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Mack trusts his gut. Do we?

Risky draft picks hold the key to Bombers GM's job

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Joe Mack followed his gut on picks Jade Etienne (2011), Tyson Pencer (2012) and Andy Mulumba (2013). If they don't start paying off, calls for Mack's head will resume.

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Joe Mack followed his gut on picks Jade Etienne (2011), Tyson Pencer (2012) and Andy Mulumba (2013). If they don't start paying off, calls for Mack's head will resume. Photo Store

There was a safe and easy pick on the table for Joe Mack, but rather than pander, the Blue Bombers GM stuck to his guns and made a pick for the future of his organization.

Mack may or may not be around for that future, but credit him for putting the Bombers' best interests ahead of his own.

Mike Edem will be a fine player in the CFL and he will contribute right away. Mack could have taken the plug-in-and-play University of Calgary Dinos linebacker with the second pick overall in Monday's CFL Draft and no one would have blinked.

Mack would have instantly had a player he could claim was a successful draft choice.

But he took a gamble on Eastern Michigan defensive end Andy Mulumba and will now likely have to wait a while to see if his selection pans out.

Mulumba is headed to mini-camp with the Green Bay Packers and if he shows well, won't be available to the Bombers for training camp and beyond.

But if he ever gets to the CFL, Mulumba could be a ratio-breaker along the lines of Doug Brown -- a Canadian taking an import spot and dominating for years, a foundation piece for an organization.

Mack doubled down on the Mulumba pick, going off the board with his selection of Concordia Stingers defensive back Kris Roberston. He picked Robertson well ahead of where most had him slotted because he was the player the GM wanted.

Robertson turned a lot of heads at the combine with his athleticism and Mack fell in love with his speed. At just 5-9 and 185 pounds, however, there's a danger Robertson won't convert to the pro game.

Neither of Mack's marquee selections was without risk, but safe has never been his approach at the draft.

For Mack, who is most definitely on the clock, these picks were about sticking to his instincts.

Instincts on which we are about to get some clarity this season.

Will Mack's 2011 fourth overall selection of Jade Etienne finally produce results? Will Tyson Pencer, his first-round reach pick of last spring, develop into a contributing player? Will Robertson's speedy but undersize package prove CFL-effective?

Put a yes at the end of all these questions and Mack will be able to stare down his Canadian-content critics. But a no on two or more of these won't bode well.

Mack has a woeful 20-36 record with a .370 winning percentage as GM of the Bombers, and if he starts out slow this season, there will be calls for his head. Sooner or later, you are what your record says you are.

But if the Bombers can even be .500 as Labour Day approaches and some of the still questionable draft picks Mack has made can be seen as contributors, his supporters will have a much easier task of building a case for his retention.

He has had some success at the draft. Cory Watson, Chris Greaves and Henoc Muamba have proven good picks. But to date, Etienne and Pencer have been sore thumbs.

Now there are more selections that don't have immediate impact written all over them. That's OK, as long as they eventually contribute.

Every draft pick has some inherent risk. Mack has made a habit of upping the gamble. He's done it again at this draft and he did it this winter when he elected to stick with Buck Pierce at quarterback and surround him with unknowns.

Mack's decisions will either produce or they won't.

If they do, it'll mean good days for Bombers fans, with a winning team on the field and a roster with youth and depth.

If they don't, well, we've seen that movie and there's no reason to see it again.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 7, 2013 D5

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