If Liam Dobson eventually makes his way to the CFL, and if he lives up to some of the praise he received from general manager Kyle Walters, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers are going to have a special offensive lineman in their midst.
“There were a lot of good offensive linemen in this draft but we just thought Liam was the most like a Winnipeg Blue Bomber,” Walters said Wednesday as he evaluated the 2021 CFL Draft for the media.
“He’s gonna remind everybody of (Bombers legend Chris) Walby — a big bear of a man and not the nicest guy out on the football field. But he moves remarkably well for a man of his size.”
Dobson, a 6-foot-3, 340-pound O-lineman from Ottawa, was selected third overall by the Bombers in Tuesday’s draft.
He made his bones at the University of Maine, but has transferred to Texas State for the 2021 season and plans to both honour that commitment and try to improve his NFL Draft stock over the next year.
But the Bombers saw too much upside to pass up and looked to their future in making the pick.
“We like physical, we like tough, we like guys that are gonna be brawlers,” Walters said. “And that’s Liam Dobson. He’s a big, tough, physical kid and he’s our kind of offensive lineman.”
“We had a pretty good feeling going into the draft, with where we were picking, that the futures were going to come into play and there was going to be a focus on guys who were going to go back to school.
“We weren’t quite comfortable calling any of the names that were gonna be in training camp so the decision was to go with a futures pick and Liam just really fits what we’re trying to do on the offensive line.”
The Bombers are stacked with Canadians right now on the offensive line — Pat Neufeld, Drew Desjarlais, Michael Couture, Geoff Gray and Eli Asotui are all expected to return if and when the CFL season starts in August — but Dobson is at least a year away and things can change by then.
The fact that Dobson is going back to school actually works in the Bombers favour — provided he doesn’t improve to the point where he draws strong NFL interest next spring.
“There’s a high possibility CFL training camp numbers will be restricted so I think the futures have a little more value this year,” Walters said. “It’s not a bad thing to have some guys locked up for next year and not have to worry about where they are going to fit in this year.”
Dobson certainly seems eager to be a CFL player — he grew up a fan of the Canadian game in Ottawa — although he’s going to exhaust all of his NFL options first.
While they won’t have Dobson in training camp this year — nor third-round pick Patrice Rene and sixth-rounder Shae Weekes, as both are returning to U.S. colleges — the Bombers did pick three players who could contend for spots this season.
Second-round pick Redha Kramdi, a defensive back from the University of Montreal, might be the most ready to make an impact.
“He’s one of our favourite players to draft,” Walters said. “He just loves football. He’s a team captain in his third year at the University of Montreal, which is a very, very strong program. His special teams film was probably the best of everybody that we watched.
“Generally the way they play special teams is an indication of how much they love the game. In regard to his love and passion for the game, he’s our type of player. It just shows when you speak to him and in the way he plays. He’ll get a shot to win a job on special teams and let Richie and the guys on defence figure out where he best fits in.”
Rene is transferring from the University of North Carolina to Rutgers this year and is clearly at least a year away from playing in the CFL, but at 6-foot-2, 208 pounds, the Ottawa native projects as a potential ratio-breaking starter in the defensive backfield.
“He was just too good to pass up,” Walters said. “Long, athletic, started at the University of North Carolina. Just for the value that we saw right there, he could come in and compete as a corner at this level. If we see him in a year from now, I think he’s got a real opportunity to help us out.”
Fourth-rounder Robbie Lowes, from the University of Regina, is a linebacker who could come in and play a strong special teams role, like Shayne Gauthier, Thomas Miles and Jesse Briggs have played in the past.
“He’s somebody that we liked all along,” Walters said. “He plays the game the way he likes to play. He runs around, his special team film is really good, he competes. He’s improved his size and strength in the last year and a half. He’s our kind of player in regards to the way he hits and his love of the game.”
There’s controversy surrounding the Bombers final two picks — running back Kyle Borsa from Regina and Weekes, who played at the University of Manitoba before transferring to Bemidji State, where he’ll play next season.
Borsa was suspended for the 2019 season because of a drug test.
Borsa acknowledged that he took an off-the-shelf supplement and didn’t research what he was putting into his body.
“He’ll be able to talk through that suspension and how it went down and you’ll gain some respect for what that young man has gone through and how he has persevered,” Walters said. “He’s in phenomenal shape, he’s very versatile. He can run the ball in the backfield, he can catch. He’s a very well-rounded football player.”
Weekes has faced some serious allegations online but has never been charged.
“Like everybody we do a background search and see what comes up,” Walters said. “And we speak to the university coaches. And we were confident with what we heard, by all reports on Shae.”