Rashaun Simonise is a physical specimen wrapped in an enigma.
Simonise is unquestionably the most scrutinized player of the 2018 CFL draft class as scouts try to figure out the complex, uber-talented receiver – the only player in the draft who has been to an NFL training camp.
Simonise broke out in 2015 with the University of Calgary, grabbing 51 balls for 1,079 yards and 11 touchdowns and for those efforts he was named a first-team All-Canadian. That production and the freakish combo of size, speed and athleticism earned Simonise an NFL contract and an invite to Cincinnati Bengals training camp in 2016 where he made two catches for 64 yards in the pre-season. If talent evaluators come to the conclusion Simonise can return to that form, the polarizing playmaker could be in play for the No. 1 overall selection.
“Based on his tape from 2015, Simonise has very rare skills and talent,” one CFL personnel man said. “But he’s a high-risk bust prospect too.”
The road to finally being eligible for the CFL draft has featured twists and turns for Simonise. He was ruled academically ineligible for the 2016 Canadian university football season. After the possibility of continuing to play university football was ruled out, Simonise put his focus on pro opportunities. The Vancouver native played five games for the Chicago Eagles recording 11 receptions for 105 yards and two touchdowns in the Champions Indoor Football League (CIF).
Then Simonise was deemed eligible for the NFL supplemental draft in July 2016. Six NFL teams attended his pro day at McMahon Stadium and while he wasn’t selected in the draft, approximately 10 teams made free-agent offers after the fact and he agreed to a deal with Cincinnati. The Bengals let Simonise go among the final cuts in training camp and he went back to B.C. to play in the Canadian Junior Football League for the Okanagan Sun.
Cincinnati wanted Simonise to add more bulk to his slender but long frame and that may have contributed to a positive drug test. The NFL imposed a four-game ban and the CFL pushed back his draft year to 2018, as per their drug policy.
“It all stemmed from the suspension. I was surprised [by the positive test] but I am responsible for everything I put in my body, so a learning lesson to be mature as a man and be aware of everything that happens,” Simonise said.
“Conducting myself as a professional – I wasn’t taking it as seriously as I should have. I wasn’t checking labels. I’ve moved on from it. I’m very anal about everything that I’m putting into my body. I’m taking it a lot more seriously now after that unfortunate circumstance happened. It lit the fire under me.”
That led to Simonise playing in the CJFL for two seasons, 2016 and 2017. In seven total regular-season games with the Okanagan Sun, Simonise made 23 catches for 392 yards and three touchdowns. Playing allowed Simonise to stay on a football field, train and work.
“I was working at the boys and girls club, so I was working with kids. It was an after-school program. I was working with kids from three to seven or eight every day, be there for them, do arts and crafts – it was a lot of fun, I enjoy being around kids,” Simonise said.
The enigmatic pass catcher came to the national CFL combine in Winnipeg and scouts said he had a different physical appearance from his time in Calgary and Cincinnati. Simonise checked in at nearly 6-foot-5, 202 pounds, pushed 225 pounds seven times on the bench press, ran a 4.76 laser and 4.65 hand-timed 40-yard dash, 4.21 short shuttle, 7.06 three-cone, leaping 35.5 inches for his vertical and 10-feet, 5.75-inches on the broad jump. Impressive raw testing numbers for his size, but on the field, his fitness level was noticeably insufficient.
Personnel men around the CFL feel Simonise needs time to develop, to work with pro coaches in order to get him back to the form that earned him an NFL contract. The potential reward – Simonise is graded as a high pick – is a ratio-breaker at receiver. However, given his history, there is risk involved.
“Simonise is a high risk, high reward type,” one CFL scout said.
“He has a high ceiling but brings some baggage and immaturity with him. He needs to go to a locker room that is strong and follow a veteran group to learn how to be a pro.”