Hometown: Parksville, B.C.
Statistics: 50 carries, 219 rushing yards, 65 receptions, 996 receiving yards, nine touchdowns
O’Brien was a quarterback from when he started playing football at age 13 to the end of his high school career. He committed to Simon Fraser after graduation, but was converted to tight end during training camp with the Clan.
The position change was a factor in O’Brien’s decision to leave the program in 2014 and join the Vancouver Island Raiders of the CJFL. There he threw for 5,033 yards and 41 touchdowns over two seasons, leading the league in both statistical categories. He also rushed 100 times for 532 yards and ten scores.
It was the opportunity to continue playing quarterback that prompted O’Brien to move 6,000 kilometres across the country to Saint Mary’s University. It didn’t take long, however, for the west coast native to embrace his new surroundings out east.
“As soon as I got to the city, I loved Halifax and everything it had to offer,” said O’Brien. “The culture here is special. I kind of fell in love with that.”
O’Brien saw the field a bit in 2017 — completing 21-of-31 pass attempts for 263 yards — but his role grew as he began to take reps at fullback, tight end and slotback. He fully committed to the position change in 2018 and flourished over the next two seasons, even leading the team in receiving yards a year ago.
Though he’ll be playing a hybrid role of fullback, tight end and H-back in the CFL, O’Brien still feels his background as a quarterback are a major asset to his game.
“Having played quarterback growing up, they teach you to see the field so differently from other positions. I’m still used to seeing the field that way, so when I line up I’m not just thinking about what the guy in front of me is doing. I try to see the whole field. I think it’s a big bonus to my game.”
The 24-year-old has lived on opposite sides of the country, so he has no preference for where he ends up playing in the CFL.
“I’ve always wanted to travel. Different cities across Canada are fun to explore. I’d be happy literally anywhere if I got a chance to keep playing football.”
One thing working to O’Brien’s advantage is that this year’s draft class isn’t particularly deep at fullback. Any team looking to address the position will need to select one early and O’Brien is widely considered the best available.
He should contribute as a receiver at the professional level, though he knows he won’t see the ball as often as he did at Saint Mary’s. O’Brien will make most of his living doing the thankless jobs expected of CFL fullbacks — blocking and playing on special teams.
Though he didn’t start playing special teams until he joined the Huskies in 2017, O’Brien spent the last two years on punt return and kickoff return and was a backup on the punt and kickoff teams. He credits his special teams coordinator, Brandon Dubs, for teaching him that area of the game.
“I enjoy it. The biggest change for me from playing quarterback to my hybrid role is getting to play specials. They’re more focused on physical one-on-one battles than the mental side of the game, which is a nice change of pace for me.”
Anonymous quote from a CFL scout: “He’s not as far along as [Nikola] Kalinic was, but he’s easily the best fullback in the draft. He’s a player.”
Projected round: 3