Preseason preview: eight rookies to watch in Stampeders vs. Lions

Photo courtesy: BC Lions

The CFL preseason is almost over and cutdown day is looming. With dozens of desperate newcomers battling it out for a handful of open jobs, some decisions will come down to how prospects perform in their final exhibition outing.

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 Thursday night, the Stampeders will travel to Vancouver and take on the Lions to wrap up their preseason. Calgary will be travelling light with a roster full of newcomers, while B.C. will dust off their starters and quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. Here are eight rookies I’ll be watching amidst the action.

*denotes National player

Calgary Stampeders

Photo courtesy: AP Photo/Danny Karnik

#88 Cole Tucker, REC, Northern Illinois University*

Calgary’s first-round pick in the 2023 CFL Draft isn’t listed on top of the depth chart right now, but he sure looked ready to start in the team’s first preseason game. Tucker caught a pair of passes for a team-leading 40 yards in that outing and should see more action as part of a pared-down roster on Thursday. Sure-handed and physical, he is as polished a Canadian receiver as you’ll see enter the league as a rookie.

Photo: AP/Matt Durisko

#42 Chris Steele, DB, University of Southern California

The Stampeders know all too well how important depth in the defensive backfield is to a football team and Steele is exactly the type of gem they’ve uncovered in the past. A former high school All-American, he never quite lived up to expectations at USC but was still a two-time All-Pac 12 honouree at corner. The six-foot, 187-pound cover man has been knocked for his footwork in transition but has a history of making plays on the ball with great instincts and eye discipline.

Photo courtesy: Utah State Athletics

#1 Logan Bonner, QB, Utah State University

The backup quarterback competition in Calgary will be decided by this game and thus far, Bonner has been the most impressive candidate by a mile. The six-foot-one, 230-pound pivot was a pleasant surprise in the preseason opener, throwing for 71 yards and a touchdown in limited action, and outdueled Tommy Steven in the intra-squad game. His college career was inconsistent, but the former Aggie appears to have found his record-setting form from 2021 again.

Photo courtesy: AP Photo/Emilee Chinn

#94 Jamal Hines, DE, University of Toledo

A late addition to the Stampeders’ roster who signed on May 26, Hines had a prolific college career that included 21 sacks and four All-Mid-American Conference selections. The six-foot-three, 251-pound pass rusher is a high-motor tweener built for the CFL game and wouldn’t have been brought in without a serious shot at the roster. If he can impress on five days of practice, it will be an indicator of big things to come.

B.C. Lions

Photo courtesy: Saskatchewan Roughriders

#23 Taquan Mizzell, RB, University of Virginia

The battle for the Lions’ starting running back job is down to two candidates and the man they call “Smoke” has gained a cult following of supporters. The five-foot-11, 185-pound scatback only generated 22 yards of offence in his CFL debut but looked dangerous every time he touched the ball, with the potential to be a home run hitter. Effective as a runner and out of the backfield, Mizzell would be a change of pace from B.C.’s recent ball carriers but has made himself impossible to ignore.

Photo courtesy: AP Photo/John McCoy

#95 Marcus Moore, DT, Utah State University

B.C. has a wealth of established talent along the interior defensive line but Moore seems to flash every time he’s on the field. The six-foot-two, 281-pound defensive tackle is bull strong — putting up 32 reps on the bench at his pro day — but also startlingly quick and explosive for his size. He’ll have limited reps to drive that impression home and potentially usurp an incumbent against Calgary.

Photo courtesy: AP Photo/Stew Milne

#77 Ayden Eberhardt, REC, University of Wyoming

No player on either team was better in the Lions’ preseason opener than Eberhardt, who roasted Saskatchewan for six catches and 104 yards while also chipping in as a returner. A role player and special teamer in college, his dominance came as a surprise but his coaches and teammates have raved about his abilities. He won’t start this week but will see lots of time with the top offence with just five American receivers dressed, getting a chance to prove that first performance was not a fluke.

Photo courtesy: NFL Draft Diamonds

#26 Joshua Flowers, DB, Winston Salem State University

Despite trimming the roster after game one, B.C. remains crowded on the defensive side of the ball and depth jobs are still available in the secondary. Flowers has an advantage in that respect thanks to a trait you can’t teach: length. The six-foot-three, 193-pound corner has nearly 33-inch arms and used them to great effect in college, knocking down 15 passes and picking off five more in 18 games with the Rams.

J.C. Abbott is a University of British Columbia graduate and high school football coach. He covers the CFL, B.C. Lions, CFL Draft and the three-down league's Global initiative.