There are likely two safe bets when it comes to the 2014 CFL Draft; offensive linemen will dominate the early selections, and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers will look to solidify one of their most glaring positional needs with the second-overall pick.
According to the CFL Scouting Bureau's January rankings, four of the top five Canadian prospects line-up on the offensive side of the trenches, which is good news for Bombers general manager Kyle Walters. With only one selection in the first two rounds — Walters sent his second-round pick to Saskatchewan in the days ahead of the 2013 trade deadline — the No. 2 pick is an opportunity to grab one of three top O-line prospects who are expected to play professionally in Canada.
The No. 1-rated athlete overall, offensive tackle Laurent Duvernay-Tardif out of McGill, is not attending this weekend's CFL Combine in Toronto, opting instead to hold his own pro day in Montreal for both NFL and Canadian scouts.
This leaves Laval University centre Pierre Lavertu as a very likely target for either the expansion Ottawa Redblacks who select first overall, or for the Blue Bombers. Lavertu would be an attractive choice for Winnipeg with the free agent departure of starting centre Justin Sorensen this past winter.
"(I am a) centre, so it will help then if I'm going to be a centre at the next level," said the 6-foot-3 300-pound All-Canadian. "But if I have to play guard or something like that, I'm going to do it."
Lavertu is both confident and aware of the two teams who may call his name on May 13.
"I figure that will happen. It's going to be cool if I'm drafted by one of those teams. I watch a lot of the websites of Winnipeg and Ottawa just to learn more about these teams."
The offensive lineman that may have the most to prove during Combine weekend is 6-foot-4 294-pound Matthias Goossen out of the non-CIS school Simon Fraser.
"I want to make sure that whatever I do here solidifies what I've done in the season, and it can help show more athleticism — how I compare to guys in the CIS game, because obviously all these guys here I haven't played against at all. So it would great to compare myself to these guys and sort of show myself and prove my worth, and obviously continue to make myself look better for the scouts."
Goossen made a huge leap in the Bureau's rankings in just four months, moving from No. 15 up to No. 5 once more scouts and CFL team reps could see what he was capable of. The Combine is an opportunity for him to cement those assessments.
"I think the biggest thing, like everybody knows, is the one-on-ones and showing how to compete and showing how I actually play because when it comes down to it, there's no bench press on the field."
Goossen played every position on the offensive line over the past four years at SFU, but feels his body-type is an ideal fit for the centre position at the pro level.
A third potential option for the Blue Bombers, if they desire an O-lineman with their first pick may not fill their vacant centre spot, but he is quite hard to ignore. David Foucault stands 6-foot-8 and weighs in at 320 pounds.
"I played tackle last year, but two years ago I played guard. I can play on both sides — guard and tackle — left and right… If a coach asks me 'what do you prefer?' I prefer tackle. But I just want to play football. If you put me at guard, I will play guard. I just want to play professional football, and that's why I'm here."
While the CFL Combine measures many things, the versatile 24-year-old out of Montreal University feels language may be the most critical area for him to work on.
"That's why I went to Florida for training because all the stuff (at the Combine) is in English. When I came to Florida my first week, I was very bad in my English. I need to practice every day… If a scout or a coach wants to do an interview in French I will say no, I need to practice my English."
Another concern for the No. 3-ranked prospect could be his physicality, as Foucault may stand prominent, but he has been known to play smaller than his stature and lack finish when engaging defenders.
"(I'm looking most forward to) the one-on-ones because in the combine in Tampa (Florida) I did all the tests and some drills. Some mirror drills and O-line drills. But maybe the one-on-ones I need to do well in that (this weekend). For all my tests I need to be consistent or do better."
*N.B. Winnipeg traded their 2014 second-round selection along with import defensive end Alex Hall to the Saskatchewan Roughriders in exchange for non-import offensive lineman Patrick Neufeld and a 2015 fourth-round selection.