Blue Bomber Report Record: 6–10–0

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Dodgy drafts haunt Blue

Mack picked a few gems, but his choices were mostly busts

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Blue Bomber #58 Tyson Pencer at walk through practice at Investors Group Stadium in 2013.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Blue Bomber #58 Tyson Pencer at walk through practice at Investors Group Stadium in 2013. Photo Store

He hasn't been seen in these parts for almost a year now, but former GM Joe Mack continues to cast a long shadow on the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

A reminder of the length and durability of the pall Mack's disastrous legacy continues to cast on the Bombers came Thursday morning with the announcement the club had released yet another two of Mack's most high-profile draft picks -- offensive lineman Tyson Pencer and defensive back Kris Robertson.

Mack raised eyebrows across the CFL when he selected Pencer third overall in the 2012 draft -- after trading up. The general consensus around the league at the time was that Pencer was, at most, a mid-round pick in that year's draft, but Mack insisted Pencer had the potential to be a ratio changer at tackle despite a checkered collegiate career and history of serious injury.

The league was right and Mack was wrong, as Pencer went on to miss the entire 2012 season with a shoulder injury and then start just two games for the Bombers in 2013.

Bombers head coach Mike O'Shea said Thursday the decision to cut Pencer was made after the coaching staff saw him play in Monday's 24-22 pre-season loss to the Toronto Argonauts at Investors Group Field.

Asked if there was a problem with Pencer's ability or attitude, O'Shea pointedly answered only half the question. "No, he's got the attitude," said O'Shea.

Robertson was also considered an off-the-board pick by Mack. Projected to go in the bottom half of last year's CFL draft, Mack instead burned an early second-round choice on the former Concordia Stinger DB.

But Robertson missed the entire 2013 season with a knee injury -- he never even made it to camp -- and his body of work for the Bombers ultimately came down to a brief appearance in Monday's pre-season game.

With the Bombers conceding defeat Thursday on Robertson and Pencer, the book on Mack's draft history in Winnipeg reads like a horror show.

Of the 22 non-imports Mack drafted during his regime, just seven are actually still with the Bombers as of this morning -- SB Cory Watson, OL Chris Greaves, OL Paul Swiston, RB Carl Volny, LB Rene Stephan, DT Jake Thomas and FB Carl Fitzgerald.

And of that meagre haul, Watson, Greaves and Thomas are the only players with meaningful experience as starters.

A good parlour game these days would be to debate which of the four drafts over which he presided in Winnipeg was Mack's worst. His final effort in 2013 was truly abysmal -- just one of the six players he drafted is still with the team (Fitzgerland) and Mack blew a second-overall pick that year on a defensive lineman in Andy Mulumba who has yet to set foot in Winnipeg and likely never will, judging by the starting role Mulumba was playing for a little outfit called the Green Bay Packers last year.

But 2011 was also a particularly bad draft for the Bombers. Mack had what amounted to three first-round picks that year -- a first overall that he used for LB Henoc Muamba, a fourth overall that he used for receiver Jade Etienne and a supplemental pick he used for receiver Kito Poblah.

Only Muamba -- who every GM in the CFL would have taken with the first-overall pick in 2011 -- ever made a meaningful contribution to the Bombers and he's now in Indianapolis with the Colts, in part because Mack didn't have the foresight to lock him down to a long-term deal.

Etienne and Poblah, meanwhile, are no longer with the Bombers and both are seen as complete busts.

None of the five first-round draft picks Mack made while he was Winnipeg's GM -- Muamba, Etienne, Poblah, Pencer and Mulumba -- is still with the Bombers today.

Every GM leaves behind a legacy. And ten months after Mack was fired and run out of Winnipeg, that legacy is abysmal.

Now, to his credit, some of Mack's lower-round picks over the years turned out OK. Greaves, who was drafted as a defensive lineman in the sixth round in 2010, has morphed into a stalwart on the offensive line and is arguably Mack's best pick.

Watson, a second-rounder, is as good as they come -- but, again, only when he's healthy.

Yes, even a blind pig finds the occasional truffle. But the pig's still blind. Thursday's release of Robertson and Pencer makes the tiny draft harvest Mack did somehow manage to put together all the more meagre.

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @PaulWiecek

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 13, 2014 C3

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