Blue Bomber Report Record: 7–11–0

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Reaching for the stars

Bombers get first crack at blue-chip prospects in CFL's Canadian Draft

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It's hyperbole, to be sure. It's over-dramatic, it's sensationalistic to a degree and -- given the uncertainty involved in any draft -- the facts don't necessarily support the argument.

But we're going to throw it out there anyway: This Sunday's CFL Canadian Draft is the biggest and most-important day for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers since the 2007 Grey Cup.

It's bigger than any hiring or firing of any coach or GM since then. Bigger than the Banjo Bowl, the Labour Day Classic or any other game since the loss to the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the championship game some 3 1/2 years ago.

Given all that, we'd also suggest the draft -- and the supplemental draft later this month -- are potential franchise-changing events that could ultimately define the Joe Mack-Paul LaPolice regime.

Think about it: For the first time since 1975, the Bombers hold the first-overall selection and will draft in the opening round for just the third time in the last 15 years. Not only that, the trade of Steven Jyles to the Toronto Argonauts has secured the Bombers the fourth-overall choice -- a pick they may parlay into more selections via trade or use to take two prospects in the first four picks.

And for a franchise that has missed the playoffs the last two seasons and been short on Canadian star power and depth for years -- some hold it up as reason No. 1 the club is in a 20-year-Grey Cup drought -- scoring a TD with these two picks could represent the beginning of a reversal of misfortune.

All of which isn't lost on Mack & Co.

"We've done a lot of legwork in getting ready for this draft," said the Bomber GM. "I'd like to think we've been pretty methodical in doing our whole draft board, all the medicals and sport-psychological profiles and we're still doing some back-checking on some players. And we feel good about our rankings."

Not surprisingly, the Bombers aren't offering up any hints as to which name they'll call out first Sunday morning. But it is very clear the nibbles they've received from their rivals for No. 1 hasn't met their significant asking price of two high picks or a first-rounder and another starter.

Interestingly, while Rice offensive lineman Scott Mitchell has long been linked to the Bombers as the top pick, a different name has rocketed up the rankings since the prospect evaluation camp in Toronto in March: St. Francis-Xavier linebacker Henoc Muamba. In fact, a CIS source told the Free Press on the weekend the Bombers have spoken regularly with X-Men head coach Gary Waterman and that both the Edmonton Eskimos and B.C. Lions, who hold the second and third picks respectively, have hinted they'll grab Muamba -- the top defensive player in the country in 2010 -- if Winnipeg doesn't use its first pick to grab him.


The potentially intriguing plot twist here is the fourth overall pick. After the first three names are picked the Bombers may be able to trade down if a rival wants to move up to acquire more picks or use the selection to grab another blue chipper.

In any case, this Sunday the Bombers will experience something they've rarely enjoyed in eons on draft day: flexibility.

"Absolutely," said Mack. "I doubt, to be honest with you, that we'd move the first pick because I doubt that anybody would be that aggressive for what I would want for it. The fourth pick, though, could be very interesting. We have some players we really like but if somebody was out of their mind for a player at that pick then we're open to listening... There's players that we like that could be there at four but they don't have the same value as the player at the No. 1 pick. So if somebody came to us it could get interestingly.

"In in the end, I feel really good about where we are. We'll just have to see where the chips fall."

The bonus, or potential bonus, for the Bombers comes with the supplemental draft that is set up for players who don't declare in time for the regular draft or have eligibility questions that need to be clarified by the CFL. The supplemental draft is essentially a bid process where teams interested in a potential player surrender a pick in the following year's draft.

And a prospect that has popped onto everyone's radar screen for the supplemental draft is Central Michigan receiver Kito Poblah. TSN draft guru Duane Forde recently referred to him as 'an elite receiver in any draft class' and his availability to the Bombers -- who have the first right of refusal on him -- means the club could score again and further bolster their Canadian content with what would be the equivalent of three first rounders.

"We're very aware of him," said Mack with a grin.

The draft begins Sunday morning at 11:30 a.m. with TSN televising the first two rounds. In addition to picking first and fourth overall, the Bombers select 17th, 24th, 32nd and 41st overall.



Free Press football writer Ed Tait will provide a brief synopsis of some of the top Canadian players daily leading up to Sunday's CFL draft. Today, we focus on Henoc Muamba:


Position: linebacker

School: St. Francis-Xavier

Ht.: 6-0; Wt.: 230

Born: Feb. 23, 1989, Mississauga, Ont.

CFL Scouting Bureau ranking: 3rd.

Credentials: Presidents' Trophy winner in 2010 as the top defensive player in 2010 (also the AUS nominee in 2008); Had 63.5 tackles in eight league games, 11 tackles for losses and 3.5 sacks, one interception, one forced fumble and a fumble recovery; named all-Canadian for a third straight season, including 1st Team honours the last two years.

E-Camp test results from March: Bench: 25 (tied for fourth best); 40-yard dash: 4.72 seconds (1st among linebackers); vertical jump: 35.5 inches (1st among LBs); broad jump: 10.05 feet (1st among LBs); shuttle: 4.12 seconds (5th best overall and first among LBs); 3-cone drill: 6.72 seconds (1st overall).

E-Camp video interview with Jamie Stein from

Video profile courtesy TSN.

Why he'd be a good fit for the Bombers: the franchise needs Canadian star power and Muamba has outstanding athleticism that could allow him to start at linebacker or, possibly, be converted to end. And while Winnipeg hasn't started a Canadian at linebacker for an eternity, some of their rivals are using homegrowns at the position with Shea Emry (Montreal), Kevin Eiben (Toronto) and Mike McCullough (Saskatchewan) and the Bombers do have depth there with Pierre-Luc Labbe and Chris Smith.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 3, 2011 C3

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