Prospects strap on the pads on Day 2 at the CFL Combine
TORONTO — The CFL Combine presented by New Era concluded on Sunday in Toronto, as the country’s top draft-eligible prospects took to the field on the University of Toronto grounds.
After completing the vertical jump and bench press on Saturday, players took part in four more tests and also had the opportunity to put on the pads in a competitive one-on-one setting in front of scouts and general managers from across the CFL.
University of British Columbia defensive back Malcolm Lee finished top-five in four of six major events, then carried his performance onto the field in defensive coverage against the combine’s top receivers.
A couple of pass-catchers also turned heads, as Queen’s University’s Chris Osei-Kusi had the best 40 time with a 4.47, followed closely by St. Francis Xavier receiver Kaion Julien-Grant at 4.49.
Manitoba receiver Shai Ross, invited from the Western Regional Combine, took home the top broad jump (11′ 5.50″), while jumping phenom Jay Dearborn placed second with a jump of 11′1.75″.
Ross also placed at the top of short shuttle with a 4.08-second run, while Western defensive back Hakeem Johnson was in a league of his own at the top of the three-cone drill, finishing with a run of 6.75 seconds.
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On the global leaderboard, France running back Asnnel Robo had the best 40 time (4.59), while France linebacker Maxime Rouyer had the longest broad jump (9’11.50″). Max Zimmerman of Germany had the best time in the three-cone (7.06), and finally, leading the short shuttle was French receiver Benjamin Plu (4.31).
All in all it was an impressive showing for prospects looking to prove their worth one last time before the 2019 CFL Draft on May 2.
In the morning, the big guys took the field and all eyes were on Laurier defensive lineman Robbie Smith, the highly-touted prospect projected to go in the first round. After a big first day at the combine, Smith helped himself with a fast 40. His time of 4.78 was impressive considering his 6-foot-2, 242 frame, but his hand-timed 10-yard split of 1.63, which was the best of all linemen on Sunday, is what may stand out to the scouts.
While Smith carried his performance into the individual drills, Concordia defensive lineman Michael Sanelli had his name called often in the one-on-one drills but didn’t relent, showing a high motor in matchups with several of the combine’s top O-linemen.
Zach Wilkinson showed his competitive side after shutting down Sanelli in a one-on-one drill. Wilkinson was one of the busiest offensive linemen in one-on-one matchups, backing up his confident trash talk with his play on the field.
“I’m definitely more of a vocal player,” Wilkinson said after the event. “I appreciate that part of the game where between the whistles, two guys want to take their heads off, but when it’s done we can shake hands and say, ‘hey man, that was a lot of fun and looking forward to seeing you again.’ I think that’s really special, you don’t get that a lot in other sports.”
Projected to be the top tackle in the draft, Kyle Saxelid didn’t step into many one-on-one matchups, but stood his ground when he did. Laval offensive lineman Vincent Desjardins, who showed his strength with 25 reps on the bench on Saturday, also turned heads in the one-on-one portion of the drills.
The afternoon session started with the running backs and linebackers, with Western linebacker Fraser Sopik looking to make his mark in coverage against the running backs. The versatile defender, tabbed as future special-teamer at the next level, made a nice interception in coverage on Calgary running back Jeshrun Antwi before later testing with the defensive backs as well.
One of the most anticipated players at the combine, UBC quarterback Michael O’Connor, threw without his shoulder pads and was effective. However, he may have been outdone by Western quarterback Chris Merchant, whose downfield accuracy led to several deep completions throughout the afternoon. Global quarterback Sonny Weishaupt, from Germany, also threw.
“I thought it was good, I wish I had a couple back,” said Merchant. “There was a lot of speed out there. Coming from a team where not everybody is the fastest in the country, you go out there and there’s a change of speed so you have to get used to it.
“There were a couple throws that I wish that I put it a little more in front of him, but that happens. If I was perfect I’d probably already be playing in the CFL. It’s just to go back to the drawing board, get better and work towards whenever you get your opportunity.”
The last event of the day pinned receivers against defensive backs in one-on-one action, including heavyweights Lee and Osei-Kusi. That was the most popular matchup of the afternoon, as the two players engaged in a physical back-and-forth battle in front of scouts and onlookers in the Varsity Stadium bubble.
Osei-Kusi rounded out a nice weekend when he beat Hakeem Johnson with a double move, showing consistent separation throughout the afternoon. He also got the best of Lee later in one-on-ones, hauling in a nice deep ball from Merchant.
“I was really happy,” said Osei-Kusi. “I know there was a lot of hard work and dedication that goes into that, so when I was ran my 40 and I came out and I heard the screams, I was like, ‘Oh yeah, for sure, I definitely got what I wanted.’ I’m excited, I’m happy with what I put up.
“I was lining up in one-on-ones, I was calling Malcolm (Lee), making him go to the other side. Malcolm’s a great DB so I obviously wanted to go against him a lot and I hope that they realize that.”
Southeastern Louisiana defender Shamar Busby made a number of nice plays in tight coverage, while Kaion Julien-Grant also showed plenty of separation throughout his routes. But in the end it was Lee punctuating an impressive weekend at the combine, finishing with circus-like interception against highly-touted receiver out of Laurier Kurleigh Gittens Jr.
“The receiver class was loaded, the DB class was loaded. It was good to get with other guys of your calibre and compete,” said Lee. “I was just trying to trust my technique. I’m not afraid to compete. I’m physical and I’m a hardworking player. I’m definitely going to help out a team wherever they need me to.”
Defensive back Matthew Boateng and projected first round pick Shane Richards were initially on the combine roster, but were sent home on Saturday after declining to take part in drills.
After a busy week of tests, interviews and on-field drills, all that’s left now for the country’s top prospects is to wait. The Toronto Argonauts hold the top pick in the CFL Draft, which will take place on May 2.