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April 20, 2017

Canadian Content

Winnipeg-4nov2016. Photo Scott Grant

A quick trivia question to begin…

What do Chris Walby, Joe Poplawski, Doug Brown, Andrew Harris, Jamaal Westerman, Bob Cameron, Gerald Wilcox, Ken Nielsen, Bob Swift and Jim Heighton all have in common?

A few things, actually.

  • They are all Winnipeg Blue Bombers legends.
  • Each of them is Canadian.
  • They have all been named as winners of the club’s Most Outstanding Canadian Player award at least once.

 

Oh… and one more thing: not a single one of them was drafted by the Bombers.

We bring this up as a lead-in to our opening installment in a series of stories bluebombers.com will be presenting leading up to the 2017 Canadian Football League Draft on May 7th.

Beginning today and continuing with a piece on the weekend– and then interrupted by our coverage of next week’s mini-camp – we’ll take a look at this club’s handiwork in the draft over the years and then ahead to the ’17 selections, in which Winnipeg holds the first and sixth picks overall and four of the Top 23 spots.

B.C. Lions' Bryan Burnham, left, fails to make the reception as Winnipeg Blue Bombers' Taylor Loffler defends during the first half of a CFL football game in Vancouver, B.C., on Friday October 14, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

B.C. Lions’ Bryan Burnham, left, fails to make the reception as Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ Taylor Loffler defends during the first half of a CFL football game in Vancouver, B.C., on Friday October 14, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Now, based on the evidence of what GM Kyle Walters and the Bombers scouting staff have done over the last three drafts, the club should be able to find at least one future starter and three or four prospects who could push for roster spots now and down the road.

That’s significant for a couple of reasons, first and foremost being the obvious; no team in this league can be successful in the short or long term without a solid foundation of Canadian talent.

Secondly, what Walters & Co. have done in the past three years is essentially change the narrative about the Bombers and their work on draft day.

There’s no sense dancing around it here: This franchise has hardly wrapped itself in glory at the draft table over the years.

Dating back to 1956 and the first CFL Draft, the Bombers have had nine draft classes in which not a single player ever pulled on their uniform for a regular season game. That includes the 2001 and 2007 classes that featured the likes of Ben Wearing, Nick Tsatsaronis, Howie Dryden and Darryl Fabiani in ’01 and Corey Mace, Eugene Boakye and Travis Noel in ’07.

It’s worth noting that in both those years, the Bombers were division champions before losing in the Grey Cups in those campaigns. In other words, those would have been tough lineups to crack. In both those drafts, the team also didn’t have a first-round draft pick, with Wearing being the first Bombers’ pick in ‘01 at 19th overall and Mace selected with the team’s first choice, 11th overall, in 2007.

The Bombers’ woes of 2012-15 can also be linked – among other things – to the draft classes in 2012-13 that saw only three of 11 players selected actually play in games – Tyson Pencer (seven games played); Jake Thomas (83 games played and counting) and Carl Fitzgerald (30 games played). The scouting department also completely whiffed on high picks in those two years with Pencer going third overall in 2012, Andy Mulumba second overall in 2013 — and in the NFL since — and Kris Robertson 11th overall in 2013.

Counter that with the work in the last three drafts where 13 of the 20 selections are on the roster; three have become starters in Matthias Goossen (2nd overall in 2014), Sukh Chungh (2nd overall in 2015) and Taylor Loffler (19th overall in 2016). Meanwhile, 2015 fifth-round pick Ettore Latanzio is now with the Ottawa REDBLACKS and two selections from last year’s class, Zach Intzandt and Rupert Butcher, headed back to school but will be attending training camp next month.

Just to put that into perspective, the members of the 2016 class that made the club – Loffler, Trent Corney, Michael Couture and Shayne Gauthier – combined to play a total of 60 games last year.

That’s more than the combined total games played of 21 draft classes in this team’s history. And those guys are all just entering their sophomore seasons.

All of this, in a roundabout way, brings us back to the trivia question we tossed out in the opening. The Bombers have successfully managed to find Canadian talent in other ways other than the draft over the years, either through trades, free agency or scooping a player off the waiver wire.

So no, the draft isn’t the be all and end all when it comes to building Canadian content. But it is critical. And the Bombers have suffered through the years when the scouting crew fumbled and are seeing now the benefits with scores of talented homebrews.

(Next: the Top 5 draft classes in Blue Bombers history).

 

Doug Brown Winnipeg Blue Bombers 2003. Photo F. Scott Grant

Doug Brown Winnipeg Blue Bombers 2003. Photo F. Scott Grant

GREAT CANADIANS
A look at some of the Bombers’ Most Outstanding Canadian Player award winners not drafted by the team:

  • Doug Brown (Bombers Most Outstanding Canadian in 2001, 2002, 2004 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010)… Drafted by Calgary in 1997; Winnipeg sent a first rounder in ’02 and a third-rounder in ’03 to land him… CFL’s top Canadian in 2001… Canadian Football Hall of Famer.
  • Joe Poplawski (Bombers Most Outstanding Canadian in 1978, 1980, 1981, 1984, 1985, 1986)… Initially a territorial exemption pick by Edmonton in 1978, traded before the season for Tom Scott… CFL’s Most Outstanding Rookie in 1978 and top Canadian in 1981 and 1986… Canadian Football Hall of Famer.
  • Ken Nielsen (Bombers Most Outstanding Canadian in 1966, 1967, 1968, 1969)… Drafted by Hamilton in 1965, traded to Winnipeg that same season… Member of the WFC Hall of Fame.
  • Gerald Wilcox (Bombers Most Outstanding Canadian in 1993, 1994, 1995)… The first overall pick in 1991 by the Ottawa Rough Riders, he was acquired by the Bombers in 1992 for Less Browne… The CFL’s top Canadian in 1994… Member of the WFC Hall of Fame.
  • Chris Walby (Bombers Most Outstanding Canadian in 1989, 1996)… Drafted by the Montreal Alouettes; scooped off the waiver wire and brought home by then-GM Paul Robson… Was the CFL’s Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman in 1987 and 1993… Canadian Football Hall of Famer.
  • Bob Cameron (Bombers Most Outstanding Canadian in 1988, 1998)… Drafted by Edmonton, bounced around the NFL and CFL before landing in Winnipeg… Canadian Football Hall of Famer.

 

Other Bomber Canadian greats who have won the team’s top Canadian honours but were not drafted by the club:

  • Andrew Harris (2016 Bombers Most Outstanding Canadian) – Winnipeg product first signed by B.C.
  • Jamaal Westerman (2015) – Began his playing career in the NFL; signed as a free agent here.
  • Gerry James (1954, 1955, 1957, 1960) – Joined the Bombers before the inception of the CFL Draft. First winner of the CFL’s Most Outstanding Canadian award and a Canadian Football Hall of Famer.
  • Paul Bennett (1983) – Started his career in Toronto before being traded to Winnipeg. Member of the CFHOF.
  • Bob Swift (1972, 1975) – First property of the B.C. Lions and traded to Toronto before landing in Winnipeg.

 

Bombers draft picks who did become the team’s Most Outstanding Canadian:

  • Bob Larose (1971)
  • Gord Paterson (1977)
  • Bernie Ruoff (1979)
  • Scott Flagel (1987)
  • Rick House (1982, 1990, 1991)
  • Wade Miller (1999)
  • Troy Westwood (1992, 2003)
  • Jon Ryan (2005)
  • Cory Watson (2011)
  • Henoc Muamba (2012, 2013)