The Winnipeg Blue Bombers have added a whole lot of mean and nasty, a healthy dose of athleticism and a hometown hero at the top of their 2019 Canadian Football League draft class.
The Bombers used their two first-round draft picks, fourth and fifth overall, to add depth in the trenches by first selecting University of Windsor guard Drew Desjarlais and then defensive lineman Jonathan Kongbo of the University of Tennessee.
The club then had another player they coveted still available when they selected 14th overall, and grabbed Winnipegger and Oak Park High School product Brady Oliveira – who starred at the University of North Dakota – to provide more depth behind Andrew Harris at the running back position.
In Desjarlais the Bombers get a prospect cut from the same cloth as Sukh Chungh, who brought an edge to the O-line from the first moment he stepped on the field as a rookie starter in 2015 through to last year before his departure in free agency to his hometown B.C. Lions.
“The first time I talked to the Bombers was when they were my first interview at the combine (in March) and I thought it went really well,” said Desjarlais Thursday night from New York, where he is about to participate in the Giants rookie camp. “So, I definitely had some good feelings right there.
“They put some film up on the screen, we talked a little bit and they showed me a couple pancakes (blocks) of my own on the TV, so it was a fun interview.”
Desjarlais, who also has a rookie camp invitation from the Pittsburgh Steelers for next week, will have an opportunity to push for work right away as the club looks to replace Chungh and centre Matthias Goossen, who retired to join the police force in Delta, B.C. Desjarlais said he had been watching how CFL free agency unfolded this winter and understood the Bombers had some holes to fill up front.
“First off, I’m a competitor,” said Desjarlais. “Every rep is a win or a loss in my eyes. To lose one rep seems like a drastic thing for me, so I like to say I’m competitive snap to snap.”
Told the Bombers O-line had a reputation of being nasty over the last few years, Desjarlais added: “That makes me happy, for sure. I couldn’t picture any better landing spot than an O-line with the reputation of being nasty. I’d say that’s my exact style of play.”
The Bombers landed a very-intriguing prospect in Kongbo with the fifth-overall selection. There was an NFL buzz about the Tennessee linebacker/end last year before he suffered a season-ending knee injury in a game against Auburn last October.
Doctors have told him he should be 100 per cent by mid-June/early July, and his selection gives the team a spectacular athlete who gives them that much more roster flexibility.
The Bombers touched base with Kongbo just a few days ago to check in about his goals, knowing there had been NFL interest.
“They asked me what my aspirations were and I just told them straight up, ‘I just want to play ball. I don’t care where it’s at, wherever the opportunity presents itself,’” said Kongbo. “Obviously, getting hurt, tearing your ACL puts you on the sideline for a while. Just the opportunity is all I was looking for.
“For me, I felt like the game was taken away from me (because of the injury). So, just to have an organization that is confident enough to select me in the first round and believes in what I do and the skillsets that I have… it’s a great feeling. I’m ecstatic, I’m happy and I’m just ready to get to work.”
The Oliveira selection for the Bombers, meanwhile, is about much more than just about dipping into the backyard for some local flavour. He rushed for 2,822 yards during his days at UND, good for seventh place on the school’s all-time rushing list and was a member of the All-Big Sky Conference team in 2016 and 2017.
Winnipeg had nine selections in total in the 2019 draft, also selecting:
- Round 3, 25th overall: DL Connor Griffths, UBC.
- Round 4, 34th overall: C Asotui Eli, Hawaii
- Round 5, 43rd overall: WR Malik Richards, Mount Allison
- Round 6, 52nd overall: DL Tariq Lachance, Manitoba
- Round 7, 61st overall: DB Nick Hallett, Toronto
- Round 8, 70th overall: DB Kerfalla Emmanuel Exumé
Of that remaining crew, the pick of Eli might be the most intriguing. Eli, a centre, started at centre for the Rainbow Warriors in 2016 and 2017 before suffering a knee injury last year. TSN draft guru Duane Forde referred to him during Thursday’s telecast as the ‘ultimate sleeper’ and that would have been the No. 1 player in the draft if not for the uncertainty of his status.
THE NEW BLUE CREW
Selected: First round, 4th overall
Position: Offensive line
School: University of Windsor
Ht: 6-5; Wt: 325
Born: April 24, 1997 in Belle River, Ont.
Notable: Heading to rookie camp with the New York Giants this week and has an invitation to Pittsburgh Steelers rookie camp next week… Wasn’t even listed in the CFL’s Scouting Bureau rankings last October or Decemer, but saw his stock rise at the National Combine this March and was listed seventh on the final rankings… Back issues limited to just four games at left guard for the Lancers but, even so, was named a OUA Second-Team All-Star… Posted the best times in at the combine among O-linemen in the three-cone shuttle, vertical jump and shuttle and was second in the 40 and broad jump, and fifth in bench press… Became the first player in the Lancers program to be selected in the first round.
Why he’s a good fit for the Bombers: Fills a depth need for the Bombers along the O-line after the retirement of Matthias Goossen and departure of Sukh Chungh to the B.C. Lions in free agency. Will challenge for work at the guard spot, having played both on the right and left side at Waterloo.
Selected: First round, 5th overall
Position: Defensive End
School: University of Tennessee
Ht: 6-5; Wt: 255
Born: March 19, 1996 in the Congo, moved to Canada when he was five.
Notable: Started five games for the Vols last year before suffering a season-ending knee injury in October… Got a long look from NFL scouts at Tennessee’s Pro Day, where he pushed out 20 bench-press reps of 225 pounds… Won the 2018 John Stucky Award as Tennessee’s top performer in the weight room… Started 10 games as a junior, appeared in 13 games as a sophomore, starting two… Red-shirted as a true freshman at the University of Wyoming before transferring to Arizona Western College, a junior college… Played basketball in high school and finished third in the 100 metre as a junior.
Why he’s a good fit for the Bombers: Gives the Bombers another potential Canadian starter along the D-line. The club could go with three imports on the O-line and Kongbo gives them another option up front in a D-line rotation. His ability to play defensive end also means the team could use a designated import on kick-return specialist.
Selected: second round, 14th overall
Position: Running back
School: University of North Dakoa
Ht: 5-10 Wt: 220
Born: August 15, 1997 in Winnipeg, Mb.
Notable: He’s the third Oak Park High School product on the Bombers, joining Andrew Harris and Nic Demski… Was one of five finalists for the Jon Cornish Trophy, presented to the most outstanding Canadian player in college football… Played 42 games at UND, racking up 2,822 career yards and 22 TDs… Had a career-best 980 yards in 11 games last year.
Why he’s a good fit for the Bombers: The Bombers have an all-star in Andrew Harris at RB and he’s coming off back-to-back rushing titles. That said, he did just turn 32.
Selected: third round, 25th overall
Position: Defensive line
Ht: 6-4; Wt: 290
Born: July 6, 1997, in Langley B.C.
Notable: An All-Canadian in 2017 and a Canada West All-Star last year… Played 42 games with the Thunderbirds, recording 48 tackles and six sacks over four seasons… Part of UBC’s Vanier Cup championship squad in 2015.
Why he’s a good fit for the Bombers: He’s a high-motor guy who gives the Bombers that much more depth on the D-line, which will be critical if the coaches opt to start a Canadian there.
Selected: fourth round, 34th overall
Ht: 6-4 Wt: 315
Notable: Missed all of the 2018 season with an injury, but appeared in 36 games prior to that with the Rainbow Warriors and was twice named to the preseason Rimington Award watch list as the best centre in college football.
Why he’s a good fit for the Bombers: Goossen’s retirement leaves a vacancy at centre, although the Bombers are more than ready to go to war with Michael Couture or Cody Speller at that spot. If Eli is as good as the draft experts say and is ready to play, this could be seen quickly as the steal of the draft.
Selected: fifth round, 43rd overall
Position: Wide receiver
School: Mount Allison
Ht: 6-1 Wt: 195
Notable: Appeared in 24 games over four seasons with the Mounties… Last year, Richards caught 48 passes for 531 yards and three touchdowns, adding 18 rushes for 195 yards and two touchdowns and was named an AUS all-star… Richards also played for the East Team in the 2018 U SPORTS East-West Bowl.
Why he’s a good fit for the Bombers: The Bombers plan to start two, possibly three Canadians at receivers. Drew Wolitarsky and Nic Demski are the starters with last year’s draft picks Rashaun Simonise and Daniel Petermann also pushing for work. Depth is a good thing.
Selected: sixth round, 52nd overall
Position: Defensive line
School: University of Manitoba
Ht: 6-4; Wt: 260
Born: November 11, 1993 in Winnipeg, Mb.
Notable: Reappeared on CFL radar screens after testing well at the Western Regional Combine… Also played for the Winnipeg Rifles and Vincent Massey Collegiate… Has not played a game since November of 2016, but has been training at Recruit Ready in Winnipeg.
Why he’s a good fit for the Bombers: He’s a versatile and athletic depth piece that could land a spot on special teams.
Selected: seventh round, 61st overall
Position: Defensive back
Ht: 6-0; Wt: 195
Born: February 12, 1994 in London, Ont.
Notable: Apepared in 28 games with the Varsity Blues over six seasons… Played just three games in 2018, but recorded 13 tackles, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery and one touchdown… In 2017, he led the Blues and ranked fourth in the OUA with 60 tackles, adding one sack, two fumble recoveries, one interception and five break ups.
Why he’s a good fit for the Bombers: The club is committed to starting Derek Jones at safety after the departure of Taylor Loffler to Montreal in free agency. Hallett gives the team potential depth in the secondary.
KERFALLA EMMANUEL EXUMÉ
Selected: eight round, 70th overall
Position: Defensive back
Ht: 5-11; Wt: 188
Born: February 24, 1994 in Montreal, Que.
Notable: Played in 22 games over four seasons with the Carabins… In 2018, he registered 11 tackles, two pass breakups and two interceptions, one of which he returned for a touchdown.
Why he’s a good fit for the Bombers: Same as Hallett, above.