- FREE AGENCY
The Winnipeg Blue Bombers have added a whole lot of mean and nasty, a healthy dose of athleticism and a hometown hero at the top of their 2019 Canadian Football League draft class.
The Bombers used their two first-round draft picks, fourth and fifth overall, to add depth in the trenches by first selecting University of Windsor guard Drew Desjarlais and then defensive lineman Jonathan Kongbo of the University of Tennessee.
The club then had another player they coveted still available when they selected 14th overall, and grabbed Winnipegger and Oak Park High School product Brady Oliveira – who starred at the University of North Dakota – to provide more depth behind Andrew Harris at the running back position.
In Desjarlais the Bombers get a prospect cut from the same cloth as Sukh Chungh, who brought an edge to the O-line from the first moment he stepped on the field as a rookie starter in 2015 through to last year before his departure in free agency to his hometown B.C. Lions.
“The first time I talked to the Bombers was when they were my first interview at the combine (in March) and I thought it went really well,” said Desjarlais Thursday night from New York, where he is about to participate in the Giants rookie camp. “So, I definitely had some good feelings right there.
“They put some film up on the screen, we talked a little bit and they showed me a couple pancakes (blocks) of my own on the TV, so it was a fun interview.”
Desjarlais, who also has a rookie camp invitation from the Pittsburgh Steelers for next week, will have an opportunity to push for work right away as the club looks to replace Chungh and centre Matthias Goossen, who retired to join the police force in Delta, B.C. Desjarlais said he had been watching how CFL free agency unfolded this winter and understood the Bombers had some holes to fill up front.
“First off, I’m a competitor,” said Desjarlais. “Every rep is a win or a loss in my eyes. To lose one rep seems like a drastic thing for me, so I like to say I’m competitive snap to snap.”
Told the Bombers O-line had a reputation of being nasty over the last few years, Desjarlais added: “That makes me happy, for sure. I couldn’t picture any better landing spot than an O-line with the reputation of being nasty. I’d say that’s my exact style of play.”
The Bombers landed a very-intriguing prospect in Kongbo with the fifth-overall selection. There was an NFL buzz about the Tennessee linebacker/end last year before he suffered a season-ending knee injury in a game against Auburn last October.
Doctors have told him he should be 100 per cent by mid-June/early July, and his selection gives the team a spectacular athlete who gives them that much more roster flexibility.
The Bombers touched base with Kongbo just a few days ago to check in about his goals, knowing there had been NFL interest.
“They asked me what my aspirations were and I just told them straight up, ‘I just want to play ball. I don’t care where it’s at, wherever the opportunity presents itself,’” said Kongbo. “Obviously, getting hurt, tearing your ACL puts you on the sideline for a while. Just the opportunity is all I was looking for.
“For me, I felt like the game was taken away from me (because of the injury). So, just to have an organization that is confident enough to select me in the first round and believes in what I do and the skillsets that I have… it’s a great feeling. I’m ecstatic, I’m happy and I’m just ready to get to work.”
The Oliveira selection for the Bombers, meanwhile, is about much more than just about dipping into the backyard for some local flavour. He rushed for 2,822 yards during his days at UND, good for seventh place on the school’s all-time rushing list and was a member of the All-Big Sky Conference team in 2016 and 2017.
Winnipeg had nine selections in total in the 2019 draft, also selecting:
Of that remaining crew, the pick of Eli might be the most intriguing. Eli, a centre, started at centre for the Rainbow Warriors in 2016 and 2017 before suffering a knee injury last year. TSN draft guru Duane Forde referred to him during Thursday’s telecast as the ‘ultimate sleeper’ and that would have been the No. 1 player in the draft if not for the uncertainty of his status.