Bombers’ GM Walters sitting in good position heading into CFL draft

Walters in good spot heading into CFL draft

Kyle Walters isn’t fretting because of the NFL draft.

On Saturday, Montreal native Justin Senior, an offensive lineman from Mississippi State University, went in the sixth round, 210th overall, to the Seattle Seahawks. Afterwards, Laval tight end Tony Auclair of Notre-Dame-des-Pins, Que., (Tampa Bay), Manitoba offensive lineman Geoff Gray of Winnipeg (Green Bay) and UCLA defensive lineman Eli Ankou of Ottawa (Houston) signed as free agents.

All four were highly regarded prospects for the CFL draft Sunday night.

Senior finished atop the CFL scouting bureau’s final top-20 prospects list last month ahead of Ankou and Gray. Auclair, who’d been ranked as high as No. 2, was seventh.

Now, CFL teams must decide if they’ll wait for Senior, Auclair, Gray and Ankou not knowing when — or if — they might come to Canada. And GMs willing to take a flyer on them must figure out which round to pull the trigger.

Walters, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ GM, owns four of the draft’s first 23 picks, including the first and sixth overall. Walters said Monday he still has a clear idea of who he’ll take No. 1 if he holds on to the pick.

“It (CFL draft preparation) doesn’t change a whole lot,” Walters said. “You still have to do your prep work based on the information you have . . . it (NFL draft) kind of played out.

“You’re just back to the same old, ‘Well, if we draft one of these guys when are we going to see him?’ It’s an organizational philosophy, everyone is different.”

Walters said Senior, Auclair, Grey and Ankou all figured in his thinking for the first-overall pick. But so too have other players.

“When you go through the draft process you go over every possible scenario,” Walters said. “The scenario was, ‘If we draft insert one of those names here, yes they’re a good football player but how does he fit in? Are we prepared not to see him for one year, two years, three years or four years.’

“You have a discussion about each and every one.”

Walters said he’s very content to select players at No. 1 and No. 6 but is willing to listen to trade offers.

“You never say never,” he said. “It would have to be a real good offer.

“We like where we’re at, we know we’re going to get two real good football players in the first round. As of now I haven’t heard anything but those trades generally don’t happen until the day of the draft.”

Saskatchewan has the second overall pick, followed by B.C., Hamilton, Edmonton and Winnipeg before the Lions select again at No. 7. Calgary and Grey Cup-champion Ottawa complete the first round.

Toronto makes its first selection to start the second round at No. 10 overall while Montreal’s initial pick comes two spots later. A total of 71 players will be drafted over eight rounds.

Walter said the ’17 draft class will offer teams with some intriguing choices.

“I have a feeling this year when a team calls a name, certain clubs will look at their board and go, ‘Wow, I didn’t see that coming,'” he said. “Not that it’s right or wrong . . . they (prospects) are so even and there’s no real separation.

“You’re going to be able to poll all nine teams and their top-20 is going to look vastly different this year, I predict.”

Walters, entering his fourth season as Winnipeg’s GM, heads into the draft in an enviable position. The Bombers (11-7) finished third in the West Division last season to snap a four-year playoff drought.

And following an off-season that included the re-signing of quarterback Matt Nichols, restructuring the deals of kicker Justin Medlock and tackle Stanley Bryant while adding defensive end Tristan Okpalaugo, Walters doesn’t have any glaring holes to fill Sunday. Rather, he has the luxury of being able to use an early pick on the likes of Senior, Auclair, Grey or Ankou.

“Every team has needs,” Walters said. “We’re certainly in a stronger position now in terms of filling holes on our roster but you’re always looking for competition, you’re always looking to upgrade.

“This year it’s, ‘Let’s go find a good football player because we need to start pushing some of these guys who are around here and keep improving our overall talent.'”

A reality of the CFL draft is players being added to the mix late in the process. Last week, the league made UCLA linebacker Cameron Judge eligible for the 2017 draft.

So part of Walters’ pre-draft preparation will be getting information on the new additions and figuring where they fit on his draft board. He’ll speak with Bombers’ scouts and head coach Mike O’Shea on Tuesday before holding a final session Friday.

“For me, the best day of the year is draft day,” Walters said.

Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press