The Draft | Where Decisions and Dreams Are Made
It has long been said that the key to long-term success in the CFL is the quality of Canadian content you have on your roster. Sunday’s Canadian Draft presents the latest opportunity for Wally Buono and his staff to stock up on the deep national content available for selection.
As he and his brass continue the debate on what to do with picks three and seven in the first round- overall they hold four of the first 33 selections- the mission statement remains the same: to get bigger, faster and stronger.
“This is a very good draft,” said Buono following the CFL Combine in March.
“There are some excellent candidates that fill that criteria. The players we get at three, seven and sixteen should be players that make us bigger, faster and stronger. You have to draft well because that’s the lifeblood of your team.”
Another interesting piece to the puzzle come draft time is trades. Having two picks in the first round could be attractive to another squad making to look a trade.
On the other side of the coin, should they feel the player they want might still be available a couple picks later, moving down and accumulating more picks has always been an attractive option.
That came into play last year when they moved down two spots and still managed to get Charles Vaillancourt at number five. The deal with Hamilton also netted an extra third rounder (23rd overall), which they used to take Brett Blaszko.
Some of those draft day deals can help your ratio for years. An example of this came in 2008 when Buono shipped linebacker Markeith Knowlton to those same Tiger-Cats for the ninth overall selection. Buono used that pick to take a fullback named Rolly Lumbala who is still going strong.
The Calgary native and University of Idaho product also has fond memories of turning pro.
“It was pretty cool because I was getting on a plane to go to the Miami Dolphins rookie camp,” recalled Lumbala.
“The whole flight there I was thinking how much I couldn’t wait to get off and see if I got drafted. When I arrived my brother had left me a voicemail saying ‘Hey man you’re going to BC to play for Wally Buono!’ Watching him coach the Stamps and seeing him at some of my games made it quite exciting. I had never spent any time in Vancouver so that was exciting too. I was so thankful to have the opportunity to play at the next level.”
While Lumbala is showing no signs of slowing down, his potential future replacement is waiting in the wings. Nate O’Halloran was picked up in round seven last year and his strong camp earned him a spot on the 46-man roster until week six.
“You can’t be afraid of competition. As a mentor and an older player I take a lot of pride that, “ added Lumbala. “It is so important to pay it forward. I always told myself if I was going to be in this position I would give back.”
“If you hold back on taking a player you’re holding back your team. I remember as a young cub, little Lion watching the old guys and now I realize time has flown by.”
See what we’re saying about Canadian depth? It is indeed that important if you want to compete for Grey Cups year in and year out.
Beefing up your pass and protection is never a bad idea, particularly in the first round. It all plays into Buono’s belief you must always win the line of scrimmage. This philosophy was a big reason the Lions led the entire CFL in rushing yards in 2016.
“Football, when it’s broken down to its simple situation, is one on one,” explained Buono. “I like to see that aspect of the game. I like to see the guys that want to compete and show mental and physical toughness.”
Should they elect to go offensive line with one of their two first round selections, there are a couple of prime candidates. Terry Fox High School product Mason Woods out of Idaho and Bethune-Cookman’s Dariusz Bladek are both projected to go in round one.
Marshall Ferguson of CFL.ca has the Lions nabbing Woods at number three in his final mock draft below. With the idea of starting four non-imports up front looking like a reality, having suitable backups for those spots who can also compete to start is an attractive idea. In addition, two of their Canadian starters from last year are gone: Shawn Gore to retirement and Jabar Westerman to Montreal. As far as wide receivers go, Carleton’s Nate Behar and McMaster’s Danny Vandervoort could both be viable options.
“We knew about Shawn’s intentions in the early off-season so that’s not something that’s caught us by surprise, said Buono.
“There are some good quality receivers and that’s a position that, at least we have for the past number of years, had two Canadian starters. When you have quality, you want to have good players come in and compete.”
Another interesting wrinkle each year is the fact many of the top Canadian prospects will have either landed with NFL squads or drawn enough interest south of the border that they may not commit to playing here right away.
Examples this year include offensive linemen Justin Senior (Mississippi State, drafted by Seattle), Jeff Gray (Manitoba, signed by Green Bay), slotback/tight end Anthony Auclair (Laval, signed by Tampa Bay) and defensive lineman Eli Ankou (UCLA, signed by Houston). In addition, SFU linebacker Jordan Herdman has a tryout lined up with Kansas City, while UBC receiver Alex Williams is being scouted by the New York Giants.
It is similar to Los Angeles Chargers offensive lineman Brett Boyko whom the Lions took a gamble on at 14th overall in 2015. He eventually signed with Philadelphia and was quickly snapped up by the Chargers upon his release. Boyko may never come to the CFL and that’s what makes it a risk. On the flip side, the Lions hold his Canadian rights forever.
It all adds up to Sunday being another intriguing draft day in the BC Lions war room. And for eight lucky prospects that will get the chance to don orange, it will serve as a dream come true. Just like it was for Lumbala several years ago.
“It is so awesome to see people getting drafted,” said Lumbala. “You see all of the hard work people put in and you understand why they cry.”
2017 BC Lions Selections
Round 1- 3rd overall (acquired last May in deal that sent Vernon Adams’ negotiating rights to Montreal)
Round 1- 7th overall
Round 2- 16th overall
Round 3- 24th overall
Round 4- 33rd overall
Round 5- 42nd overall
Round 6- 51st overall
Round 7- 60th overall
Round 8- 69th overall
Matt Baker: email@example.com