The news was out by breakfast: the Saskatchewan Roughriders would use the first pick in Thursday's 2012 CFL draft to select homegrown Ben Heenan, a 310-pound offensive lineman they couldn't overlook.
As announcements go, it was pretty much expected. What came next? Not so much.
In the first-round activity following Heenan's selection, teams negotiated trades, swapped picks and enlivened the CFL's rite of spring. You can thank the Edmonton Eskimos for that.
They took the second-pick overall from the keenly debated trade last December that sent quarterback Ricky Ray to the Toronto Argonauts and flipped it to the B.C. Lions. The two West Division teams exchanged a total of five picks, allowing Edmonton to select fourth overall, only to select again in the sixth spot.
With those picks, the Eskimos took not one but two players bound for the NFL. University of Virginia offensive lineman Austin Pasztor recently signed with the Minnesota Vikings, while Wilfrid Laurier receiver Shamawd Chambers will be attending a Philadelphia Eagles mini-camp next week.
Edmonton general manager Eric Tillman acknowledged trading down was “a roll of the dice,” but insisted his team got “two quality Canadian players.” Pasztor earned a contract with the Vikings but received only a modest signing bonus. Chambers has to succeed at mini-camp to earn an invitation to the main camp.
At 6 foot 7, 305 pounds, Pasztor is being counted on to upgrade an Edmonton offensive line that was injury-plagued last season. Chambers provides something the Eskimos lack: a 6-foot-3, 215-pound non-import receiver with go-deep speed. It's likely both players will be with the Eskimos at some point this season.
“We have over 30 Canadians under contract. We've been upgrading our Canadian content over the last 18 months,” Tillman said. “That gave us the luxury of drafting the best players even if it means waiting for them.”
The defending Grey Cup-champion Lions also had two first-round picks and enjoyed a successful day in terms of fulfilling immediate needs. With the No. 2 pick, B.C. took Eastern Michigan defensive lineman Jabar Westerman. Westerman's older brother, Jamaal, is a member of the Miami Dolphins, while his younger brother, Jawann, a receiver at Rutgers, was eligible for Thursday's draft but passed over.
Having lost Canadian defender Brent Johnson to retirement, the Lions are hoping Westerman can continue to mature and dominate the way he did last U.S. college season. “I wasn't sure I'd end up there,” Westerman said. “Once B.C. traded up, I figured they were going to try and get me.”
The Lions addressed their offensive line by taking Kirby Fabien, who was one of three Calgary Dinos called in the first 13 picks.
The Winnipeg Blue Bombers used a trade with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats to select former Washington State offensive lineman Tyson Pencer, who played for the Okanagan Sun in the CJFL last year. Winnipeg gave up its two second-round picks to get in on the first-round action, during which four offensive linemen were taken, including Heenan from the University of Saskatchewan.
“It's been a great day of reflection, how I got here,” the native of Grand Coulee, Sask., said, “Now that this part is over, I can get back to work and get ready for rookie camp.”
Some of the biggest names heading into the draft didn't fare as well as expected.
Christo Bilukidi, a touted defensive end from Georgia State, was taken 21st overall by Winnipeg. He was slated to go higher before he was picked in the sixth round of last month's NFL draft by the Oakland Raiders.
Boise State defensive end Tyrone Crawford was the CFL Scouting Bureau's top-rated prospect and completely overlooked Thursday. He became Dallas Cowboys property in the third round of the NFL draft.