Preseason preview: eight rookies to watch in Riders vs. Bombers

Photo courtesy: AP Photo/David Zalubowski

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 Friday night, the Roughriders will visit their prairie rivals, the Blue Bombers, for the final game of the preseason. Saskatchewan is slated to debut their new starting offence led by quarterback Trevor Harris, while Winnipeg will field mostly youngsters. Here are eight rookies I’ll be watching.

Saskatchewan Roughriders

Courtesy: AP Photo/Rebecca S. Gratz

#24 Deontai Williams, DB, University of Nebraska

The Riders have an abundance of young talent in the secondary already but Williams has made a strong enough impression on the coaching staff to sick around, even picking off a pass against B.C. At six-foot-one and 205 pounds, he’s got a physical edge to his game and better change of direction ability than most defensive backs his size, with the versatility to play halfback, safety or SAM linebacker if needed.

Photo courtesy: Electric Umbrella/Liam Richards/Saskatchewan Roughriders

#80 Keith Corbin III, REC, Jackson State University

A transfer from the University of Houston who blossomed in a small school environment, Corbin put up 921 yards and seven touchdowns in his lone season with Jackson State. He looked equally productive in his CFL debut, catching six passes for 60 yards and a touchdown. At six-foot-two and 200 pounds, the 25-year-old has the frame to win contested catches and has enough suddenness in his routes to ensure he doesn’t have to do that every time.

Photo courtesy: AP Photo/Adam Hunger

#47 T.J. Brunson, LB, University of South Carolina

Brunson was newly arrived in camp before Saskatchewan’s last exhibition contest and saw limited minutes, but the former seventh-round NFL draft pick should get an extended look on Friday. The six-foot-one, 230-pound defender is a true between-the-tackles middle linebacker with a physical edge and impressive toughness, though his range in coverage has been a question. He’s a slightly smaller version of the departed Darnell Sankey and could be good insurance given Larry Dean’s age.

Photo: AP/Charlie Riedel

#39 Rodney Clemons, DB, Southern Methodist University

Second-year man C.J. Reavis looks to have the leg up on the SAM linebacker job while Derrick Moncrief is out injured but Clemons can’t be fully counted out. The six-foot, 205-pound strong safety distinguished himself with the Mustangs due to his attacking, physical style and opportunistic ball-hawking.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers

Photo courtesy: Sean Arbaut/Arbaut Photography/Bemidji State Athletics

#76 Brendan Beaulieu, REC, Bemidji State University

There has not been a more productive receiver in all of college football over the past two seasons than Beaulieu, who racked up 3,725 yards and 38 touchdowns over the course of his career with the Beavers. Earning a place in the CFL may be a different animal than dominating in Division II but the six-foot-two, 215-pound target has the size and savviness as a route runner to be a dangerous slot option.

Photo courtesy: Ty Hundley/ULM Football Creative

#92 Caleb Thomas, DT, University of Louisiana-Monroe

A hulking presence in the middle at six-foot-one and 300 pounds, Thomas flashed against Edmonton with four tackles and a sack. The former Warhawk is bull strong with a surprising get-off. Winnipeg might need more help on the edge but solid competition for Ricky Walker inside wouldn’t hurt either.

Photo courtesy: Winnipeg Blue Bombers

#54 Barrington Wade, LB, University of Iowa

Wade was never more than a depth player at Iowa but his absurd length and elite change-of-direction ability still earned him NFL opportunities. The Bombers are extremely high on his potential and he delivered by leading the team with five tackles in the opener. He’ll have a hard time cracking the starting lineup anytime soon but at six-foot-one and 230 pounds with 34-inch arms, he’ll be an instant special teams mismatch.

Photo courtesy: Winnipeg Blue Bombers

#3 Tyrell Pigrome, QB, Towson University

Arguably the most unexpected surprise in the Bombers’ first preseason game was Pigrome stint under centre, which was worth the price of admission in and of itself. The five-foot-10, 210-pound passer took off five times for 71 yards on the ground and two touchdowns, showing the kind of explosive playmaking ability that teams design packages around. He’ll get another extended look this week and need to prove his prowess as a passer is at least half as good.

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.