TORONTO — Every time Saskatchewan Roughriders general manager Brendan Taman looked for the top player in the 2012 CFL draft, he always returned to the one in his own backyard.
So when Taman decided to keep the first pick overall, he did the expected Thursday and used it on Saskatchewan Huskies offensive lineman Ben Heenan.
“The only way we weren’t going to go that way was if we traded the pick and actually at two points we were getting pretty close to doing something. ”But he was the pick if we didn’t trade it.
“He was the best guy on the board and we were going to take the best guy.”
There was no intrigue or mystery to the pick as Riders president Jim Hopson announced earlier Thursday the six-foot-four, 310-pound Heenan would be selected. Heenan spent the last four years at Saskatchewan and most of the season as the top-ranked draft prospect before finishing No. 2 in the final listing.
And for Heenan, he’s relieved the draft process is over.
“Now we can get back to focusing on the real part and that’sfootball again,” Heenan said. “I’m really looking forward to rookie camp.
“Obviously there’s a little bit of pressure that goes with that but no one has higher expectations of me than myself.”
Heenan was the first of 45 players selected in the six-round draft as three teams had forfeited picks after taking players in last year’s supplemental draft.
The selection of Heenan was a safe one for Saskatchewan but critics will suggest Heenan isn’t an impact player and didn’t address the club’s needs on the defensive line, secondary and receiving corps.
The Grand Coulee, Sask., native became just the second Huskies player to go first overall and first since the Hamilton Tiger-Cats selected safety Dylan Barker to open the 2008 draft.
But Taman said he didn’t take Heenan just because he was a Saskatchewan kid.
“He was picked because he was the best player on most teams’ draft boards,” Taman said. “I don’t care if he’s from here, Alberta, Ontario or Alaska. That had nothing to do with it.
“It’s a bonus for us because he’s a local kid but that’s not why he was picked.”
The Riders took Heenan, who can play tackle or guard, despite having adding free agents Dom Picard and Brendon LaBatte this off-season and re-signing veteran Chris Best to a contract extension. But in Heenan, the Riders get a top prospect and someone who will report to the CFL club immediately.
Heenan and Laval linebacker Frederic Plesius are the only ones among the six top-ranked draft-eligible players who weren’t either NFL draftees or invited to attend NFL mini-camps. In fact, the No. 1-rated prospect – Boise State defensive lineman Tyrone Crawford of Windsor, Ont., was bypassed because he went in the third round of the NFL draft to the Dallas Cowboys.
It didn’t take long for the draft drama to begin Thursday.
The B.C. Lions acquired the No. 2 selection from Edmonton – who got the pick in the off-season deal that sent quarterback Ricky Ray to the Toronto Argonauts _ and used it on Jabar Westerman, a defensive lineman from Eastern Michigan.
The defending Grey Cup champions made the move with a good idea the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, who also coveted Westerman, had made a deal with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats to move up to third overall.
“There was good information the (Winnipeg) trade was going to occur and a high probability based on their roster and how they build their team that Jabar would be a pick for them,” said Lions head coach Mike Benevides. ”Fortunately, Wally (Lions’ GM Wally Buono) was able to pull off a great move to get the guy we really wanted.“
The six-foot-two, 285-pound Westerman, a native of Brampton, Ont., is the younger brother of Miami Dolphins linebacker Jamaal Westerman. The Lions were in the market for a defensive lineman with the off-season retirement of veteran end Brent Johnson.
“I had a sense B.C. was interested but I didn’t know I’d end up there because a lot of teams said they wanted me,” Westerman said. “But once they traded up I kind of figured they’d try to get me.”
And with Westerman off the board, the Bombers took Tyson Pencer, a six-foot-eight, 330-pound offensive lineman from Washington State to help protect quarterback Buck Pierce.
Winnipeg came into the draft with no first-round selections and two in the second (eighth and 13th overall) but GM Joe Mack felt he couldn’t land a starter with the second-round picks so he traded up.
“We think (Pencer) has a chance to maybe be a tackle and a ratio-changer,” Mack said. “He said he wants to be one of the all-time great Bombers and that’s great to hear.”
Edmonton acquired the Lions’ fourth overall pick and took Austin Pasztor, a towering six-foot-seven, 306-pound offensive lineman at Virginia. But the Eskimos will have to wait for the native of Langton, Ont., who has signed a free-agent deal with the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings.
The Calgary Stampeders, who also looked to move up to No. 2 or No. 3 for a shot at Westerman, used the fifth overall pick to take Montreal’s Ameet Pall, a six-foot, 245-pound pass-rushing specialist who played at Wofford.
Edmonton followed at No. 6 taking Laurier receiver Shamawd Chambers, who will attend the Philadelphia Eagles’ mini-camp. However, Chambers is expected to be back in Canada sometime this year and the speedy six-foot-three, 219-pound native of Markham, Ont., has definite big-play ability.
B.C. completed the opening round by shoring up its offensive line, adding Kirby Fabien, a six-foot-six, 295-pound Calgary native who played for the Calgary Dinos.
“We believe we selected two young men that enable us to remain strong on both sides of the line of scrimmage,” Buono said of the Lions’ opening-round picks.
There were only seven first-round selections after Winnipeg forfeited No. 7 pick after taking receiver Kito Poblah in last year’s supplemental draft.
Winnipeg, Toronto and Montreal came in with no first-round selections.
Hamilton got bang for its buck in the second round with three selections, including the heralded Plesius at No. 10. The six-foot-one, 245-pound Plesius was the fifth-ranked prospect but fell with the opening-round run on linemen.
The Ticats already have a solid linebacking corps but Plesius can contribute on special teams and be eased into the defence. Hamilton took a future pick at No. 8 with Northern Illinois defensive back Courtney Stephen – he’s expected to return to school – and potential at No. 13 in Carson Rockhill, a six-foot-six, 298-pound Calgary Dinos offensive tackle.
Hamilton also got great value in the third at No. 17 with Laval defensive lineman Arnaud Gascon-Nadon. The six-foot-three, 250-pound Montreal native is a two-time winner of the J.P. Metras Trophy as Canadian university football’s top defensive lineman.
Toronto made its first pick with the second selection of the second (ninth overall) and looked to the future with defensive end Cleyon Laing, who has another year of eligibility at Iowa State.
Taman, who came into the draft with just three picks, added the No. 12 selection in a deal with Calgary and used it on Sam Hurl, the Calgary Dinos’ highly regarded linebacker who can contribute immediately on special teams. He also added a receiver with nice potential, Sherbrooke’s Ismael Bamba, to open the sixth round at No. 39.
Edmonton also made a nice selection to finish the second round w
ith Simon Fraser defensive lineman Justin Capicciotti at No. 14. The six-foot-two, 242-pound Toronto native improved his draft stock with a solid performance in the CFL evaluation camp and is also capable of contributing on special teams.
Defensive lineman Bo Adebayo and Christo Bilukidi both came in highly regarded but fell to the third round due to NFL commitments. Adebayo, an Edmonton native who’ll attend the Detroit Lions’ mini-camp, went 18th overall to Montreal while Bilukidi, who grew up in Ottawa and was a sixth-round draft pick of the Oakland Raiders, went 21st overall to Winnipeg.