March 24, 2024

“There’s a good, deep group of football players”

The Canadian Football League Combine ended with backslaps, hugs, and handshakes, followed by group photos and hasty farewells.

And now the heavy lifting really cranks up further for the nine teams – including the Winnipeg Blue Bombers – as they finalize their final rankings leading up to the CFL National and Global Drafts on April 30th.

“A lot of talent,” said Blue Bombers GM Kyle Walters as the Combine wrapped up Sunday morning with a final practice session at Winnipeg Soccer Federation North. “The testing was run very efficiently. The venues are great. The Fort Garry (Hotel) – I haven’t been there for so many years, but you forget how beautiful and historic it is. And then a quick trip up here and this facility is unbelievable.

“So, from an event standpoint, everything was run smoothly, and everyone was having a good time from everyone I’ve talked to with how everything has been run.”

Every team’s draft board will differ based on needs and their own evaluations, plus the fact many of the top Canadian prospects skipped this week’s event as they are on the National Football League’s radar and/or are attending their own pro days at their own universities down south. In fact, 13 players from the latest CFL Scouting Bureau’s Top 20 weren’t in Winnipeg , including OL Isaiah Adams (ranked #1), OL Theo Benedet (#2), TE Theo Johnson (#3), TE Tanner McLachlan (#4), OL Kyle Hergel (#5), OL Gabe Wallace (#6), LB Geoffrey Cantin-Arku (#7), OL Anim Dankwah (#8), OL Giovanni Manu (#9), LB Melique Straker (#10), WR Nick Mardner (#11), OL Daniel Johnson (#12) and DL Kail Dava (#19).

Even without those prospects present, those in attendance did confirm the consensus the 2024 CFL Draft is stacked with talent.

“There’s a good, deep group of football players,” said Walters. “Then you add the 10-12 or so that are focusing on their pro days and are not here and depending on NFL interest on those guys… if even half of them (don’t end up in the NFL) that’s a half dozen high-quality football players. That makes it a strong draft.

“The high-end guys, you have to wait to see if they’re high NFL draft picks or (signed as) priority NFL free agents or invites (to NFL training camps). Once you get to that standard, we’ve seen their film, we’ll see their pro-day numbers. With that group of 10-12, if a couple of them get drafted our rule of thumb that we talked about here is we’re probably not going to see you for a while. If you’re a priority free agent, we’re probably not going to see you for a while. If you’re a free agent signing (not priority), then there’s a high likelihood we’re going to see you so then it’s a matter of strategically planning out the guys who are 100 percent going to be in camp or ‘when are we going to see this player in camp?’ That’s the decision.”

The Blue Bombers have 10 selections in the 2024 CFL Draft, including three in the Top 20 at #8, #17 and #20. The depth of the OL talent available likely means one of those picks goes to the trenches, and the age of some of their current Canadians might suggest the club is also looking at receiver, linebacker, and long-snapper, plus there is a vacancy at fullback.

“The way my brain works, I look in chunks or blocks depending on where our picks are, So, let’s look at 20 – can we come up with 20 names? – and I focused on that for this exercise,” Walters explained. “If the draft was held today, who are the 20 guys here? There’s 20 names – we’re going to get three good football players. Then you throw the 7-8-9 additional names that aren’t here and we’re confident we’re going to get three pretty good football players in the Top 20.”

The O-line group is considerably deep but is impacted by the seven players in the Top 20 who were not in attendance.

“That’s the interesting group because off the top of my head I think there might be seven high end O-linemen who are not here,” Walters said. “So that can make or break things. How much NFL interest for the guys that are not here get determines whether it is a real, real strong group. Of that seven, if five of them become available then you’re talking about one of the best O-line groups that I recall ever. If all seven get drafted or signed (in the NFL) then it becomes a little thinner.  So, we’ll take a wait and see approach.”


The CFL Combine is essentially a five-day long job interview that includes testing, drills, interviews and three days of on-field positional work and offence vs. defence situations. That was clearly a bit overwhelming for some, as a surprising number of prospects pulled up with some sort of injury and did not participate in the weekend’s sessions.

Those that did grind it out clearly raised their stock. The testing numbers can be found here and here are five players that stood out from this perch, in no particular order:

  • Benjamin Labrosse, DB, McGill: Crushed his testing and capped it off with a strong on-field showing.
  • Kevin Mital, Rec, Laval: The 2022 Hec Crighton winner looks pro ready right now. Lots of athleticism from a 6-0, 229-pound pass catcher.
  • Nathaniel Dumoulin-Duguay, OL, Laval: Second-team U Sports All-Canadian at tackle but will most likely be a guard in CFL.
  • Daniel Okpoko, DL, San Diego State: Showed some flashes in one-on-one drills. Good size at 6-4, 274.
  • Joel Dublanko, LB, Cincinnati: Unique prospect some have likened to the CFL’s next Alex Singleton as a player who recently qualified for Canadian citizenship as his father was born in New Westminster. Dublanko was not selected in the 2022 NFL Draft, signing with the New Orleans Saints as an undrafted free agent before a look from the Seattle Seahawks and then playing in the USFL.

For a deeper dive into who stood out in Winnipeg, here are the’s Coaches’ picks for the last few days.