The CFL combine wrapped up on Sunday afternoon at the University of Toronto’s Varsity Centre, capping a three-day event chock-full of testing, drills, and interviews for 51 CFL hopefuls. And while not all of the 2016 draft’s top prospects were present — Manitoba’s David Onyemata, Virginia’s Trent Corney, Michigan State’s Arjen Colquhoun, and Iowa’s Tevaun Smith were all absent awaiting their own pro days — there was enough talent on-hand for CFL fans to start getting excited about.
The thing that separates this year’s draft class from most others is the lack of a consensus first overall pick. The number of top-level prospects available is anywhere from 10-20 depending on who you ask, none of whom stand out as the obvious number one selection. This is a positive thing for teams like Montreal, Hamilton, and Winnipeg, all of which possess three picks in the top 20 (Montreal: 2, 11, 20; Hamilton: 5, 14, 18; Winnipeg: 9, 10, 19). This also works against Saskatchewan, which, aside from the first overall selection, doesn’t hold another pick until the mid-third round.
Given their advantageous draft position, what will the Bombers do with their top two selections?
For one, it’s a safe bet the club will draft an offensive lineman. With Patrick Neufeld’s history of injury and Sukh Chungh’s impending free agency, the Bombers would be foolish to pass on a top-tier offensive lineman in a hog-heavy class such as this.
The top four offensive line prospects are Oklahoma’s Josiah St. John and Philippe Gagnon, Jason Lauzon-Seguin, and Charles Vaillancourt of Laval. Buffalo’s Dillon Guy would be part in this top-tier group if he wasn’t currently overcoming a serious knee injury, while Simon Fraser’s Michael Couture made a case to also be included in this top group after a solid combine.
Unless all six of these offensive linemen are off the board in the first eight picks of the draft — which, even by CFL draft standards, would be highly unprecedented — one will end up in blue and gold.
This leaves the rest of the 2016 draft class. Colquhoun, the Michigan State cornerback mentioned above, is a sure-fire first round pick. Calgary running back Mercer Timmis will likely still be selected sixth overall by the Stampeders despite a disappointing combine. UBC safety Taylor Loffler is a player some scouts feel could start as a rookie. Iowa’s Tevaun Smith could cement his spot in the top-ten with a solid pro day next Monday, though Acadia’s Brian Jones excellent combine performance made a case for him being the top receiver available. There’s also no ignoring the fine play of Western’s Rupert Butcher who, in a weak defensive line class, really stood out in the combine’s one-on-one drills.
What this means for the Bombers is that, depending on the number of offensive linemen and non-offensive linemen selected ahead of them at ninth overall, the club should end up with a top player from at least one of the two categories.
If the league’s other eight teams go all-in on offensive linemen early, expect the Bombers to end up with whoever remains between Guy and Couture with one of their two top picks. If few offensive linemen are selected early in the draft, expect the Bombers to go all-in on Laval’s Phillipe Gagnon with their first pick, though it’s unlikely that Gagnon will fall past eighth overall.
As for the non-offensive lineman the Bombers will select, expect the Bombers to address the receiver position early in the draft for the second straight season. Smith would be the best fit for Winnipeg’s current roster needs considering the speed and experience he would bring to the wide receiver position. Jones, the 6’4, 230-pound bruiser who’s best-suited to playing inside at slotback, would still be a great addition, though. He’s a perfect fit for what Mike O’Shea wants in his players and it’s also worth noting that, despite the club’s current needs, it’s rare that drafting for immediate success pays off in the CFL.
Outside of receiver, Winnipeg’s national depth is sufficient enough that they can afford to pick the best player available, something that couldn’t be said the club in previous years. Players who will be in the mix should Smith and Jones come off the board early include Colquhoun, Loffler, and Butcher.
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