2021 Draft Preview | Part 3

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers Canadian cupboard is already well stocked, but will bolstered with the addition of some fresh new faces this week.

The Canadian Football League’s 2021 Draft goes Tuesday night, with the Bombers holding a selection in each of the six rounds. Canadians are the lifeblood of CFL rosters and so the Bombers draft brain trust of GM Kyle Walters, Assistant GM/Director of Player Personnel Ted Goveia and head coach Mike O’Shea spend thousands of hours prepping for the event.

What follows below is our annual CFL Draft primer, which touches on a few issues as the Bombers finish up final preparations for Tuesday:

2021 Draft Preview | Part 1

2021 Draft Preview | Part 2

THE 2021 CFL DRAFT

When: Tuesday, May 4th, 6 p.m.
How to watch: The first two hours of the draft – 6:00-8:00 p.m. – can be seen on TSN 1, 3 & 5 with the later rounds available on the league’s website.

THE BOMBERS PICKS:

ROUND 1: 3rd overall
ROUND 2: 16th overall
ROUND 3: 21st overall
ROUND 4: 34th overall
ROUND 5: 39th overall
ROUND 6: 48th overall (Bombers traded the 52nd overall and playing rights to then-pending free agent Cody Speller to Toronto on January 27, 2021 for the 48th overall selection).

FAQ ABOUT THE BOMBERS IN THE DRAFT

  1. Four Canadians were selected in last weekend’s NFL Draft:
  • DB Jevon Holland (Miami Dolphins, 2nd round, 36th overall)
  • DB Benjamin St-Juste (Washington Football Team, 3rd round, 74th overall)
  • WR Josh Palmer (Los Angeles Charters, 3rd round, 77th overall)
  • RB Chuba Hubbard (Carolina Panthers, 4th round, 126 overall)

Would the Bombers use a draft pick on any of these guys?

Highly unlikely. This current management regime has not used a single pick on a player who had been selected in the NFL Draft in its seven years at the draft table.

The likelihood of Holland, St-Juste, Palmer and Hubbard playing in the Canada is remote right now, although other CFL teams do take the risk occasionally. Example: defensive tackle Neville Gallimore was a 3rd-round selection of the Dallas Cowboys last year and was nabbed in the 8th round of the CFL Draft by the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

Here’s how Walters answered that question when it was posed to him last Friday:

“You look at the name Josh Palmer… you see where he gets drafted this weekend and then at some point on your draft board you say, ‘We’ll if the likelihood of seeing him ever is 10 per cent, I’m still going to take that shot at 10 per cent because even a 10 per cent shot at him is better than the next name on the board and we’re willing to take that risk.’ Every team views that differently. Probably with us we’d view the back-end (of the draft) Canadians still having a shot before a longshot on an NFL team.”

  1. What about Canadians who sign priority free agent or free-agent deals with NFL teams after the draft?

This is different from above, although there are layers to this as well.

Bombers fans will remember Geoff Gray, the University of Manitoba product, was signed by the Green Bay Packers as an undrafted after the 2017 NFL Draft and returned home in October of 2018 after also getting looks by the New York Jets and Cleveland Browns.

‘Priority’ free agents usually get a decent signing bonus from NFL teams and that investment means at least a longer look than other free agents signed in the days after the draft. In a ‘normal’ year many of those players are invited by NFL teams to rookie camps or mini camps and still become available before CFL training camps open.

  1. What are the club’s areas of need?

The Bombers return six of their seven Canadian starters from the 2019 Grey Cup – Cody Speller, who started at centre for an injured Michael Couture – was traded to Toronto. Couture is back so, technically, all seven starters from ’19 return.

The other six homegrown starters include running back Andrew Harris, receivers Nic Demski and Drew Wolitarsky, guards Drew Desjarlais and Pat Neufeld and defensive tackle Jake Thomas.

There is solid veteran depth behind all those starting positions, too, with Geoff Gray, Tui Eli and Chris Kolankowski along the O-line, rookies Connor Griffiths, Nick Dheilly and Zach Houghron along the defensive front, Johnny Augustine and Brady Oliveira at running back and newcomers Brendan O’Leary-Orange and Macho Bockru at receiver.

  1. The Bombers did lose some Canadian players on defence since 2019 in DE Jonathon Kongbo (NFL), DBs Derek Jones (B.C.), Kerfalla Exumé (Montreal), Jeff Hecht (free agent), Dexter Janke (free agent) and LBs Thomas Miles and Brandon Calver. Is that side of the ball a position the club might target, especially with early picks?

Maybe. Last year’s draft class featured Dheilly along with DB Noah Hallett and linebacker Tanner Cadwallader so that helps bolster the defensive depth. Plus, with the Bombers starting six Canadians on offence, it’s not necessarily a priority to find a plug-and-play starter on the defensive side in this draft.

  1. Have Kyle Walters & Co. displayed any trends in their previous draft classes?

Yes. First, unlike many previous regimes in these parts, they tend to horde their picks and treat them like gold – which they can be if the picks turn out.

Also, Walters has proven adept at packaging picks to move up or down in the draft, although he said last Friday it would be unlikely the club would trade out of the third-overall sot.

The team traditionally uses an early selection on offensive lineman and then identifies players who can be demons on special teams in later rounds. In seven draft classes dating back to 2014, this regime has had 16 picks in the Top 20 overall selections. Of that, six were offensive linemen, three were used on defensive backs and defensive linemen, two were used on receivers and one each on a linebacker and running back.

  1. All CFL teams will have two draft classes attending training camps in 2021. How does that impact what might happen on Tuesday?

It’s an interesting question. Every player needs reps in camp to impress, but especially young Canadians who are competing against veterans for roster spots. Those reps gets squeezed with two draft classes in camp. Also, the uncertainty regarding the 2021 season means rookie camps might get cancelled entirely and there is a likelihood there will be no preseason games this summer.

None of that helps the two draft classes.

“All of that stuff is uncertain,” said Walters. “I’m not exactly sure how the numbers will work, but from a strictly competitive standpoint the more competition you have – and you’re going to have two groups of draft classes coming in competing with each other – it’s logical that the better players are going to survive and it’s good for the young talent coming into our league.”

THE 2020 BOMBER DRAFT CLASS

Last year’s picks never got on the field with the cancellation of the 2020 season and over the past year two picks – Kyle Rodger and Bleska Kambamba – have both opted to step away from the game.

Rd 1 (traded to Toronto as part of Zach Collaros deal)
Rd 2 (18th): DB Noah Hallett, McMaster
Rd 3 (traded to Toronto as part of Collaros deal)
Rd 4 (37th): WR Brendan O’Leary-Orange (Nevada)
Rd 5 (39th): K Marc Liegghio  (Western); (pick acquired as part of Collaros trade)
Rd 5 (46th): DL Nick Dheilly, Saskatchewan
Rd 6 (55th): LB Kyle Rodger, Ottawa
Rd 7 (64th): LB Tanner Cadwallader, Wilfid Laurier
Rd 8 (73rd): DB Bleska Kambamba Western

BOMBER DRAFT PICKS CURRENTLY ON THE ROSTER

*Indicates starter

DT Jake Thomas* (Round 4, 29th overall, 2012)
LB Jesse Briggs (Round 2, 17th overall, 2014)
OL Michael Couture* (Round 2, 10th overall, 2016)
LB Shayne Gauthier (Round 4, 28th overall, 2016)
OL Geoff Gray (Round 1, 8th overall, 2017)
WR Drew Wolitarsky* (Supplemental Draft, 2017)
OL Drew Desjarlais* (Round 1, 14th overall, 2019)
RB Brady Oliveira (Round 2, 14th overall, 2019)
DT Connor Griffiths (Round 3, 25th overall, 2019)
OL Asotui Eli (Round 4, 34th overall, 2019)
DB Nick Hallett (Round 7, 61st overall, 2019)
DB Noah Hallett (Round 2, 18th overall, 2020)
WR Brendan O’Leary-Orange (Round 4, 37th overall, 2020)
K Marc Liegghio (Round 5, 39th overall, 2020)
DL Nick Dheilly (Round 5, 46th overall, 2020)
LB Tanner Cadwallader (Round 7, 64th overall, 2020)

OTHER BOMBER CANADIANS CURRENTLY ON THE ROSTER

*Indicates starter

RB Andrew Harris* — First signed by B.C. in 2009 as a territorially-protected junior player; signed by Winnipeg as a free agent in 2016)
OL Patrick Neufeld* — Round 5, 33rd overall, by Saskatchewan in 2010; traded two Winnipeg in 2013 for DE Alex Hall and a second-round pick in the 2014 draft.
SB Nic Demski* — Round 1, 6th overall, by Saskatchewan in 2015; signed with Winnipeg as a free agent in 2018.
FB Mike Miller – First signed as an undrafted free agent by Edmonton in 2011; signed as a free agent with Winnipeg in 2017.
RB Johnny Augustine — First signed as an undrafted free agent by Edmonton in 2017; signed with Winnipeg as a free agent in 2018.
LS Mike Benson – Signed as a free agent in February of this year. Veteran long-snapper. First signed by Edmonton as an undrafted free agent in 2012; has 89 career games with Edmonton, B.C. and Ottawa.
WR Macho Bockru – Winnipeg product who cut his teeth with the Dakota Lancers and Winnipeg Rifles before being a Canada West All Star in 2019 with the Manitoba Bisons. Signed as an undrafted free agent in January this year.
OL Chris Kolankowski – Round 6, 49th overall, by Toronto in 2016; Has a Grey Cup ring from the 2017 Argos and 22 regular-season games to his name.
DT Zach Houghron – Signed as an undrafted free agent this January, Houghron played in 22 games at Wilfrid Laurier. The Bombers like his athleticism.
K Matt Riley – University of Manitoba product signed as a free agent in February of 2020.

CFL SCOUTING BUREAU’S FINAL DRAFT RANKINGS

  1. Josh Palmer, Rec, Tennessee (Brampton, ON)
  2. Alaric Jackson, OL, Iowa (Windsor, ON)
  3. Jevon Holland, DB, Oregon (Coquitlam, B.C.)
  4. Amen Ogbongbeminga, LB, Oklahoma State (Calgary, AB)
  5. Chuba Hubbard, RB, Oklahoma State (Sherwood Park, AB)
  6. Benjamin St.-Juste, DB, Minnesota (Montreal, QC)
  7. Pier-Olivier Lestage, OL, Montreal (Saint-Eustache, QC)
  8. Sage Doxater, OL, New Mexico State (Welland, ON)
  9. Mohamed Diallo, OL, Central Michigan (Toronto, ON)
  10. Dean Leonard, DB, Ole Miss (Calgary, AB)
  11. Patrice Rene, DB, North Carolina (Ottawa, ON)
  12. Liam Dobson, OL, Maine (Ottawa, ON)
  13. Daniel Joseph, DL, NC State (Toronto, ON)
  14. Alonzo Addae, DB, West Virginia (Pickering, ON)
  15. Terrell Jana, Rec, Virginia (Vancouver, BC)
  16. Bruno Labelle, TE, Cincinnati (Montreal, QC)
  17. Nelson Lokombo, DB, Saskatchewan (Abbotsford, BC)
  18. Logan Bandy, OL, Calgary (Calgary, AB)
  19. Bryce Bell, OL, Wilfrid Laurier (Waterloo, ON)
  20. DeShawn Stevens, LB, Maine (Toronto, ON)

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