The CFL draft’s winners and losers
The 2012 CFL draft saw 45 players selected across six rounds Thursday, and it's going to have a notable impact on the futures of all eight teams involved. A solid draft can give a team the foundation of Canadian talent needed for a Grey Cup run, while a blown one can set a team back substantially, so Thursday's draft is going to matter for years to come. Of course, we can't say for sure whether teams nailed or blew their drafts right at the moment, as that likely won't be evident until several years down the road as the players selected here either turn into key contributors or wind up out of the league. There are some notable initial impressions from what teams did Thursday, though, and with that in mind, it's worth taking a look at this year's draft's winners and losers.
Winners: The Edmonton Eskimos. Edmonton's first round was a masterstroke of genius, with Eric Tillman trading the second and 20th overall picks to B.C. for the fourth, 14th and 38th overall picks. The Eskimos moved down two spots as a result, but still landed the man they wanted, Virginia offensive lineman Austin Pasztor. Things got even better for them two spots later when they made perhaps the steal of the draft, landing Laurier receiver Shamawd Chambers,an incredible athlete who also happens to be pretty good at catching the ball. Pasztor and Chambers aren't sure to join the CFL, of course, as Pasztor already has a NFL contract with the Minnesota Vikings (as an undrafted free agent) and Chambers will be working out with the Philadelphia Eagles, but NFL concerns applied to several of this year's top prospects, and many had both Pasztor and Chambers (who was bandied as a potential first-overall pick) going above these slots. Getting two guys with that kind of talent at the fourth and sixth spots is impressive, and Tillman's decision to trade down paid off, giving him a second-round slot instead of a third-round one and an extra pick in the fifth round. The later-round players Edmonton chose (SFU DL Justin Capicciotti, Akron DE Hasan Hazime and Saint Mary's LB Ryan King) aren't as headline-grabbing, but all could be very solid, and Chambers in particular might turn out to be the best player in this draft. Tillman gambled twice here, first betting that Pasztor and Chambers would be available later than the second pick, and then betting that they'll eventually come to the CFL. The first bet has already paid off, and if the second one does as well, this could be a memorable draft for the Eskimos.
Winners: The Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Hamilton also traded down early on, flipping the third-overall pick to Winnipeg for a pair of second-rounders (eighth and 13th overall), and they went on to use their middle-round picks very well. In a draft that was quite deep but had notable questions about many of the top picks, some of the best value was in the second round, and the Tiger-Cats wound up with three picks there. They used them all well, nabbing Northern Illinois DB Courtney Stephen (who will be in school for another year, but was widely seen as the top DB in this draft) eighth overall, Laval linebacker Frédéric Plesius 10th overall (an incredible value, given the buzz around him heading into the draft and the apparent lack of NFL interest in him) and Calgary offensive lineman Carson Rockhill 13th overall. The Tiger-Cats also shone in the later rounds, stealing two excellent defensive linemen (Laval's Arnaud Gascon-Nadon and Boise State's Michael Atkinson) in the third round and grabbing Simon Charbonneau-Campeau, a tremendously productive CIS receiver, in the fourth round. Fifth-round pick Daronn Palmer, the slotback out of SFU, could be a nice addition as well.
Winners: The Saskatchewan Roughriders. The Riders made the right move at the top of the draft, grabbing offensive line star Ben Heenan despite already having guys at the interior line positions. Canadian depth on the line is crucial, and having players already in place should allow them to work Heenan in more slowly if necessary. Heenan was by far the best way to go at the top of this draft given the NFL interest in most of the other top prospects. Saskatchewan also did well later in the draft despite a lack of picks: Calgary linebacker Sam Hurd should start as a special-teams star and could eventually become a solid ratio-busting linebacker, Sherbrooke receiver Ismaël Bamba might have been the best late find out there (as many had him as one of the top receivers in this class, not a sixth-round pick) and Sherbrooke linebacker Kevin Régimbald-Gagné could also help with their defensive depth.
Winners: The B.C. Lions. The Lions' move to trade up for the number-two pick and take Eastern Michigan DE Jabar Westerman will get the headlines, but the more monumental moves came deeper in the draft. Calgary linebacker Jordan Verdone was viewed as one of the best linebackers in this class by many in the know, so nabbing him in the fifth round (37th overall) is an incredible bargain, as is picking up Western offensive lineman Matt Norman in the third round (22nd overall). The Lions' first-round picks of Westerman and Calgary offensive lineman Kirby Fabien are solid, but it may be the late rounds where they got the most value.
Held their ground: The Winnipeg Blue Bombers. I'm impressed with the Bombers' selections of Queen's receiver Johnny Aprile (16th overall) and Georgia State DE Christo Bilukidi (21st overall) in the third round; Aprile has the potential to be a great target at the CFL level and should help fortify the Canadian content in a Winnipeg receiving corps that already includes the very impressive Kito Poblah, while Bilukidi might turn out to be one of the top pass-rushers here. Of course, he was already selected in the sixth round of the NFL Draft by Oakland, so he may not show up for a few years if at all, but the 21st spot is a good place to gamble on a player like that. What's more iffy is the Bombers' decision to trade all the way up to the third-overall pick and take former Washington State offensive lineman Tyson Pencer, though. Pencer has tremendous physical tools, but he's incredibly raw (he didn't play this past year following his departure from WSU), and he has major injury concerns; he may also draw NFL interest given his physical stature. He could turn into a terrific CFL offensive lineman, sure, but he could also be a flat-out bust or wind up in the NFL. Third seems too high for him, especially considering that the Bombers traded up; they might have been able to get him at their original spot of eighth, and then they would have kept the 13th pick as well.
Held their ground: The Calgary Stampeders. Calgary's draft is interesting, and it could work out, but there are some troubling signs. Choosing Wofford DE Ameet Pall fifth overall is a bit curious; Pall could be a nice special-teams player and pass rusher, but there were more impressive names still on the board from this corner, including Chambers, Stephen and Plesius. Saskatchewan DB Keenan MacDougall could be a nice pick at 15, and he did well in this year's combine, but he missed all of 2011 with a serious injury and is definitely a bit of a gamble. Offensive line picks Billy Peach, Bradley Erdos and Mike Filer are decent, but SFU DB Adam Berger strikes me as an unusual choice given the more prominent defensive backs out there, and sixth-round picks Jordan Spence and Wilkerson DeSouza don't leap off the page either.
Losers: The Montreal Alouettes. It feels weird typing that given Jim Popp's long history of draft mastery, but there doesn't seem to be a lot that's really exciting in this Alouettes' draft. Their first pick was Laval running back/fullback Patrick Lavoie, who could be a nice special-teams player and blocker at the CFL level, but probably won't carry the ball much. In picking him, they ignored several running backs who might be more likely to make a impact as ballcarriers, including Lavoie's teammate Sebastien Levesque and Western's Nathan Riva. The Als' fourth-round pick of UBC DB Lance Milton, who hasn't played in two years, was also curious. I like their selection of Western Kentucky's Bo Adebayo in the third round, as he could be a CFL impact player if he doesn't stick in the NFL, but the rest of the draft doesn't seem too exciting.
Losers: The Toronto Argonauts. Toronto made the most bizarre pick of the draft, going off the board to choose Iowa State DE Cleyon Laing. It says a lot about Laing's obscurity that he didn't even make it into Kent Ridley's draft guide. He'll also be in school for another year, which seems curious given Toronto's focus on the 2012 Grey Cup; at that spot, they could have grabbed someone who could help immediately and picked up Laing later. Their fourth-round picks of Northern Colorado LB Herve Tonye-Tonye and Manitoba WR Quincy Hurst are also unusual, and I'm not sure how well Rice TE Luke Wilson will translate to the CFL.
Of course, it's early to judge these drafts, and we won't really know how good they are for years. For the moment, though, there may be more to be optimistic about in places like Edmonton and Saskatchewan than Toronto and Montreal.