It won’t be as dramatic as choosing between U.S. college stars Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III but, with the first pick in the 2012 CFL draft, the Saskatchewan Roughriders have a meaningful decision to make.
Do they take Regina-born offensive lineman Ben Heenan from the University of Saskatchewan? Do they go with receiver Shamawd Chambers from Wilfrid Laurier? Do they pass on both and trade the pick?
One thing is certain: Saskatchewan will not draft top-rated prospect Tyrone Crawford, a defensive lineman at Boise State.
Crawford was a third-round selection of the Dallas Cowboys in last week’s NFL draft. (Luck went first overall to the Indianapolis Colts; RG3 went second to the Washington Redskins.)
And the Riders, who have only three selections in Thursday’s CFL event, are not about to waste one on a player who will be Cowboys property for months, perhaps years.
That brings the issue back to Heenan, Chambers or a trade – and according to Riders general manager Brendan Taman, all three are still in play.
Heenan, at 6 foot 4, 310 pounds, is the kind of player who could hunker down on the offensive line and stay there for 10 years. He could easily be the next Gene Makowsky.
Chambers, at 6 foot 3, 218 pounds, is a raw, speedy talent who will be attending a Philadelphia Eagles mini-camp next week. No one is sure what that invite means for Chambers, if he’ll earn an NFL contract or a “Thanks for coming out.” What it has done is add another twist to the draft proceedings.
“Whether or not he makes it with Philadelphia, you won’t know until after the draft. So there is some uncertainty,” Taman said. “There’s need and ability. The question is: When does [a team’s]need match [a player’s]ability? That’s the decision we get to make behind the scenes.”
Heenan would be a welcome addition to Saskatchewan’s offensive planning. This past off-season, the team signed free-agent linemen Brendon LaBatte and Dominic Picard and extended the contract of Chris Best. With Heenan in the mix, Saskatchewan would have a solid unit to protect quarterback Darian Durant, who also signed a contract extension.
While the prevailing sentiment has the Riders going with Heenan, they also have a need at receiver.
Veteran slotback Jason Clermont retired and Andy Fantuz signed with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats as a free agent. Rob Bagg is back after missing all of last season with a torn ligament but his right knee has yet to be tested through two-a-day workouts and contact. Chambers, who recorded the fastest time in the 40-yard dash (4.42 seconds) at the CFL evaluation camp, would provide depth and comes with a perseverance born of tragedy.
Chambers’s older brother, Jonathan, was kidnapped, tortured, then shot execution-style in a drug deal gone sour. That happened outside Toronto in 2007. Rather than seek revenge, Chambers vowed to honour his late brother and enrolled at Wilfrid Laurier.
Golden Hawks football head coach Gary Jeffries is convinced whichever CFL team drafts Chambers will benefit as much from his attitude as his aptitude.
“Come January of his last year in high school, Shamawd didn’t have any Grade 12 university credits,” Jeffries said. “To show you the character of the kid, he recognized he had to get six credits and he did it that term and over the summer. … He’s a gifted athlete and a wonderful young man. You have to root for him.”
Taman has been rooting through the various possibilities and trade options for two months now. He said teams have been calling regularly with “subtle inquiries, serious inquiries and what ifs.” He insists if the Riders are going to move the first pick “it has to be a significant offer.”
He also wanted it understood that should the Riders select Heenan, it would have little to do with where he was born and where he played his university football.
“We don’t go into drafts saying, ‘Let’s take all the local guys and put them in a group separately.’ We’re taking the best player whether he’s from Saskatchewan or Russia,” Taman said. “We’ll do what’s best for the football team; not based on public relations.”
2012 CFL draft first-round order
1. Saskatchewan Roughriders
2. Edmonton Eskimos (via Toronto. The Argos traded this pick, QB Steven Jyles and DB Gant Shaw to Edmonton for QB Ricky Ray.)
3. Hamilton Tiger-Cats
4. B.C. Lions (via Montreal. The Alouettes traded this pick to B.C. for kicker Sean Whyte.)
5. Calgary Stampeders
– Winnipeg Blue Bombers forfeit this pick for taking receiver Kito Poblah in the 2011 supplemental draft.
The draft goes six rounds. Calgary has the most picks (nine); Saskatchewan has the fewest (three).
CFL Scouting Bureau’s top-10 prospects
Tyrone Crawford, DE, Boise State
Ben Heenan, OL, Saskatchewan
Shamawd Chambers, WR, Wilfrid Laurier
Austin Pasztor, OL, Virginia
Frederic Plesius, LB, Laval
Christo Bilukidi, DE, Georgia State
Ameet Pall, DE, Wofford
Jabar Westerman, DE, Eastern Michigan
Simon Charbonneau-Campeau, WR, Sherbrooke
Matt Norman, OL, Western Ontario
Draft notes: There should be lots of celebrating in the Westerman family. Jabar, a defensive end at Eastern Michigan, is likely a first-round pick, while his brother, Jawann, a receiver at Rutgers, is also expected to be drafted. Their older brother, Jamaal, played linebacker in the NFL for the New York Jets and recently signed as a free agent with the Miami Dolphins. … Virginia offensive lineman Austin Pasztor has signed a free-agent contract with the Minnesota Vikings.