TORONTO — The team with the greatest needs stirred the pot the most Sunday in the CFL Canadian College draft.
The Toronto Argonauts, looking to dramatically improve their Canadian content following a dismal 3-15 record last year, made two huge first-round deals to ensure they came away with hulking six-foot-eight, 309-pound offensive lineman Joe Eppele of Washington State and athletic Concordia linebacker Cory Greenwood.
Toronto dealt the first and eighth selections to the Saskatchewan Roughriders for the second and fourth picks and Canadian punter Jamie Boreham, a deal that was reached Friday. Then the Argos and B.C. Lions swapped a total of eight picks, the most important being the two teams swapping the third and fourth overall selections.
With that, after Saskatchewan took Queen’s linebacker Shomari Williams — the top-ranked prospect by the CFL’s amateur scouting bureau — first overall, Toronto was able to select Eppele and Greenwood, players Argos head coach Jim Barker coveted.
“We have some real issues and to draft at No. 1 and No. 8 we could’ve got one of the guys we wanted,” Barker said.
“But we felt ‘Let’s try to move up and try to get the guys we want.’
“You can’t be afraid, you have to be willing to take a chance. I’m sure there are fans out there who think we made a mistake giving up the No. 1 pick. But you just have to do what you think is right and what you think is good for your organization.”
The wheeling and dealing didn’t stop there.
Edmonton added to the unpredictable nature of the day by making two eyebrow-raising trades.
The Eskimos, who came in without a first-round selection, acquired the sixth pick from the Winnipeg Blue Bombers for the ninth and 22nd picks. Then they took Stanford defensive end John Buckle, a player coming off wrist surgery who is returning to school this fall.
Edmonton also acquired the No. 12 selection from the Hamilton Tiger-Cats for the 19th and 27th overall picks, then used it on Saint Mary’s defensive back Saleem Borhot despite Wilfrid Laurier’s Taurean Allen — the top-ranked defensive back in the draft — still being on the board before going to Calgary at No. 13.
Hamilton capped the wild antics by landing the No. 22 selection from Winnipeg for the No. 28 pick and rights to quarterback Alex Brink. The Ticats then made a solid choice by taking Manitoba defensive tackle Eddie Steele, the second-ranked defensive lineman in the draft.
“It was an interesting day, to say the least,” Riders GM Brendan Taman said with a chuckle. “There was a lot of movement, a lot more than I can ever remember that’s for sure.”
As for his hand in the draft-day excitement, Taman said couldn’t take a chance on Toronto bypassing Williams with the first pick.
“We just felt Shomari was too valuable a character guy and too good a player that we needed to do what we needed to do to get him,” Taman said.
And that meant having the six-foot-two, 236-pound Williams’s signature on a multi-year contract prior to the draft. Contract details weren’t available but being the first overall selection won’t guarantee Williams the same financial security it would if he was the top pick in last month’s NFL draft, where the guaranteed money alone would approach US$40-million.
Instead Williams, who spent three years at the University of Houston before helping Queen’s win a Vanier Cup last year, will likely earn around $50,000 in salary and with a five-figure signing bonus. That’s terrific value for a player who can play special teams and offer depth immediately while offering the versatility to line up at linebacker and on the edge as a rush end.
Taman also added receiver Regina’s Jordan Sisco at No. 8, joining fellow Canuck pass catchers Andy Fantuz, Chris Getzlaf, Rob Bagg and Jason Clermont. Sisco wasn’t the draft’s top-rated receiver but Taman said the player’s Saskatchewan roots were a factor in the decision to take him.
“The thing about these kids is they’ve played in this environment,” Taman said. “They know what the Roughriders mean to this community.
“But the bottom line is he’s also a good football player.”
Toronto also got great value later on in the draft at No. 11 with Saskatchewan’s Grant Shaw, an all-star defensive back who also has a strong kicking leg. The Argos also fared well in the fourth round by taking Waterloo Warriors offensive lineman Joel Reinders, a projected first-round pick before signing with the NFL’s Cleveland Browns, at No. 26, then grabbing Bishop’s special-teams dynamo Steven Turner four picks later.
Turner fills a need for Toronto with the off-season departure of kick-returner Dominque Dorsey. Turner, Canadian university’s leading punt returner last year, turned heads at the CFL evaluation camp in March, posting a record 40-yard dash time of 4.31 seconds and a sparkling 43.5-inch vertical jump.
“You don’t put up the numbers Turner has put up unless you care about being a football player,” Barker said. “There’s a number of particular places he can make our roster and that’s what we try to do, find guys who have a chance to make our roster.”
The B.C. Lions also did very well, taking nine players although they surprised many by selecting Baylor offensive lineman Danny Watkins at No. 4 even though he’s returning to school this fall. The club also loaded up at receiver with Shawn Gore of Bishop’s (regarded as the best player at his position), Tusculum College’s Nate Binder, St.Francis Xavier’s Akeem Foster and Simon Fraser’s Matt Chapdelaine, the son of offensive co-ordinator Jacques Chapdelaine.
B.C. also took highly regarded linebacker Joash Gesse of the University of Montreal to start the third round.
“Overall I’m not sure I have seen a better all-round draft not only for our club but all the teams in our league,” said Lions coach-GM Wally Buono. “I think it speaks well of the players being developed in Canada and the future of our game.”
Winnipeg made a deft decision to deal the No. 6 pick to Edmonton and drop to No. 9, where it still managed to secure highly regarded Concordia receiver Cory Watson, who many had thought of as a first-round pick.
But not every CFL team was rewarded for its efforts.
The pre-draft talk was the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, who didn’t have a first-round pick, were anxious to make a deal to move up in order to have a shot at Guelph kicker-punter Rob Maver. The Ticats were looking for a complement to kicker Sandro DeAngelis but couldn’t pull the trigger allowing Calgary to select Maver at No. 5.
And when Toronto took Shaw at No. 11, the Ticats quickly dealt their first pick (No. 12 overall) to Edmonton for the two later selections. Hamilton did get a kicker-punter, taking Justin Palardy of Saint Mary’s in the fifth round (36th overall).