Kyle Walters just sat back – probably didn’t relax – and let the chips fall where they may in the 2016 CFL draft. In the end, he came away with an outright ridiculous haul of players.
The first round of the CFL Draft was nothing short of crazy, and for Walters and Mike O’Shea, who remained quiet across the league back in Winnipeg, the outcome was nothing short of ideal. An early-run on offensive lineman – aided by the Eskimos foolishly selecting Tevaun Smith at eighth overall – meant Virginia pass-rusher Trent Corney slipped through the cracks in the opening round and into the hands of a thrilled Kyle Walters. A shake-up regarding the elite tier of offensive lineman saw Michael Couture also still on the board when Winnipeg was on the clock, and the war-room likely had no objections before calling in the pick.
Those two picks were already quite satisfying, but no one – not even the Bombers, but perhaps Justin Dunk – knew how graciously the draft would continue to unfold for the Bombers as the rounds passed by.
It’s all the more impressive when you consider the fact that Garrett Waggoner, a blue-chip, tremendous prospect, was technically selected with a 2016 draft pick. This class has the potential to be the defining moment of Kyle Walter’s career in Winnipeg, and it’s amazing what can unfold when a team is able to have freedom with their draft choices as a result of a solid corps of Canadians under-contract. Walters has brought the Bombers’ Canadian content a long way since he took over the skeleton-like depth chart from the Joe Mack era, and he took another large step forward with the first three players drafted by the Blue & Gold this year.
Round 2, pick 9 – DE Trent Corney, Virginia
This selection was more than ideal for the Bombers; not only does Corney fill a positional need, but he was easily the best player available as well. An ultra-athletic player, Corney was one of the most athletic defensive lineman available in the NFL draft, and many people were stunned when he not only went undrafted, but wasn’t even offered a priority free agent contract.
Corney had an excellent senior season – his first season as a starter. His first career start came against UCLA, where Corney battled a 1st-round (and 2016 top-10 pick) NFL offensive tackle, Ronnie Stanley. Notching six tackles and a tackle-for-loss, Corney ended up being Stanley’s toughest match-up of the season.
Although he has a very good chance of developing into a starter, he’ll start his career as Jamaal Westerman’s backup. With his ridiculous athleticism – the 6-foot-3, 251-pounder clocked a 4.52-second 40-yard dash, recorded a 38-inch vertical jump and a 10-foot broad jump – and hard-nosed style, he’ll make an immediate impact on special-teams.
Round 2, pick 2 – C Michael Couture, Simon Fraser
Another athletic player, Couture was a slam-dunk pick for Bombers at 10th overall in terms of value. With Charles Vaillancourt tumbling into the hands of the BC Lions at fifth overall, all plans drafting the local product went out the door in BC, so Couture fell into the hands of the Bombers. It was no secret the Bombers were going to draft an offensive lineman at any costs with back-to-back picks to open the second round, as the club only had four Canadian offensive linemen under contract until the draft.
The sky is the limit for Couture, as he played all of left guard, centre and right tackle with the Clan, while lining up at all five offensive line positions at the combine – and dominating. Couture has quick, nimble feet and excellent, refined technique – don’t rule out the ability of him developing into a starting right tackle down the road. In the meantime, he brings some much needed depth and versatility to the Bombers’ unit. He needs time to develop, but Couture has a bright future.
Round 3, pick 2 – S Taylor Loffler, UBC
Four surgeries in five years was enough to scare away enough clubs from Loffler until Walters pulled the trigger in the third round on the consensus top safety in the draft. While not directly a positional need with Garrett Waggoner young and on the roster, the former Boise State recruit was simply too good of a player for the Bombers to pass. Loffler is a a top-15 talent, and a clean bill of health during his first and only season with the UBC Thunderbirds could mean his health issues are in the past.
Loffler, similarly to Corney, is one of the more pro-ready players in the draft. He’ll contribute on special-teams and as a depth safety this year, but in perhaps one-to-two seasons, the Bombers could be starting Loffler at strong-side linebacker and Garrett Waggoner at weak-side linebacker – both of whom were technically acquired with 2016 draft picks.
Round 4, pick 28 – LB Shayne Gauthier, Laval
The Bombers were wise to invest in a player who projects purely as a special-teams anchor this early in the draft. Albeit only 5’10” and 220-pounds, Gauthier is a tough, throwback linebacker who plays off physicality and natural instincts. With deceptive downhill speed – he ran a 4.66-second 40-yard dash – the Laval product should be able to make an immediate impact on special-teams.
Round 5, pick 2 – RG Zach Intzandt, McMaster
The Bombers needed to add at least two offensive linemen in the draft, and Intzandt happens to be one of the best developmental prospects eligible. He looks the part at 6-foot-4 and 304-pounds, but 2015 was Intzandt’s first year starting along the offensive line after converting from the defensive side in 2013. Nonetheless, his tape at McMaster was solid, however a rough Combine performance may have showed scouts that the London, ON. native was more of a project than perhaps originally thought. It’s slightly worrisome that this technique is already decently refined – you can teach technique, but you can’t teach physical abilities – but I don’t doubt the coaching abilities of Bob Wylie.
Round 6, pick 2 – NT Rupert Butcher, Western
Displaying one of the best Combine one-on-one performances in history, Butcher could be one of the steals of the draft. But it wasn’t completely surprisingly to see the Western product fall into the six-round. Butcher was never a consistently dominant player with the Mustangs – Walters pointed to his lack of motor – and only showed flashes. His motor was sure running at the combine, of course, as Butcher dominated every offensive lineman that crossed his face in a number of different ways, displaying shiftiness, good hands, pad-level and a fearsome bull-rush. Butcher must lose some weight – he’s a behemoth at 6-foot-5, 327-lbs – and will fit in behind Keith Shologan and Jake Thomas at the nose tackle position, likely making the practice roster this season.
Round 7, pick 2 – SB Alex Vitt, Manitoba
The Bombers passed on a handful of local products before picking up Vitt with the 55th pick the draft. While not flashy, Vitt is a physical, blue-collar pass-catcher who was a consistent contributor with the Bisons, notching 728 yards and 4 TDs in 2015. A player who won’t catch anyone’s attention with his testing numbers, Vitt didn’t have his best day running routes at the Edmonton Regional Combine and found his name uncalled when the list of participants moving on to the National event were named. A 6-foot-2 receiver with good hands and a willingness to block, Vitt will be an interesting name to watch in training camp.
Round 8, pick 2 – LB Frank Renuad, Windsor
It was disappointing to see the club pass on another local product who plays the same position, DJ Lalama, but I can’t say anything bad about Renaud. He didn’t have the opportunity of a fourth-season to improve his draft-stock, tearing his ACL at the East-West Bowl. The Bombers’ Canadian talent evaluates obviously liked what they saw at the event, but we’ll have to wait and see if the Bombers get any value out of a player who wouldn’t have been drafted without the new, additional eighth round.