Forde: A look at the prospects for the CFL Combine

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Duane Forde
3/23/2013 8:11:10 AM
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A look at some of the names to watch for at this weekend's CFL Combine in Toronto.

DEFENSIVE LINE

Big Names: Defensive tackle Stefan Charles (Regina) is a legit NFL prospect while fellow DT Linden Gaydosh (Calgary) is one of the strongest players in this class. Athletic end Ben D'Aguilar is the most athletic lineman in the draft and reigning Metras Trophy winner (Top Lineman in CIS).

Burning Combine Question: Can Stefan Charles perform to his potential and prove himself to be a dominant force?

Possible Sleepers: Bishop's players notoriously step up in combine settings and Gaiter DE Elie Ngoyi matched Gaydosh with 31 reps on the bench at the East West Bowl last May. John Miniaci (Queen's) beat out both Charles and Gaydosh for a DT spot on the CIS All-Canadian team last fall.

Who's Missing?: Andy Mulumba (Eastern Michigan) is a late scratch due to a shoulder injury. As impressive as the D-Line crop will be at E-Camp, imagine how it would look if redshirts Brent Urban (DT, Virginia), Jesse Joseph (DE, Connecticut), Hosam Shahin (DT, Rice), Kalonji Kashama (DE, Eastern Michigan), and Connor Williams (DE, Utah State) were in attendance.

Random Thoughts: Although offensive line and receiver are the most "traditionally Canadian" positions in the CFL, this is the second consecutive year that the D-Line has been the marquee group in the draft.

OFFENSIVE LINE

Big Names: Gigantic tackle Matt Sewell is a perennial All-Canadian and represented the CIS in the East West Shrine game in Florida in January. Cory Watman has played a lot of football against Division 1 competition, as a three-year starter at Eastern Michigan, while Brett Jones, perhaps the smartest player in the draft, has drawn frequent comparisons to fellow Regina product Brendon LaBatte.

Burning Combine Question: Matt Sewell has great feet for a 330 lbs. man but does he move well enough to handle the speed of CFL defensive ends?

Possible Sleepers: Matt Vonk (Waterloo) is one the most athletic offensive lineman in the CIS and Matthew Albright (St. Mary's) had an impressive East West Bowl last spring.

Who's Missing?: Although he has battled injuries throughout his college career, Nolan MacMillan (Iowa) is the most talented of the redshirts but Brander Craighead (Texas-El Paso) and 6'7" OT Hunter Steward (Liberty) are also highly regarded. Alexis Rousseau-Saine has been a CIS stud for four years but it has long been known that he will pursue a career helping people (medicine) rather than hurting them (football).

Random Thoughts: With the knowledge that virtually every CFL Draft will see more players drafted at O-Line than any other position, the league should consider bringing more of them to the main Combine. I can't speak to the Edmonton and Quebec City regionals but Kevin Croft (Sherbrooke) and Shane Bergman (Western) were impressive enough at the National Invitational Combine to warrant a further look against the top prospects.

LINEBACKERS

Big Names: Converted DB Mike Edem (Calgary) rocketed up the Canadian Scouting Bureau rankings after a monster season in which he was named Canada West's top defensive player.

Burning Combine Question: As a hybrid LB, does Mike Edem have a true position in the CFL or will he be labeled a "tweener"?

Possible Sleepers: In recent years, Sherbrooke has developed a tradition of producing very good linebackers. Last season, after a couple of years of being overshadowed by Felipe Fonseca and Kevin Régimbald, Nicolas Boulay emerged as the leader of the Vert et Or LB corps and has the potential to step up this weekend as well.

Who's Missing?: Redshirt Bo Lokombo (Oregon) is the best football player in this draft class and will garner NFL attention in 2014.

Random Thoughts: Most Canadian linebackers are primarily special teamers in the CFL. I'll be curious to see if the league finds any time to do some special teams drills during Sunday's on field sessions so that these prospects can be appropriately evaluated.

RUNNING BACKS

Big Names: Steven Lumbala has been talked about as a potential CFLer for the last four years and Rotrand Sené (Montreal) is a perennial Hec Crighton contender.

Burning Combine Question: After being slowed by nagging injuries in 2012, does Steven Lumbala still possess the explosiveness that he displayed in his first three CIS seasons?

Possible Sleepers: The Bishop's Gaiters running back spot has been a revolving door since Jamall Lee left for the CFL four years ago but, last season, 245 lbs. Matt Burke carried the load. With the CFL's current demand for true fullbacks far exceeding its supply, Burke will receive a long look this weekend.

Who's Missing?: Zack Skibin (Acadia) tested well at the East West Bowl but a serious knee injury wiped out his 2012 season and his Combine hopes.

Random Thoughts: When I updated my files on this draft class three years ago, the RB position was deep in high end prospects. However, a year later, that had changed dramatically. Jeff Hassler (Saskatchewan) and Jordan Wilson-Ross (Ottawa) were in the class of Lumbala and Sené as burgeoning CIS stars but both gave up football for rugby and are now national team players in that sport. Meanwhile, after seeing regular playing time as NCAA FCS (Division 1-AA) true freshmen, neither Daniel Heslop (Savannah State) nor Remi Biakabutuka completed his college career. North of the border, Matt Socholotiuk (Waterloo) also had an impressive freshman season but is just now returning to football after serving a three-year suspension for the use of a banned substance. Like Hassler and Wilson-Ross, he also found another sport during his time on the sidelines, excelling in the world of mixed martial arts.

DEFENSIVE BACKS

Big Names: Cameron Wade (Acadia) and Michael Daly (McMaster) are the only 2012 CIS All-Canadians among this group but Patrick Chenard (Sherbrooke) has been an impact player for the Vert et Or over the course of his career.

Burning Combine Question: Who will emerge this weekend as the top prospect in this wide open group of defensive backs?

Possible Sleepers: Kris Robertson is the smallest DB at the Combine but also likely the most athletic. Originally overlooked for an invitation, he earned his way in with his performance at the Quebec City regional combine earlier this week.

Who's Missing?: Joey Cupido (McMaster) has had a very successful CIS football career playing in a highly visible program but he also already has a pro sports career with the Colorado Mammoth of the National Lacrosse League. Redshirt Tolu Akinwumi (Rice) is a tremendous athlete with good size but sat out the 2012 season with an arm injury and is likely to sit out this fall as well.

Random Thoughts: Simply put, the number of draft prospects at defensive back is always disproportionate to the small number of CFL jobs available for Canadian DBs and this discrepancy has become even more pronounced over the last 15 years, as the number of designated import spots has risen from one to three and several teams have opted to start five import DBs. If any of these young men want to find pro employment, they need to shine this weekend.

RECEIVERS

Big Names: Mike DiCroce (McMaster) was a Hec Crighton finalist in 2011. Among draft eligible receivers, no one averaged more catches or yards per game in 2012 than Chris Dobko (Calgary). Three of the ten receivers at the Combine are from the reigning Vanier Cup Champion Laval Rouge et Or (Yannick Morin Plante, Seydou Junior Haïdara, and Guillaume Rioux).

Burning Combine Question: Can Mike DiCroce show that he has fully recovered from the injuries that severely limited his 2012 season or will the door remain wide open for someone else, perhaps Simon LeMarquand, to establish himself as the top receiver at the Combine?

Possible Sleepers: The Waterloo football program is still in rebuilding mode but one of the bright spots last fall was All-Canadian receiver Nick Anapolsky, who was second in the CIS in both catches and receiving yards.

Who's Missing?: 6'5" burner Stephen Alli (Florida) and Natey Adjei (Buffalo) likely would have been at or near the top of the receiver testing board had they been in attendance. Adjei will return for his final season with the Bulls. The enigmatic Alli also has a year of remaining NCAA eligibility but has already graduated from Florida and is slated to continue his graduate studies at UF...but not play football there next year. His situation is further clouded by his slow recovery from a lower leg stress fracture.

Random Thoughts: 6'4" Steven Adekolu (Bishop's) was added to the mix after an outstanding performance at Friday's National Invitational Combine. His dominance at the event was reminiscent of that of current Toronto Argonaut Spencer Watt at the inaugural NIC in 2010. Like Watt, who became a third round pick that year, Adekolu hopes to leapfrog several receivers who had been invited to the Combine ahead of him.

QUARTERBACKS

Big Names: Regina born Cayman Shutter played his minor football in Saskatchewan before his family moved to Hawaii when he was 11. At Honolulu's Punahou High School (Barack Obama's alma mater), he developed into an All-State performer and State Champion before signing with the University of Hawaii. He was on track to become the Rainbows starter in 2012 before a DUI charge earned him a team imposed suspension and kept him out of spring camp. He graduates this spring and chose to forfeit his last year of NCAA eligibility to give the CFL a shot.

Burning Combine Question: Can Cayman Shutter live up to his pre-Hawaii potential?

Possible Sleepers: Myles Gibbon may be overshadowed by Shutter because the latter played at Hawaii while Gibbon split his career between South Alabama and York...but Gibbon was a former starter at USA and h's impact on the York program in just one season speaks volumes.

Who's Missing?: It's tough to argue that any other draft eligible QB has as much pro potential as Shutter and Gibbons.

Random Thoughts: For the first time ever, the CFL Combine features two quarterbacks with actual NCAA Division 1 playing experience. Although Shutter and Gibbons PT down south was limited, this is symbolic of how the current generation of young Canadian QBs, including a wave of CIS studs, is closing the gap on its American counterparts.

KICKERS

Big Names: Lirim Hajrullahu is very familiar to CFL scouts, having attended the last two CIS East West Bowls.

Burning Combine Question: After only being asked to handle placekicking duties for his first three CIS seasons, has Lirim Hajrullaju's punting improved enough in the last year to earn him a CFL job?

Possible Sleepers: Brett Lauther (St. Mary's) had the unenviable task of following AUS legend and current Winnipeg Blue Bomber Justin Palardy as the Huskies kicker. He improved his field goal accuracy from 63% in 2011 to 80% last fall. He has also raised his punting average by about three yards per year over his three seasons as a starter.

Who's Missing?: Billy Pavlopoulos (British Columbia) missed the 2012 season while serving a suspension for using a supplement that contained a banned substance. However, he is the best punter in this draft class and perhaps the best all around kicking prospect as well.

Random Thoughts: This is a good time to be a Canadian kicking prospect in the CFL. Over the last few seasons, former Toronto Argonaut and Hamilton Tiger-Cat Justin Medlock, with his 60-yard range and 90% accuracy, is the only American kicker who has justified his team's use of a designated import spot to fill that role. Teams would be wise to continue the trend of keeping and developing young, non-import kickers so they're never forced to by injury to juggle the ratio and use an import.

For up to the minute CFL Combine news throughout the weekend, follow @DuaneFordeTSN, @FarhanLaljiTSN, and @TSNKate on Twitter.

Steven Lumbala (Photo: Photo credit David Moll)

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(Photo: Photo credit David Moll)
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