One of Joe Mack’s top priorities when he was hired as Vice President and General Manager of Football Operations for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in January of 2010 was to upgrade the depth of the Bombers Canadian content through the annual CFL Canadian draft.
As Mack and his staff prepare for the upcoming CFL draft on May 3, it seems his plan has worked out quite well.
With only 4 picks in the 2010 draft, the Bombers were able to acquire receiver Cory Watson from Concordia and offensive lineman Chris Greaves from Western University, both of whom figure to be long-term fixtures in Blue and Gold.
Watson has developed into a quality starting receiver while Greaves is projected to be the replacement for Brendon LaBatte on Winnipeg’s offensive line in 2012.
The 2011 draft was even better for the Bombers. Five of the six players they selected will be in training camp this year, and at least three of them have a good chance of being on the roster.
Last year’s first overall pick, Henoc Muamba is expected to challenge for a starting spot after an injury-plagued rookie season. Fourth overall pick, receiver Jade Etienne, spent most of 2011 on the practice roster but the club still has high hopes for him.
A pair of hulking offensive linemen, Brendan Dunn and Paul Swiston, will also be in the mix. Running back Carl Volny, a fifth round selection out of Central Michigan, made an impact before a knee injury ended his rookie season.
And, not to be forgotten, the Bombers nabbed receiver Kito Poblah in last year’s supplemental draft, and he won a starting spot out of training camp before injuries derailed his rookie season.
So what can Winnipeg fans expect to see come May 3?
Mack and his team will have six picks in all (barring a trade), including five of the first 23 selections to potentially find the team’s next big player.
Bombers special teams coach and draft coordinator Kyle Walters is confident they will be able to land some blue-chip prospects.
“We started preparing for this year’s draft by scouting the 2011 East-West bowl in London, Ont., an All-Star game that features a lot of the 2012 draft eligible players,” said Walters.
“That’s the start of it, and then Joe Mack visits many of the Canadian Universities as we follow up with the players we have identified out of the East-West bowl. And I touch base with every CIS coach and organization to gather more information on the draft eligible kids. Once that is done, we involve our entire coaching staff in watching film and reviewing our notes to break down the prospects into a top-25.”
Walters says the CFL Evaluation Camp presented by Reebok in March is part of the process of identifying the top prospects.
However, performances at E-Camp might be misleading.
“You want to rely heavily on film. Joe Mack believes strongly in the film you get from games. That is the true indicator of a player’s ability.”
Walters believes the top rated player by the CFL Scouting bureau, offensive lineman Ben Heenan from the University of Saskatchewan, is a very good bet to be the first player taken in this year’s draft.
And while there is always a strong demand among CFL teams for Canadian offensive linemen, he says the Bombers philosophy is to select the “best athlete available” when it comes their turn to pick.
“It was much easier last year when we were picking at one and four” Walters said. “We knew who we were going to get. When you are picking eighth overall, it’s a little different, and you need to be prepared to pick the best player on the board at that time.”
Walters admits the Bombers have a need for a quality Canadian defensive lineman in the wake of Doug Brown’s retirement and the departure of Don Oramasionwu to free agency. He has also identified defensive end Tyrone Crawford of Boise State as the “best player in the draft.”
However, Crawford has garnered interest from the NFL, leading to speculation that he might never step foot on a CFL field.
“Crawford is going to get drafted by the NFL, are you ever going to see him in the CFL? That’s the question you have to ask. He is one of nine defensive linemen playing at NCAA schools that are draft eligible, so we need to do our homework on all of them.”
Walters wouldn’t tip his hand on who the Bombers would love to find available with their eighth overall pick, but he said there is good quality in the draft, and the Bombers are confident that, with five of the first 23 selections, they will once again find players who can contribute to their future.