Test time has arrived for Canada’s top amateur football prospects along with 18 ‘Global’ players, as the 2019 CFL Scouting Combine presented by New Era kicks off in Toronto this weekend.
Players arrive on Friday to take part in measurements and medicals, while the testing officially begins on Saturday at the Goldring Centre for High Performance Sport with the vertical jump followed by the bench press.
A busy Sunday shifts the scene to the bubble at Varsity Stadium, where athletes will take part in the 40-yard dash, shuttle, three-cone drill and broad jump followed by individual drills and one-on-ones.
The lights are on, the scouts are watching and the moment has arrived for prospects to try and elevate their draft stock and leave one final impression before the 2019 CFL Draft on May 2.
With two days of live programming featuring play-by-play commentary and analysis from Marshall Ferguson, Davis Sanchez and Brodie Lawson, CFL.ca is bringing fans the entire combine experience with sideline access and up-to-the-minute reports and interviews with some of the league’s most prominent minds. Click here for an overview of CFL.ca’s coverage, and visit CFL.ca/live throughout the weekend for coverage of the combine you don’t want to miss.
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» Combine 101: A look at each drill
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» What to Watch for on Saturday
» What to Watch for on Sunday
The regional combine circuit wrapped up Thursday, capping off three scouting showcases for prospects in Edmonton, Montreal and Toronto. A new wrinkle has been added to the national showcase with the addition of ‘global’ players attending from overseas for the first time ever. The 18 players will test alongside the top prospects eligible for the 2019 CFL Draft. Several delegates from each nation’s football federation will be attending the Combine to take in the events and to continue the momentum on the CFL’s ‘2.0’ international strategy.
The weekend finishes with one last chance to impress, as prospects line up against one another head to head in the one-on-ones. This unique aspect of the combine will be carried live by CFL.ca, with commentary from Sanchez and Ferguson.
The schedule for Saturday and Sunday is as follows:
COMBINE SCHEDULE – SATURDAY
|9:30 a.m.||Height/weight measurements, video shot and vertical jump|
|11:30 a.m.||Bench press|
*All times in EDT
COMBINE SCHEDULE – SUNDAY
*All times in EDT
In addition to the 35 prospects originally on the national combine list, 12 more players have added their name to the roster the last month via the regional combine circuit.
Regional combines in Montreal, Toronto and Edmonton expanded the field to allow even more draft-eligible athletes the opportunity to impress the scouts. Those who have been invited will get a chance to show what they can do against the country’s most highly-regarded prospects for the 2019 CFL Draft.
Keep a close eye on the regional combine invites. Since the regionals were implemented in 2013, 56 out of 74 (76 per cent) of late invites have been taken in the CFL Draft, including 12 last season:
– Marco Dubois, a receiver from Laval University (Eastern Regional), was selected in the second round,
13th overall, by the Ottawa REDBLACKS.
– Eric Mezzalira, a linebacker from McMaster University (Ontario Regional), was selected in the second
round, 17th overall, by the Calgary Stampeders.
– Jordan Beaulieu, a defensive back from Western University (Ontario Regional), was selected in the
third round, 24th overall, by the Edmonton Eskimos.
– Tanner Green, a running back from Concordia University (Western Regional), was selected in the
fourth round, 32nd overall, by the Edmonton Eskimos.
– Arnaud Gendron-Dumouchel, an offensive lineman for University of Montréal (Eastern Regional), was
selected in the fourth round, 33rd overall, by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
– Justin Buren, a receiver from Simon Fraser University (Western Regional), was selected in the fifth
round, 37th overall, by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
– Paul Kozachuk, a linebacker from the University of Toronto (Ontario Regional), was selected in the
sixth round, 46th overall, by the Montréal Alouettes.
– Khadim Mbaye, a linebacker from the University of Ottawa (Eastern Regional), was selected in the
seventh round, 52nd overall, by the Montréal Alouettes.
– Harry McMaster, a receiver from Western University (Ontario Regional), was selected in the seventh
round, 53rd overall, by the Edmonton Eskimos.
– Will Watson, a receiver from the University of British Columbia (Western Regional), was selected in the
seventh round, 54th overall, by the BC Lions.
– Justin Howell, a defensive back from Carleton University (Eastern Regional), was selected in the
seventh round, 55th overall, by the Ottawa REDBLACKS.
– Jacob Firlotte, a defensive back from Queen’s University (Ontario Regional), was selected in the
seventh round, 58th overall, by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
For the first time ever, 18 ‘Global’ prospects from five different countries have been invited to compete alongside draft eligible prospects, building momentum on the CFL’s 2.0 international strategy. Below is a breakdown of the countries and positions represented by global players at the combine:
Germany – 6
Finland – 4
France – 4
Denmark – 2
Italy – 2
Canadian QB hype
A year after the diminutive Noah Picton was the top quarterback on display at the combine, UBC’s Michael O’Connor checks in at the other end of the size spectrum. The 6-foot-5, 235-pound quarterback has garnered plenty of attention entering the weekend as a legitimate pro prospect.
“O’Connor has the size required to make the leap to the CFL, with the release and footwork to match it,” says CFL.ca’s Marshall Ferguson. “All he needs is a team to give him the right fit to develop like Andrew Buckley got in Calgary and he could be the next great hope for Canadian QB fans.”
2017 Vanier Cup MVP Chris Merchant out of Western is another Canadian quarterback to watch this weekend. The OUA First-Team All-Star in 2018, who won the Yates Cup and was named MVP of the Mitchell Bowl, says current Calgary Stampeders head coach Dave Dickenson is his biggest inspiration after attending his camps as a kid.
CFL fans are starving for more Canadian QB success after Mississauga, Ont. native Brandon Bridgebecame the first national pivot to start a playoff game in decades last November.
Fresno State defensive back Matthew Boateng, who said he wanted to break the 40-yard dash record at the CFL Combine, put his wheels on display at his school’s pro day this week while blazing to a time of 4.38. He’ll look to duplicate that success this weekend as he tries to impress the scouts ahead of the May 2 CFL Draft.
There’s no denying Boateng’s athleticism and upside, which make him one of the most intriguing athletes taking part in this weekend’s events. Boateng has also received guidance from CFL-experienced minds during his time at Fresno State in former Lions head coach Jeff Tedford and current Ticats head coach Orlondo Steinauer.
The question for Boateng, who’s of no known relation to Eskimos pass-rusher Kwaku, is whether his athletic prowess meets his ability as a football player.
“I think Matt has a future, if he wants to play, if he chooses to apply himself,” Steinauer told CFL.ca’s Chris O’Leary. “He’s bounced around a few schools but I think he’s in a good place right now in life and I hope he’s ready to contribute. I think he could have a long career up here if he so chooses.”
Speaking of Kwaku…
CFL teams will have a close eye on Laurier defensive end Robbie Smith, who’s already drawing comparisons to Eskimos defensive end Kwaku Boateng. In 2017 Boateng was passed on far too many times in the draft, dropping to 41st overall before becoming the CFL’s top Canadian edge rusher and one of just a few ratio-breakers in the league — a mistake GMs would prefer not to repeat.
Our in-house draft guru Marshall Ferguson, however, has another comparison for Smith: Calgary Stampeders defensive lineman Ese Mrabure, namely because of his ability inside against the run. All three players came out of Wilfrid Laurier.
“Everyone will want to compare Smith to Kwaku Boateng, and with good reason,” said Ferguson. “Both donned the Laurier purple and gold with pride while wrecking havoc on OUA offensive lines with a variety of pass rush moves. Here’s the thing about Smith, however: he’s doing it heavier than Kwaku was at combine time and brings a slightly different set of skills, especially against the run inside.”
Smith, who checks in at 6-foot-2, 245 pounds, had three sacks in 2018 after recording 10.5 sacks in 2017. He’s projected to be a first round pick in Ferguson’s latest mock draft.
First overall favourite?
Speaking of Marsh’s first mock draft, it appears Oklahoma State offensive lineman Shane Richards is an early favourite to go first overall after an impressive pro day. Despite measuring up at nearly 6-foot-6, 332 pounds, Richards showed some athleticism with a 27-inch vertical and 22 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press.
The ball is in Jim Popp’s court right now as the Toronto Argonauts hold the first overall pick, and this early in the process there’s no telling what might happen with the number one selection. The CFL Combine can go a long way to determining who will go first overall, but there are other factors to consider, including last-minute trades, interest in prospects from south of the border and players who don’t participate in the national showcase.
If the Argos are looking for some muscle on the O-line with the top pick, UNLV’s Kyle Saxelid could be another contender for the top pick. Saxelid started every game at left tackle for UNLV in 2015 and 2016, helping their rushing attack average 241.5 yards per game, which ranked 16th in the nation and was the program’s highest average since 1979.
With his ability to play tackle, the Argos could patiently groom Saxelid as an eventual replacement for 35-year-old right tackle Chris Van Zeyl. Canadian tackles have become quite rare in the CFL as the position continues to be dominated by Americans.
While the Picton and Onyeka family ties are absent from this year’s combine, one player with notable CFL bloodlines is 6-foot-2, 200-pound defensive back out of UBC Malcolm Lee. Lee is the brother of 2009 third overall pick and running back Jamall Lee, who broke the CFL’s 40-yard dash record before spending time with the BC Lions and the NFL’s Carolina Panthers.
Malcolm’s dad, Orville Lee, played running back for Ottawa, Hamilton and Saskatchewan in the late 80s and early 90s, while his uncle, Dwight Richards, was drafted 10th overall by the Ottawa Rough Riders in 1993.
CFL.ca’s Marshall Ferguson says we can expect Lee’s athleticism to be on full display over the next two days in Toronto.
“Lee is long, physical and willing to take the odd risk knowing that his natural athleticism and ability to see the big picture defensively can make up for any missteps,” said Ferguson. “Despite his inevitable future as a free safety and special teamer, Lee’s length and physicality should show well in the naturally unnatural setting of pass coverage one-on-ones and special teams gunner drills.”
The WPG RB pipeline
After Alex Taylor was drafted by Edmonton last season, the Winnipeg running back pipeline remains plentiful in the CFL, having produced names like Andrew Harris, Anthony Coombs, Kienan LaFrance and Nic Demski, among others.
This year it’s Jamel Lyles looking to follow suit and make the jump to the professional game, as the Manitoba running back, who performed in the East-West Bowl a year ago, tries to turn heads at this weekend’s scouting showcase.
Lyles, a 6-foot, 210-pound back, shared one of his favourite memories going into the combine, of the time he got Andrew Harris‘ gloves as a kid and hung onto them. Last year Lyles was one locker-room over from Harris while suiting up with the Bisons at Investors Group Field.
Another Winnipeg native in North Dakota running back Brady Oliveira will not be at combine but could be a high draft pick at the CFL Draft on May 2.
Dearborn can jump!
One of the biggest stars to emerge on the regional combine circuit was Jacob Dearborn, who will try to duplicate his afternoon in Montreal on the national stage in Toronto.
At the Eastern Regional Combine last week, the Carleton Ravens defensive back set a regional combine record for his position with a 41-inch vertical. His 11-foot-1 broad jump, meanwhile, was a CFL Combine record for defensive backs. Dearborn’s vert, by the way, was higher than Odell Beckham Jr. (38.5″), LeBron James (40″) and current NFL draft prospect DK Metcalf (40.5″)!
Plenty of stars have been born out of the regional combines, and Dearborn has the chance to become the latest with a strong performance this weekend.
Lunch pail mentality
While top prospects look to solidify their draft stock this weekend, one player with plenty to gain is Manitoba offensive lineman Zack Williams. A projected mid-round draft pick, Williams has overcome lots throughout his U SPORTS career, from his father’s fight with cancer to juggling school, football and multiple jobs.
“Growing up, my dad was one of the toughest guys I saw,” said Williams. “I’ve always looked up to him. Seeing him go through this battle lets you see how really hard it is,” he told CFL.ca’s Chris O’Leary. “He’ll talk about life lessons. He’ll tell me to keep working hard and training.”
In 46 years, Manitoba coach Brian Dobie says he hasn’t seen a harder-working player, which could work into Williams’ favour if he comes up big in the one-on-ones on Sunday.
“He’s the hardest-working guy, one of the best people I’ve ever coached. A workaholic.”
The Manitoba native was named a Canada West All-Star in 2018, a year after participating in the East-West Bowl in Quebec City.
Also under the radar…
Two more players to watch according to CFL.ca’s Marshall Ferguson are Western linebacker Fraser Sopik and Laurier receiver Kurleigh Gittens Jr.
Sopik was instrumental in the Mustangs’ Vanier Cup Championship win over Laval in 2017, being named the game’s most outstanding defensive player for his efforts. Ferguson says his special teams acumen will make him a name to watch out for both on draft day and at the combine.
“He’s a slightly larger and more aggressive in the box player than former Mustangs teammate Jordan Beaulieu, but both have the same downhill mentality,” said Ferguson. “What Sopik does have is a day one special teams role and the ability to impress coaches and teammates with effort immediately on any team smart enough to draft him.”
Gittens Jr., meanwhile, has been a dominant receiver all throughout his four seasons at Wilfrid Laurier. With Justin McInnis out of the combine, Gittens is one of the most prominent pass-catchers going on display this weekend in Toronto, coming off a 64-catch, 792-yard season, ranking him top-five in the country in both categories.
Roll Call: Who’s absent?
Not all of the country’s top-ranked talent will be on stage on Saturday and Sunday, as Mathieu Betts (1), Justin McInnis (3), Jonathan Kongbo (4), Alex Fontana (5), Hergy Mayala (6), Alexandre Savard (7), Maleek Irons (8), Brady Oliveira (10) and Maurice Simba (11) won’t be present.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR ON SATURDAY
Saturday starts bright and early with the vertical jump, where players start from a set position and perform a two-footed jump, touching the highest slat-marker possible. A year ago, Toronto linebacker Paul Kozachuk and McMaster receiver Daniel Petermann tied with the highest vertical at 39 inches, and both ended up being drafted.
Chris Ackie‘s 40-inch vertical in 2015 was the highest in recent memory — until last week, when Carleton University’s Jacob Dearborn’s 41-inch vertical broke a record for his position at a regional combine. Dearborn will be one to watch in Saturday’s event as he looks to match his own number.
“I had a pretty good idea that I wanted to be around there,” Dearborn said of his impressive jump last week. “I had no idea it was record-breaking, I knew those numbers were within my range so I was pushing for them. To hear that, it’s surprising, it’s exciting.”
Following the vertical jump, players will move on to the bench press at 11:30 a.m. This test of sheer strength is always one of the most popular events of the combine, and it comes in a high-pressure environment as everyone stops and watches while prospects get one attempt to complete as many 225-pound reps as possible.
The bench press is particularly important for offensive and defensive linemen, as Hamilton Tiger-Cats front office consultant Jim Barker famously once said he wouldn’t even consider an unnamed offensive lineman if he didn’t improve on his 12-rep showing at the East-West Combine.
“I told him after the game, ‘if you don’t bench press over 18, we won’t even put you on our board’,” said Barker. “There’s a certain strength you have to have to be able to pass protect. The bench press, to me, is a guy who is willing to spend the time in the weight room.”
Last year the top score on the bench press was 27, set by eventual first-round pick out of UBC Dakoda Shepley. Elie Ngoyi and Philippe Gagnon have both hit 40 reps in recent years, while Jean Simon Roy led all participants with 39 reps two years ago in Regina.
Still, Michael Knill’s record of 47 reps, set back in 2011, has not yet been threatened.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR ON SUNDAY
Four major tests make for a busy Sunday at the CFL Combine, not to mention the all-important one-on-ones as prospects get one last chance to make an impression.
In the morning, prospects will put their speed, agility and explosiveness to the test as each position group goes through the 40-yard dash, shuttle, three-cone drill and broad jump.
The 40-yard dash tests both quickness (10 and 20 times) and straight line speed (40 time). A poor 40 time can severely inhibit a prospect’s draft position while a fast time can separate someone from the pack. Imagine the span of four to five seconds potentially defining a prospect’s future.
BC Lions draft pick Isaiah Guzylak-Messam had the best time last year with a 4.51, while former Montreal Alouettes defensive back Tevaughn Campbell remains the all-time electronic record holder after running a 4.36 in 2015.
The three-cone drill tests a player’s ability to change direction, balance and reach top speed quickly. The short shuttle tests lateral quickness, start-and-stop quickness as well as agility. Last year eventual second overall pick Mark Chapman had the best three-cone time at seven seconds flat, while Ticats draft pick Jackson Bennett had the best short shuttle with a time of 4.09.
Prospects will test their explosiveness and body control with the broad jump, which requires players to stand behind a line and jump forward as far as possible. Last year no one had a better broad jump than Chapman, who recorded a jump of 10’7.25″ as part of a dominant day at the national combine in Winnipeg. Once again, Dearborn will be one to keep an eye on, after jumping 11 feet and one inch at the regional combine, a record for his position.
Starting at 1 p.m. ET, prospects will be put through individual drills followed by one-on-ones, a highly-competitive setting that’s unique to the CFL Combine. At this point, with the testing numbers finalized, the rest of the work is to be put on film as coaches, scouts and general managers see how prospects do in a more physical, football-specific environment.
Past participants have described one-on-ones as part mental, part physical and part preparation.
“I definitely looked at a bit of film just to kind of get a sense of certain guys that I may not have known or didn’t play in the OUA,” said 2018 draft pick Justin Howell. “I checked a bit of their film to see what kind of route runners they are. At the end of the day, it’s just a one-on-one rep. You just have to go with what you know, your fundamentals and trust yourself and just go and compete.”
For up to the minute analysis and a live look-in on the combine, stay tuned to CFL.ca throughout the week.
MORE COMBINE QUICK HITS
CFL unveils broadcast details for 2019 combine – https://www.cfl.ca/2019/03/15/cfl-ca-unveils-broadcast-details-2019-combine/
The Waggle presented by Sport Clips, Ep. 150: Combine Primer – https://www.cfl.ca/thewaggle#150
Mock Draft 1.0: Argos go big with #1 overall pick – https://www.cfl.ca/2019/03/18/mock-1-0-argos-go-big-first-overall-pick/
Combine 101: The basics behind each drill – https://www.cfl.ca/2019/03/17/combine-101-basics-behind-prospect-drill-2/
Denmark’s Nielsen embracing the combine spotlight – https://www.cfl.ca/2019/03/22/oleary-denmarks-nielsen-embracing-combine-spotlight/
Boateng brings speed, intrigue to CFL Combine – https://www.cfl.ca/2019/03/21/oleary-boateng-brings-speed-intrigue-cfl-combine/
New Wilson X-Pro ball brings next-level analytics to combine – https://www.cfl.ca/2019/03/21/new-wilson-x-pro-ball-brings-next-level-analytics-combine/
For Comparison’s Sake: Projecting the combine’s top prospects – https://www.cfl.ca/2019/03/20/comparisons-sake-projecting-combines-top-prospects-2/
Through the Lens: The CFL Combine over the years – https://www.cfl.ca/2019/03/19/lens-cfl-combine-years/
Williams inspired, ready to work at CFL Combine – https://www.cfl.ca/2019/03/19/oleary-williams-inspired-ready-work-cfl-combine/
Preparation Meets Opportunity: More than meets the eye at combine – https://www.cfl.ca/2019/03/19/preparation-meets-opportunity-cfl-combine-meets-eye/
The art of the interview at CFL Combine – https://www.cfl.ca/2019/03/16/behind-closed-doors-art-interview-cfl-combine/