When the Canadian Football League revealed on Thursday afternoon that a change was going to be made to the format for determining the order of selection for the 2021 draft, there were few details provided on what led to the decision.
Winnipeg Blue Bombers General Manager Kyle Walters filled in some of the blanks when he joined Christian Aumell on the CJOB Sports Show later that night, with Walters sharing that it was his idea to get the ball rolling — so to speak.
“When this came down a few months ago, about the draft order and waiver wire, and it was the exact same as the 20-19 season where we were slotted last — ninth in the first round — I said I didn’t see how this is fair,” Walters recounted from that virtual conversation with his CFL counterparts.
“We didn’t play a 20-20 season and I’m assuming all nine teams were going to put a team together that was going to win the Grey Cup. So we don’t know how the season was going to finish in 20-20. It just didn’t seem fair that the team that picked first, Toronto, would get to pick first again.”
Walters says the discussion quickly picked up after he made his pitch, and pretty much everyone seemed to be on board “other than the teams that were picking one and two.”
So how this will work, is teams will be selected in a random draw that will include a snake order in that the team selecting ninth to close out the first round, will also have the opening pick of round two — kind of like your typical fantasy draft.
“That’s exactly what it’s going to be,” Walters said in agreement. “And what’s exciting from my standpoint — we’re not going to know before the fans and the public. So on the 21st — part of that Grey Cup Week — they’re going to do the draw and announce the draft order. So I’m very interested to see where the Winnipeg Blue Bombers draft. It’s kind of a cool twist on things, a cool deal to get people to keep the CFL in their minds and in their thoughts.”
Walters isn’t sure how that draw will be executed. That will be agreed upon by the league head office and their TV broadcast partner, who Walters says will be televising the draw nationally on Nov. 21. But aside from changing up the order, the league also announced a couple of other new wrinkles that will be tossed into the mix.
The draft, for 2021 only, will be reduced from the normal eight to just six rounds. There will not be territorial selections, and players eligible for 2021 will have the opportunity to opt-out until the following year in 2022.
Walters only sees the upside in how this will play out, with respect to having two fewer rounds. “You’re looking at eight or nine kids from last year that every team will have, and then even reduced to six (rounds) that’s going to be 15 Canadian draft picks in a training camp, which is a lot higher than normal.”
But Walters also likes the idea of the increased competitive level that will result from the extra numbers, and the impact it will have on the entire league. “What it’s going to promote is a good group of young Canadians coming into the league next year because it will be two full draft classes. There’s going to be a real strong group of young Canadians on each team’s roster, which is always good for the CFL.”
The Blue Bombers GM feels there’s still a bit of a sorting out process that will need to take place in terms of the opt-out component. “I’ve had great calls with a lot of the coaches and that will be really important for a player who had injury issues in 2019. Because when I go back and we start watching all the film for this draft class, it will be from the 2019 film,” said Walters. “So if a player was maybe banged up or injured, had academic issues, or they just had not had the time to shine yet and this (2020) was going to be their year, then these will be the players who I think will defer and go back to be able to show what they can do.”
Walters says what will also factor into the equation is that every one of the draft-eligible players all has an extra year of U Sports eligibility, and that could result in “overcrowding” at CFL training camps. And that will also play a role in how teams choose to utilize their picks. “You might draft a player, with the plan to send them back to school. And that could go back to last year as well, Now that’s a lot of schooling, but if some of them are heading into their Masters — or whatever they’re going to do — that will be something we’ll have to discuss with that group as well.”
One thing Walters has his fingers, and probably toes, crossed for is that there is something close to a normal process when it comes to evaluating the draft class of 2021. Because the year before took a totally unexpected turn when the spread of COVID-19 reared its head right when the CFL regional and national combines were about to take place back in March.
“We didn’t get to see last year’s draft class in person, and see the measurables, so that was a real challenge. Hopefully, everything gets back to some semblance of normalcy and in March we’re having evaluation camps,” Walters said wishfully, while admitting he wasn’t sure how realistic that would, or wouldn’t be. “But that’s what we’re planning on and hoping for. It will be real good to see them in March if all things get going and pointed in the right direction.”
That’s looking forward. In looking back, Walters says it’s hard to believe that just one year ago the Blue Bombers were embarking on a playoff run that would continue right through to ending the 29 year Grey Cup drought for the organization. “Gee it seems like a lifetime ago doesn’t it? It’s hard to believe a year ago it was the West Semi … which is sad — sad for our city and for our team. We had such a good run and right about now we should be figuring out a way to head into the playoffs to defend our Grey Cup. Obviously, it didn’t work out that way.”
And with those upcoming one year anniversaries in mind, 680 CJOB will be re-broadcasting the CFL West Semifinal and Final games on back to back Saturday Nights Nov. 14 and 21 from 7-10 p.m.
And there will also be special guests, who helped make those playoff victories happen, joining The Start for Breakfast with the Bombers for the next three Tuesdays in November at 7:35 a.m., as well as the first hour of the CJOB Sports Show at 7 p.m. with Christian Aumell to help relive those unforgettable moments.
And Global TV will be airing a special one-hour broadcast of the Grey Cup parade and Forks celebration on Thursday, Nov. 26 beginning at noon.
© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
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