April 27, 2017

GM Kyle Walters on the NFL Draft

Ted Goveia, Mike O'Shea and Kyle Walters of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers during the 2017 CFL combine in Regina, SK., Friday, March 24, 2017. (Photo: Johany Jutras)

Kyle Walters will be locked in to the National Football League Draft over the next few days, just like any fan wondering which name the Cleveland Browns will call out for the first-overall pick and who goes where.

But it’s the immediate hours after this weekend’s draft – beginning Thursday and running through Saturday from Philadelphia – that will be of particular interest to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers GM.

The Bombers hold the first and sixth-overall selections in the Canadian Football League Draft on May 7th and the top-rated prospects are expected to either be mid-to-late-round selections down south, or sign as free agents with NFL teams as soon as the last name is called out on Sunday.

And that can mess with a team’s draft board, particularly if it has the privilege of owning the No. 1 pick.

“That’s the interesting thing with the Canadian Football League Draft… there’s more to it than just taking the best player or the best fit for your system,” said Walters.

“It’s got to be when are you going to see them, and the risk of knowing that with your No. 1 pick you might not ever see your guy. You must also weigh whether you need a guy in training camp now or are willing to wait. Every team has to ask themselves those questions.”


Mississippi State offensive tackle Justin Senior is the top-rated prospect according to the CFL Scouting Combine and projected to be a middle-to-late round NFL draft pick. UCLA defensive tackle Eli Ankou, ranked second in the CFL, Manitoba guard Geoff Gray – ranked third – and the seventh-ranked Antony Auclair, a tight end from Laval, are the Canadians drawing most interest down south.

Even if they aren’t drafted, they could sign as ‘priority free agents’ with any NFL team. And that’s where things start to get really complicated with the CFL Draft scheduled just eight days after the NFL selections are complete.

“The top Canadian guys, it’s how quickly they get snatched up after the draft, whether they are priority free agents or invited to a mini camp,” Walters explained.

“Generally, being a priority free agent means they are going to be in a training camp and are going to have a good opportunity to make a football team so you may not see them at least for a year, and then depending on how well they do, maybe two or three years.

“Those mini-camp invite guys are in pretty tough to get a training camp contract. So there’s a big difference between a draft pick and then a priority free agent to the mini-camp invite guys. We just have to figure out which Canadian guys fit into which group and act accordingly.”

The Bombers hold the first and sixth picks in the first round, but also pick 15th and 23rd. The two early selections – if they hang on to both – does give them the flexibility to take a flyer on a player who may be headed to the NFL. But teams are built around their Canadian content and no squad wants to see a pick lost the way the Bombers, for example, saw both Andy Mulumba (second overall in 2013) and Cristo Bilukidi (21st overall in 2012) head for the NFL and never play a down in their colours.

The Bombers have also had to tinker with their draft board for other reasons: as Justin Dunk of 3-Down Nation first reported, CFL teams have just recently learned that UCLA linebacker Cameron Judge has been ruled eligible for the 2017 draft.

He was born in Canada, moved to the U.S. when he was three months old, but spent a lot of time between Victoria and Vancouver until he was a teenager.

He was a special teams captain and started some games as a junior and senior, suiting up for 47 games for the Bruins.

“Whatever paperwork he had to do, he did,” said Walters. “We’ve looked at his film the past two days. Ultra-athletic… I mean, off the charts athletic testing-wise. Started a couple of games and was on the field in the Pac-12 playing special teams.

“Obviously, a top prospect just got added to our draft. He’s a first-round talent, 100 per cent. This changes everybody’s draft board. When a kid like that just becomes eligible for the draft everybody starts figuring out where he fits in.”