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April 14, 2020

Bombers at the Draft | Part 1

Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback Zach Collaros (8) hands off to Andrew Harris (33) during the first half of CFL action against the Calgary Stampeders in Winnipeg Friday, October 25, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

The scene remains so vivid, even now, for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and their loyal fans.

Rewind to Grey Cup Sunday and there was Zach Collaros taking the final snap and kneeling down following a dominant 33-12 victory over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

It brought to a close what was an incredible and fascinating finish to the 2019 Canadian Football League season for the Bombers, who dropped from first to third place in the West Division and needed road wins in Calgary and Regina just to get to the Grey Cup.

As well, the Bombers were a decided underdog that Sunday, lining up against a 15-3 Ticats team which placed nine players on the CFL All-Star Team, finished first in scoring and had the league’s stingiest defence.

What happened in that game is folklore in these parts now, of course. But as the 2020 CFL Draft nears – and as we trot out our first ‘Bombers at the Draft’ series -it’s worth revisiting how the narrative swirling around Collaros changed so drastically over the 46 days between the trade that brought him to Winnipeg and Grey Cup Sunday.

If you recall, the Bombers and Toronto Argonauts engineered the only deal at the deadline. The trade saw the Bombers acquire Collaros and a fifth-round pick in the 2020 draft in exchange for a third-round selection this spring AND a conditional first-rounder should the QB re-sign with the Bombers.

The deal was made partly out of necessity with Matt Nichols shelved for the season with a shoulder injury and to give the club some experience and depth behind Chris Streveler, whose gritty and ferocious style of play nonetheless had coaches and management crossing their fingers with every snap he took.

Doubling down on the risk in the deal, at least from a Bombers perspective, was the uncertainty surrounding Collaros himself, due to his injury history and the concussion which had sidelined him since the first quarter of the season opener.

Given all that, the idea of Collaros re-signing here after the 2019 season – at the cost of surrendering that first-round pick – was waved off as a silly afterthought. This was an insurance deal, pure and simple. Remember, too, that CFL general managers have long treated draft picks – especially first rounders – as invaluable commodities, so much so that trading them was seen as breaking one of the league’s unwritten commandments.

Here’s exception to all this: should that first rounder land a team a starting quarterback – and one that is behind centre for a 4-0 run that breaks a 28-year championship drought – well, then, hell yeah make the move.

Interesting, then, how this story has done a complete 180, to the point that not surrendering a first-round draft choice for Collaros – who re-signed in January – would now be considered the silly afterthought.

The Bombers, as result, have surrendered the ninth-overall selection to the Argos and won’t call out their first name, unless another deal is consummated before or during the draft, until 18th overall.

All told, Winnipeg will have seven selections in the draft: 18th, 37th, 39th, 46th, 55th, 64th and 73rd (the Bombers’ third-round pick, 28th overall, went to the Argos as part of the Collaros trade while Winnipeg landed the 39th selection in the same deal).

There are two other reasons the Collaros deal makes more sense than ever for the Bombers this spring.

First, chew on these numbers: offensive linemen have long dominated the CFL Draft, and especially so dating back to 2000 with 67 of the 164 picks – 41% – used on guards, tackles and centres. That’s followed by defensive linemen (31, 19%), receivers (29, 18%), linebackers (15, 9%), running backs/fullbacks (10, 6%), defensive backs (9, 5%) and kickers (3, 2%).

With those statistics in mind, consider now how set the Bombers are at Canadian offensive linemen, what with Pat Neufeld, Michael Couture and Drew Desjarlais – the three starters along with import tackles Stanley Bryant and Jermarcus Hardrick – all returning. There’s solid depth behind them, too, in Cody Speller, who started at centre in the Grey Cup for an injured Couture, Geoff Gray – who made 12 starts last year – and the promising Tui Eli who, like Desjarlais, was drafted last year. Over the winter the club also added former Argos draft pick Chris Kolankowski, who dressed for six regular season games and two playoff contests for Toronto in 2017.

The Bombers also start three other Canadians on offence in running back Andrew Harris, slotback Nic Demski and wide receiver Drew Wolitarsky and will go with one on defence with tackle Jake Thomas backed up by Connor Griffiths and, likely, another draft prospect following the departure of Jonathan Kongbo to the San Francisco 49ers.

In other words, that first round pick – which so often in years past was forced to quickly morph into a starter – can potentially ripen on the vine for a spell before being inserted into the lineup.

And here’s the other factor which makes surrendering that first round pick in the Collaros trade even more reasonable: the Bombers, like all teams over the years, can attest at how much the CFL Draft is so hit and miss.

Yes, for as good as last year’s draft class was for the Bombers – and the early returns have it as one of the best in franchise history – there have also been some misses dating back to the current regime’s first selections in 2014. Some of the franchise’s misses are even more egregious going back to 2000 (see list below).

All of this simply reinforces the old saying that a bird in hand is worth two in the bush. Or, as it relates to the Bombers – a starting championship quarterback re-signed and in hand is worth a prospect in the bush.

A look at the Bombers’ first picks in CFL Drafts dating back to 2000 with the year, round and overall selection:

*Note: list does not include the territorial exemption picks from 1972-82


2019

1 (4) Drew Desjarlais, OL Windsor
1 (5) Jonathan Kongbo, DE, Tennessee

2018

2 (12) Rashaun Simonise, WR, Calgary

2017

1 (1) Faith Ekakitie, DL, Iowa
1 (8) Geoff Gray, OL, Manitoba

2016

1 (forfeited – selected Garrett Waggoner, LB, Dartmouthin supplemental draft in 2015)
2 (9) Trent Corney, DE, Virginia
2 (10) Michael Couture, OL, SFU

2015

1 (2) Sukh Chungh, OL, Calgary

2014

1 (2) Matthias Goossen, OL, SFU

2013

1 (2) Andy Mulumba, DE, Eastern Michigan

2012

1 (3) Tyson Pencer, OL, Washington State

2011

1 (1) Henoc Muamba, LB, St. FX

2010

2 (9) Cory Watson, WR, Concordia

2009

3 (19) Mike Morris, OL, UBC

2008

1 (6) Brendon LaBatte, OL, Regina

2007

2 (11) Corey Mace, DT, Wyoming

2006

3 (19) Arjei Franklin, WR, Windsor

2005

4 (30) Scott Mennie, LB, Manitoba

2004

3 (24) Jon Ryan, P/K, Regina

2003

3 (32) Todd Krenbrink, OL, Regina

2002

3 (26) Michael Shaver, FB, Ottawa

2001

3 (19) Ben Wearing, WR, McGill

2000

1 (2) Daaron McField, DL, UBC