Seven 2023 CFL Combine players the Argos should target on draft day

Photo: Michael Scraper/3DownNation. All rights reserved.

Making predictions about how the Toronto Argonauts will tackle the CFL Draft is among the most frustrating things I do each year.

I know more about the Argos than I do about…well, anything. I watch and break down their games. I go to practices, I study film, and I make notes on their playbook. I analyze their roster construction, and I talk to players and coaches. As the CFL Draft approaches, I spend weeks studying the prospects and considering how they’ll fit in with Toronto’s staff, system, culture, roster requirements, and draft position.

Then, on draft night, the Argos confidently — and often correctly — go out and spend a first-round pick on a guy I graded as a fourth-round prospect and never mentioned once in the lead-up to the draft — see Theren Churchill, Peter Nicastro, and Gregor MacKellar.

That probably won’t happen this year, but only because Toronto traded their first-round pick to the B.C. Lions for linebacker Jordan Williams –- a move I love even more after having attended the 2023 CFL Combine in Edmonton. I don’t believe there was a single player there good enough to take any offensive or defensive snaps for the Argonauts this season, barring some sort of disaster.

While that is a commentary on the lack of stars in attendance — the top five Canadian prospects were at the NFL combine, and others elected to attend their NCAA pro days instead — it has more to do with the strength of Toronto’s Canadian starters. So, where are the Argos short in terms of depth?

The Argos have five backup Canadian offensive linemen who are better than anyone at the Combine, so it seems unlikely the team will go there — though assistant general manager Vince Magri and company have surprised me before. Running back and linebacker are not positional needs but could provide special teams value, while some depth on the defensive line could help cement a ratio spot behind Robbie Smith at defensive end.

The biggest need is at receiver with only four Canadians on the roster. After CFL all-star Kurleigh Gittens Jr, no one stands out in this group. Dejon Brissett was the second overall pick in 2020, but he’s heading into the last year of his rookie deal and hasn’t logged more than 10 catches in a season. David Ungerer III was a nice offseason addition, although he hasn’t played a snap with the Argos yet and has more CFL games played (38) than career receptions (33). 2021 fourth-round pick Tommy Nield has looked good in limited action but has only 10 receptions over his first two seasons.

Additions are also needed in the defensive backfield, where I expect the Argos to take multiple swings. The only corner I liked for the Argos at the combine will be gone before director of football operations Alex Russell takes his first sip of coffee, however there are intriguing options in the middle of the secondary.

The Argos have shown over the past few drafts that they’ll take the best player available over positional need every time, that said the two are not mutually exclusive. Here are seven players from the 2023 CFL Combine who caught my eye as fits for Toronto.

Photo courtesy: Delaware State

Thomas Bertrand-Hudon, RB, Delaware State University (Mont-Saint-Hilaire, Que.)

Bertrand-Hudon will probably be a fullback in the CFL, which head coach Ryan Dinwiddie has never found much use for. The Argos don’t require his services as a traditional running back either, even though he was a punishing ball carrier for the Hornets. Toronto should, however, find him to be an intriguing late-round target due to his high-level special teams play.

For a big man, Bertrand-Hudon has excellent hips and balance on the run, and both his stop-start and change of direction are eyebrow-raising. At Delaware State, he was highly effective at defensive end on the punt return team and at right end on the kickoff return team, both areas of weakness for Toronto last season.

Running backs don’t typically fly off the board in the CFL Draft, so it’s hard to know how long Toronto can wait for Bertrand-Hudon. The Argos drafted Daniel Adeboboye in the second round last year, but no one else took a running back until the fifth round. In 2020, the Argos took the first running back of the draft in Dion Pellerin, but that wasn’t until the fifth round. That’s right about where I see Bertrand-Hudon’s value.

Photo courtesy: Christian Bender/CFL.ca

Lucas Cormier, DB, Mount Allison University (Sackville, NB)

Cormier is one year away from being a starting safety in the CFL. He has great leadership qualities, he’s fast, explosive, hard-hitting, and, perhaps most importantly, he plays with guile. He’ll need a season to adjust to the size and speed of the CFL, but he’s ready right now to jump onto special teams.

He couldn’t have been easier to track at the Combine while wearing a shiny Elks helmet since his own gear never arrived in Edmonton. That yellow bucket kept showing up again and again, making plays in one-on-ones as well as full-field reps. He can play safety in any system, but I really like him as a fit for the Argos because he doesn’t get baited easily on deep high/low concepts like Mills (dig with an outside post) which can eat undisciplined Cover 4 teams alive.

I have a late first-round grade on Cormier, which is much higher than consensus — I’ve had well-respected football people tell me he’s a late-round pick. Nevertheless, I’m confident in my evaluation. He went to the ground awkwardly on the last day of the combine and suffered a hand injury, but is expected to be ready for camp and I’d strongly consider him with the team’s first pick at No. 16 if I were GM Pinball Clemons. If he were still available at pick No. 27, I’d kick the door down and Griddy into the TSN studio to give commissioner Randy Ambrosie his name in person.

Photo courtesy: Bob Frid/UBC Athletics

Lake Korte-Moore, DL, University of British Columbia (Ottawa, Ont.)

Korte-Moore is a six-foot-three, 264-pound defensive end with a high-energy motor, good athleticism for his size, and the ability to win with either speed around the outside or a powerful bull rush. He has great pass-rushing awareness in terms of when to sacrifice contain responsibility for an inside move that leads to quarterback pressure. He also loves contact, blowing up kick-outs and leads like an exuberant rhinoceros.

The other benefit Korte-Moore provides is his ability to long snap at a professional level. A number of Argonauts know HOW to long snap, but as we saw last season when Jake Reinhart went down, long snapping in a game is a whole different animal. Korte-Moore probably isn’t good enough to be a full-time long snapper, but he showed at the Combine he could fill in at an acceptable level.

The issue is he may have priced himself out of Toronto’s draft range with his outstanding Combine performance. The hope for the Argos is that other teams view him more as a defensive tackle than an end. He did line up inside at times for the Thunderbirds but didn’t flash nearly as much from there, and that’s why there’s a chance he falls into Toronto’s lap at pick 16 — much like Deionte Knight did a year ago.

Photo courtesy: Kyran Thicke/Concordia Athletics

Jeremy Murphy, REC, Concordia University (St. Bruno, Que.)

Murphy is a fearless six-foot, 190-pound receiver with a diesel engine. I don’t love his entire route tree, but he runs great in-breakers like slants, posts, and RPO glance routes, which will endear him to Dinwiddie. He’s great at attacking a defender’s technique to gain leverage and using his body to shield the ball.

He doesn’t have soft hands so it’s not always pretty, but Murphy’s got great grip strength and focus, so he rarely drops the ball and is undeterred by heavy contact. He doesn’t look as fast as his 4.58 forty-yard dash would suggest until he gets the ball in his hands. He’s got great field vision, reads his blocks well, and loves splitting defenders who take bad angles.

The leg injuries Murphy suffered throughout his time at Concordia concern me, not because he hasn’t fully healed –- I believe he has –- but rather because he has the most uncanny knack for getting tackled awkwardly. Defenders always seem to fall or roll on his legs, and he often gets pulled down mid-stride by the shoulder pads which makes me want to look away. It even happened at the CFL Combine somehow in a non-contact drill, leading to a brief exchange, though luckily he was able to walk it off.

Photo courtesy: Tiffany Luke/Laurier Athletics

Ife Onyemenam, LB, Wilfrid Laurier University (Toronto, Ont.)

Onyemenam is a sure-tackling middle linebacker with a good first step and a knack for finding a gap in the line to fly through as a run-stopper. However, he’s undersized for the position, his eight reps on the bench weren’t encouraging, and I don’t think his coverage skills are good enough to play anywhere but in the middle.

He didn’t get a ton of reps on specials at Laurier but at the Combine, I couldn’t help but notice how impactful he was bird-dogging cover men down the field. He runs extremely well while partially engaged and has the wherewithal to gain leverage on his target without drawing a flag. As mentioned earlier, this is a skill the Argos badly needed on both punt return and kickoff return teams last year.

I don’t see Onyemenam ever getting meaningful playing time as a middle linebacker with the Argos, but he’s exactly the kind of player I think they can draft in the middle-to-late rounds and mould into a special teams stud.

Photo courtesy: GetMyPhoto.ca/Huskies Athletics

Daniel Perry, REC, University of Saskatchewan (Calgary, Alta.)

Perry is a technically sound route runner with precision footwork who can cut on a dime and keep his balance, even on a frozen field. He has good speed and agility with reliable hands that show late and stab the ball out of the air like a speargun, and he tracks passes as well as anyone in this class.

At a hair under six-foot and 196 pounds, he uses his solid build to lean into defenders, hold his stem, and apply a subtle push-off that never gets flagged to create separation. A lot of his big plays for the Huskies came as the outside boundary receiver, but he also played both on and off the line to the field side, which is where he’d likely battle with Nield for a backup spot in Toronto.

I expect at least three receivers to be drafted before Toronto’s first pick, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Perry’s still available in the third round. I’ve got him graded a whisker ahead of Murphy, but most will have it the other way around. If they’re both on the board at pick No. 27, it’s a matter of preference. If one of the two gets drafted earlier, I’d consider moving up a few spots to get the other if I was the Argos.

Photo courtesy: Don Voaklander/University of Alberta Athletics

Jake Taylor, DB, University of Alberta (Beaumont, Alta.)

At six-foot-one and 216 pounds, Taylor is a hard hitter with tremendous explosion and solid coverage ability. He tied Jake Kelly with a 4.58 40-yard dash as the fastest DB at the combine but he’s got an extra 34 pounds on his competitor and had the most bench reps in his position group at 17.

Taylor was one of the most difficult prospects for me to grade because of his versatility. I’m just not 100 percent sure what he is beyond being a highly skilled football player. He’s played all over the defensive backfield as well as the strong-side and weak-side linebacker spots, so he can certainly serve as a utility defender while playing special teams in his rookie year. I think there’s potential for him to eventually become a CFL starter at strong-side linebacker — a ratio-breaking skillset the Argos always value highly.

He has the measurables of a first-round pick, but I think he might hang around for a while because of his positional uncertainty. Learning the ropes behind Adarius Pickett would be an ideal situation for both Taylor and the Argos.

Ben Grant is the radio colour analyst for the Toronto Argonauts. He has been coaching high school and semi-pro football for 20 years.