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Wally Buono reached for a West Coast metaphor when characterizing the draft class of 2011.
“The draft has been like a salmon run,” he said. “We had a good run, another good run, a great run last year, and the one this year is simply back to good.”
That’s not the best of news for the Lions or their supporters if they are looking to find an immediate answer in the 2011 Canadian Draft.
Last year was one of the best draft years in the history of the club. A total of five drafted players suited up for the Lions and each player will be back ready to compete at training camp in Kamloops this year.
After their first pick, which is third overall behind Winnipeg and Edmonton, the Lions do not select again until the 19th spot, in the third round. They also pick in the fourth round at the 26th spot, the fifth round at the 34th spot and the sixth round in 42nd slot.
Both the defensive front seven and the offensive line are places where the Lions need to develop depth in a hurry.
On the defensive side, Brent Johnson was supposed to receive limited reps last season at end but he became an every down player when the defensive front sustained an obscene amount of injuries.
The 2006 Most Outstanding Defensive Player and Canadian has decided to return for another tour of duty, but somewhere along the defensive front there needs to be more players in development. The depth may come in the form of a linebacker and not a defensive lineman.
The one player that Buono actually spoke about was St. Francis Xavier linebacker Henoc Muamba, brother of current Lion defensive back Cauchy. Henoc is ranked third by the CFL’s Scouting Bureau, but has been mentioned as a potential top draft pick in recent days.
“Depending on what Edmonton or Winnipeg are looking for, we are in a good position to get Cauchy’s brother,” Buono said.
The Lions used their fifth round selection (34th overall) in the 2010 Canadian Draft to select the elder Muamba at defensive back.
At this year’s CFL Evaluation Camp, the younger Muamba lead the linebackers in every single testing category and was dominant in the one-on-one drills.
Last season Muamba won the 2010 President’s Trophy as the top defensive player in the CIS and was named a first team All-Canadian after leading the AUS with 47 tackles.
The only two players ahead of Muamba on the CFL Amateur Scouting Bureau’s list are offensive lineman Scott Mitchell and receiver Anthony Parker.
The wild card in all of this is the status of the B.C. kickers.
McCallum has no intention of retiring, so a trade remains a possibility right up until the first pick on Sunday. Considering the inconsistent kicking situation in Winnipeg, either McCallum or Whyte would be a good fit in blue and gold.
Buono is on record saying he’d be comfortable bringing both toes to camp. However, if the right deal is there to move up to the top pick or add a late first round selection along with a player capable of starting, Buono would be all ears.
If the Blue Bombers (1st overall) and the Eskimos (2nd overall) go shopping for offensive lineman and linebackers, the Lions may have a shot at Parker, an outstanding slotback from the University of Calgary.
With only one of the first 18 selections, the Lions are more likely to draft for needs than picking the best athlete available. Receiver is one of those areas the Lions do not need depth, with Paris Jackson, O’Neil Wilson, Akeem Foster, Shawn Gore, Andrew Harris and – depending on his future position – Jamall Lee on the roster.
It’s also likely that either Winnipeg or Edmonton will claim Parker. In Saskatchewan, Eric Tillman made a habit of acquiring athletically versatile Canadian receivers and stockpiling them. His roster work is still paying dividends to the Riders even after his departure.
With the possibility of a trade, the Lions could still move up to address their biggest impending need on the offensive line.
The Lions finished 2011 with seven healthy non-imports on the offensive line. Sherko Haji-Rasouli was cut in the off-season, which leaves a group who are either getting long in the tooth, are prone to injury, or have not lived up to potential.
Angus Reid is back at centre with enough gas left in the tank to get him through one more year. That would move Dean Valli to guard, with Jon Hameister-Ries, Justin Sorensen and Joe McGrath all in the rotation.
They may choose to make a move in the draft to clam Rice’s Mitchell. Unlike Danny Watkins of Baylor who the Lions picked as their top selection in 2010, Mitchell is ready to play pro now as an NCAA graduate.
Watkins was recently drafted 23rd overall by the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFL draft and may likely never see a CFL field.
“I’d like to see the league address the issue of making redshirts draft eligible,” Buono said, who looked made what looked like an inspired selection by taking the redshirt from Kelowna in last year’s draft. However, it also illustrated the risk of taking a player in the draft that still has a year to up his game at the collegiate level.
The Lions could also stay in the third position and select either o-lineman Phillip Blake of Baylor or Tyler Holmes of Tulsa, who are ranked fourth and fifth respectively on the CFLSB. However, both are red shirts.
In terms of local products, there are few prospects coming from either UBC or NCAA Division II Simon Fraser. One player who registers in the later rounds, who might allow for a home town discount, is defensive lineman Scott Puffer of the Clan. He’s a multipurpose guy who can also long snap.
The Canadian Draft will air on TSN on Sunday, May 8 at 9:30 am in British Columbia (12:30 pm Eastern).