May 21, 2018

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Record: 12–6–0

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Blue Bomber Report (12–6–0)

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Blue Bombers trade down, shuffle picks

Squad not seeking immediate help at draft

Winnipeg Blue Bombers General Manager Kyle Walters talks to the press.

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Winnipeg Blue Bombers General Manager Kyle Walters talks to the press.

There was a time not that long ago that draft day for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers often ended with more embarrassment than elation for the team’s front office.

Fast forward to 2018, following four years under a new regime and a mightily improved track record of drafting and developing young players, and the Bombers are now so confident in their cabinet of Canadian talent they no longer feel a need for a first-round pick.

The Bombers were scheduled to select seventh overall in the 2018 CFL Draft tonight, but instead shipped away the pick — and their best chance to obtain a promising prospect — to the B.C. Lions in a deal Wednesday that also included Winnipeg’s 2018 second-rounder (16th overall). In exchange for those picks, the Bombers received the Lions’ second-round pick (12th overall) this year, as well as their first-round selection in 2019.

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There was a time not that long ago that draft day for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers often ended with more embarrassment than elation for the team’s front office.

Fast forward to 2018, following four years under a new regime and a mightily improved track record of drafting and developing young players, and the Bombers are now so confident in their cabinet of Canadian talent they no longer feel a need for a first-round pick.

The Bombers were scheduled to select seventh overall in the 2018 CFL Draft tonight, but instead shipped away the pick — and their best chance to obtain a promising prospect — to the B.C. Lions in a deal Wednesday that also included Winnipeg’s 2018 second-rounder (16th overall). In exchange for those picks, the Bombers received the Lions’ second-round pick (12th overall) this year, as well as their first-round selection in 2019.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers centre Matthias Goossen, with ball, and the rest of the O-line are looking to return to form as one of the best units in the league this season.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Winnipeg Blue Bombers centre Matthias Goossen, with ball, and the rest of the O-line are looking to return to form as one of the best units in the league this season.

Barring any other trades, Winnipeg will select four spots sooner in the second round, while also having two first-round picks next year. A source close to the team said the club believes the player they were targeting at No. 7 is likely still to be around at No. 12, but only time will tell whether that proves true.

The move comes just hours after Bombers general manager Kyle Walters addressed the media in a pre-draft press conference Wednesday morning. Though a bit of an unorthodox move, Walters did seem to hint throughout his 25-minute interview he wasn’t all that thrilled with taking an early pick.

"Where does he fit in? How much do you have to pay that player? These are all the discussions we’re having as a group," Walters said. "A lot of it factors into the salary cap and…how do they get on the field is really what we’re spending a lot of our time on right now."

“Where does he fit in? How much do you have to pay that player? These are all the discussions we’re having as a group” – Bombers GM Kyle Walters on trading this year's first-round pick in the upcoming CFL Draft

There is some sense to the trade. If Winnipeg were to take the best player available with the seventh overall pick, it would likely be an offensive lineman, which would mean adding one more body to a crowded group the Bombers are already content with.

Even with the decision to start an additional Canadian on the O-line after starting only two for much of last season, Walters said he was more than happy with the depth the team has on the line.

"The offensive linemen that are around... we’ve got a good core group of guys," he said.

With Canadian starters in Patrick Neufeld at left guard, Matthias Goossen at centre and Sukh Chungh at right guard, and Americans Stanley Bryant — the reigning CFL most outstanding lineman — at left tackle and Jermarcus Hardrick at right tackle all under contract for 2018, the Bombers will once again have one of the best O-lines in the CFL this year.

Other players expected to push for more playing time on the O-line this season include Michael Couture, whom the Bombers drafted with the 10th overall pick in 2016, and Qadr Spooner, another second-rounder — 15th overall — selected in the 2017 draft.

Central Michigan wide receiver Mark Chapman in 2017.

AP PHOTO / CHARLIE RIEDEL

Central Michigan wide receiver Mark Chapman in 2017.

Then there is Cody Speller, an undrafted player out of McMaster University, who the Bombers are also high on. Geoff Gray, who the Bombers picked with the sixth overall selection a year ago and is currently with the NFL’s Cleveland Browns, is also a potential pickup down the road.

Prior to announcing the trade, Walters was asked what his interest might be in moving up in the draft. The Montreal Alouettes had owned the first-overall selection, only to trade it late Wednesday to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, who are said to be favouring Central Michigan receiver Mark Chapman with the pick. Chapman climbed up the CFL’s final draft rankings after an impressive showing at the national combine in March, finishing the April list at No. 2.

"Chapman is the name that jumps out to everybody, and he had a very good evaluation camp and ran precise routes," said Walters. "He’s certainly a name that you’re hearing at the top."

If there was an area the Bombers need to upgrade in Canadian talent it’s at receiver. Winnipeg has mostly ignored the position in recent years, but this season will be committing to two spots to fulfill their ratio requirement of starting seven Canadians.

Nic Demski at the Bomber Mini-Camp in April.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Nic Demski at the Bomber Mini-Camp in April.

While those spots are expected to go to Winnipegger Nic Demski and one of either Matt Coates or Drew Wolitarsky, there remains a need to find quality depth at that spot, especially when you consider Demski missed notable time last season with a broken foot.

Still, Walters didn’t seem all that interested in doing a deal that would likely require giving up a number of assets to bring in one that isn’t needed right away.

"There’s some trade talks. I’m not saying we’re not going to trade up to the No. 1 spot by any means, but there’s a couple teams that we’re dealing with that I think are quite serious, and at some point something could get done," he said. "I feel more so than other years where it’s just talk — it seems a lot more serious than that."

Ones to watch

Click to Expand
<strong>Rashaun Simonise</strong>

Rashaun Simonise

<strong>Regis Cibasu</strong>

Regis Cibasu

<strong>Daniel Petermann</strong>

Daniel Petermann

Other potential receivers the Bombers might be interested in, and who were listed in the CFL’s top-20 draft rankings, are Calgary’s Rashaun Simonise (9), Regis Cibasu (15) out of University of Montreal and McMaster’s Daniel Petermann (17).

For now, the Bombers GM seems content in employing a more fiscally responsible strategy to this year’s draft. After all, the Bombers were reminded last year of how costly it can be to take a high draft pick.

Winnipeg chose first overall in 2017 — a pick acquired from the Toronto Argonauts for quarterback Drew Willy — and chose Iowa defensive lineman Faith Ekakitie. Ekakitie signed a lucrative three-year deal, said to be north of $85,000 per season, and was limited mostly to spot duty. Needless to say, the Bombers are expecting more from Ekakitie this season, as is the case for all returning players, no matter their nationality.

Walters did say in the event of an injury to one of his current Canadian starters he wouldn’t hesitate starting a non-import on the D-line, meaning he might be in search of adding depth there tonight.

With all-star safety Taylor Loffler having a lengthy injury history, the Bombers might also be interested in taking a defensive back.

A potential player at the No. 12 spot could be Jackson Bennett out of the University of Ottawa. Bennett is one of a few players capable of playing in the secondary and as a linebacker in nickel packages. Another is Godfrey Onyeka, a DB out of Laurier. Both, however, are likely to be snatched up with an earlier pick.

"We’re not talking about drafting and bringing in guys that we anticipate starting. It’s how do we add depth and how do we create competition for all players?" Walters said.

"The backups are pushing the starters, and the draft picks are now pushing the backups for practice roster, and I think that’s the biggest difference (from previous years) is we can look at this draft board and say we don’t have to reach here, here, or here.

"We can let these sorts of things fall the way they are, and find a good football player and it’s going to help us one way or another."

jeff.hamilton@freepress.mb.ca

twitter: @jeffkhamilton

Read more by Jeff Hamilton .

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Updated on Wednesday, May 2, 2018 at 10:28 PM CDT: Adds thumbnail

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