Teams in the CFL live and die by their Canadian talent. The more quality Canadian players a team has, the better chance they have of winning games. The best teams, like Calgary and Montreal, always have numerous high-level Canadians, while the teams that struggle, such as Winnipeg, usually do not.
The best way to acquire Canadian talent is through the draft. Teams can, and will, go after Canadians in free agency, but they usually end up paying above market value for players because demand for their services is so high. Hamilton has gone that route in the past and been successful — Brian Bulcke, Ted Laurent, Andy Fantuz and Craig Butler were all free agent signings — but relying on free agency to stock the proverbial cupboard is rarely a wise decision.
Hamilton’s draft history during Bob Young’s tenure as owner/caretaker has been a little hit or miss. They have selected some great players, but have also made some selections that set the team back. It does not help that Hamilton has cycled through five general managers and six head coaches since Young bought the team out of bankruptcy in 2003, but perhaps some of these head coaches would have stuck around had their respective draft records been better.
So with this year’s draft taking place tomorrow, now seems like as good a time as any to look at the best picks, the worst picks and the biggest whiffs (picks the teams should have made) from 2004 to 2012 (the 2013 and 2014 drafts were omitted because at this time it is too early to tell if those picks will pay dividends).
(The pick where the player was selected will be in parentheses)
BEST: Marwan Hage (14)
It probably goes without saying the the second pick of the Bob Young era may have been the team’s best. Marwan Hage would be a stalwart on the offensive line for a decade, capping off his career by playing in his first and only Grey Cup in 2013. Hage was universally viewed as one of the best centres in the game during his career and garnering one league all-star nod in 2010, while getting division nods in 2007 and 2010. He was also a four-time CFLPA all-star, and was the East nominee for Most Outstanding Lineman in 2010.
WORST: Sean Kent (18), Connor Healey (27), Anthony Mason (36), Justin Shakell (45)
Frankly, I have no idea who any of these players are or whether they ever played a down in the CFL for the Ticats or any other team. That about says it all.
WHIFFS: Kent over Josh Bourke (21)
Hamilton’s biggest mistake in this draft was passing on Josh Bourke to pick fellow offensive lineman Sean Kent. Bourke has been a mainstay on the Alouettes offensive line ever since he was drafted. He was a member of two Grey Cup-winning teams, is a seven-time East Division all-star, a two-time league all-star and was named the league’s best offensive lineman in 2011. This was a big whiff on the part of the Ticats, and perhaps one of the biggest draft mistakes in team history.
BEST: Jesse Lumsden (6)
The 2005 CFL Draft was not great for the Ticats, and while Lumsden’s career was tragically short, what he showed in short bursts was enough to make him the best pick out of this crop of players. Whenever Lumsden played, he flashed all the skills necessary to be a top back and showed why he was so highly touted coming out of McMaster. If Lumsden’s body would have been able to hold up, it might be he, and not Jon Cornish, who is credited with ushering in this new era of Canadian running backs. While Lumsden is without a doubt the biggest “what if” of the last 10 years, he still showed enough on the field to warrant being a first-round pick.
WORST: Fabio Filice (15), Francois Brochu (23), Jeremy Steevs (32), Iain Fleming (41), Andrew Paopao (49)
So aside from one of the players sharing a name with the author who created James Bond and another being the son of a former CFL coach, there is not much to say about the rest of Hamilton’s 2005 draft class.
WHIFFS: Filice over Jeff Keeping (18), not selecting Bryan Crawford
For the second straight year, the Ticats drafted the wrong offensive lineman in the second round. The team picked McMaster alum Filice three picks before the Argos snagged Keeping. Keeping has been a mainstay in Argoland for all but one season of his career and was named a league and division all-star in 2013. Filice played two seasons with the Ticats before bouncing from Toronto to Edmonton to Calgary and retiring after the 2008 seasons. Imagine what Hamilton’s offensive line could have been if they selected Keeping here instead of Filice.
Another mistake the team made was not selecting Hamilton native Crawford. By drafting Lumsden in the first round, the team’s plan was to start a Canadian at running back, and finding a quality Canadian backup should have been a priority. Instead, the team passed on Crawford, who went on to have a fairly stellar career as a special teams ace with the Argos. While he never made much of an impact on offense, having Crawford could have saved the Ticats tons of headaches during all of Lumsden’s many visits to the infirmary.
BEST: Peter Dyakowski (11)
Much like Hage in 2004, drafting Dyakowski was one of the best moves the organization has made during Bob Young’s ownership. Dyakowski has been an anchor on Hamilton’s offensive line since he arrived in Steeltown. Not much needs to be said about Dyakowski’s presence that people do not already know.
WORST: Shawn Mayne (18), Chris Sutherland (28), Michael Roberts (35)
The 2006 draft is considered to be one of the best, if not the best, of all time, and aside from Dyakowski, the Ticats do not have much to show from such a start-studded draft (though they did eventually sign the third-overall pick from the ’06 draft, Andy Fantuz, away from Saskatchewan in 2012).
The Ticats made so, so many mistakes in this draft. For starters, they dealt the first overall pick to Edmonton and watched as Jason Pottinger, Andy Fantuz, Ricky Foley, Dan Federkeil, Dean Valli and Éric Deslaurier all go before they selected Cedric Gagne-Marcoux with the pick they received in the trade with Edmonton. The team also missed on Jon Cornish (13), Dominic Picard (23) and Jeff Perrett (24). During this time, the Ticats were without a doubt the absolute worst team in the CFL and instead of landing a couple of future Hall of Famers, they ended up with not much to show for it aside from Dyakowski. Their eighth and ninth picks, Gagne-Marcoux and Jeremaine Reid, had solid careers, but nothing the likes of Fantuz or Cornish or Picard. Missing out on a number of the top stars of the ’06 draft is one of the biggest reasons why the Ticats were so bad for so long.
BEST: Chris Getzlaf (33)
The best pick the Ticats made in 2007 played two games for the team and never caught a pass. But he was the Grey Cup’s Most Valuable Canadian when the Roughriders trounced the Ticats to win the 101st Grey Cup in 2013. Getzlaf has become one of the league’s best Canadian receivers in Saskatchewan, and while it does look like his career is closer to the end than the beginning, he has certainly given the Riders much more than what the Ticats got by trading him (for those uninitiated, it was Corey Holmes and Jason Armstead).
WORST: Chris Bauman (1)
When you are picked first overall, it is expected that you become a star player. At worst, you become a solid, long-term starter and contribute on the field for at least a decade. Chris Bauman is the opposite of that. Selected with the top pick, Bauman never found his footing, was off the team by 2011 and is now out of the league. Tall, big and with good hands, Bauman was expected to have a Fantuz-like impact with the Ticats but he failed to live up to expectations. Consider this: Bauman was off the team before the receiver the Ticats selected in the first round the following year ever played for Hamilton. Perhaps the biggest draft bust in Tiger-Cats history.
WHIFFS: Robert Pavlovic (25) over Calvin McCarty (27), not selecting Chris Van Zeyl (18)
Once again the Ticats had a chance to right a wrong and once again the failed big time. With the team still in need of a capable Canadian backup to Jesse Lumsden, the Tabbies passed on McCarty and picked Pavlovic, a tight end out of South Carolina. McCarty has been a great special teams player and a solid contributor in Edmonton’s offense since he arrived in the former City of Champions. Just like whiffing on Crawford, Hamilton could have saved themselves plenty of ratio headaches by taking the Western Washington grad.
The Ticats selected back-to-back offensive lineman in the second round, Jordan Rempel (12) and Eric Ince (13), and watched as a guy who played in their own backyard, McMaster’s Van Zeyl, get swooped up just five picks after Ince. While it took awhile for Van Zeyl to get his career on track, he has become one of Toronto’s best offensive linemen, taking home division all-star nods in each of the last two seasons, and being named a league all-star in 2013. The pattern of these drafts seems to be Hamilton missing out on offensive lineman, a trend that sadly continues as we go on.
BEST: Sam Giguère (8)
While this one took a lot of time to bear fruit, and while he never lived up to the immense hype that preceded his arrival, Giguère did put up three decent seasons in black and gold before signing with Montreal this past offseason. Perhaps the numbers never met the expectations, but if you put his production into perspective, it is easy to argue that he is one of the best No. 2 National receivers in the CFL, and if given a chance to be a No. 1, he could flourish. While it looks like that flourishing will take place elsewhere, picking Giguère was the best decision the Ticats made in 2008.
WORST: Michael Giffin (17), Laruen Lavigne Masse (33)
Who? Exactly. The team grabbed these two instead of taking picking guys like Jason Arakgi (21), Jon Gott (35) or Don Oramasionwu (39). Whoops.
WHIFFS: Picking anyone over Luc Brodeur-Jourdain
If someone was to do a list of the biggest draft steals in CFL history, the Alouettes selecting Brodeur-Jordain with the 48th and final selection in 2008 would probably top the list. We are talking about a guy who is a two-time division all-star, a one-time league all-star and a two-time Grey Cup champion. He has been a rock on Montreal’s offensive line for years and continues to play at an extremely high level. He might even be the best player picked in the draft, though that can be debated. In any event, every player the Ticats picked in ’08 has had nowhere near the career that the Laval product has.
Another whiff by the Tabbies was taking Dylan Barker first overall over guys like Dimitri Tsoumpas (2), Keith Shologan (4) and Brenden LaBatte (6). But that is hindsight and mostly because injuries ended Barker’s career before it had a chance to really get started. Had he stayed healthy, the Ticats would probably be justified in taking the former University of Saskatchewan product with the top pick, but as it stands, taking Barker instead of someone like LaBatte looks bad.
BEST: Simeon Rottier (1), Ryan Hinds (13)
The toughest part about selecting a best pick from this draft is that none of the players still play for the Ticats. Rottier and Hinds are still in the league, and still starting, so by default they are the best picks the Cats made.
WORST: Scott McCuaig (22), Guillarme Allard-Cameus (33), Cassidy Doneff (41), Bill McGrath (46)
Also tough is picking the worst because, as was said above, no one is still with the team just six years after they were drafted. But Rottier and Hinds, as well as Ray Wladichuk (38), all made contributions to the team, so the rest are the worst pretty much by default.
The ’09 draft is probably one of the weaker drafts overall in recent memory. Rottier is the only player to be named either a division or league all-star, and the rest of the draft class is filled with solid, if unspectacular, players. There were no standout picks, so the Ticats did not miss on anyone major.
BEST: Eddie Steele (22), Chris Rwabukamba (27)
Like 2009, the options were somewhat slim for best pick, and also like ’09, both Steele and Rwabukamba are still valuable players, just not with the Ticats. Both played well while with the team, but seemed to be phased out when Marcel Bellefeuille was fired following the 2011 season. Steele suffered a devastating leg injury, but has rebounded to become one of the league’s premier interior defensive linemen with Edmonton, while Rwabukamba has become a valuable special teams player and provided solid depth in the secondary.
WORST: Zac Carlson (2009 Supplemental Draft pick)
The Hamilton Tiger-Cats did not have a first-round selection in the ’10 draft because they used it to pick the former Weber State standout in the previous year’s supplemental draft, thus forfeiting their first round pick in the following year’s draft. While it looked like a great decision at the time, Carlson was thought to be an upper echelon prospect, it ended up being a disaster. Carlson played one season with the Ticats before they released him, and he was out the league the following season. Yikes!
WHIFFS: Missing out on Brian Bulcke (6) and Shawn Gore (10)
The Carlson pick rears its ugly head again because by forfeiting their first-round selection, the team missed out on grabbing either Bulcke or Gore. While the team would eventually acquire Bulcke in 2013, they still could have used him in the intervening years. And while everyone passed on Gore at least once, the Ticats never had a chance at him and could have secured his services had they not spent their first round pick on a guy who would be out of the league before the next draft rolled around.
Looking back, it is no wonder the team got rid of Marcel Bellefeuille. His draft record was very hit or miss and the biggest miss was not having one player of value from this draft still with the team four years after they were drafted. Not good. Not good at all.
WORST: Moe Petrus (10)
In a draft full of terrible and/or wasted picks, Petrus’ selection in the second round stands out. The team traded out of the first round, so Petrus, thought to be a possible replacement at centre when Marwan Hage was ready to retire, was the team’s top selection in 2011. Why was this pick worse than the others? Petrus retired from football before his career even began. While draft picks sometimes never play, rare is it that a player selected as high as Petrus quits the game before ever playing a down. This was the biggest waste of a pick during Bellefeuille’s tenure as head coach.
WHIFFS: Missing on Tyler Holmes, Petrus over Craig Butler (12)
By dealing out of the first round, the Ticats did not miss much, but they did miss out on taking one of the best young Canadian offensive lineman playing today in Holmes. Had the Cats stood pat, they could have selected the Tulsa product two picks before the Argos snagged him. Instead, they traded, picked Petrus and the rest is history.
The Petrus pick also haunts the Cats because they could have had current starting safety Craig Butler three years before they got him. Just an all around ugly draft for the Ticats in 2011.
BEST: Courtney Stephen (8)
The lone draft under George Cortez’s watch is actually one of Hamilton’s best, and out of a bunch of really good picks, the best was selecting Stephen in the second round. Stephen has been a starter since arriving from Northern Illinois, first at safety and now at wide-side corner.
The Cats also made good picks when they nabbed a pair of Laval players, Frédéric Plesius (10) and Arnaud Gascon-Nadon (17), in the second and and third round, respectively. Plesius has been a good special teams player and has played, and started, at linebacker for the Ticats, while Gascon-Nadon has become one of the team’s best special teams players.
The team is also finally starting to see what third-round selection Michael Atkinson can do. Atkinson has dealt with various injuries before finally seeing the field in the second half of the 2014 season. With former first overall pick Linden Gaydosh out for the season, Atkinson’s role will increase in 2015.
WORST: Bo Palmer (33)
While the Ticats have yet to see much out of Carson Rockhill — though drafting him did allow them to trade him to the Eskimos as part of one of the most lopsided deals in team history — and Simon Charbonneau-Campeau failed to provide much in the way excitement before being dealt to Calgary, Palmer never saw the field with the Ticats.
While the Ticats hit on some players and missed on a couple of others, no one the Ticats failed to select has had a significantly greater career than the guys they did take. While missing out on Shamawd Chambers by trading down from No. 3 was not the smartest move, it allowed them to select Stephen at the top of the second round. Not a bad trade off, all things considered.