Final Thoughts On The 2015 CFL Draft

I wrote a post back in January entitled Early Thoughts On The 2015 CFL Draft in which I discussed how the Bombers should use their first pick on May 12. Though I understood the draft landscape would shift several times over the months to come, my basic argument was simple: the Bombers should only use the draft’s second overall pick on an offensive lineman if he projected as tackle at the CFL level. If no such prospect existed – or if all such prospects had signed NFL contracts – the Bombers should select a player at a different position capable of making an immediate impact or trade the pick away for a king’s ransom.

Though there have been many interesting draft developments since I wrote my piece back in January, my thoughts on how the Bombers should use their first pick haven’t changed. With Alex Mateas not receiving a contract offer following his mini-camp appearance with the New York Jets, Laval product Danny Groulx should be available for the Bombers to select with the second overall pick. And while nothing is guaranteed, I believe Groulx will be a ratio-busting right tackle at the CFL level for the next decade. As such, selecting him with the second overall pick should be a no-brainer for Kyle Walters and company. The only way in which my opinion has changed even slightly is with regard to what the Bombers should do if Ottawa takes Groulx first overall. While I’d still like to see the Bombers trade the pick away, selecting Calgary guard Sukh Chungh would also be a solid move. I’ve watched Chungh a lot since January and he’s a dominant player who reminds me a lot of Brendon LaBatte.

Another way in which my perception of the draft has changed over the past few months has simply been developing my understanding of how great this draft class truly is. This class of players is the best I’ve seen since taking a serious interest in the CFL draft five years ago (I would have taken an interest earlier, but with no YouTube to access player highlights, no television coverage of the draft itself, and Brendan Taman ensuring the Bombers never selected higher than twentieth every year, the draft just wasn’t the same must-follow event it is for me now). With all due respect to last year’s draftees, this year’s crop of players simply blows the 2014’s draft class out of the water. Players drafted in the fourth round of this year’s draft will be on par with the players selected early in the second round of last year’s draft. There’s that much disparity. This is great news for the CFL, all nine of its teams, and their fans; quality national players are essential to the success of the league as a whole and there are many players available on May 12 who will have major impacts on CFL fields for years to come.

Looking at the big picture of the draft from Winnipeg’s perspective, the Bombers find themselves in a fantastic position heading into Tuesday. Not only does the team hold three of the top fifteen selections (2, 11, and 15), but also suddenly have the ratio flexibility to maximize the value of the picks they have. Before I elaborate on this point, let’s take a moment to analyze how the Bombers have gained ratio flexibility since last season.

Position Starter(s) Depth Player(s)
Offensive Line Chris Greaves (15), Steve Morley (18), Patrick Neufeld (8) Matthias Goossen (4), Gord Hinse
Receiver Cory Watson (11), Rory Kohlert (18) Julian Feoli-Gudino (7), Brett Carter
Defensive Tackle Jake Thomas (18) Ryan Lucas (missed entire season with torn ACL), Ameet Pall
SAM Linebacker Teague Sherman (13) Derek Jones
Cornerback Matt Bucknor (18) Derek Jones

The chart above identifies the national players who started games for the Bombers in 2014 and lists how many they games started. It also identifies the depth players at the designated national starting positions who would (or in some cases did) have to start games due to injury.

As we can see, the Bombers had very little national depth across the board last year. Though the offensive line was propped up with an extra international player for a number of games, maintaining three national starting spots up front required rookie Matthias Goossen to step in at the first occurrence of injury. Though I thought Goossen stepped in admirably when called upon, forcing a rookie into games before he’s truly ready to play is never a sound practice. Another rookie, Derek Jones, would have been forced into action should Matt Bucknor have been injured at some point during the campaign. Fortunately, Bucknor stayed healthy.

There was also very little in the way of depth behind Jake Thomas (though, to be fair, Ryan Lucas missed the entire campaign with a torn ACL) or at the receiver position, where, despite Feoli-Gudino’s eventual success, the Bombers started the season without a single depth player who’d ever recorded a CFL reception. Had it not been for Teague Sherman’s surprising performance at the SAM linebacker spot, the Bombers’ ratio situation in 2014 would have gone from bad to worse.

Now let’s take a look at the ratio projection for 2015.

Starting Positions:

Position Starter(s) Depth Player(s)
Offensive Line Chris Greaves, Dominic Picard, Patrick Neufeld Matthias Goossen, Quinn Everett
Receiver Rory Kohlert Julian Feoli-Gudino, Kris Bastien, Ezra Millington
Defensive End Jamaal Westerman Ivan Brown, Louie Richardson
Middle Linebacker Sam Hurl Graig Newman, Jesse Briggs
Cornerback Matt Bucknor Derek Jones

Remaining Options:

Position Starter(s) Depth Player(s)
Receiver (2) Julian Feoli-Gudino Kris Bastien, Ezra Millington, Jordan Reaves
Defensive Tackle Jake Thomas None
Safety Teague Sherman Dan West, Shea Pierre

As we can see, the Bombers suddenly have a wealth of options to toy with the ratio for this upcoming season. Cutting the number of national starting receivers from two to one has bumped everyone down a spot on the depth chart, while the additions of Sam Hurl and Jamaal Westerman allow the club to start three nationals on defense. There is also improved depth across the board with 2014 rookies Goossen, Bastien, Briggs, and Jones now having a year under their collective belts, 2014 draftee Quinn Everett signing with the club after finishing his collegiate eligibility at Mount Allison, and Ivan Brown coming aboard from Toronto in free agency. As an added bonus, Graig Newman is healthy for the first time since signing with the Bombers in February of 2014.

This newfound national depth allows the Bombers to do something I never thought possible just a few months ago: draft a ‘future’ player. Four months ago I would have said the Bombers have to allot all six of their selections to players who are sure to sign CFL contracts following the draft. That is no longer the case.

Take UNLV’s Brett Boyko, for example. The Philadelphia Eagles signed Boyko to a contract as a free agent last week after he went unselected in the NFL draft. While Boyko is surely not worth the second overall pick in the CFL draft, the Bombers would be foolish not to consider selecting him at eleventh and downright stupid not to select him at fifteenth should he still be available. As much as it would harm the club’s draft success if Boyko made the Eagles’ final roster (ie. Andy Mulumba, Green Bay, 2013), risking a second round pick for the best offensive lineman in the draft would be well worth it. If Boyko ended up signing in Winnipeg, getting Groulx and Boyko in the same draft would be an unbelievable coup for the Bomber brain trust.

As for my thoughts on who the Bombers should select at eleven and fifteen (for the record, I doubt Boyko will still be on the board when the Bombers make their selection at eleventh overall, but who knows?), a lot depends on who’s available. University of Manitoba receiver Nic Demski is a must-pick at eleven if he’s still on the board (as I tweeted last night, I believe the chances of Demski being available at eleven are roughly 65%). If Demski is off the board, I’d like to see the club pick whoever is still available between Western’s Daryl Waud, Wilfred Laurier’s Chris Ackie, SFU’s Lemar Durant, Regina’s Tevaughn Campbell, and Idaho’s Maxx Forde. Assuming Mateas, Groulx, Calgary’s Sukh Chungh, Richmond’s Jacob Ruby, and Calgary’s Sean McEwen are selected in the first round, at least one of these players is guaranteed to be available at eleven. At fifteen, I’d like to see the club select Regina’s Addison Richards if they don’t get Demski, though Wilfred Laurier’s Ese Mrabure-Ajufo would also be a great pick to shore up the club’s depth at defensive tackle. Check out my three-round mock draft for more analysis.

The bottom line is that the Bombers are heading into a monumentally deep draft sitting in a very advantageous position. They’ve got a roster stocked with plenty of starting-quality national players (that’s the first time that can be said of a Blue Bomber team since, what, the ’80s?) and relatively solid depth behind them. They’ve got three high draft picks and, barring an unprecedented rash of injuries, will not need to rely on any draftees to make significant contributions until they’re truly ready to do so. All things considered, the draft should be as straight-forward as a traditional, five-yard one-point convert. Now it’s up to the Bomber brain trust not to ring it off the uprights.

John Hodge, Blue Bomber Talk

Twitter: @BlueBomberTalk

Email: [email protected]

John Hodge is a Canadian football reporter based in Winnipeg.