EDMONTON - When Eric Tillman was hired as the new GM of the Edmonton Eskimos, he wrapped himself in the Canadian flag.
And here he is, heading into Sunday’s CFL Canadian Draft, and he only has three picks and is talking about trading down with the No. 2 pick overall?
This is the guy who came to town making Canadian content Job 1 and he’s pick-poor going into his first Canadian draft?
Start ‘splainin’, oh red-faced (sunburn) redheaded GM.
“It’s not about quantity, it’s about quality,” he said of picks No. 2, 10 and 13.
O.K. But what’s this talk of the Eskimos trading down with the No. 2 pick?
“We’re looking at our options. We’ve received phone calls. We’ve made phone calls ” said Tillman, not denying that pick is indeed in play.
“We see five or six elite players in this draft. We see a number of guys attractive to filling our needs. The sad truth is that we have enough needs to go in five or six directions.
“It’s a multi-year project to build our content to where we want it to be. And you don’t just do it with the draft.”
So far he’s added Hamilton WR Chris Bauman, Saskatchewan CB Donovan Alexander, Toronto CB Delroy Clarke, Hamilton DT Jermaine Reid and Hamilton OL Brian Ramsey.
But that doesn’t reduce the focus on this draft.
On Mother’s Day morning, with the media watching the telecast on TSN in the new third-floor Eskimos boardroom at Commonwealth Stadium, Tillman will reside on the second-floor football operations war room with head scout Ed Hervey and new head coach Kavis Reed.
One of the reasons Tillman has his job is the EskimosÆ performance in the draft since they last won the Grey Cup in 2005.
There’s DB Saleem Borhot (12th) and DB Corbin Sharun (43rd) in 2010, OL Gord Hinse (11th) and DL Dee Sterling (12th) in 2009, OL Greg Wojt (2nd) in 2008, nobody in 2007 and RB Calvin McCarty (27th) in 2006.
That’s it. Not a regular starter in the lot.
You could add Scott Ferguson, picked 35th last year, who just signed and hasn’t played a down yet.
And then there’s last year’s first-round pick — 6th overall — Brian Bulcke.
“I really like the decision to draft Bulcke last year, knowing he’d be going back to Stanford for a fifth year. He’s an outstanding player who we hope to have here this year or next,” said Tillman.
The comparison is 300 kilometres to the south. The Stampeders have 12 players who were were selected in the same span, including the likes of 2010 CFL all-star OL
Dimitri Tsoumpas, an Edmonton native, selected No. 2 overall with a pick GM Danny Maciocia traded to the Stampeders for two players no longer with the Eskimos.
Edmonton didn’t even have a first-round pick in 2009, 2008, 2005 and 2002.
Other first-round picks were memorable mostly for being such spectacular misses, led by the selection of kicker Warren Kean at No. 2 in 2007.
The Eskimos did select Adam Braidwood No. 1 overall in 2006 but he now has no further need for an agent, unless he’s also a very good lawyer. You should know that Andy
Fantuz was selected third in that draft by Saskatchewan. Edmonton selected OL Aron Sungrhera in the first round in 2006. The team’s top pick in 2005, fourth overall, was OL Emmanuel Casseus. The next two picks were Edmonton product DB Wes Lysack, taken by the Stampeders, and WR Paris Jackson, who went to the B.C. Lions.
It’s been a horror story.
Tillman hasn’t changed his tune.
“From Day 1 I’ve been talking about the importance of Canadian content,” said Tillman. “Canadian content is our major No. 1 concern. It’s like Dave Ritchie once said. Canadians are gold, Americans are silver.”
And Tillman says he isn’t for a second downplaying this draft.
“This will certainly be a measuring stick,” he said.
“The ultimate measuring stick will be home playoff games and championships. But going forward Eskimo drafts are going to be examined very closely.”