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April 21, 2017

Ed Tait’s Top 5 Draft Classes in Bomber History

Winnipeg Blue Bombers' Chris Garrett (19) and Brendon LaBatte (57) celebrate after Garrett scored a touchdown against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats at the end of the second half of their CFL Eastern Final game in Winnipeg Sunday, November 20, 2011. LaBatte agreed to terms Wednesday with the hometown Roughriders. Contract details weren't immediately divulged but LaBatte's deal will reportedly pay him in the neighbourhood of $200,000 annually. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

There have been first-round busts and late-round steals. They have found hall of famers and whiffed on supposed “can’t miss” prospects.

The draft history of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, much like every team in professional sports, is filled with both glorious hits and massive fails.

Since the inception of the Canadian Football League Draft in 1956, there have been entire Blue Bomber classes that didn’t yield a player who suited up for a single game, including the first four cracks at the thing from ’56 through ‘59 and their first 12 choices overall.

There have been years in which the Bombers found just one gem – and really, given the crapshoot that the draft is, that has to be considered a success. The 1974 class that included two territorial exemption picks – established in 1973 to allow teams to take players attending U.S. schools, later amended regardless of school location, and then abolished in 1985 – featured future Bomber hall of famer Gord Paterson.

One of the team’s territorial picks in 1982 was used on a Gordon Bell product who played his college ball at North Dakota. And Stan Mikawos then morphed into a durable and powerful force on the Bombers defensive line en route to the club’s hall of fame.

Darryl Sampson was a second-round pick in 1986 and became a mainstay in the secondary of a Bomber defence that ruled the CFL in the late 1980s-early 1990s. His contributions were the silver lining from an otherwise weak Bombers draft class that year.

But there have also been draft classes in which the Bombers were able to find Canadian talent that developed into starters and helped fill out their roster. The most recent handiwork of GM Kyle Walters and his scouting staff is evidence of that, as 13 picks from the last three years are currently on the roster.

With that serving as a backdrop, bluebombers.com has put together a list – completely subjective, of course – of what we consider the Top 5 draft classes in Bomber history.

Worth noting before we proceed: last year’s class is not included here but very well could be in the next incarnation of this list.

It has already generated a CFL All-Star in safety Taylor Loffler, the team’s Most Outstanding Rookie last year, and also includes defensive end Trent Corney, offensive lineman Michael Couture and linebacker Shayne Gauthier, all of whom made the squad last year and are still making the transition from college to pro.

Bombers best draft classes…

Stan Mikawos Winnipeg Blue Bombers 1988. Photo John Bradley

Stan Mikawos Winnipeg Blue Bombers 1988. Photo John Bradley

#5 – 1971

Territorial pick – Ed Sevels, DT, Wateroo-Lutheran
WBB GP: 0

Rd 1 – 5th – Peter Ribbins, DB Ottawa
WBB GP: 86

Rd 1 – Bob Kraemer, QB, Manitoba
WBB GP: 64

Rd 1 – 9th – John Gauthier, T, Ottawa
WBB GP: 0

Rd 3 – 19th – Clay McEvoy, RB, Simon Fraser
WBB GP: 44

Rd 4 – 28th – Walt McKee, K, Manitoba
WBB GP: 54

Rd 5 – 37th Steve Howell, DE, Windsor
WBB GP: 0

Rd 6 – 46th – Paul Paddon, DB, Ottawa
WBB GP: 0

Rd 6 – 51st – Roy Parker, FL, Manitoba
WBB GP: 0

Rd 7 – 59th – Ben Labovich, DE, Carleton
WBB GP: 0

Rd 7 – 59th – Art Rochette, QB, Queen’s
WBB GP: 0

Rd 8 – 63rd – Ian Jukes, OL, UBC
WBB GP: 0

Rd 9 – 68th – Dennis Hrycaiko, HB, Manitoba
WBB GP: 0

1971 draft class WBB games played: 248.

Synopsis: Lots of names here with 13 picks, four of whom wore Bomber colours. Ribbins ended up playing two stints for the Bombers, with a modicum of success, but after his first two seasons here he was shipped to Hamilton for a little-known (at the time) linebacker in John Bonk. Bonk, of course, was converted to the offensive line and became one of the most dominant centres in club history and a Canadian Football Hall of Famer.

This draft also yielded Walt McKee, who gave the Bombers some solid work as a kicker and was the West Division’s top rookie in 1972.


 

#4 2010

Winnipeg Blue Bombers' Chris Greaves (64) congratulates Cory Watson (81) for his touchdown against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats during the second half of CFL action in Winnipeg Saturday, September 27, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ Chris Greaves (64) congratulates Cory Watson (81) for his touchdown against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats during the second half of CFL action in Winnipeg Saturday, September 27, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

Rd 2 – 9th – Cory Watson, WR, Concordia
WBB GP:  67 (57 starts)

Rd 4 – 28th – Chris Smith, LB, Queen’s
WBB GP:  23

Rd 4 – 29th – Anthony Woodson, RB, Calgary
WBB GP:  11

Rd 6 – 45th – Chris Greaves, DL, Western
WBB GP:  82 (64 starts)

2010 draft class WBB games played: 183. Starts: 121

Synopsis: The Bombers have had some horrible drafts in this millennium and did not have their first-round picks nine times in a 10-year span between 2001-2010. That included 2010, when the first pick, 6th overall, was peddled to Edmonton to move down to the ninth spot and grab another selection.

Winnipeg used the ninth pick to grab Cory Watson, who started 57 games for the Bombers while struggling to stay healthy. Both Chris Smith and Anthony Woodson played for the team but it was the sixth-round pick – Chris Greaves – who made this class one of the best. Greaves, a D-lineman at Western, was converted to the other side of the ball and started 64 games at guard before being traded to Edmonton.


 

#3 – 1991

Winnipeg Blue Bombers' Troy Westwood (74) punts for the first time this season in first half CFL action against the Montreal Alouettes in Winnipeg, Saturday, October 24, 2009.  Winnipeg Blue Bombers defeated Montreal Alouettes 41-24.  THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ Troy Westwood (74) punts for the first time this season in first half CFL action against the Montreal Alouettes in Winnipeg, Saturday, October 24, 2009. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

Rd 2 – 16th – Guy Battaglini, FB, Ottawa
WBB GP: 0

Rd 3 – 24th – Steve Grant, DE, Simon Fraser
WBB GP: 32

Rd 4 – 32nd – Brendan Rogers, LB, Eastern Washington
WBB GP: 85

Rd 6 – 48th – Troy Westwood, K, Augustana
WBB GP: 293

Rd 7 – 56h – Jayson Dzikowicz, DB, Manitoba
WBB GP: 36

1991 draft class WBB games played: 446

Synopsis: No draft class in Bombers history combined to play more games for the team than the ’91 group. Granted, a good chunk of that – 293 – came from Troy Westwood. But any class that serves up the team’s all-time leading scorer in Westwood, one of its best special teams players ever in Brendan Rogers, and the tough-as-nails Jayson Dzikowicz must be considered a success.


 

#2 – 2015

Chungh

Sukh Chungh, September 2016. PHOTO: Kyle Thomas

Rd 1 – 2nd – Sukh Chungh, OL, Calgary
WBB GP:  34 (34 starts)

Rd 2 – 11th – Addison Richards, WR, Regina
WBB GP:  17

Rd 2 – 15th – Brendan Morgan, DB, Queen’s
WBB GP:  29

Rd 4 – 33rd – Chris Normand, RB, Laval
WBB GP:  24

Rd 5 – 38th – Ettore Lattanzio, DL, Ottawa
WBB GP:  0 (now with Ottawa)

Rd 6 – 46th – Justin Warden, LB, Bishop’s
WBB GP:  1

Supplemental – Garrett Waggoner, DB, Dartmouth
WBB GP:  36

2014 class total WBB games played: 141. Starts: 34

Synopsis: Bomber fans are still debating whether using a supplemental pick on Garrett Waggoner – it cost them their first-round pick in ’16 – was worth it, but the club desperately needed an influx of Canadian talent in 2015 and he has developed into an excellent special teams player.

That argument aside, this class delivered an offensive line starter in Sukh Chungh, an under-rated fullback in Chris Normand, special teams contributors Brendan Morgan and Justin Warden, and Ettore Lattanzio – now with the Ottawa REDBLACKS.

If – and that’s a big ‘IF’ right now – Addison Richards can stay healthy and start contributing, this class would be considered a top-to-bottom touchdown.


 

#1 – 2008

Winnipeg Blue Bombers' Chris Garrett (19) and Brendon LaBatte (57) celebrate after Garrett scored a touchdown against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats at the end of the second half of their CFL Eastern Final game in Winnipeg Sunday, November 20, 2011. LaBatte agreed to terms Wednesday with the hometown Roughriders. Contract details weren't immediately divulged but LaBatte's deal will reportedly pay him in the neighbourhood of $200,000 annually. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ Chris Garrett (19) and Brendon LaBatte (57) celebrate after Garrett scored a touchdown against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats at the end of the second half of their CFL Eastern Final game in Winnipeg Sunday, November 20, 2011. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

Rd 1 – 6th – Brendon LaBatte, OL, Regina
WBB GP:  70 (70 starts)

Rd 2 – 15th – Aaron Hargreaves, WR, Simon Fraser
WBB GP:  62 (32 starts)

Rd 3 – 24th – Daryl Stephenson, RB, Windsor
WBB GP:  29

Rd 4 – 31st – Marc Beswick, DB, St. Mary’s
WBB GP:  6 (2 starts)

Rd 5 – 39th – Don Oramasionwu, DL, Manitoba
WBB GP:  54 (7 starts)

Rd 6 – 47th – Pierre-Luc Labbe, LB, Sherbrooke
WBB GP:  104 (12 starts)

2008 class WBB games played: 325. Starts: 123

Synopsis: Every player selected made contributions to the Bombers with LaBatte, the first pick, being a force from the first moment he stepped on the field and started as a rookie. (The fact that he was able to exit to Saskatchewan in free agency remains one of the biggest gaffes of the last decade).

Hargreaves, Oramasionwu, Beswick and Labbe all made starts and both LaBatte and Oramasionwu are still playing (with Saskatchewan and Montreal, respectively).