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, the Tiger-Cats will travel to Montreal to wrap up their preseason slate. Hamilton will be bringing an extremely young roster on the road, while the host Alouettes roll out their starters for the first time. Here are eight rookies I’ll be watching amidst all the action.
#80 Omar Bayless, REC, Arkansas State University
Bayless was relatively quiet in Hamilton’s first preseason game, finishing with two receptions for 20 yards. However, the former Sun Belt Player of the Year will get the start on Friday and still has plenty of opportunity to crack a competitive Ticats’ receiving group. The six-foot-one, 210-pound target used his thick frame to great effect with the Redwolves, putting up 93 catches for 1,653 yards and 17 touchdowns as a senior.
#48 Carlton Martial, LB, Troy University
The Ticats have a backlog of talented linebackers making it difficult to make the roster but you will not find a player in the CFL with a more prolific college resume than Martial. The five-foot-nine, 210-pound defender is the NCAA’s all-time record holder with 577 career tackles and plays with the toughness and physicality of a much larger man. The question is whether he has the athletic tools to survive on the larger Canadian field.
#81 Lio’undre Gallimore, REC, Valdosta State University
Nobody impressed more in Hamilton’s first preseason game than Gallimore, who busted an 84-yard punt return for a touchdown and looked dangerous every time he touched the ball. The five-foot-10, 171-pound receiver put up 32 total touchdowns in 44 collegiate games with the Blazers thanks to his 4.42 speed and could seize the Ticats’ return job with a repeat performance.
#0 Taylor Powell, QB, Eastern Michigan University
With Jamie Newman away from the team, the Ticats seemed determined to give their new rookie third-stringer the highest volume of live reps possible. Never a household name in college, Powell looked comfortable against Toronto and completed 20-of-26 passes for 298 yards, two touchdowns and an interception in three quarters of action. The six-foot-two, 207-pound pivot should get at least another half against Montreal and could cement himself a spot even when Newman returns.
#44 Bryce Notree, LB, Southern Illinois University
At six-foot-three and 225 pounds, Notree has the type of length you rarely see in CFL linebackers. Though he’s competing for a spot behind middle linebacker Avery Williams, his strength and bend give him added value as a blitzer or rotational rusher off the edge. That level of versatility coupled with a mismatch body type for special teams makes Notree a particularly strong candidate to stick as a designated import.
#79 John Brunner, REC, University of Western Illinois
Brunner hasn’t garnered as much attention as some of the other contenders for Montreal’s open receiver slots but the former Leatherneck left an impression with four clutch catches for a team-leading 59 yards in the fourth quarter of their first preseason game. Taking the path less travelled through the Indoor Football League’s Bismarck Bucks, the six-foot-three, 200-pound target’s change of direction testing is elite for his size and allowed him to get open in those critical moments.
#97 Kivon Bennett, DE, Arkansas State University
Added to the roster just four days ago, this will be Bennett’s only opportunity to make an impression beyond his impressive college tape. The six-foot-two, 236-pound pass rusher has All-Pro bloodlines through his father Cornelius Bennett and lived in the backfield for the Redwolves with 26 tackles for loss and 13.5 sacks in 23 games. Though limited athletically, he has the natural bend and pass-rush instincts to be a meaningful CFL contributor.
#19 Kordell Rodgers, DB, Texas State University
Rodgers wasn’t in the lineup for Montreal’s first preseason game but the five-foot-11, 175-pound cornerback could make a last-minute push for a job. A late bloomer with the Bobcats, he lacks long speed but proved to be a ballhawk in zone coverage as a senior with the quick twitch to drive downhill.