As the CFL draft approaches, the best way to get a sense of what any given team might do is to assess their current Canadian talent. With that in mind, over the days leading up to the May 3 talent grab, we’ll be doing a deep dive on the state of each squad’s Canuck components that will examine their starters, backups, special teams depth while also taking a look at what they need.
Next up, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
Where they’ll likely play their seven Canadian starters:
Running Back (1): Andrew Harris
Receiver (2): slotback Nic Demski and wide receiver Matt Coates
Offensive line (3): left guard Patrick Neufeld, centre Matthias Goossen, and right guard Sukh Chungh
Safety (1): Taylor Loffler
Back-ups and other possible starters: RB Kienan LaFrance, REC Drew Wolitarsky, OL Michael Couture, DT Faith Ekakitie, DE Trent Corney, LB Thomas Miles, DB Derek Jones.
Analysis: Led by the CFL’s reigning Most Outstanding Canadian in running back Andrew Harris, the Bombers boast a complete set of seven veteran starters. Loffler has quickly become a perennial all-star, while Goossen, Chungh, and Neufeld make up the interior of the league’s best offensive line. Coates won’t see a ton of passes at field-side wide receiver, but his 100-yard performance in last year’s West Semi-Final proved that he can produce when given an opportunity. Demski is the wildcard — oozing with potential, the Winnipeg native has seen the first three years of his career marred by injury. If he’s able to stay on the field, Demski is going to be a versatile threat in Paul LaPolice’s dynamic offence.
Winnipeg also has a solid group of back-ups and ratio flexibility in case of injury. Couture can play both guard and tackle and the club is high on Cody Speller, a McMaster product who went undrafted last May. Trent Corney can start at defensive end, while Thomas Miles and Derek Jones have starting experience at their respective positions. The club will hope to see last year’s first overall selection Faith Ekakitie take a step after an underwhelming rookie season, while Drew Wolitarsky will be one to watch in the receiving corps. Selected in last June’s supplemental draft, the Minnesota product will be taking part in his first CFL training camp later this month.
Needs and possible draft targets: You can never have too many Canadian offensive linemen. Patrick Neufeld has a history of injuries and, while Couture, Spooner, and Speller are a solid young trio, the club would be wise to add more depth along the line. The Bombers could also stand to upgrade the talent they possess along the defensive line and at defensive back, the latter of which is a position of strength in this year’s draft class. Winnipeg should not shy away from investing in a ‘futures’ pick, such as Ryan Hunter of the Kansas City Chiefs or Dakoda Shepley of the New York Jets.
The final word: The Bombers have above-average Canadian talent with just two nationals at or above the age of thirty (Andrew Harris, 31; Chad Rempel, 35). Winnipeg will have the luxury of selecting the best player available in Thursday’s draft, a far cry from years previous in which the club has been desperate to add players who are ready to step in and play right away.