Walters, Bombers preparing diligently for 2020 CFL Draft
WINNIPEG — The 2020 CFL Draft is under two weeks away, and despite the circumstances going on around the world, CFL front offices are still preparing as they usually would for one of the biggest dates on the off-season calendar.
That rings true for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and general manager Kyle Walters. He’s no stranger to the draft process, and while the scouting process has been different, the team is ready for draft day.
“It’s not going to feel that much different from our normal draft, which was all done via conference call,” Walters said. “The only difference this year is, instead of our group being in the room at the stadium, we’ll just be on a separate zoom call on our computers and the call-in will still be the same for the pick. So it will feel very, very similar to years past as far as the draft goes.”
The Bombers had a pair of first-round picks in the 2019 CFL Draft. They selected offensive Drew Desjarlais and Jonathan Kongbo fourth and fifth overall, respectively. This year, however, they come into the draft without a first-rounder.
With Matt Nichols going down for the remainder of the season following their Week 10 game against BC, the Bombers were in need of some depth at the quarterback position for their impending playoff push.
Walters swung a deal with the Toronto Argonauts which saw Winnipeg send a third-round pick and a conditional first-rounder to the Double Blue in exchange for Zach Collaros and a fifth-rounder. The Argos would receive the first-rounder from the Bombers if Collaros re-signed with them in the off-season.
The impact of Collaros can’t be denied. The veteran signal-caller returned from injury in Week 20 to help the Bombers beat the Calgary Stampeders in their final game of the 2019 campaign. After starting the Western Semi-Final, offensive coordinator Paul LaPolice made a change in scheme, using Collaros as the primary passer while utilizing 24-year-old Chris Streveler as a battering ram alongside Andrew Harris to give the Blue and Gold a dual-pronged attack.
Winnipeg cruised with that gameplan, beating the Stamps at McMahon Stadium before moving on to topple the rival Roughriders in the West Final. The team returned back to Calgary for the 107th Grey Cup presented by Shaw and had a dominant day on both sides of the ball to snap their 29-year-long championship drought.
With the championship won, the Bombers had to make a decision as to who their signal-caller of the future would be. Streveler headed to Arizona to pursue an NFL opportunity. They opted to stick with the man that helped them bring home the title, inking Collaros to a new deal and thus giving Toronto their first-rounder.
Obviously, the Bombers would ideally love to have their first-round selection, however, you have to give solid assets to acquire top talent, especially at the quarterback position.
“When we made that deal, the thought was if we ended up resigning Zach, it was probably because we had a little playoff run and of course we had the draft next year,” Walters said, looking back on the move. “We’ve won the Grey Cup, and I think unanimously, we’ll say it was a good decision; It still feels like a good decision regardless of what’s going on now.”
The Bombers’ first pick of the draft will come in the second round, 18th overall. Walters said that the team doesn’t have any plans of trading back into the first round, as they don’t want to move any more future assets at the moment.
Winnipeg will have to wait around and see who’s on the board with their pick. Luckily for them, there should be some help on either side of the ball. There’s likely to be a run of offensive lineman, with several talented names at the top of the board.
Walters didn’t show his hand as to which way the Bombers were leaning with their first-rounder, simply saying to look at their roster in order to see what the Bombers’ most glaring need is. While he did add that they will select the player that they deem to be the best on the board with No. 18, they could use some added depth on the defensive line.
It has been an up-and-down off-season when it comes to the trenches for the Blue and Gold. They were able to keep the hottest free agent on the market — reigning Most Outstanding Defensive Player Willie Jefferson — in house while also adding Tobi Antigha, who has shown promise as a pass-rusher so far in his CFL career. However, Kongbo also departed for an NFL shot while Craig Roh and Drake Nevis were both picked up by the Argos on the opening day of free agency.
That leaves Jefferson, Jackson Jeffcoat, Steven Richardson, Jake Thomas, Thadric Hansen and Antigha. While that’s definitely a solid base, there could be a promising pass-rusher that slips to them at this pick.
“What we’ll do is we’ll come up with the best 18 players and then we know we’ll get one of those,” Walters said. “Then we kind of have discussions about that first group of 18 that has every one of these players on the board, which one do we take and why. That’s kind of the next step for our discussion.”
“Between Ted (Goveia) and I, we’ve divided and conquered,” Walters said of the scouting process. “We’ve spoken to pretty much every kid in our top 100. So it was as much of an information gathering component to make sure you get the accurate information in regards to injury history and academic situations and just the things you need. And then you pick their brain about their training process and their testing results or goals that they were going to get into as much as anything.
“You just want to gather the quality of character and passion for the game, so it’s much more difficult on the phone than it would be in person. But we put a lot of time and energy into speaking to these guys and now we’ll have our medical team follow up and review the files of the guys that we’ve targeted. It’s the last piece before we put our final rankings together.”
They’ve got 13 days to put their final review together and decide who they want donning the Blue and Gold in 2020 and beyond, and with the talented group that’s set to be drafted into the league this year, the Bombers will undoubtedly be excited with some of the names they’re able to land come Apr. 30.