Welcome to “Who Wants to Draft a Linebacker?”

crop_21262714431No matter how much you may like linebackers, there is no way you like them as much as Kent Austin.

Of the six draft picks the Ticats made, four of them were linebackers, including the team’s first three selections. Hamilton nabbed linebackers Byron Archambault with the No. 17 pick, Jonathan Langa with the No. 20 pick and Ron Omara with the No. 29 pick. They went away from linebacker for the next two picks, selecting defensive lineman Everett Ellefsen and receiver Daniel English with back-to-back picks in the sixth round, before going back to the linebacker position and grabbing Preston Hughes with the penultimate pick of the final round.

Hamilton had a few reasons for going so linebacker heavy last night. One such reason is special teams play. With the emphasis on news rules in the return game, Hamilton decided to load up on highly athletic players to help in that area. Secondly, two recent Hamilton draftees who excel on special teams, Frédéric Plesius and Arnaud Gascon-Nadon, are entering the final year of their contracts. Hamilton was being proactive in finding replacements for them should one or both decide to leave following the season.

It is hard to fault Austin and Co. for drafting who they did. The team had very few holes going into the draft, with the biggest one being addressed when the team sent first- and third-round picks to Montreal in exchange for offensive lineman Ryan Bomben, so they had the luxury of going for the best available player regardless of position.

One problem though: they did not take the best available player when they drafted at No. 17. Calgary got that player one pick later, Simon Fraser receiver Lemar Durant.

Durant’s fall in the draft — viewed as the top receiving prospect for much of the run-up to the draft, he ended up being the fourth receiver drafted — is one of the biggest stories of yesterday’s draft. When Durant kept falling, many (myself included) were ecstatic that the SFU star might land in the black and gold. When the Ticats passed, it was almost assured that Calgary would pounce, and they did.

While Hamilton will not be the only team that might regret not taking Durant — Ottawa and Winnipeg selected receivers who were not Durant before he was off the board — it was a move the team probably should have made. Andy Fantuz is entering the final year of his contract and has never played a full season since signing with the Ticats in 2012. After him, the National receiving corps is very thin. Snagging Durant, especially so late in the second round, would have been a steal for Hamilton. It was a mistake to bypass Durant. A guy with that amount of a talent at that point in the draft should have been too tempting to pass up. Here is hoping the move will not come back to bite them.

All in all, Hamilton had a good draft, and the trade for Bomben is what really stands out. Dealing for the former Guelph Gryphon addresses the ration issues Hamilton was facing with the recent injury to receiver Spencer Watt. With the move, Hamilton can start three National offensive lineman — Bomben, Peter Dyakowski and Mike Filer — and only need to start one National, Fantuz, at receiver. With four viable starters on both offense and defense — defensive back Courtney Stephen, safety Craig Butler and defensive linemen Ted Laurent and Brian Bulcke all started for the Ticats at some point last year — Hamilton is in a very good position, ratio wise, going into the season.

The trade and selecting all those linebackers is what the this draft will ultimately be judge on. If Bomben, as expected, because a long-term starter and one or more of the linebackers becomes a valuable special teams player and major contributor on defense, passing on Durant will be forgotten.

The team is setting themselves up for the future, and are better today than they were yesterday, and that is exactly what the draft is meant to accomplish.

Josh Smith has been writing about the Ticats and the CFL since 2010 and was sporting his beard way before it was cool. Will be long after, too.