Having the first overall is a predicament of privilege. Any time you ask CFL general manager about the ability to inherit the stress that comes with standing atop the draft board they’ll likely smile in a way that says, “bring it on.”
The truth is that evaluators – just like coaches and players – live for the challenge of making the right call in a high pressure situation. Kyle Walters has that same fire and after a power move with Toronto last season, Walters now stares down the barrel of the first overall pick in a 2017 draft which has no clear-cut top pick.
So what should the Bombers do at first overall?
If history is any method of prediction the Blue and Gold will select a hulking lineman of the offensive or defensive variety to anchor the trenches for – they hope – years to come. Seventeen top picks since 1994 have been lineman.
Eleven of them selected to protect quarterbacks (1994 – St. Germain, 1995 – Nutten, 1997 – Folk, 2002 – Gauthier, 2003 – Morley, 2004 – Smith, 2009 – Rottier, 2012 – Heenan, 2014 – Lavertu, 2015 – Mateas, 2016 – St. John) and six to chase the CFL’s high value pocket passers (1998 – Fleiszer, 1999 – Meier, 2001 – Schultz, 2005 – Robede, 2006 – Braidwood, 2013 – Gaydosh).
Will the Bombers take Manitoba Bison’s Geoff Gray? (Jeff Miller/Bison Sports)
I believe that trend continues this year as the best offensive skill position player available is McMaster’s Danny Vandervoort who likely falls to a team in more dire need of filling that void. I still believe Winnipeg takes a receiver with their 15th or 23rd overall selections, but reaching at first overall would be a mistake.
Prospects realistically worthy of first pick consideration include CFL Scouting Bureau top-ranked overall player Justin Senior of Mississippi State, Manitoba Bison’s Geoff Gray, Idaho Vandals’ Mason Woods and Bethune-Cookman alum Dariusz Bladek.
Senior hasn’t screamed first overall pick, Woods struggled at times in the national combine one-on-ones which likely muddied the Bombers waters, Bladek came from off the radar after ‘discovering’ national status and Gray represents the top end of USPORTS talent for offensive line play.
On the defensive line, Eli Ankou of UCLA leads the way after finishing as the second ranked prospect by the Scouting Bureau. Ankou is a very realistically possibility at the top spot but he is less likely to be seen in a CFL uniform sooner than Iowa Hawkeyes defensive lineman Faith Ekakitie which might mean Faith becomes a more favourable top pick.
I believe the Bombers take one lineman for each side of the ball with their two first round picks. Any lineman taken in the first round will innately have NFL interest making it a risky proposition. To me there is only one player worth the risk at first overall.
Manitoba Bison’s Geoff Gray.
Gray is a local with knowledge of the Canadian game. With a power lifting background, Gray is built like a brick but carries the weight well moving at an elite level and posting what would have been the best broad jump for an offensive lineman ever in a CFL combine had he attended.
Kyle Walters and co. will have a decision to make come May 7th on who they want to take first overall (Johany Jutras/CFL.ca)
Draft Gray, hope he comes to you sooner rather than later and solidify your guard positions with the ability to flex him to tackle when required by depth issues.
There is no perfect answer to the question of what Winnipeg will do at first overall which is what makes the debate fun, especially with so many different types of players being of a high enough caliber to warrant interest.
While the first overall debate is fun the true depth of a roster is built in the later rounds.
Kyle Walters and the Bombers have done a good job of that in the last three years adding names such as Jesse Briggs (17th – 2014), Derek Jones (29th – 2014), Addison Richards (11th – 2015), Brendan Morgan (15th – 2015), Chris Normand (33rd – 2015), Justin Warden (46th – 2015), Garrett Waggoner (supplemental – 2016), Trent Corney (ninth – 2016), Michael Couture (10th – 2016), Taylor Loffler (19th – 2016) Shayne Gauthier (28th – 2016), Zach Intzandt (36th – 2016) and Rupert Butcher (46th – 2016).
Perhaps the most interesting and underwritten storyline of the Bombers 2017 draft is not their first overall pick but the absence of an available selection from their 23rd overall selection all the way to the 50th pick due to a variety of quarterback transactions.
The Bombers moved a seventh round conditional pick to Edmonton which became a fifth round selection and traded a fourth round pick to Montreal for Kevin Glenn – which would be flipped to Saskatchewan for Darian Durant – resulting in a void of blue and gold picks in the meat of the draft.
At face value the Blue Bombers draft will be celebrated or criticized based on the success or failure of the top overall pick, but the back end of this draft could play a major role in Winnipeg’s success moving forward.