Thursday’s CFL Draft provided one of the more strange draft years in recent memory. Swapped picks, high picks, free fallers, it turned out to be a big hit among fans and the teams involved.
With the first overall pick, the Saskatchewan Roughriders selected local talent Ben Heenan. The former Saskatchewan Huskies offensive lineman has been compared countless times to recently retired Roughriders great Gene Makowsky. Makowsky, like Heenan was a homegrown talent from Saskatchewan and selected by the Riders in the 1995 draft. Makowsky played 17 years for the Roughriders organization, and if Heenan lasts even half as long, the Riders will get their money’s worth with the pick.
After speculation of whether they would keep the pick, trade the pick, take Heenan, take Chambers, they kept it safe by adding to their offensive line. Does Heenan have an immediate spot on the Riders offensive line? We’re not exactly sure. They have two excellent guards already in Brendon LaBatte and Chris Best. LaBatte is also a local Saskatchewan talent and signed as a free agent with the team in February, while Best will enter his 8th year with the Riders. Heenan does have some experience playing tackle, and could possibly be tried at the position in training camp.
The BC Lions threw their weight around in the first round on Thursday. They entered with two first round picks, and managed to swing their 4th overall pick to move up a couple of spots and draft out of the 2nd overall spot to take Eastern Michigan defensive lineman Jabar Westerman. Coming from a football family, in which he has one brother playing in the NFL, and another brother who went undrafted in the CFL Draft, Westerman is primed to bring years of talent to the Lions organization. An all-around balanced player in terms of speed, size and strength, Westerman will need some grooming before he is truly ready to dominate in the trenches.
Westerman’s stock rose rapidly over the course of 2011 and that spilled into 2012 through the evaluation camp, and all the way up to today’s draft, where it seemed as if a bidding system took place. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers were high on Westerman and had traded up to the third overall spot and may have been looking to select him. That was before the Lions one-upped the Bombers and traded for the second overall position to grab him.
With the pick that the Bombers traded up for, they went with Tyson Pencer out of Washington State. A bit of a shock to say the least, as Pencer was expected to be drafted in the early going, but not that high. Nonetheless, missing out on Westerman, the Bombers settled for their third most coveted player in the draft. Pencer is truly the definition of a mountain man, standing at 6’8″ and weighing 330 pounds. He was a left tackle at Washington State, but had to sit out the 2011 season due to ineligibility. Still though, that did not faze the Bombers, as they took a player who they believe could translate into an immediate starter along their offensive line. Pencer might be the most interesting player to keep your eye on when training camp and pre-season gets rolling next month.
The Eskimos weren’t exactly sure whether the Bombers were after Austin Pasztor at the third overall spot or not. So when they announced the Pencer pick, the Eskimos war room exploded in excitement and joy over the fact that despite moving down, the player they coveted had still fallen into their lap with the fourth overall pick. Pasztor was the team’s choice in that spot, and was ranked as the top offensive lineman prospect entering the CFL draft. Just one problem at the moment. He’s property of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings. For how long, who knows, but the Eskimos won’t see Pasztor until at least August or September of this season, if not longer.
The Calgary Stampeders used their fifth overall selection to add Wofford defensive end Ameet Pall. With no pressing need among their Canadian depth, the Stamps had a bit of free rein in what they could do with the pick, but they wind up taking one of the best prospects in the draft. Pall is suited towards the fast paced CFL game where he can get off the ball quickly and disrupt the play immediately. He has not received any NFL interest, and so at this point he should be at training camp for the Stamps in June.
With the sixth overall pick, the Edmonton Eskimos selected Laurier receiver Shamawd Chambers. The immediate interest of Chambers at the moment is with the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles who invited him to a mini-camp that will take place next week. At the mini-camp, Chambers will get three days to impress the Eagles coaching staff in hopes of earning a shot to join the team at training camp. If that happens, the earliest the Eskimos could see the speedster would be in August or September. Chambers was the top overall prospect for receivers, and posted a blazing 4.42 40 at the evaluation camp in March. His overall performance at the camp was among the best for any receiver ever, and given his size, he is a prospect that any team would be lucky to have. The Eskimos can only hope that the NFL doesn’t see Chambers the same way they do.
With the final pick of the first round, the Lions were back on the clock, and they used the pick to take Calgary offensive lineman Kirby Fabien. One of the top 15 overall prospects in the draft, Fabien actually dropped ten spots in the rankings from January to April. He still has eligibility left with the Dinos, but pending on how hard he works, he may be able to stick with the Lions in 2012. Fabien is one guy who could project to tackle at the CFL level. Something that not many Canadian players have the opportunity to do. Fabien has been an every game starter for the past three years at right tackle with the Dinos.
Overall anaysis: Definitely the most surprising pick of the first round was the Bombers taking Pencer at third overall. They either had to know that he was high on someone else’s board, or they simply wanted to make sure that they secured one of the three players that they really wanted on their roster. I was a big fan of what the BC Lions did in trading up to nab Jabar Westerman. I have seen Westerman play a time or two, following Michigan college teams quite closely, and he was one of my favourite players to watch. I am most curious though to see what the Saskatchewan Roughriders do with Heenan in the mix. You can’t start three guards along the offensive line, and so it will be interesting to see what they do, given the fact that they do have Brendon LaBatte and Chris Best in place already.