The CFL preseason is a time of renewal and opportunity. Hundreds of new faces arrive in Canadian training camps eager to make their mark, battling it out for a handful of open jobs. For most, the stay will be brief. For others, it will be their first step toward a prosperous career.
With all preseason games now available to stream live, determining which unfamiliar names actually merit close attention is a daunting task for fans. As always, 3DownNation will have you covered with a cheat sheet of first-time CFL players to watch ahead of each exhibition contest.
On Friday, Montreal will visit Ottawa at 7:30 p.m. EDT for both team’s preseason openers. While neither team will dress their projected starting quarterback, the Alouettes will be fielding an extremely inexperienced roster while the Redblacks are expected to give their starters some time to shine. Here are eight rookies I’ll be watching for.
** denotes Global player
#38 Kabion Ento, DB, University of Colorado
The Alouettes have a pressing need at cornerback following the retirement of all-star free agent signing Jumal Rolle and Ento will get the first crack at auditioning for that role. A depth receiver and special teams ace during his time at Colorado, the 27-year-old was converted to cornerback by the Green Bay Packers after posting some elite athletic numbers at his pro day. He put together some excellent preseason tape in four years on the fringes of the NFL and is ready for a legitimate opportunity.
#81 Austin Mack, REC, Ohio State University
With Reggie White Jr. on the injured list, the Alouettes look destined to start at least one rookie receiver when the season opens. Mack made an early impression with two touchdowns in the team’s intra-squad scrimmage and has a proto-type build at six-foot-two and 215 pounds. A high-character role player for the Buckeyes in college, Mack earned a reputation for smart route-running and stuck with the New York Giants as an undrafted free agent in 2020, notching seven receptions for 91 yards. He’s since bounced around the NFL but possesses a refined skillset and the type of grounded mindset that thrives north of the border.
#52 Natrez Patrick, DE, University of Georgia
A former high school All-American, Patrick never fully lived up to expectations for Georgia despite becoming a solid starting inside linebacker. He shifted to outside backer as an undrafted free agent with the Los Angeles Rams and contributed five tackles in 25 games over two seasons, but he struggled as a true tweener. Now the six-foot-three, 242-pound defender will get a crack at being a CFL defensive end, where his length and bend offer tantalizing possibilities.
#85 Tyler Snead, REC, East Carolina University
The five-foot-seven, 174-pound Snead has dominated the buzz at Alouettes training camp since it opened and it’s easy to see why. A pint-sized jitterbug who cuts on a dime, he showed breakaway ability after the catch in college while also contributing as a returner. The 23-year-old wouldn’t be the first small receiver to steal a starting job in the CFL but a strong preseason performance is always critical for those who are vertically challenged.
#49 Ryan Saddler, LB, Bryant University
Linebacker will be a competitive position for the Redblacks this preseason and Saddler is the top rookie on the depth chart. The six-foot-two, 225-pound defender was a dominant force over his last two seasons with the Bulldogs, racking up 187 tackles, 17 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, and three interceptions. His explosive change of direction ability and elite instincts separate him from other prospects and should shine against the Alouettes.
#81 Savon Scarver, REC, Utah State University
Scarver joined the Redblacks’ practice roster last September but he has yet to play a game for the team. The five-foot-11, 175-pound receiver was a very productive pass catcher in his time at Utah State but truly excelled as a returner, winning The Jet award as the nation’s top return specialist in 2018. Cracking Ottawa’s lineup will be a challenge given their receiver depth and the presence of DeVonte Dedmon on special teams, but Scarver’s blazing 4.45 speed is difficult to ignore.
#38 Deandre Lamont, DB, Illinois State University
A versatile defender who spent time at virtually every defensive back position during his career at Central Arkansas and later Illinois State, Lamont was an all-conference selection for two different schools in each of his final two seasons. The five-foot-11, 190-pounder was knocked for a lack of speed but plays with an exceptional mental head start and could be an excellent fit as a CFL halfback.
#75 Thomas Schaffer, DT, Stanford University**
Ottawa’s addition of Austrian defensive lineman Schaffer as a Global free agent offers intriguing potential but the preseason will answer many questions about his viability. The six-foot-seven, 301-pounder once led Stanford in sacks and earned a UDFA contract with the Chicago Bears, but underwhelmed while playing last season in Europe and was beginning to convert to offensive line. The upside is huge for the 26-year-old but how well he plays and where his best fit is remains to be seen.