TORONTO — The months of uncertainty and anxiousness are almost over for Ben Heenan.
The spotlight has been fixed on the Saskatchewan Huskies offensive lineman since he opened the 2012 season as the CFL draft’s top-ranked prospect. Although he has dipped to No. 2 in the rankings, the six-foot-four, 310-pound Heenan remains the overwhelming favourite to go first overall in Thursday’s draft.
“It has been very, very busy for me and my family and the media has kept me on my toes,” Heenan said Wednesday. “For the most part I’m just trying to enjoy it and soak it all in.
“I just want to go to a place that wants me and whatever team drafts me will want me. It will be interesting to see how things unfold.”
The Saskatchewan Roughriders hold the No. 1 pick and many of their fans have made it clear they want the club to select Heenan, a native of Grand Coulee, Sask. Trouble is, the offensive line isn’t a top priority for the Riders after signing free agents Dom Picard and Brendon Labatte and re-signing veteran Chris Best this off-season.
That allowed Roughriders’ GM Brendan Taman to entertain trade offers for the No. 1 pick. But as of Wednesday no club had met Taman’s asking price of a 2012 first-round pick, a future selection and/or a Canadian-born player. So unless Taman receives a stunning, last-minute offer, he’ll open the draft by calling Heenan’s name first overall, which would suit Heenan just fine.
“I’d have no problem staying here to play football,” he said. “It has been very, very encouraging to hear about fans lobbying for me to an extent.
“That’s obviously incredible and not a lot of places get that. To have the fans behind me is a great feeling.”
Heenan certainly isn’t the only top draft prospect available but is one of the few who’d be able to report to Saskatchewan immediately. That’s important considering the Riders only currently have 24 Canadians on their roster.
Four of the top six players on the final scouting bureau rankings list have either been drafted by NFL teams or offered mini-camp tryouts, with Heenan and Laval linebacker Frederic Plesius (No. 5) being the exceptions.
“I don’t think we can wait for a guy we may see in a year,” Taman said. “I think you need a guy who’s going to be in camp and around your team for the next two, three years.”
And with Taman having already said he wouldn’t take Plesius first overall, all signs point to Heenan being his man.
Edmonton Eskimos GM Eric Tillman, who tried dealing with Taman for the top pick, has two first-round selections (second and sixth, overall) and much pre-draft talk had him taking Laurier receiver Shamawd Chambers at No. 2.
But with Chambers, the fastest player at this yea’r’s CFL evaluation camp, reportedly heading to the Philadelphia Eagles’ mini-camp next week, there’s talk Tillman will take the six-foot-one, 245-pound Plesius, who began his college career at Baylor before transferring to Laval, second overall.
The other top prospects heading to NFL camps include top-ranked Boise State defensive lineman Tyrone Crawford (Dallas Cowboys draftee), No. 4 Austin Plasztor, an offensive lineman from Virginia (Minnesota Vikings free agent) and No. 6 Christo Bilukidi, a defensive lineman from Georgia State (Oakland Raiders draft pick).
The Hamilton Tiger-Cats have the No. 3 selection, followed in order by the B.C. Lions, Calgary Stampeders and Edmonton again before the defending Grey Cup-champion Lions round out the first round.
The Winnipeg Blue Bombers were scheduled to pick seventh overall but forfeited the selection after taking Central Michigan receiver Kito Poblah in the 2011 supplemental draft.
Offensive line seems to be a need for Hamilton, which could look to the six-foot-seven, 305-pound Plasztor as a future pick or select the six-foot-six, 295-pound Kirby Fabien of Calgary to join the team right away.
B.C. is in an enviable position of having few needs and with two first-round picks can use one on an immediate player and another on a future prospect. The Lions do need a Canadian defensive lineman to replace retired all-star Brent Johnson and either Western Kentucky’s Bo Adebayo or Jabar Westerman of Eastern Michigan could fill that bill.
Calgary is another team with few needs and could look to either Westerman or Adebayo on the defensive side at No. 5 or Calgary Dinos offensive lineman Carson Rockhill.
That would allow Edmonton to pick up Chambers at No. 6 or possibly look to Adebayo if he dropped that far.
The Lions finish up the first round at No. 7 and could use the pick on an offensive lineman like Plasztor if he was still on the board.
The Winnipeg Blue Bombers, Argonauts and Montreal Alouettes don’t have opening-round picks. The Bombers’ first pick will be at No. 8 to open the second round, with Toronto following at No. 9 and Montreal at No. 11.
But Toronto GM Jim Barker says he’ll continue working the phones into the draft to move up or down, depending on the circumstances. Barker added he remains in the mix for the No. 1 pick but truthfully is longshot to secure the first overall selection considering he doesn’t have a 2012 first-round pick to offer Taman.
“You’re always in the mix,” he said. “Does that mean we’re going to get that No. 1 pick? Probably not.
“We’re always pursuing making our team better. The key is can we come up with a deal that they feel makes them feel good about giving up the No. 1 player in the draft.”
However, Barker hasn’t talked solely to Taman. When asked if he had other irons in the fire, Barker responded, “Quite a few.”
“The experiences I’ve had, you just never know,” he said. “To say I’m out of anything is probably not accurate.”
If Barker can’t move up, he says he’ll still get a quality player at No. 9.
“You’re going to get a guy who is a good player and our goal is to maximize that pick,” Barker said. “We aren’t drafting expecting to get a player that’s going to be the difference-maker in us winning the Grey Cup.
“With that said, you take the player that’s going to be in the best interests of your club long-term in building your Canadian talent base.”