Bombers see Tuesday’s CFL draft as chance to restore offensive line depth

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If you look back at the last few years of the CFL draft and then look at the current Winnipeg Blue Bombers roster, you might start thinking that the team has done a lot of swinging and missing in the first round.

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Going back to 2017, only one of the five first-round draft picks taken by the Bombers is still with the team. That would be offensive lineman Geoff Gray, who was the eighth overall pick in 2017.

The Bombers didn’t have a first-round pick in 2018, nor in 2020, and the two players they snagged in 2019 — offensive lineman Drew Desjarlais and defensive end Jonathan Kongbo — were so good that both of them are now on NFL rosters.

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Then there’s last year’s third-overall pick, offensive lineman Liam Dobson, who was also drafted into the USFL and signed with the New Orleans Breakers.

What we’re saying here is the CFL draft can be a crapshoot, particularly when it comes to the first round.

And this year, that’s a positive for the two-time defending Grey Cup champion Bombers, since they don’t pick until the No. 9 spot in Tuesday’s CFL draft.

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“We’re looking for good football players,” Bombers general manager Kyle Walters said.

“We’re looking for quality young men that are good football players. There’s a lot of them in the draft and we’ll grab a bunch.”

The Bombers have performed extremely well in the draft in recent years and have been the CFL team with arguably the best Canadian talent.

They can hardly be faulted for drafting players who are too good, like Desjarlais and Kongbo.

Yes, they whiffed on defensive tackle Faith Ekakitie when they had the first-overall pick in 2017, but Gray, taken in the same round, has been a useful player who has a good chance of starting in 2022, and Desjarlais and Kongbo both contributed to Grey Cup wins in each of their two seasons in Winnipeg.

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Among the non-first rounders who have made marks with the Bombers are running back Brady Oliveira, safeties Nick and Noah Hallett, kicker Marc Liegghio and linebacker Tanner Cadwallader.

Also coming to training camp this year are draft picks Ben Koczwara (OL), Robbie Lowes (LB), Kyle Borsa (RB), Brendan O’Leary-Orange (WR) and Redha Kramdi (DB). Some of the draft picks who performed well before moving on include Tui Eli (OL), Daniel Petermann (WR) and Kerfalla Exume (DB).

Even though the Bombers have used a lot of draft picks in the past to grab offensive linemen, it looks like they’ll have to do it again.

With Desjarlais signing with the New England Patriots, there’s a hole to fill at left guard and the team has chosen not to re-sign Eli, who was a capable backup the last few seasons. There was hope that Dobson would fill the role, but he’s tied to his USFL contract for 2022 and there’s a team option for 2023.

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So right now, it looks like it will be Gray, Chris Kolankowski and Koczwara competing for the job.

“We are a little thin compared to where we have been with our Canadians with the offensive line in particular,” Walters said.

“Since we’ve been doing this, our trend has been draft offensive line, develop offensive line, create some depth at offensive line. And yeah, losing some depth is certainly an area that we’ll look to address.”

Though it’s not considered an exceptional year in terms of offensive line talent, there are plenty of names in the top-20 rankings that the Bombers could target, including University of Saskatchewan’s Noah Kerr, Alberta’s Radeem Brown, Western’s Zack Fry and Alberta’s Peter Kozushka.

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The Bombers will have the last pick of every round in the draft (eight rounds), except for the third. They traded that pick to the B.C. Lions to acquire Grey Cup hero kicker Sergio Castillo, who has signed with the Edmonton Elks.

It will be interesting to see how CFL teams approach this draft. In 2021, it was known that many of the top prospects were going back to school and teams made a lot of “futures” picks.

That was the case with the Bombers and Dobson, an Ottawa product who transferred from Maine to Texas State in 2021, before signing with the USFL.

Once again, many of the highest-ranked prospects this year are from American colleges and may be more difficult to get into CFL uniforms.

Jesse Luketa, a linebacker from Penn State who is ranked second by the CFL scouting bureau, was selected by the Arizona Cardinals in the seventh round of the NFL Draft last weekend, while several other top prospects earned mini-camp invitations.

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However, Walters doesn’t believe this draft has as many question marks as last year.

“That was a little bit different last year where there was so many of the ‘future’ picks, for lack of a better term, and the NCAA players all having the option to go back to school,” Walters said. “It was a bit of a mystery, to be honest, as the players had a full year to figure out what they were playing for. There’s a little less of that this year, with the way it feels right now with understanding which players will be available in training camp.

“That was just sort of a one-off, back to the old days, where you’re drafting players that are going back to school and keeping your fingers crossed that it will work out your way long term and with Liam (Dobson) it didn’t. That’s part of the business. I don’t anticipate it being like that this year.”

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The Bombers remain strong in terms of Canadian content at running back, with Oliveira, Johnny Augustine and Borsa, receiver (Nic Demski, Drew Wolitarsky, O’Leary-Orange), offensive line (Michael Couture, Pat Neufeld, Gray, Kolankowski), defensive line (Jake Thomas) and special teams (Mike Miller, Nick and Noah Hallett, Cadwallader, Shayne Gauthier, Kramdi).

Of course, there’s always room for more competition in training camp.

The Edmonton Elks will pick first in the draft, which begins at 7 p.m. CT, with the first two rounds being broadcast on TSN.

Earlier in the day, starting at 11 CT, the CFL will hold its annual global draft.


Tuesday, May 3, 7 p.m., CT


Edmonton, Ottawa, B.C., Montreal, Calgary, Toronto, Saskatchewan, Hamilton, Winnipeg.


First round (9th overall), second round (18th), fourth round (38th), fifth round (47th), sixth round (56th), seventh round (65th), eighth round (74th).

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