The ability to discover fresh, young American talent is essential to achieving success in the CFL.
The league’s ratio dictates that national players take priority over their international counterparts when it comes to salary cap expenditure. The pool of Canadian talent is smaller and, as such, commands premium dollars.
Being unable to re-sign every international player they’d like means that teams need to find young (and inexpensive) American players to fill important roles every season.
Winnipeg has found some talented young players in recent years. Jackson Jeffcoat, Brandon Alexander, Marcus Sayles, Jovan Santos-Knox, Kevin Fogg, and Chris Streveler have all become major contributors for the team.
There is one position, however, at which the Bombers have struggled to uncover young talent.
Winnipeg has been in need of a game-changing American receiver for a long time — and the club has been unable to find one. Free agent additions Kenny Stafford (2017) and Adarius Bowman (2018) were both busts, adding to the need to recruit young talent.
The Bombers have scouted, signed, and started 18 different American rookie receivers since the first full season of the Kyle Walters/Mike O’Shea era in 2014. The results are… uninspired.
It should be noted that the Bombers cut both Ricky Collins and R.J. Harris over this period of time. Collins went on to record 1,331 receiving yards and four touchdowns over three seasons with Saskatchewan (2016-2017) and B.C. (2018), while Harris had 697 yards on 49 receptions and two touchdowns this past year in Ottawa.
For the sake of comparison I took a look at the three top receivers each other CFL team has discovered since the 2014 season.
Bryan Burnham — 65 games, 268 receptions, 4,159 yards, 22 touchdowns
Lavelle Hawkins — 9 games, 39 receptions, 673, yards, 3 touchdowns
Geraldo Boldewijn — 8 games, 21 receptions, 249 yards, 1 touchdown
DaVaris Daniels — 36 games, 148 receptions, 2,375 yards, 20 touchdowns
Kamar Jorden — 32 games, 152 receptions, 2,254 yards, 15 touchdowns
Marken Michel — 24 games, 72 receptions, 1,215 yards, 8 touchdowns
Derel Walker — 49 games, 297 receptions, 4,208 yards, 26 touchdowns
D’haquille Williams — 31 games, 134 receptions, 2,294 yards, 15 touchdowns
Brandon Zylstra — 22 games, 134 receptions, 2,195 yards, 8 touchdowns
Naaman Roosevelt — 49 games, 224 receptions, 3,188 yards, 19 touchdowns
Caleb Holley — 33 games, 109 receptions, 1,476 yards, 7 touchdowns
Jordan Williams-Lambert — 17 games, 62 receptions, 764 yards, 4 touchdowns
Terrence Toliver — 39 games, 146 receptions, 2,176 yards, 16 touchdowns
Jalen Saunders — 25 games, 121 receptions, 1,909 yards, 6 touchdowns
Tiquan Underwood — 17 games, 45 receptions, 711 yards, 3 touchdowns
Tori Gurley — 26 games, 94 receptions, 1,300 yards, 15 touchdowns
Diontae Spencer — 22 games, 107 receptions, 1,208 yards, 6 touchdowns
John Chiles — 20 games, 73 receptions, 1,200 yards, 10 touchdowns
Khalil Paden — 19 games, 39 receptions, 626 yards, 1 touchdown
Dominique Rhymes — 19 games, 37 receptions, 522 yards, 1 touchdown
Joshua Stangby — 14 games, 43 receptions, 500 yards, 5 touchdowns
B.J. Cunningham — 57 games, 209 receptions, 2,922 yards, 15 touchdowns
Eugene Lewis — 20 games, 51 receptions, 947 yards, 4 touchdowns
TJ Graham — 11 games, 19 receptions, 224 yards, 0 touchdowns
This list doesn’t include Eric Rogers, who originally debuted in Ottawa’s training camp prior to becoming an impact player in Calgary. It also doesn’t include a number of receivers who broke into the league one year prior to the 2014 season, including Duron Carter, Brandon Banks, Greg Ellingson, and Luke Tasker.
22 players on the list have recorded more receiving yards than Winnipeg’s leading receiver (Kenbrell Thompkins — 421 yards). Five players (Bryan Burnham, DaVaris Daniels, Derel Walker, Naaman Roosevelt, and B.J. Cunningham) have single-handedly recorded more receiving yards than all 18 of the Bombers’ receivers combined.
The numbers speak for themselves — the Bombers simply aren’t recruiting the type of talent needed for success at the receiver position.
With Matt Nichols’ passing totals dipping this past year and Weston Dressler set to turn 34 in July (if he’s re-signed for next season, that is), Winnipeg will need to find a way to uncover some fresh receiving talent in 2019.