Five takeaways from the CFL combine

The CFL combine provided some answers for franchises around Canada but it also left teams with plenty of question marks.

Most of the league’s personnel men were in Toronto to evaluate the prospects who attended the event. Based on the happenings in the six, there should be lots of movement on draft boards across the country.

First round big men

Scouts graded the tape on University of Windsor offensive lineman Drew Desjarlais and found an aggressive blocker who oozes next level ability. The Belle River native has a pro-ready body and athletic attributes as the testing results proved.

University of Waterloo’s Jesse Gibbons was right there with Desjarlais in many ways. Gibbons played left tackle for the Warriors last season providing dual-threat quarterback Tre Forde, the OUA MVP, with blindside protection.

“Two players from non-traditional OUA schools, but don’t be mistaken Desjarlais and Gibbons are studs,” one scout said.

Desjarlais is garnering first overall buzz and Gibbons cemented his first round grades: whether or not they are drafted in the initial eight picks depends on how the draft flows.

Best all-around RB

Jamel Lyles made the case to be considered as the most versatile running back in the class.

Maleek Irons (Ohio University) and Brady Oliveira (North Dakota) are bigger, more downhill style backs while Lyles can catch the ball well out of the backfield and took reps at slotback during the combine.

Nic Demski’s utilization by Bombers creative offensive coordinator Paul LaPolice is what coaches are drawing up for Lyles. The Winnipeg native is feisty and could provide special teams value as he develops in the pros.

NFL attention

Just because it’s called the CFL combine doesn’t mean NFL teams aren’t keeping tabs on the event. More and more talent from Canadian universities are earning NFL chances in various ways – draft picks, undrafted free agent contracts, rookie mini-camp invites – and that has clubs south of the border paying attention.

Kaion Julien-Grant checked in at a full six-foot-one, 210 pounds while displaying explosion by posting a 37.5-inch vertical, 10-foot, 7.25-inch broad jump and 4.49 40-yard dash. The St. Francis Xavier University grad was unanimously timed in the 4.30 range by scouts using stop watches.

“At that size and speed NFL teams are going to take a look,” one scout said.

Julien-Grant grabbed 49 balls for 638 yards and five touchdowns adding conference all-star honours as a returner on the way to being named Atlantic University Sport’s outstanding player of the year for the 2018 season.

Queen’s receiver Chris Osei-Kusi ran slightly faster 4.47 than Julien-Grant with similar 4.30 hand times and could garner NFL attention.

Other players could draw NFL interest based on combine performances. The jump in competition level might give some NFL franchises pause, but there are USports players who have shown it’s possible to compete.

Stout defensive lineman focused on degree

University of Saskatchewan’s Evan Machibroda will be returning to school in the fall no matter what happens in the CFL draft.

Machibroda is majoring in engineering and must proceed on the timeline to finish the degree properly. He has put together outstanding film jumping off the screen when scouts hit play.

“That dude is a beast,” one scout said. “He was double teamed a lot the time and still made plays.”

Patience could pay dividends for the team who decides to select Machibroda and wait until the interior force completes school.

Thin linebacking group

There were only four linebackers at the combine and Western University’s Fraser Sopik is viewed as more of a safety prospect which left three true linebacker types, strictly due to the lack of depth at the position in 2019.

If your team is in need of instant impact special teamers, which can usually be found in the draft, don’t count on it. Micah Teitz (Riders), Eric Mezzalira (Stampeders), Nelkas Kwemo (Argos) were all drafted in the second round during the 2018 CFL draft and combined for 27 special teams tackles, Kwemo’s 15 led the group. Players of those ilk just aren’t available, definitely a poor yield year for linebackers.

Justin Dunk is a football insider, sports reporter and anchor.