Winnipeg Blue Bombers General Manager Kyle Walters says the defending Grey Cup Champs went into Thursday night’s CFL draft looking to address the team’s defensive depth.
Walters says he feels that goal was achieved, along with adding a trio of players who were just too good to pass up when they were still available in the fourth, fifth, and eighth rounds.
In all, the Blue Bombers selected nine players after adding two more picks in Friday morning’s waiver non-priority counter draft.
Leading the way was McMaster defensive back Noah Hallett who was Winnipeg’s first pick Thursday night at No.18 overall. The 22-year-old says he is stoked to be joining his older brother Nick. “I was kinda hoping for this situation. I’m sure he told you we’ve never played together, but always wanted the opportunity,” said Noah during a media conference call Friday.
“It’s going to be special to compete with him. At this level, it’s going to be crazy.”
Walters, who also spoke to the media via a conference call, did not dispel the idea of a sibling showdown. “I think we could see a Hallett brother competition at Free Safety in training camp. You wanna give your team options ratio-wise, that if you suffer some injuries, where would your eighth Canadian be,” explained the Bombers GM. “Whether it’s a third receiver, a fourth offensive lineman. The way it went last year with all Americans in the secondary, we didn’t dress a designated import back there, so your Canadian on the roster has to be a ‘get you out of the game’ safety, for want of a better term.”
Walters says the Hallett brothers will provide exactly what the team wanted for competition in that role following the offseason departures of Derek Jones and Jeff Hecht. And the youngest Hallett is up for the challenge, even though he spent most of his career with the Marauders at the weak halfback position. “I moved around a bit in practices and helped us out when there were injuries. The biggest transition to the CFL, I would think for a Canadian player, is to become a Free Safety,” is how the 5-11, 190-pound second-team All Canadian summed up the challenge. “I think I’m a pretty versatile player. I think I could make an impact on Special Teams right away and I’m excited to do that.”
Walters certainly feels Hallett –Noah that is– can deliver the goods, eventually. “He played inside as a halfback, so when you see him drop into a deep 30, he had great ball skills and there was enough to think this kid’s got a chance to play Free Safety,” said Walters. “As far as a timeline, who knows? He’s gotta impress the coaches and then the opportunity’s gotta be there. And like a lot of young Canadian kids, when the opportunity comes, you’d better seize it. And while you’re waiting for that opportunity, it behooves them all to show that they can compete on Special Teams.”
That suits Hallett just fine because he’s prepared to do whatever the team needs from him defensively. And he is confident he has the tools in his toolbox to get noticed. “I’m pretty athletic. I can make plays on the field from sideline to sideline. I like hitting a lot, so I feel I’m a pretty physical player,” says Hallett who took in Thursday night’s draft at his parent’s home, with his older brother right at his side.
“It was kind of nerve-wracking. The wait seems a lot longer than it actually is when you’re waiting for your name to be called,” said Hallett.
“As soon as we got into the later picks in the second round, I had my eye on Winnipeg.”
“Nick was hoping for the same thing — we just kept seeing teams select different people.”
Hallett says once Hamilton made their pick at No.17, he received a call from a Toronto number and went upstairs to his room for a little privacy. “It was Coach O’Shea, and I was ecstatic. Everybody says such great things about him. It was awesome to hear from him that I was going to be part of the Blue Bombers. I’m excited to be part of such a great organization now.”
And while Noah may have received some “intel” from his brother about the Blue and Gold, Walters says not once did the team approach Nick for any nuggets of information about his younger brother. That’s because Bombers Assistant GM and Director of Player Personnel Ted Goveia is a frequent observer at McMaster in his spare time. “Ted lives right there, and because he loves football, he’s seen these guys play forever. Noah Hallett is a football nut. He loves, lives, and breathes it,” said Walters. “The coaches say he’s a lunatic. He trains, he studies. When we talk about in the interview process, guys loving football and having a passion for it – Noah certainly has a passion for it.”
Walter says it would not have been fair to put Nick in the position of having to offer an opinion on his younger brother, so that conversation never took place.
And Walters says as far as the draft itself was concerned, there were a few early issues during the roll call, but other than that, the evening unfolded as it usually does. “We’ve been operating with Zoom calls and Zoom meetings for so long, it just seemed like another one,” is how the Bombers GM shrugged off any differences from his previous CFL seven drafts. “This was very similar to what we normally do every year. We’d be sitting in a room at the stadium, you un-delete your phone and say your pick. We were just in a Zoom call having the same discussion.”
And Walters also downplayed the significance of the uncertainty over the coronavirus pandemic and the league revealing earlier this week it will require financial assistance from the Federal Government to avoid potentially devastating consequences. “Nobody’s worried about that stuff. The best part of the job is the excitement. One of the favourite days of the year is after you draft a player and how excited they are,” said Walters. “All they know is they get drafted by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and they can’t wait to get started, whenever that is. Just let us know and we’re ready to roll.”
Here is the post-Draft assessment from the GM of the other eight Winnipeg selections from Thursday night and Friday morning.
On Receiver Brendan O’Leary-Orange who has a history of concussions and other injuries during his career with the Nevada Wolfpack. “I think it was more of the hamstring. He’s had a bit of an injury history which is why he obviously fell (in the draft.) When you put his tape on, his total body of work when healthy is unbelievable. He’s big (6-4, 207) he’s fast. He makes a lot of plays against good competition. He just needs to get healthy. He has just too much of an upside sitting at (number) 37 (in the draft) to not take a chance on. It wasn’t really a position of need going in. That was a decision of the best player available.”
On Kicker Mark Liegghio who the Bombers selected with their first of two picks in the fifth round. “He’s one of the best kickers we’ve seen through the draft in a while. He’s good enough to be kicking in the CFL. Obviously, we’re happy with Justin (Medlock). But this young man can come in and learn from Justin. It’s always good to have depth and contingency plans across the board.”
On Defensive Lineman Nick Dheilly who was also drafted in the fifth round. “He’s a long, athletic defensive lineman who started out at Regina and was a Canada West Rookie of the Year. He broke the season sack record and he’s got bigger and stronger and finished off at Saskatchewan. He’s a hundred-mile-an-hour guy all the time. He runs around and smashes things. He comes off the edge with some twitching and quickness. His Special Teams film was pretty solid so we think he can help out there.”
On Linebacker Kyle Rodger who was Winnipeg’s sixth-round pick. “We spent a lot, a lot, A LOT of time watching Special Team film of guys this year, thinking these would be the group of guys in the latter rounds that we really wanted. Kyle Rodgers was a very good football player at Ottawa U. What really sold us on him was his Special Teams film was the best film we watched in regards to making plays with effort and hustle. He long-snapped. He’s a Winnipeg Blue Bombers kind of guy — a jack-of-all-trades. A little undersized at 5-11, about 210 pounds. But he’s just one of those guys who figures out a way to get it done and goes a hundred miles an hour all the time.”
On Linebacker Tanner Cadwallader who was the Bombers seventh-round pick. “He’s an interesting study. He played at Laurier for a little bit. Ended up playing some junior. So we went back and dug up his film at Laurier. He was really good on Special Teams and showed a real toughness and physicalness on his film. A thumper, a real hard-nosed, tough kid. He was at the regional combine and we really didn’t know too much about him. But his testing numbers were very good. 200 (pounds), running a 4.6. Very strong. And you combine his physical attributes from a testing standpoint, and what we watched on film was a striker. He’s a hitter. Positionally, we’re not sure where he fits in, but we’re quite sure he can run around on Special Teams, and that’s important to us.”
On Defensive Back Bleska Kambamba who was the final player selected in the draft at 73rd overall. “Just too good a player. He was a Corner. A little undersized, but strong, lean and wiry. Tackles well and physical. At that point (in the draft) he was too good a football player from our grading system to not bring to camp.”
On Receiver Macho Bockru of the U of M Bisons who was one of two selections in Friday morning’s waiver non-priority counter draft. “We loved his film. Coaches loved him. He wasn’t a real priority once we drafted O’Leary-Orange. But after the draft, where we graded him, and thought he’s a really good football player.”
On DL Zach Houghron who was the Bombers second waiver non-priority counter draft pick. “That was a need. We wanted to add a bigger body Canadian to go with Dheilly at the End. He played at Laurier at 250 (pounds) and showed up at the Regional and put on the weight back to 275, but still showed some interesting athleticism and twitchiness. Like an End. We went back and watched the East/West Bowl from last year when he lined up as the inside guy and he was really good. I think what hurt him, in my opinion, is playing his draft year out of position as an End, at 250. Accept that you’re an inside guy and play at 275, I think he’s wrapped his head around. He’s an interesting one that will provide some depth on the inside of the line.”