Only an incurable optimist would look back on the debacle that was the 2012 Winnipeg Blue Bombers season and say, "Yeah, but how about that second overall draft pick they picked up?"
It was cold comfort for Bombers fans last November when their club's season ended prematurely -- out of the playoffs, for the third time in four years -- that Winnipeg's 6-12 regular-season record came with the small silver lining of the second overall pick in May's 2013 CFL entry draft.
Indeed, at the time it seemed the motley crew that was the 2012 Bombers couldn't even lose right. With a win at home over Montreal on the final weekend of the regular season, the Bombers did just enough to ensure that it would be the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, not the Bombers, who would draft first overall in 2013.
Both teams finished out of the playoffs and tied with 6-12 records, but Hamilton was awarded last place -- and first pick overall this year -- because they lost the season series with Winnipeg.
But flash forward four months and suddenly that second overall pick is no longer looking like a small consolation prize.
As the top Canadian football prospects take part in a series of combines this week -- they were in a regional combine in Edmonton on Monday and head to Toronto this weekend for the league's main combine -- the full value of what Winnipeg won by losing last year is starting to emerge.
And the picture that is starting to come into focus from what's being characterized as an exceptionally deep draft class is of a tall, well-built, starting non-import defensive lineman wearing a Blue Bombers jersey for years to come.
According to the CFL Scouting Bureau, seven of this year's Top 15 Canadian prospects are beefy defensive linemen, including four of the top 6 -- Calgary's Linden Gaydosh (3); Regina's Stefan Charles (4); McMaster's Ben D'Aguilar (5); and Eastern Michigan's Andy Mulumba (6).
Of those four, two -- Gaydosh and Charles -- are thought to be CFL-ready-and-willing and to have the potential to quickly morph into the kind of dominating Canadian presence on the defensive line that can be a game-changer for CFL teams.
And Bombers fans, perhaps better than anyone, know what kind of difference a stud non-import defensive lineman can make for a club after having watched one of the all-time best examples of just such a breed -- tackle Doug Brown -- prowl the line of scrimmage in Winnipeg for 11 seasons.
Indeed, while there were a myriad of reasons why Winnipeg so badly underachieved in 2012, one of the biggest was the hole the retirement of Brown after the 2011 season created not only in the middle of the line, but also in the all-important non-import/import ratio.
The Bombers knew the absence of Brown was going to be a problem last season and to his credit, GM Joe Mack traded up in last year's draft in a bid to land Jabar Westerman. Alas, the B.C. Lions took Westerman one pick ahead of the Bombers and now have a player some think could do for the Lions for years to come exactly what Brown did for the Bombers -- be a ratio-changer.
But the good news is it appears the Bombers will get a second chance to try and replace Brown this year -- and this time it seems unlikely they will be denied their pick. With only the Ticats selecting ahead of them it is a certainty that either Gaydosh or Charles (not to mention D'Aguilar and Mulumba) will still be available when Winnipeg goes to pick.
And it's also a distinct possibility Winnipeg will get their pick of all of the top defensive line prospects. While no one is tipping their hand just yet, the conventional wisdom is the Ticats are leaning towards McMaster offensive tackle Matt Sewell -- and his size 17 feet -- with the first overall pick.
Sewell is ranked second right now by the CFL Scouting Bureau, behind top-ranked Oregon junior linebacker Bo Lokombo, who is widely expected to draw serious NFL interest after his upcoming senior year and is unlikely to sign in the CFL, at least in the short term.
The fact Sewell played his university ball in Hamilton at McMaster, grew up in nearby Milton, Ont. and at 6-7, 330 might be the biggest human being in this year's draft class would seem to make him a no-brainer for the Ticats.
Of course, if the Ticats were to pass on Sewell -- the wrinkle is Sewell's so dominating, he might attract some NFL interest -- and go another way with their first pick, the Bombers would have a tough decision with the second overall pick.
"Defensive linemen are tough to come by," Mack told the Free Press last week, "and we think there are some really good ones in this draft. We'll look at everybody and take the best player available, but obviously we will be focusing on the defensive line."
Walters' Top 5 CFL draft prospects
Winnipeg Blue Bombers assistant general manager Kyle Walters was in Edmonton on Monday, watching prospects take part in a regional combine that is the prelude to the main CFL combine that begins this Friday in Toronto.
The combines are the last chance for CFL coaches and scouts to interview, test and evaluate the league's top prospects prior to this year's entry draft on May 6.
Walters was asked to handicap the Top 5 prospects in this year's CFL draft, according to the league's December scouting bureau report:
1. Bo Lokombo LB Oregon: "He's a junior, he starts for Oregon and he's already on some NFL watch lists...He's a very good football player, but say we draft him? He's going to back to Oregon for his senior year, 100 per cent. And then is he going to be in the NFL after that?"
2. Matt Sewell OT McMaster: "He's at least as good as (previous offensive lineman drafted by CFL teams who signed in the NFL instead). If Matt Sewell gets drafted, you have to think he's going to explore all NFL opportunities... I guarantee Hamilton will be thinking that if they call Matt Sewell, will he be in training camp or will he try to get into the NFL?"
3. Linden Gaydosh DT Calgary: "Big, powerful, strong man. High motor. Him and Stefan Charles are the two CIS defensive tackles that are comparable. They play in the same conference, they're both big strong kids, they're both very good football players."
4. Stefan Charles DT Regina: "I think Charles is a little more athletic, while Gaydosh has a better motor. Gaydosh is your straight-ahead, high energy guy, versus maybe your better athlete (in Charles), who shows some unbelievable things all the time, but is not as consistent."
5. Ben D'Aguilar DE McMaster: "Phenomenal athlete. He's going to be very impressive at the combine with how big he is, how fast he is and how well he runs. He's a very, very good looking athlete physically."
A dark horse? University of Manitoba Bisons receiver Xavier Johnson wasn't particularly highly-touted coming into this week, but he ran a 4.75 40-yard dash in Edmonton on Monday that was tied for fastest of the day and definitely caught the attention of scouts.
"He's kind of an underneath the radar guy," said Walters, "and he came in and ran a very, very good 40...After seeing this, we will certainly go back and watch (film on Johnson) again."