TORONTO — While Jackson Bennett’s meteoric rise continues ahead of the 2018 CFL Draft, the University of Ottawa defender admits the work is far from over.
Bennett has put himself on the first-round radar with his stellar play at the combine in Winnipeg, proving his athleticism and versatility while carving out a future role as a defensive starter and special teams ace.
With the draft arriving Thursday night, part of Bennett’s dream to play professional football is about to be realized.
“I’ve been dreaming about this and it’s been my goal ever since I started playing football,” said Bennett, who first strapped on the pads at around 13 years old. “I wanted to be a professional and I know I have the mentality and the physical attributes to be a professional. I know my family and my friends look up to me and I want to make them proud and I want to make myself proud.
“Being called on draft day would meet my goal, but I have other goals I want to accomplish as well.”
Jackson Bennett saw his draft stock soar following the combine in Winnipeg (Johany Jutras/CFL.ca)
For Bennett, who first played soccer as a child, the love of football originally came from the physicality of the game. He’s also come to love all of the other things football teaches, such as leadership.
Some of these qualities have draft experts believing that Bennett will make an impact at the next level.
“Jackson Bennett really opened some eyes,” said TSN draft analyst Duane Forde. “Explosive athlete, a guy who offers some versatility. When you’re talking about CFL defences and that multiplicity — the ability to move guys to different positions and do different things — Jackson Bennett is a guy who can fit into that mold. He can be more than just a special teams guy.”
Marshall Ferguson, meanwhile, has Bennett cracking the top-six of the draft, landing sixth overall with the Edmonton Eskimos.
“To me, Jackson Bennett is that hybrid that can roll down into the box and become an off-the-edge blitzer from the free safety spot, get sideline to sideline, has pretty good hands and has return ability,” said Ferguson. “Between all the guys that signed NFL mini-camp deals, I think Jackson Bennett’s just going to slide closer and closer to the top of the draft.
“Coming out of the combine I’d be shocked if he’s not a first rounder.”
That versatility should also pay off for the U of O linebacker, whose combination of speed (4.69 in the 40) and strength (22 reps on the bench) at the combine also helped his stock, aside from, of course, his dominance in the one-on-ones.
“I think I have the size to play safety, halfback, corner if I have to, linebacker, inside or outside, and I have the speed to do so,” said Bennett.
The CFL Draft takes place May 3, 2018 at 8 p.m. ET on TSN.
Get all the top stories from across the league delivered to your inbox.