In the business of scouting, player comparisons are one of the most difficult things to do.
A proper comp should be instantly recognizable and paint a visual picture for the uninitiated. With reference to a single name, the listener or reader should understand who that player is without ever having seen them.
It’s a tricky process. Hedge your evaluation too much and the comp can become obscure, ineffective in its goal. Bigger names have the glitz and glamour that can grab the audience’s attention, but setting unrealistic expectations for a player can be a fatal mistake.
All of this is to say, when Winnipeg Blue Bombers general manager Kyle Walters dropped his comp for No. 3 overall 2021 CFL Draft pick Liam Dobson, it wasn’t done lightly.
“There were a lot of good offensive linemen in this draft, but we just thought Liam was the most like a Winnipeg Blue Bomber,” Walters said of their decision at the top of the draft.
“He’s going to remind everybody of [Chris] Walby, just a big bear of a man that’s not the nicest guy out on the football field and that moves remarkably well for a man of his size.”
Considered by many to be the greatest offensive lineman in CFL history, Chris Walby played 16 seasons in Winnipeg from 1981 to 1996. He walked into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 2003 having earned two Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman awards, nine CFL all-star selections, and three Grey Cups.
For any prospect to be considered in the rarefied air of Walby, they have to be equally one of a kind — Dobson is just that.
Standing six-foot-three and 340 pounds, the former University of Maine Black Bear is shorter and squatter than ‘Bluto’ ever was, but he possesses the same nastiness that defined Walby’s career. That’s the type of skillset that the Bombers have coveted so long as Walters has been leading the front office.
“On the O-line, the position goes back to Matthias [Goosen] and Sukh [Chungh] when we started this,” Walters explained.
“We like physical, we like tough, we like guys that are going to be brawlers and compete, and that’s Liam Dobson. He’s a big, tough, physical kid. He’s our kind of offensive lineman.”
Much like Walby, Dobson began his career as a defensive lineman and has brought that level of aggression to the offensive side of the ball. Though his reputation is that of a fearsome road-grader, the Ottawa native does not lack for athleticism.
Able to dunk a basketball despite his girth, Dobson was named to leading college football insider Bruce Feldman’s Top 50 Freaks List ahead of the 2020 season. Many of the other players included heard their names called high in the NFL Draft. Dobson will be headed back to school next year to try and secure that same fate.
When Maine canceled their fall season, Dobson elected to close the book on a stellar NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision career and take advantage of an additional year of eligibility. He transferred to the NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision level in the hope that NFL scouts would take notice. He’s committed to Texas State University for the 2021 season, where he goes after is up for speculation.
“I told every team that I spoke to that my intention was to return to school and that I’m going to pursue playing at the highest level possible and teams understood that,” Dobson said in a videoconference.
“Teams knew that and I’m just glad that I fit into the plan in Winnipeg regardless of that being a year from now or currently. I’m just glad that they took a chance on me and are willing to wait on what I’m able to do when I can bring it up there.”
The Bombers know they’ve made a gamble on a talented player, wishing him the best in his NFL pursuit but keeping fingers crossed that he will be available to them.
“You have to do your due diligence and talk to your NFL people. The interesting thing for next year’s NFL Draft is with all the kids going back, it’s going to be by all accounts the deepest NFL Draft ever, based on numbers. That’s going to hurt some fringe NFL guys next year, but you don’t know how guys are going to progress over a year,” Walters noted.
“Of course we try to get as much information as you can, but it’s impossible to predict where someone’s going to be in a year from now and what NFL teams are going to think in a year.”
A strong contingent of Canadian linemen including Michael Couture, Patrick Neufeld, Drew Desjarlais, and Geoff Gray gives Winnipeg the leeway to take a risk. Finding a role for a rookie in 2021 would have been difficult, but Dobson will give roster flexibility down the road.
Though he’s hoping to prove his worth south of the border, Dobson expects that his future — one way or another — will involve Winnipeg. The bearded mauler from the nation’s capital has a long way to go before he fill the shoes of an all-time great, but he’s ready to start the process.
“Football is football,” Dobson said. “I’m just ecstatic that I have the opportunity to keep playing the game I love at a very high level.”