takes part in the 2022 CFL Combine at the Westin Harbour Castle on March 25, 2022 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Thomas Skrlj/CFL.ca)
There was absolutely zero trace of panic in their voices nor, for that matter, any hint of concern on their faces.
Kyle Walters and Mike O’Shea – GM and head coach of the back-to-back Grey Cup champion Winnipeg Blue Bombers – find themselves in a somewhat different, but not entirely unfamiliar position as the Canadian Football League Draft approaches Tuesday.
The champs have seen their herd of homegrown talent thinned out over the winter with the departures of Andrew Harris (Toronto Argonauts), Drew Desjarlais (New England Patriots), Jonathan Kongbo (Denver Broncos), and with last year’s first-round pick – offensive lineman Liam Dobson – having signed in the USFL but then not suiting up because he couldn’t land a work visa. Dobson now has NFL mini-camp invitations from Chicago and New Orleans.
Couple those exits with the fact Tui Eli, last year’s sixth offensive lineman who was suspended for the Grey Cup because he was unvaccinated, remains an unsigned free agent and the Canadian content isn’t as deep as has often been the case over the past few springs.
All that said, the is cupboard is hardly barren with 20 returning Canadians. And with seven picks in this draft there is opportunity to find future starters and role players – something this regime has done so effectively since first slipping behind the wheel of this franchise in 2014.
“We are a little thin compared to where we have been with our Canadians with the offensive line in particular,” said Walters in a media conference call. “Certainly, we’re not at the stage where we have to draft a Sukh (Chungh, 2ndoverall in 2015) or Matthias (Goossen, 2nd overall in 2014) and basically say ‘Boy, we need someone to step in and start.’
“We’ve got a little more flexibility with the ratio and a big part of it is our defensive staff is so creative with the way they handle their personnel and all their substitutions, that as long as we give Richie (Hall, defensive coordinator) and JY (Jordan Younger, defensive backs coach) the rest of the tools, they’ll figure out the ratio to figure out the best guys on the field regardless of nationality.
“That has helped the draft approach, having a defensive staff like that is so great with the personnel they use to not have to be pigeonholed into o-line, after o-line, after o-line.”
Even as collective bargaining discussions continue and the reducing the Canadian player ratio is a looming and contentious issue, homegrown talent remains the core of the club’s championship roster with CFL All-Star guard Patrick Neufeld joined by West Division All-Stars Nic Demski and Mike Miller. Further to that, five of the seven Canadian starters from the Grey Cup – Neufeld, Demski, centre Michael Couture, wide receiver Drew Wolitarsky and defensive tackle Jake Thomas – are back, following the departures of Harris and Desjarlais.
Of this explains why every team and especially the crew here of Walters, O’Shea and Assistant GM/Director of Player Personnel Ted Goveia, spend thousands of hours prepping for the event.
“It’s a good draft,” said Walters. “There’s some good, young Canadian talent in the draft and we are confident we’re going to get some players and add depth. We’re confident we’re going to add players that become starters in this league.”
What follows below is our annual CFL Draft primer, which touches on a few issues as the Bombers finish up final preparations for Tuesday.
CFL DRAFT DAY
What: The CFL’s 2022 Global and CFL Drafts
When: Tuesday, May 3rd
The Global Draft begins at 11 a.m. and is then followed by the main CFL Draft at 7 p.m.
How to watch: The Global draft is not televised. The first two rounds of the CFL draft can be seen on TSN and RDS. Rounds 3-8 can be seen live on tsn.ca and the TSN app. The picks can also be followed here.
THE BOMBERS’ CFL DRAFT PICKS:
ROUND 1: 9th overall
ROUND 2: 18th overall
ROUND 3: No selection – traded to B.C. Lions last October for K Sergio Castillo
ROUND 4: 38th overall
ROUND 5: 47th overall
ROUND 6: 56th overall
ROUND 7: 65th overall
ROUND 8: 74th overall
THE BOMBERS’ GLOBAL DRAFT PICKS:
ROUND 1: 6th overall
ROUND 2: 13th overall
ROUND 3: 24th overall
FAQ ABOUT THE BOMBERS IN THE DRAFT
What are the club’s areas of need, Canadian-wise?
The trenches took some hits with Desjarlais and Kongbo now in the NFL, with Eli’s status uncertain as an unvaccinated player and Liam Dobson initially committing to the USFL. Interestingly, Dobson never suited up for a game for his New Orleans Breakers because he couldn’t land a work visa and is now planning to attend NFL mini-camps with the Bears and Saints. But the change in his status puts him back on the Blue Bombers radar screen, especially if he doesn’t get a main NFL camp invite after his mini-camp sessions.
Dating back to 2014 and the first draft for this current regime the Blue Bombers have had seven first-round picks, of which five were used on offensive linemen and two on defensive lineman. It only stands to reason the club looks at this area again.
We asked O’Shea last week about the possibility of the club starting a Canadian at safety to open the 2022 season with all-star Brandon Alexander recovering from knee surgery and he confirmed that is a possibility. The options there before the draft include Nick Hallett, Noah Hallett (who missed the playoffs with a knee injury), possibly Redha Kramdi or Malcolm Thompson, signed as a free agent this winter. Patrice Rene, a 2021 draft pick, would likely also be in this conversation, but he is currently not signed.
Have Kyle Walters & Co. displayed any trends in their previous draft classes?
We’ve hinted at this above, but this regime tends to stock the trenches with early picks. Consider that of the 17 first and second-round selections by this bunch dating back to 2014 – seven first rounders, 10 second rounders – seven were used on O-linemen and three on D-linemen. The other picks included three defensive backs, two receivers, one linebacker and one running back.
And don’t write off the chances of later-round picks making the roster and contributing. Consider this: Jake Thomas, Shayne Gauthier, Nick Hallett, Brendan O’Leary-Orange, Marc Liegghio and Robbie Lowes all saw action last year and all were picks outside the first three rounds.
BOMBER DRAFT PICKS CURRENTLY ON THE ROSTER
- DT Jake Thomas* (Round 4, 29th overall, 2012)
- LB Jesse Briggs (Round 2, 17th overall, 2014)
- OL Michael Couture* (Round 2, 10th overall, 2016)
- LB Shayne Gauthier (Round 4, 28th overall, 2016)
- OL Geoff Gray (Round 1, 8th overall, 2017)
- WR Drew Wolitarsky* (Supplemental Draft, 2017)
- OL Ben Koczwara (Round 8, 67th overall, 2018)
- RB Brady Oliveira (Round 2, 14th overall, 2019)
- DB Nick Hallett (Round 7, 61st overall, 2019)
- DB Noah Hallett (Round 2, 18th overall, 2020)
- WR Brendan O’Leary-Orange (Round 4, 37th overall, 2020)
- K Marc Liegghio (Round 5, 39th overall, 2020)
- LB Tanner Cadwallader (Round 7, 64th overall, 2020)
- DB Redha Kramdi (Round 2, 16th overall, 2021)
- LB Robbie Lowes (Round 4, 34th overall, 2021)
- RB Kyle Borsa (Round 5, 39th overall, 2021)
OTHER CANADIANS CURRENTLY ON THE ROSTER
OL Patrick Neufeld* – Round 5, 33rd overall, by Saskatchewan in 2010; traded two Winnipeg in 2013 for DE Alex Hall and a second-round pick in the 2014 draft. CFL All-Star last season.
SB Nic Demski* – Round 1, 6th overall, by Saskatchewan in 2015; signed with Winnipeg as a free agent in 2018. The Bombers Most Outstanding Canadian and a West Division All-Star in 2021.
FB Mike Miller – First signed as an undrafted free agent by Edmonton in 2011; signed as a free agent with Winnipeg in 2017 and was the team’s top Canadian in 2019 and the top special-teams player in 2019 and 2021.
RB Johnny Augustine – First signed as an undrafted free agent by Edmonton in 2017; signed with Winnipeg as a free agent in 2018 and has 39 regular-season games now to his name.
LS Mike Benson – Free agent addition and veteran long snapper signed as a free agent in 2021. First signed by Edmonton as an undrafted free agent in 2012 and now has played in 103 career games with Edmonton, B.C., Ottawa and Winnipeg.
OL Chris Kolankowski – Round 6, 49th overall, by Toronto in 2016; Dressed for two regular-season games and in the Grey Cup last season. Now has two Grey Cup rings – including from the 2017 Argos.
LB Eric Mezzalira – Round 2, 17th overall, by Calgary in 2018. Appeared in 22 CFL games, all with the Stamps, and was on Toronto’s practice roster last year.
DB Malcolm Thompson – First signed by Calgary in 2019 and dressed for two games last year with Hamilton. A three-time OUA All-Star at Wilfrid Laurier.
LB Anthony Valvano – Signed by the Bombers in March after finishing his college career with the Vanier Cup champion Western Mustangs. Valvano was part of two championship teams at Western as a fullback and special-teams contributor.
CFL SCOUTING BUREAU’S FINAL DRAFT RANKINGS
- John Metchie III, WR, Alabama (Brampton, ON)
- Jesse Luketa, LB, Penn State (Ottawa, ON)
- Tyrell Richards, LB, Syracuse (Brampton, ON)
- Tre Ford, QB, Waterloo (Niagara Falls, ON)
- Jalen Philpot, WR, Calgary (Delta, BC)
- Tyson Philpot, WR, Calgary (Delta, BC)
- Deionte Knight, DL, Western (Ajax, ON)
- Enock Makonzo, DB, Coastal Carolina (Lachine, PQ)
- Tyrell Ford, DB, Waterloo (Niagara Falls, ON)
- Noah Zerr, OL, Saskatchewan (Langenburg, SK)
- Samuel Emilus, WR, Louisiana Tech (Montreal, PQ)
- Daniel Adeboboye, RB, Bryant (Toronto, ON)
- Rodeem Brown, OL, Alberta (Halifax, NS)
- Zack Fry, OL, Western (London, ON)
- Zack Pelehos, OL, Ottawa (Gananoque, ON)
- Peter Kozuskha, OL, Alberta (Yorkton, SK)
- Anthony Federico, DL, Queen’s (Niagara Falls, ON)
- Cyrille Hogan-Saindon, OL, Laval (Quebec City, PQ)
- Gregor MacKellar, OL, St. Francis-Xavier (Timberlea, NS)
- Nathan Cherry, DL, Saskatchewan (Saskatoon, SK)