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December 24, 2016

Year In Review | Story #9

YEAR IN REVIEW SERIES

Ed Tait takes a look back at the 2016 Blue Bombers season with his Top 10 stories of the year…

 

#9 – A Big Haul On CFL Draft Day

The words all seem so prophetic now and make Winnipeg Blue Bombers GM Kyle Walters out to be a wise soothsayer of the annual crapshoot that is the Canadian Football League Draft.

Just to rewind a bit here, the Bombers draft night war room was already abuzz back on May 10th after landing defensive end Trent Corney and versatile offensive lineman Michael Couture with their first two picks with the ninth and 10th selections overall.

Canadians, after all, are always a big part of what teams do at the line of scrimmage in this league, and so scoring two highly-touted prospects for both sides of the ball alone would have meant the Bombers haul at the ’16 draft would earn two thumbs up from all the the draft experts and nerds, regardless of what came next.

But it was the Bombers third pick in the draft that was the most intriguing and, as it turns out, the player who would make the biggest and most immediate impact.

We all know Taylor Loffler now as the CFL’s All-Star safety, but leading into the draft he was seen as a gifted player – albeit with an injury history that seemed to scare many away. Actually, every team passed on Loffler at least once as he fell to the 19th spot in the selection.

19TH - TAYLOR LOFFLER

And yet it was Walters & Co. who saw enough in Loffler to call out his name on draft day, admittedly after already landing Corney and Couture. Here’s what Walters said of Loffler on draft night:

“He’s a very intriguing prospect. He’s had an interesting history; he’s been banged up throughout his career. Started at Boise State and ended up at UBC. He’s a mature, polished kid but he’s a pro ready to step in. Whether he’s a free safety or a linebacker, I’m not sure, but he’s long and athletic. There’s something about that guy… he just makes plays. There’s something intangible about what he brings when you are around him and meet him. You just feel there’s something about this young man.”

Now both Corney and Couture would prove to be important additions to the Bombers. A self-described ‘meathead’ out of the University of Virginia who lives to workout, Corney would occasionally spell Jamaal Westerman at defensive end and finished the season with two sacks while flashing the freakish athleticism that makes him a prospect worth tracking.

Couture, meanwhile, would be thrust into action immediately when veteran Jeff Keeping and Pat Neufeld were injured early in the season and gained valuable trench experience while being groomed for a more permanent gig.

But what Loffler did was simply incredible. He had impressed the Bombers in their pre-draft interview and caught the eye of head coach Mike O’Shea immediately during training camp.

“In the meeting room he seems to pick up everything very quickly,” said O’Shea of Loffler in early June. “He’s not afraid to communicate. There was one meeting I sat in there and it was very apparent he had no issues communicating with the veteran guys, guys that he had just met, and letting them know how the defence was supposed to be run there. He had no problem jumping in and helping guys out and no problem, either, listening to other guys talk.

“He’s certainly got a more veteran presence for a first-year CFL guy.”

Let’s provide some further context here: by Week 6 Loffler was the Bombers’ starting safety and would then become the first Canadian to go right from college to the CFL All-Star team since Sandro DeAngelis, a kicker, did for the Calgary Stampeders in 2005. Only four players have gone straight from a CIS/U Sports program straight to the CFL All-Star team: Paul Bennett (1977, Toronto, from Wilfrid Laurier), Joe Poplawski (1978, Winnipeg, from Alberta), Laurent Deslauriers (1984, Edmonton, from UBC) and Loffler.

He finished the season with 58 tackles, one sack, four forced fumbles and four interceptions, but just as impressive, became an intimidating force in the middle of the Bombers secondary.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers defensive back Taylor Loffler (16) celebrates his interception during the first half of CFL action in Vancouver, B.C., on Friday, October 14, 2016. (CFL PHOTO - Jimmy Jeong)

“To me a good safety is able to read routes and then put a good hit on people coming over the middle,” Loffler told bluebombers.com the day he was named to the CFL all-star squad. “That way they’ll always be looking for you instead of looking for the ball.

“Slipping in the draft and going to Winnipeg turned out to be the best thing that could happen to me. I was able to get a starting spot after the fifth game, which wasn’t really expected, especially being a rookie.

“And so to be recognized like this is pretty awesome, especially being a rookie and being able to get an honour like that.”

The Bombers had forfeited their first-round pick in ’16 when they selected Garrett Waggoner in the 2015 CFL Supplemental Draft – he finished second on the club in special teams tackles – and after selecting Corney, Couture and Loffler, next grabbed Laval linebacker Shayne Gauthier, who battled injuries but finished the year on the 46-man roster.

Three other picks from 2016 remain in the team’s plans as just this week D-lineman Rupert Butcher, linebacker Frank Renaud and O-lineman Zachary Intzandt were all signed and will be at next year’s training camp.

All that represents another solid draft class, the third in a row under Walters.

Consider that in the last three drafts the Bombers have landed starters Matthias Goossen (2014), Sukh Chungh (2015) and Loffler (2016), fullback Chris Normand (2015) and special teams/depth guys like Jesse Briggs, Derek Jones, Brendan Morgan, Addison Richards, Waggoner, Justin Warden and Gauthier. Another pick – defensive tackle Ettore Lattanzio – has found a home with his hometown Ottawa REDBLACKS.

All that to say the haul from the last three drafts has been significant, especially in comparison to the disasters of 2012 and 2013 that saw Tyson Pencer and then Andy Mulumba selected third and second overall, respectively, and yielded only one player who has made any kind of contribution: 2012 fourth-round pick Jake Thomas.

It’s long been said by the likes of CFL coaching legends like Cal Murphy that when it comes to piecing together rosters in the three-down game, Canadians are gold, Americans are silver.

So Kyle Walters and his crew have proven to not only be soothsayers, but adept at mining for homegrown talent, too.

 


 

 

This is the second in a series recapping the Top 10 Bomber stories of 2016.

Next: ‘Next Man Up’, posted on Dec. 23