The Bombers announced their final roster moves on Saturday and with those in mind, here’s how I see the Bombers’ depth chart heading into the regular season:
The big surprise coming out of training camp is how the Bombers will tackle the ratio in 2017. Winnipeg drafted Faith Ekakitie with the first overall pick in last month’s draft because they were expecting to start a national player at nose tackle. Following the emergence of Cory ‘Poop’ Johnson — and a disappointing showing from the club’s rookie international linebackers — the club will look to start Canadian Sam Hurl at middle linebacker.
Hurl was the subject of criticism when he was the club’s starting middle linebacker two seasons ago. Recording 52 tackles, five sacks, and two interceptions that season, Hurl was often cited by fans as the primary reason the Bombers gave up too many yards on the ground. His performance in the club’s most recent preseason game did little to rebut this claim — in a half of work, Hurl recorded just two tackles while the Eskimos’ back-up running backs went off for 92 yards along the ground.
Still, the Bombers appear to have a very solid roster heading into the 2017 season. The quarterback trio of Matt Nichols, Dominique Davis, and Dan LeFevour is the best the club has had in well over a decade, while the team’s offensive line may be the best in the CFL. Seeing Kenny Stafford get released was a surprise (more on that here), but the emergence of Ryan Lankford and T.J. Thorpe made the expensive veteran expendable.
Brandon Alexander, the rookie out of UCF, should be an upgrade at field-side cornerback, while Roc Carmichael could push for work at field-side halfback behind Bruce Johnson when Maurice Leggett returns to full health. The biggest help for the club’s secondary would be an improved pass rush — something the club should get with the additions of Drake Nevis and Tristan Okpalaugo. Keep an eye on newcomer Jackson Jeffcoat — he’ll be a solid rotational piece.
The Bombers have enough Canadian depth to avoid changing the ratio unless they suffer an injury at running back to Andrew Harris. Should Harris go down long-term, expect Jake Thomas to start at nose tackle or Patrick Neufeld to become the starter at right tackle.
Putting Qadr Spooner on the practice roster is a risk for Kyle Walters. Teams can offer active roster spots to players on other team’s practice squads, meaning Spooner could theoretically bolt for another team that’s hungry for offensive linemen. The Lions got burned last year adding Dillon Guy and Ese Mrabure-Ajufo to the practice roster, both of whom signed with the Riders … Calgary put 2017 second round pick Julan Lynch on their practice roster as part of the club’s final roster trim. Lynch, a lanky receiver out of Saskatchewan, was seen by many scouts as the third-best receiver available in the draft after McMaster’s Danny Vandervoort (B.C.) and Carleton’s Nate Behar (Edmonton). With Matt Coates and Addison Richards potentially starting the year on injured reserve, Kyle Walters should try to add Lynch to the Bombers’ active roster for week two … With Spooner, Felix Menard-Briere, and Abubakkar Conteh winding up on the Bombers’ practice roster, Faith Ekakitie will be the lone 2017 draftee to start the year on the club’s active roster … Kenny Stafford has already signed with the Edmonton Eskimos … When was the last time a CFL team started the season with just two international linebackers on the roster?
Stay glued to 3DownNation where the official 3Down cuts tracker and a ton of other breaking news and analysis will keep you informed as more roster moves roll in.