LONDON, ON - NOVEMBER 9: Western Mustangs vs McMaster Marauders on November 9, 2019 at TD Stadium in London, Ontario, Canada. (Owen Mertens / McMaster Marauders)
The returns aren’t immediate or instantly noticeable. But based on the Winnipeg Blue Bombers success in recent drafts, they will eventually come.
The Bombers were the last team to call out a name in Thursday’s Canadian Football League Draft, but once they got involved in the process they were thrilled – granted, as is every other team the day after the proceedings – with their 2020 haul of new homegrown talent.
The seven players selected helped the Grey Cup champions address depth needs, particularly on defence, and delivered what management hopes are some future starters.
In order, the club selected defensive back Noah Hallett (18th overall), receiver Brendan O’Leary-Orange (37th), kicker Marc Liegghio (39th), defensive lineman Nicholas Dheilly (46th), linebacker Kyle Rodger (55th), linebacker Tanner Cadwallader (64th) and defensive back Bleska Kambamba (73rd).
On Friday, the Bombers added to their 2020 draft class by selecting University of Manitoba receiver Macho Bockru and Wilfrid Laurier defensive tackle Zach Houghron in a non-counter draft based on waiver priority.
“Going in we said we really wanted to address the depth on the defensive side of the ball, that’s certainly adding some depth in the secondary, replenishing some of the special teams/linebacker body types and adding some guys on the defensive line,” said Bombers GM Kyle Walters in a media conference call on Friday. “We did that. We got what we needed in Noah Hallett in a potential starting free safety that can learn and grow back there and compete and play special teams.
“And we ended with Kambamba. He’s just a good football player, man. You put his film on and he’s playing corner, which is sometimes hard to translate up here (in the CFL), but he runs and he strikes and he’s an All-Canadian at Western, which is a really good school.
“You look at Dheilly, Rodger and Cadwallader… that’s the exact type of guys we’re looking for at those roles. They play hard. When we start talking special teams, you can tell quickly when you’re watching film the kids that love playing and don’t love playing because there’s a lot of joggers out there and a lot of guys that are ‘vicinity tacklers’ as we call them, that seem to be around special teams stuff but aren’t really involved. The three that we drafted for the special teams roles aren’t scared to run around and smack people which is right up our alley.
“The O’Leary-Orange and Liegghio picks,” Walters added “they’re just too good of football players. They graded out high and we couldn’t just pass them up and just went with good football players.”
Walters spoke to the media for almost 20 minutes on Friday and here are the other main takeaways from the session:
THE HALLETT BROS
In case you missed our draft recap from Thursday, the Bombers’ first pick was Hallett, who joins his older brother Nick, selected by the team last year.
Winnipeg opened last year with Canadian Jeff Hecht at safety, but moved import Brandon Alexander there for the final four regular season games and the playoffs. Alexander may remain there, but Hallett bolsters the Canadian defensive back depth to perhaps consider making that spot a national one again.
“It could be a Hallett brother competition at training camp,” said Walters with a chuckle. “It’s twofold: you want to give your team options ratio-wise that if you suffer some injuries where would your eighth Canadian be, whether it’s a third receiver, whether it’s a fourth O-lineman, or whether it’s a free safety. These were all things we wanted to talk about. The way it went last year with all Americans in the secondary we didn’t dress a designated import back there, so your Canadian on the roster has to be a get-you-out-of-the-game safety for lack of a better term. We just wanted some competition at that role. We spent a lot of time watching and evaluating special teams film and we wanted this player to not only be a potential free safety down the road, but he’s got to be able to step in and help on special teams and we believe Noah can do that.”
TOO GOOD TO LET SLIDE FURTHER
The Bombers’ second selection, receiver Brendan O’Leary-Orange, didn’t necessarily address a positional need or provide depth on defence. This was the classic ‘best player available’ approach at the 37th pick and the big Nevada product is an intriguing addition to bolster a Canadian receiving corps that features starters Nic Demski and Drew Wolitarsky, along with veterans Daniel Petermann and Julian Feoli-Gudino.
“He’s had a bit of an injury history, but when you put his tape on, his total body of work is unbelievable,” said Walters of O’Leary-Orange. “He’s big, he’s fast, he makes a lot of plays against good competition. He just needs to get healthy. There’s just too much of an upside sitting at 37 to not take a chance on him even though it wasn’t really a position of need or thought going in.
“That was a decision we thought last night we could add depth on the defensive side of the ball later in the draft with a bunch of guys we really liked to fill that role. We didn’t feel we needed to reach at (number) 37 or 39 for some defensive depth we thought we could get later. We went with the best football player and said O’Leary-Orange’s upside is pretty darn high if we get him healthy.”
AN HEIR APPARENT?
Justin Medlock shows no signs whatsoever of a decline, but the Bombers added an impressive kicking prospect with their third pick in the draft in Marc Liegghio of Western.
“He’s one of the best kickers we’ve seen from the draft in a while,” said Walters. “He’s good. I mean, he’s good enough to be kicking in the CFL. Obviously we’re happy with Justin, but this young man can come in and learn from Justin. It’s always good to have depth and contingency plans across the board.”
DEFENSIVE DEPTH/SPECIAL TEAMS FOOT SOLDIERS
The Bombers found some gold at the bottom of their 2019 draft class by selecting Nick Hallett and Kerfalla Exumé in the seventh and eight rounds. Losing defensive end Jonathan Kongbo to the NFL, seeing safety Derek Jones move to B.C. and then moving on from Hecht, Dexter Janke and Dondre Wright – all of whom started or suited up for games last year – left some holes to fill on defence.
The draft brain trust addressed those needs with their next three draft choices – Dheilly, Rodger and Cadwallader – and a very keen eye locked in on their special-teams contributions in college.
“He’s a long, athletic defensive lineman who started out at Regina and won CanWest Rookie of the Year,” said Walters. “He broke the season sack record and got bigger and stronger and finished off at Saskatchewan. He’s a 100-miles-an-hour guy all the time. He runs around and he smashes things. He comes off the edge with some twitchy-ness and some quickness. His special-teams film from Regina was pretty solid, so we think he can help out there.”
“We spent a lot, a lot, a lot of time watching special-teams film of guys this year, thinking that in the latter rounds these would be the group of guys we really wanted. It was more an evaluation on special-teams film, more so than their defensive film.
“Kyle Rodger was a very good football player at Ottawa U. What really sold us on him was his best special-teams film that we watched in regards to making plays, in regards to effort, in regards to hustle… he long snaps. He’s a Winnipeg Blue Bombers kinda guy. Jack of all trades. A little under-sized at 5-11, 210, but he’s just one of those guys who figures out a way to get it done and goes 100 miles an hour all the time.
“He was really good on special teams and showed a real toughness, physicalness on film. A thumper. A real hard-nosed, tough kid. He was at the regional combine and we didn’t know too much about him, but his testing numbers were really good. He’s 200 pounds, running a 4.6, very strong… and you combine his physical attributes from a testing standpoint with what we watched on film… as I said, this kid’s a thumper. He’s a striker, he’s a hitter. Positionally, we’re not sure where he fits in, but we’re quite sure he can run around on special teams and can help us out, which is important to us.”
A WORD ON THE REST
DB Bleska Kambamba:
“At that point he was just too good a football player at our gradings to not bring to camp. And, again, it was addressing our depth on the defensive side of the ball.”
Receiver Macho Bockru:
“We loved his film, the coaches loved him. It wasn’t a real priority once we drafted O’Leary-Orange, but after the draft we thought he was a really good football player to add.”
DT Zach Houghron:
“That was a need. He played defensive end at Laurier this past season at 250 pounds. He showed up at the regional and had put the weight back on to play defensive tackle at abut 275 and still showed some interesting athleticism and twitchy-ness at that weight. We went back and watched the East-West Bowl from last year where he lined up as the inside guy and he was really good. I think what hurt him was playing his draft year, in my opinion, out of position as an end at 250 pounds. Accept you’re an inside guy and play at 275 is something I think he’s wrapped his head around. He’s an interesting one that will really provide some needed depth on the inside of the line.”