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)
Winnipeg Blue Bombers GM Kyle Walters has a secret. And he vows not to let anyone in on it until just after six o’clock Sunday night.
Walters will be calling out the first name in the 2017 Canadian Football League Draft Sunday, and during a session with the media on Friday, hinted the club’s scouting staff has reached a consensus on who will be the first-overall selection.
“At this point we’ve got a very good idea of what we want to do at No. 1,” said Walters. “We were on the phone, our call was 3 ½ hours this morning with (National Scout) Craig (Smith) and (Assistant GM/Director of Player Personnel) Ted (Goveia) and (head coach) Mike (O’Shea), going over multiple options and scenarios.”
“We have a very good idea of what we want to do now, but if a trade were to pop up for the No. 1 pick we’d investigate. A lot can change in the next 48 hours. But we have an idea, certainly at No. 1, of what we want to do.”
The Bombers acquired the first-overall pick in the draft as part of the package in last September’s trade with the Toronto Argonauts for Drew Willy. They also have their own selection – sixth overall – in the first round as well as picks 15 and 23.
That gives the Bombers some options early in the draft after first overall.
“The nice thing for us this year is we don’t have to wait on the gamesmanship of speculating about what other teams are going to do, affecting your first pick,” said Walters “We are in a nice position in that we know once we make our decision it doesn’t matter what other teams do.”
What follows is bluebombers.com Handy-Dandy Guide to Sunday’s CFL Draft; a hodge-podge of bits and pieces to get football fans ready for the annual scavenger hunt for homegrown talent…
6 BOMBER-RELATED FAQs ABOUT THE DRAFT
Which player is ranked No. 1?
Mississippi State offensive tackle Justin Senior has been atop the CFL Scouting Bureau’s draft rankings for months. But he was also drafted by the Seattle Seahawks last weekend, meaning his availability – and his value – to CFL teams drops.
He was the only Canadian drafted in the NFL, but second-ranked Eli Ankou, a defensive tackle from UCLA, third-ranked Manitoba guard Geoff Gray, and seventh-ranked receiver Antony Auclair of Laval all signed priority free agent deals with Houston, Green Bay and Tampa Bay, respectively. That means they are down-the-road prospects for CFL teams, which teams must weigh when to use a pick on them knowing they may never play a game in Canada.
“Every team is interested in those guys,” said Walters. “Everyone now is just going to have to figure out where they fit into their draft board.
“You do your research and Justin Senior, Geoff Gray, Eli Ankou, Antony Auclair… how long do you think they’re going to be down there for and at what point on your overall draft board is it worth the risk to say we’re going to take them? And if we don’t see them for one, two, three, four years, that’s OK, we’re prepared to wait and if we never see them it was worth the risk.”
OK, then who goes No. 1?
The Bombers hold the first-overall pick after last September’s trade that sent Drew Willy to Toronto and also landed all-star defensive back T. J. Heath.
There isn’t the panic to find a plug-and-play starter as in recent years, and the Canadian depth is infinitely better than it was just a couple of seasons ago. With two first rounders, including their own pick at No. 6, the Bombers might be tempted to take a chance on one of the players mentioned above with one of their selections or deal it if the right offer comes along.
The consensus this week from CFL Draft gurus has the Bombers leaning to Iowa defensive tackle Faith Ekakitie, but Gray’s name has also come up – he is from Winnipeg – as has that of McMaster receiver Danny Vandervoort, ranked fourth overall by the CFL Scouting Bureau.
“(Ekakitie) is a good prospect,” said Walters when asked about the Hawkeyes lineman. “He’s played very good competition… he’s been in the trenches in the Big 10 playing against Michigan, playing against Wisconsin, playing against some big, powerful teams. He’s a mature kid, he’s married, he’s played in the Midwest… he’s a very good prospect.”
Some numbers to consider, courtesy CFL stats guru Steve Daniel: dating back to the 2002 CFL Draft, offensive linemen have been the position group selected most with 200 picks, followed by defensive linemen (147), receivers (143), linebackers (114), defensive backs (102), running backs (77), kickers (24) and quarterbacks (6).
And in the 17 drafts since 2000, offensive linemen have been the first-overall picks eight times, D-linemen five times, linebackers twice and a wide receiver and defensive back once each.
Haven’t the Bombers made a habit of trading or botching their first-round picks?
Old storyline, friends. It’s true that during a 14-year stretch from 1997-2010, the Bombers were without a first-round selection a whopping 12 times.
And while the Bombers draft history is hardly stuff of legend, the current regime has crushed this thing in the last three years as 13 of 23 picks are on the roster including starters Matthias Goossen, Sukh Chungh and Taylor Loffler.
What are the Bombers Canadian areas of need?
Two of the seven Canadian starters from a year ago left this offseason – receiver Rory Kohlert to Calgary and defensive tackle Keith Shologan to Montreal – so those two spots are obvious places to start. The 2017 draft class is top heavy with defensive-tackle depth; not so much with receivers.
The Bombers start their Canadian in the receiving corps at the wide-side spot – furthest throw on most routes for the QB – and do seem to be content with their current crop that includes Julian Feoli-Gudino, Addison Richards and Matt Coates. Offensive line is always a position teams like to stockpile talent. The Bombers do start three Americans up front alongside Goossen and Chungh, but with Patrick Neufeld and Michael Couture, could potentially tinker with changing the ratio if need be and providing they add more depth.
Overall, expect the Bombers’ seven Canadian starters to be at the same spots in 2017: the two along the offensive line, running back Andrew Harris, receiver, defensive end Jamaal Westerman, safety Taylor Loffler and defensive tackle.
“Assuming status quo moving into this year, depth on both sides of the line is always important,” said Walters. “Interior defensive lineman, a defensive end that can add some depth, offensive line is, every single year, about adding and developing, adding and developing.
“Receiver is an interesting one. We only started one (Canadian) receiver last year… that will be an ongoing question, I’m guessing. Generally, the Canadian receiver plays the wide-field receiver and there’s just not enough footballs to go out there. The days of the Canadian slotbacks having impacts on the game are minimal and I think teams will always be looking for that Canadian slotback that can be a 1,000-yard receiver, but it’s been a few years since you had an impact Canadian slotback come into this game but you’re always looking for one of those, as well.”
Is there a chance the Bombers move one of their early picks?
Absolutely. But it depends on the offer, of course. Given there is no clear-cut consensus first-overall pick and the draft boards of all nine teams likely feature all kinds of variations, it’s unlikely anyone would make a move to grab No. 1.
But the No. 6 pick in the first round – along with Winnipeg’s 15th and 23rd selections – could be in play if a team sees someone they really covet still on the board. Those picks are assets for the Bombers in two ways: as an opportunity to take a flyer on one of the players headed to the NFL or as a way to stockpile more selections this year or next.
“I don’t anticipate us trading both of those (first-round) picks,” Walters said. “There’s been a few teams kicking the tires, but right now it’s just getting a feel and we’re not going to get a serious offer until the draft starts shaking down, particularly at (number) six. I’ve already said I’m not overly interested in any of the offers I’ve got for No. 1 right now. We’ll see if something pops up, but I don’t anticipate there will be a good offer for No. 1.
“At No. 6 I believe what will have to happen is a team will have to target a player, he’ll be there at six and then we’ll get some calls closer to that. That sort of talk won’t start happening until the draft is happening.”
Walters also said that it’s highly unlikely the team will attempt to move up into the fourth or fifth round after trading those selections in the last couple of years to land Matt Nichols and Kevin Glenn.
This Geoff Gray story… How interested are the Bombers in a hometown Bisons guy?
Put it this way: who wouldn’t be interested in a behemoth tackle who is an Olympic power lifter, has good feet and has the smarts – he’s studying engineering – to adjust to any system? It’d be a cool story if Gray landed with the Bombers, but the Packers didn’t sign him just to be a body in training camp. All that said, teams like the Bombers and B.C. – both with two first-round selections – might use one of those selections to take a guy and then wait to see if he comes back to Canada in a few years.
“You would like to think if it didn’t work out in the NFL, Geoff Gray would be excited to come and play in his hometown,” said Walters. “But I think Geoff Gray, if it didn’t work out in the NFL, loves football and would be excited to play in – insert CFL team name – to be perfectly honest with you.
“He’ll go down there and he’ll get a fair opportunity to stick around that team. What happens a lot with players from CIS schools, NFL teams look at them as under-developed projects… I don’t believe you are going to sign Geoff Gray and then release him after a week saying he’s not very good. I believe the NFL looks at Geoff Gray as, ‘Let’s see what he looks like a year from now, two years from now’.”
THE BOMBERS PICKS
Where the Bombers will be selecting, barring a trade, Sunday night:
Round 1 – 1st overall (Acquired from Toronto along with defensive back TJ Heath and a third-round selection in the 2018 CFL Draft for QB Drew Willy.)
Round 1 – 6th
Round 2 – 15th
Round 3 – 23rd
Round 4 – No pick (Traded to Montreal in exchange for QB Kevin Glenn; Als then shipped to Saskatchewan for QB Darian Durant)
Round 5 – No pick (Traded to Edmonton for QB Matt Nichols)
Round 6 – 50th
Round 7 – 59th
Round 8 – 68th
2017 ROUND 1 DRAFT ORDER
CFL SCOUTING BUREAU FINAL RANKINGS
(Released April 14, 2017)
- Justin Senior, OL, Mississippi State
- Eli Ankou, DT, UCLA
- Geoff Gray, OL, Manitoba
- Danny Vandervoort, Rec, McMaster
- Faith Ekakitie, DT, Iowa
- Christope Mulumba, LB, Maine
- Antony Auclair, TE, Laval
- Mason Woods, OL, Idaho
- Nathaniel Behar, Rec, Carleton
- Dariusz Bladek, OL, Bethune-Cookman
- Junior Luke, DT, Montreal
- Kwaku Boateng, DE, Wilfrid Laurier
- Qadr Spooner, OL, McGill
- Robert Woodson, DB, Calgary
- Kay Okafor, DT, St. Francis-Xavier
- Braden Schram, OL, Calgary
- Johnny Augustine, RB, Guelph
- Fabion Foote, DL, McMaster
- Dondre Wright, DB Henderson State
- Connor McGough, OL, Calgary
BLUE BOMBER NO. 1s
A look at the other first-overall selections made by the Bombers over the years. (Not including seasons with territorial protected picks, last made in 1984)
1969 – Doug Strong, HB, Waterloo-Lutheran: Appeared in 67 games from 1969-74.
1975 – Steve Scully, TE, Syracuse. Played just three games for the Bombers.
2011 – Henoc Muamba, LB, St. Francis-Xavier. Appeared in 51 games for the Bombers, making 34 starts. Twice named the Bombers top Canadian and was the club’s Most Outstanding Player and Defensive Player in 2013. Bolted for the NFL, returned to Canada with Montreal and is now with Saskatchewan.
LAST 10 NO. 1 PICKS
A look back at the first overall picks in the last decade:
2016: Josiah St. John, OL, Saskatchewan
GP: 10/6 starts; Held out in contract dispute before signing in July and making a half dozen starts in his rookie season.
2015: Alex Mateas, OL, Ottawa
GP: 35/10 starts; Grey Cup champs still grooming the 6-4, 309-pound hometown lad.
2014: Pierre Lavertu, OL, Calgary
GP: 41/29 starts; West Division All-Star in ’15; started eight games last year before season-ending ankle injury.
2013: Linden Gaydosh, DL, Hamilton
GP: 10/2 starts; Signed with Carolina Panthers in his draft year, spent two seasons in the NFL on practice squad. Appeared in nine games with Hamilton in 2014; missed 2015 with torn Achilles tendon; traded last October to Saskatchewan.
2012: Ben Heenan, OL, Saskatchewan
GP: 49/46 starts; A ratio-breaking tackle for the Riders, Heenan was part of the 2013 Grey Cup team and then signed a three-year $1.575 contract with the Indianapolis Colts, spending time on their practice squad; Retired last April at the age of 26 to concentrate on running the family farm.
2011: Henoc Muamba, LB, Winnipeg
GP: 56/37 starts; Spent three years with the Bombers – including being named the team’s Most Outstanding Player, Most Outstanding Defensive Player and Most Outstanding Canadian in 2013 – before signing with the Indianapolis Colts. Bounced from Montreal to Dallas before landing in Saskatchewan last year.
2010: Shomari Williams, LB, Saskatchewan
GP: 79/22 starts; Two stints with the Riders, with stops in Hamilton, Calgary and Edmonton. Has not played since 2015 and now runs Student Blitz to help players in Canada earn NCAA scholarships.
2009: Simeon Rottier, OL, Hamilton
GP: 120/103 starts; Reliable dependable starter at both guard and tackle. Joined Edmonton in 2012 as a free agent.
2008: Dylan Barker, DB, Hamilton
GP: 35/16 starts; An All-Canadian in college, Barker had his career cut short after four seasons because of a chronic back injury.
2007: Chris Bauman, WR, Hamilton
GP: 79/38 starts; Injuries cut short what could have been and Bauman, who went from Hamilton to Edmonton to Calgary, took his last snap in 2014.