Editor’s note: 3DownNation’s Justin Dunk is in Quebec City for this week’s East-West Bowl. Be sure to check back for his daily updates on the 2019 CFL Draft class.
The 2018 CFL draft may be barely in the books but the attention of scouts has already turned to the incoming class.
Pro talent evaluators from the CFL and NFL – New York Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan showed up last year – will descend on the Laval University campus from May 8 to 13 for the 2018 USports East-West Bowl, a Canadian university showcase event for the top draft-eligible prospects for the following year’s CFL draft. Players go through all the standard football testing events on Tuesday, practice for the remainder of the week and then play a game on Saturday, May 12 (12:30 p.m. ET).
The Canadian Football League pours around $50,000 into East-West, which was started in 2003. Laurier, Laval, McMaster, Western and McGill have hosted the event in the past while the Rouge et Or have first-class facilities with a state of the art indoor field situated right beside Stade Telus – there won’t be any turf issues that plagued the CFL Combine last March.
Last year’s East-West saw offensive lineman Marke Korte (Redblacks) and Dakoda Shepley (Riders) display pro athleticism when matched up against high-level competition in the same class, a significant step in their journey to becoming first-round round picks. The same could be said for second-round selections, defensive backs Godfrey Onyeka (Eskimos) and Jackson Bennett (Ticats).
The results from Tuesday testing set a baseline for CFL scouts in terms of where prospects rank athletically. Final exams just ended and university programs across the country have recently completed spring camps, which means players are more in football than pure testing shape. That’s taken into account by personnel men, but natural abilities will show through.
Practices are important to scouts as it gives the opportunity to match best-on-best in a pure football setting, similar to the CFL combine one-on-ones. When the teams square off on Saturday there will be no blitzing and other guidelines to follow in order to allow football ability to be emphasized over scheme.
It appears a strong USports class is on the way. The usual bevvy of offensive linemen are going to be available with Laval’s Samuel Thomassin and Pierre-Karl Lanctot leading the group. Meanwhile Rouge et Or defensive lineman Mathieu Betts ranks above the rest at his position but Laurier’s Robbie Smith has been loosely compared to Kwaku Boateng of the Eskimos as a better, longer athlete. Outside the trenches, there are some intriguing skill position players.
Quarterback Michael O’Connor, however, is the star attraction (we’ll have more on him later.) O’Connor’s No. 1 receiver at UBC Trivel Pinto is a versatile, smooth athlete. Fellow Thunderbird Malcolm Lee, brother of Jamall (2009 first-round, third overall pick by the B.C. Lions as a running back), has size at defensive back as does Ottawa cover man Jamie Harry. 2017 OUA MVP Kurliegh Gittens Jr. is dangerous with the ball in the open field just like Kalem Beaver a Gee-Gees speedster. Laval tight end Alexandre Savard has a similar size to Antony Auclair who is with the Tampa Bay Buccanneers. Plus a group of running backs: Cedric Joseph (Western), Jeshrun Antwi (Calgary), Jamel Lyles (Manitoba) and Levondre Gordon (Laurier) are all worth monitoring.
Even though it’s just under a year from the 2019 CFL draft, players will see their stock impacted by the East-West Bowl and players who were flying low on the radar are about to make themselves more than a blip on both sides of the border.