UBC Thunderbirds to host NFL pro day for top OL prospects Theo Benedet, Giovanni Manu

Courtesy: Bob Frid/UBC Athletics. Edit: 3DownNation.

NFL scouts will be making their way to the University of British Columbia this spring to check out a pair of potential draft picks.

Offensive linemen Theo Benedet and Giovanni Manu were not among the 71 Canadian prospects to accept an invitation to the 2024 CFL Combine when the official roster came out last week. The highly-touted duo will instead host their own pro day for NFL and CFL teams, bringing the talent evaluators to them.

The event is set to take place on Friday, March 29 at Thunderbird Stadium. While there is no way to confirm the number of teams that will be in attendance, it has been strategically scheduled to come the day after the University of Washington pro day. With no other West Coast pro days currently scheduled for that date, NFL scouts should be free to make the three-hour drive from the home of the College Football Playoff runner-ups to that of the Vanier Cup runner-ups.

This is not the first time that the T-Birds have hosted their own pro day, though those events have typically been lightly attended by NFL teams. The Seattle Seahawks and Oakland Raiders were on hand to watch linebacker Terrell Davis and kicker Quinn van Gylswyk work out in 2016, while the Seahawks returned to check out quarterback Michael O’Connor in 2019. This year’s showcase is expected to be a different animal, with plenty of NFL interest in the headliners.

UBC reports that 13 different NFL franchises either visited campus last season or made inquiries regarding their two offensive linemen. Interest has built considerably since then, as Benedet attended the College Gridiron Showcase in January and was one of the most interviewed prospects, speaking with nearly every team in attendance.

Benedet and Manu shocked many scouts when they elected to return to school in 2023, deferring their CFL draft years despite being projected first-round picks. Benedet attended the East-West Shrine Bowl despite that decision and impressed as the only U Sports representative, finishing as the fifth-highest-graded offensive lineman according to Pro Football Focus and becoming the only blocker to rate in the 75th percentile or above in all pass-set metrics. That performance is what fueled NFL attention throughout his final university season.

The six-foot-six, 303-pound right tackle has started every game in his four seasons at UBC and has become the most decorated offensive lineman in the history of Canadian university football. The North Vancouver native is the first offensive player to win back-to-back J.P. Metras Trophies as the country’s top down lineman and possesses unique athleticism for the position. He broad jumped nine feet, five inches and vertical jumped 32 at the 2022 East-West Bowl — an annual all-star event for rising third-years in U Sports. Both of those measurements would’ve landed in the top five at his position at last year’s NFL Combine.

Manu has had a prolific career in his own right, earning second-team All-Canadian honours in each of the last two seasons while playing both left guard and left tackle. The Pitt Meadows, B.C. product has the NFL size that some feel Benedet lacks, standing at six-foot-eight and 350 pounds. He also has exceptional explosiveness, posting a 32.5-inch vertical jump at the 2022 East-West Bowl and earning the nickname ‘Baby Shaq’ in high school for his basketball prowess.

The two players are in good hands in the lead-up to the NFL Draft, as Benedet is represented by Quebec-based agent Sasha Ghavami, who has helped U Sports players like Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, Antony Auclair and Mathieu Betts break into the NFL. Manu recently signed with the high-profile Klutch Sports Group and will reportedly be represented by Zeke Sandhu, who also reps stars like Odell Beckham Jr.

With an unprecedented amount of NFL attention being directed at their two offensive linemen, UBC is allowing all of their draft-eligible athletes to participate in the pro day if they choose. The school is also working to allow prospects from other U Sports programs to attend the event.

The last U Sports player selected in the NFL Draft was University of Manitoba defensive tackle David Onyemata, who was taken in the fourth round in 2016 by the New Orleans Saints. Dallas Cowboys’ offensive lineman Dakoda Shepley is the only UBC player currently in the league.

Benedet and Manu could change that when the 2024 NFL Draft gets underway in Detroit, Mich. from April 25 to 27. Both players will certainly be selected in the 2024 CFL Draft on Tuesday, April 30.

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.