Detroit GM Brad Holmes took ‘a shot’ on DE Mathieu Betts despite concerns with CFL competition

Photo courtesy: Steven Chang/B.C. Lions

Detroit Lions’ general manager Brad Holmes is taking an educated guess on star CFL pass rusher Mathieu Betts.

“We brought him in for a workout, he had a good workout. Obviously had a lot of production, but you look at the competition and it’s not the same as what he’s going to be facing at this level,” Holmes told reporters at the NFL annual meetings last week. “You’ve got to keep that in mind, as well.”

Betts is coming off the best season of his career, racking up 42 defensive tackles, 95 quarterback pressures, 18 sacks and four forced fumbles over 18 regular season games with the B.C. Lions. The Montreal native set a new CFL record for single-season sacks by a Canadian player and was named the league’s Most Oustanding Defensive Player in the process.

Despite multiple lucrative offers in Canada, the 29-year-old signed a one-year, $795,000 contract with Detroit in February. He turned down guaranteed money from at least one other NFL team in order to head to the Motor City, believing the Lions to be his best shot to get on the field.

Holmes credited the team’s pro scouting department for staying on top of their CFL evaluations and identifying top prospects like Betts. While players rarely make their way south at his age, one aspect of the Canadian sack artist’s game made him worth the risk.

“The thing about him is that, man, that guy plays hard. He plays like how we want to play and obviously with all that production, let’s go just take a shot and see where it goes,” he said. “You’ve got to look at the level of competition, it’s just different, but that’s not any different than a small school guy coming out in the draft.”

For draft prospects, college all-star games are a crucial factor in determining whether they can make the jump to the next level. Betts went through that process in 2019 when he attended the East-West Shrine Bowl, impressing enough for the Laval product to earn a contract with the Chicago Bears.

The six-foot-three, 250-pound tweener failed to stick on his first shot at the NFL, returning to Canada to put up 81 defensive tackles and 27 sacks over 55 games with Edmonton and B.C. That production doesn’t guarantee he’s ready to carve out a role behind Aidan Hutchinson and Marcus Davenport now either, but Holmes believes his team’s unique approach to scouting unheralded prospects provides more accurate evaluations than most.

“You’ve got to really do your work. We’ve gone through some exercises, and I don’t even want to get into the details, but we’ve got through some exercises that you’d probably call us pretty crazy,” he said coyly.

“There’s a way where you can find the answers to the test and get your questions answered, but you’ve got to really dive deep.”

It would appear that the Lions did just that with Betts and liked the answer they got back. The real marking will happen when training camps open in July.

J.C. Abbott is a University of British Columbia graduate and high school football coach. He covers the CFL, B.C. Lions, CFL Draft and the three-down league's Global initiative.