GM Kyle Walters on the 2017 Draft Class
The Winnipeg Blue Bombers got immediate help with the first-overall draft pick, traded down two spots to grab another selection later in the proceedings, and took a flier on a hometown product headed to the NFL.
And all that came within the first hour of Sunday’s 2017 Canadian Football League Draft on a night in which the club added eight more homegrown talents to their talent cupboard.
Three of those picks – Faith Ekakitie, Geoff Gray and Qadr Spooner – were ranked in the Bombers’ Top 5.
That said, as GM Kyle Walters indicated last week, this draft’s trademark was just how different every team’s evaluations would have been heading into the thing.
“Between Faith, Geoff and Qadr… those were three guys that we had in the Top 5 on our board,” said Walters. “So, to be able to walk away with those, we feel very good.”
“But I also prefaced this on Friday that everyone is going to be feeling like that. Everyone views this draft differently on their own boards, so everyone is going to feel in those first three rounds that they killed it.”
Picking first overall for the first time since selecting Henoc Muamba in 2011, the Bombers filled an immediate depth-chart need by picking Ekakitie.
“It feels great, honestly,” said Ekakitie. “This is something I’ve been working towards for a long time so it’s great to finally realize my dream. I’m excited to get there and get things rolling. It wasn’t really until last night and today where I thought ‘Shoot, this could really happen.’”
“I’m a smart and strong player. I know there’s a whole lot to the game that hasn’t been discovered by myself. I have a lot of untapped potential. As much as the fans are excited to see how my career pans out, I’m just as excited to figure out just how good of a player I can eventually be.”
“I think they’ve got something special going on in Winnipeg right now and I’m happy that I get a chance to come in and hopefully be an integral part of that.”
Holding two picks in the first round for the first time since 1985, the Bombers then swung a deal with the Calgary Stampeders to move down two spots to eighth and then also get the 34th overall selection. The trade meant the Bombers secured a 4th-round pick after surrendering their own last September in landing quarterback Kevin Glenn from the Montreal Alouettes.
The Bombers used the eighth selection to pick University of Manitoba Bisons all-star guard, Geoff Gray, who will be heading to training camp with the Green Bay Packers.
“I had so many talks with so many teams… everything was depending on whether a certain player was available,” said Walters of the deal with the Stamps. “Once Edmonton picked at five it was chaos in that room with regards to multiple phone calls.
“It was nice and clean: just drop two spots and I was confident we were still going to be able to draft Geoff and be able to add an extra pick.”
Here is a rundown of the newest Bombers, with a brief scouting report from Walters:
DT, University of Iowa
Drafted first round, first overall
His numbers: Played in 13 games for the Hawkeyes during his senior season of 2016, recording 39 tackles, two tackles for loss, two knock downs and one fumble recovery. He was named the Hawkeyes’ Finish Strong award winner in 2016.
Walters: “It’s the level of competition he plays. He’s a big, strong guy who was able to get a push on the pocket. You watch that film and he’s playing elite competition week in and week out. He’s a very mature kid. He’s going to come in and work hard. He’s got the physical tools, the height, weight, speed, that says he’s going to line up here on Day 1 and be able to compete for playing time.”
Drafted first round, eighth overall
His numbers: Was named the Canada West Outstanding Down Lineman of the Year, a Canadian university first-team all-star, as well as a Canada West all-star. He played in all 32 games with Manitoba (starting 30) as well six playoff games, playing both guard and tackle. Signed a priority free-agent deal with the Green Bay Packers last week.
Walters: “Geoff was a guy we targeted and we’re willing to wait and take a chance. It’s a good indicator of the Canadian talent on our roster that we can take a chance on something like this that we haven’t been able to do before.”
OL, McGill University
Drafted second round, 15th overall
His numbers: Played in eight games, including four starts at left tackle and two at left guard. Was a RESQ All-Star.
Walters: “We liked him a lot. What we value in offensive linemen is a physical toughness and Qadr has that – he was the meanest, most aggressive offensive lineman in the draft. He reminds us of Sukh Chungh from a physicality standpoint. I don’t think he’s quite as ready as Sukh was coming out (of college) but there’s something about him, a mean streak, and you really love that along the offensive line.”
DB, Grambling State
Drafted third round, 23rd overall
His numbers: Attended high school at Kildonan East before heading south. Appeared in 11 games at Grambling State, recording eight tackles.
Walters: “Interesting story. His momentum was building throughout. He went to high school here, ended up somewhere in North Dakota at a junior college. He’d never played football before and ends up after a couple of years of junior college getting a scholarship to Grambling State and went down there and played some corner and free safety. He was quite an unknown but when we watched his film he was very, very intriguing. We were able to get eyes on him at a workout in the past week and there’s something different about the way he looks, the way he moves. It’s a bit of a risk in the sense he hasn’t played a ton of football.”
Drafted fourth round, 34th overall
His numbers: Named a USports All-Canadian as a punter in 2016, leading the country with a 42.4-yard average and placing 21 punts inside the 20-yard line. Was good on 17 of 25 field goal attempts.
Walters: “He was the best kicker in the draft. Each year we talk about bringing one in and drafting and developing him. Justin Medlock is not going to be taking all the reps in training camp so we were going to be bringing in a kicker. He’s a stronger punter right now in his development than as a field goal kicker.”
Drafted sixth round, 50th overall
His numbers: Played one year at the University of Guelph before being ruled academically ineligible. Finished playing with the Hamilton Hurricanes junior squad.
Walters: “He was dominant in his one year (at Guelph). He showed up at the Eastern Regional Combine a little bit out of shape, a little bit heavier than he should have been, but showed glimpses of what he showed a couple years ago at Guelph. We talked with him about getting his weight under control. We worked him out this past week and he lost 15 pounds and looked a lot closer to the guy I remember seeing at the University of Guelph than at the Eastern Regional. He’s a very intriguing one from a potential standpoint.”
Drafted seventh round, 59th overall
His numbers: Missed most of 2016 with a shoulder injury. Had four catches for 55 yards in two regular season games and five receptions for 50 yards and a TD in two conference playoff games.
Walters: “He’s a very good long-snapper as well. He’ll run routes as a receiver and long-snapper. He was a nice pick for us for having a dual role.”
Drafted in the eighth round, 68th overall
His numbers: Led Alberta in receiving last year with 43 receptions for 611 yards; set a Canada West record with 19 receptions in a Week 7 game vs. Manitoba.
Walters: “Speed guy, big play guy. We’ll see if he can come in and show that athleticism he showed at Alberta.”