 604 yards and five TDs in 37 career college games.

Winnipeg then took Delaware State running back Michael Chris-Ike at No. 14. The six-foot-one, 225-pound Hamilton native ran for 754 yards on 162 carries (4.7-yard average) with five TDs in 27 career games and earned an invitation to the New York Jets’ rookie mini-camp.

Three picks later, Winnipeg selected Buffalo offensive lineman Gabe Wallace. The six-foot-six, 344-pound Salmon Arm, B.C., native started 28-of-49 college games, seeing action at left guard and both tackle spots.

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That came after Hamilton took Wilfrid Laurier defensive end Luke Brubacher. The six-foot-six, 255-pound Listowel, Ont., native began playing football in ’21 with the Golden Hawks and over his career had 61 tackles (15.5 for loss) and 12 sacks with a team-high six coming last year.

Brubacher was invited to the Jets’ rookie mini-camp.

At No. 15, B.C. took UBC tackle Theo Benedet, Canadian university football’s top lineman the last two years. But the towering six-foot-seven, 305-pound North Vancouver, B.C., native signed as a free-agent deal with the NFL’s Chicago Bears.

Three of the four Canadians taken in last weekend’s NFL draft were selected. Winnipeg took UBC tackle Giovanni Manu (Detroit Lions) in the fifth round, Calgary picked Arizona tight end Tanner McLachlan (Cincinnati Bengals) in the sixth before B.C. selected Penn State tight end Theo Johnson (New York Giants) in the eighth.

Toronto also made a futures pick, taking Howard tackle Anim Dankwah (free-agent deal, Philadelphia Eagles) in the sixth.

— with files from Dave Campbell, 630 CHED

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