Blue Bomber Report Record: 5–1–0

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Bombers hopeful for blue-chip prospect

Mack willing to wheel and deal picks in CFL draft

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Joe MACK doesn't have a first-round pick in Thursday's 2012 CFL draft, but recent history would suggest he doesn't necessarily need one to get a blue-chip prospect.

In his first CFL draft as Bombers GM in 2010, Mack's first pick wasn't until the second round and ninth overall -- one spot worse than the eighth overall pick that is Winnipeg's first selection in this year's draft.

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History has recorded Mack used that ninth pick to select receiver Cory Watson, who had a breakout season for Winnipeg in 2011 and has, in just two pro seasons, become among the elite receivers in the CFL.

And then in the sixth round in Mack's inaugural draft, he used the 45th of 47 overall picks to select offensive lineman Chris Greaves, who is the early front-runner to replace Brendon LaBatte as a starting guard for the Bombers in 2012.

So no, Winnipeg doesn't have a first-round pick this year because they forfeited theirs by selecting receiver Kito Poblah first overall in last year's supplemental draft.

But what Mack does have heading into this year's draft is six picks in Rounds 2 through 4 that he can use either to find another hidden gem like Watson or Greaves -- or package up in a deal to get a higher pick and maybe land some much-needed non-import help on the defensive line, where the off-season departure of Doug Brown (among others) has left a gaping hole.

"I think some things could happen either before or on draft day. I think some people might be intrigued by maybe talking about acquiring some more picks," Mack said earlier this month.

"I think we could reposition ourselves in this draft. We have so much flexibility having six picks in those three rounds. That's very attractive to us. We could trade some of those picks for some other picks or package a couple picks and try to move up in the draft and draft someplace else."

And Mack may wish to do that. While conventional wisdom seems to be that the class of 2012 is deeper in talent than average, Mack's not so sure.

"It's been talked about as being a real deep draft," he explains, "but as so often happens, when you drill down you find out it's not as deep as you first thought... I'm seeing all the same names you've probably heard. Every once in awhile, there's a surprise, of course.

"But I really don't see much like that at this time."

The Bombers had what they thought was exactly such a surprise when they stunned everyone in the league by using the fourth-overall pick in the 2011 draft -- they used their first-overall pick to select linebacker Henoc Muamba -- to select receiver Jade Etienne.

Etienne did not appear in the top 15 of the final 2011 rankings put out by the CFL scouting bureau in advance of last year's draft and selecting Etienne ahead of much higher-ranked Canadian receivers like Nathan Coehoorn and Marco Iannuzzi was bold, to say the least.

And then Etienne showed up to training camp looking undernourished -- and downright lost at times. He never did dress in 2011 -- unlike Poblah and Muamba, who both had injury-shortened seasons (especially Poblah), but at least contributed something to the cause.

By season's end, there were more than a few folks wondering if Mack had thrown away a first-round pick on Etienne, but Mack counsels continued patience for Etienne -- as well as Poblah and Muamba.

"I still feel very good about them in regards to the talent level," he says. "I do think that it's always a significant jump for players coming from college to the pros. It's a higher level of competition and they're always physically and mentally surprised about how gruelling it can be to play an 18-game schedule.

"Cory Watson's a really good example. He certainly stepped up his second year. I think Kito and Jade and Henoc have that same potential. At this point in time, I'm not disappointed in any way, shape or form in their ability or dedication to the game. I will be interested to see if they can mature and step up in their second seasons."

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 28, 2012 C4

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