Combine Preview: Running Backs and Linebackers

When Sunday rolls around and CFL scouts assemble to watch the running backs take on the linebackers in one-on-one compete sessions, one position will receive all the attention: Linebacker.

The 2016 CFL combine is loaded with intriguing linebacker prospects, and little separate the consensus top-4 heading into the weekend. And while those four are coincidentally all different styles of linebackers, the overall talent-level between them all is really close.

On the other side, one player will do the heavy-lifting for the running backs: Mercer Timmis. One of the best running backs to enter the CFL draft in a long time, Timmis headlines an otherwise underwhelming positional group.

The following is brief run-down of each running back and linebacker that’ll be in attendance at the CFL combine, with some questions about each player that could receive some answers over the weekend.

Running Backs: 

1. RB Mercer Timmis, Calgary (6’1″, 220-lbs)

It’s only right that potentially the next generational Canadian running back enters the CFL the same off-season Jon Cornish retires. With great size, vision, power and a second-gear to destroy pursuit angles in the open field, it’s hard not to draw comparisons between the two. Timmis is undoubtedly going to test very well, cementing himself as a first-round pick.

2. FB Declan Cross, McMaster (5’11”, 232-lbs)

Cross enjoyed a large role in McMaster’s offense and developed into a very versatile fullback. He’s an absolute wrecking ball, no doubt, and also showed flashes of rushing and receiving capabilities that could keep him in the CFL for a long time. Cross is well-coached and could actually compete for a roster spot in year one.

3. FB Devon Stewart, McGill (5’11”, 245-lbs)

Stewart, who also plays defensive end, has the size to become a fullback full-time, but maybe not the athleticism. Although he could shed some pounds, Stewart has a nice build and is a long, rangy athlete, which some teams like.

4. FB Donald Tabor, St. FX (n/a, n/a)

Tabor has excellent pass-catching abilities and proved to be a viable asset out of the backfield while at St. Francis-Xavier, but he’d likely be a long developmental project in the CFL. Tabor has work to do in terms of his blocking skills, which will be put to the test in one-on-ones. I want to see his knees bend and his feet keep moving on Sunday, as it really might just be his technique that’s holding him back.

5. RB Wayne Moore, McMaster (6’0″, 220-lbs)

Moore is short of elite speed or power, but is a well-rounded prospect that could be a late-round pick. He’s a well-balanced, tough runner that has some quickness to get through the hole and can also protect the quarterback. Moore isn’t going to create on his own, but can surge for a few extra yards if he doesn’t hesitate before hitting the hole.

6. FB Nathan O’Halloran, Windsor (6’1″, 226-lbs)

Another developmental player, O’Halloran was an adequate blocker and pass-catcher for Windsor, appearing to be a very smart player. He’s a stiff athlete, however, and will need more power and quickness to last in this league.

Linebackers: 

1. OLB Terrell Davis, UBC (6’0″, 220-lbs)

Davis, a former running back for Arizona State, was converted to linebacker prior to 2015, his first season at UBC. It turned out to be a great move by the Thunder Bird coaching staff, as Davis turned out to be everything they’d hoped to be – an athletic, sideline-to-sideline linebacker that excels in coverage and gets to the quarterback quickly on blitzes. Given his athleticism as a former running back, Davis is going to have a great combine. The competitive drills – one-on-ones against RBs in routes/coverage and blocking/blitzing – are made especially for players like Davis to shine.

2. MLB Daniel Tshiamala, St. FX (6’1″, 235-lbs)

Tshiamala is simply a play-maker, recklessly going sideline to sideline and single-handedly causing fits for offenses. He’s a well-rounded player that can shed blocks, chase down pursuit angles, cover space in pass defense and deliver huge hits. His testing numbers will be very important in determining his draft-stock, as there are some plays where he’s seemingly shot out of a cannon and others where he seems to be all power, no quickness. In terms of play-style, Tshiamala is an exact reproduction of another St. Francis-Xavier alum, Henoc Muamba.

3. MLB DJ Lalama, Manitoba (6’1″, 230-lbs)

Lalama is big, smart, tough and absolutely should not have had to go through the Edmonton national combine to make it here. On film, Lalama showcases a blend of size, aggression, instincts and reliable open-field tackling skills to project well as both a MIKE and WILL linebacker. He takes accurate first steps and shows excellent closing burst to arrive with force at the point of attack, creating lanes to the ball carrier for himself and for his teammates. As a physical striker with reliable breakdown skills in the open field, Lalama has been an excellent special-teams player with Manitoba as well.

4. OLB Shayne Gauthier, Laval (5’11”, 218-lbs)

Gauthier is your traditional, throwback middle linebacker that plays simply off instincts and doesn’t need to be an athletic, quick player. He reads plays well, flows to the ball and meets runners in the hole with authority. He rarely over-pursues and consistently beats oncoming blockers with a plethora of different moves. His pass-coverage skills remain a question, but similarly to Montreal’s Byron Archambeault one year ago, could help his draft stock even more with a good shuttle time.

5. OLB Curtis Newton, Guelph (6’2″, 220-lbs)

Newton has been the fantastic pass-coverage linebacker in his tenure with Guelph that scouts so desperately covet. And while he weighs a respectable 220-pounds, Newton isn’t built very big and doesn’t play with much raw strength on the football field, projecting more as a safety in my eyes. Newton, who struggles to shed blocks with his hands or with power, doesn’t consistently meet at the point of attack with force, as a linebacker should.

6. MLB Kevin Jackson, Sam Houston (5’11”, 230-lbs)

Jackson tested very well in Toronto, clocking a great 4.75 40-yard dash and 4.37 3-cone time for a 230-pound middle linebacker. Coming from a great program in Sam Houston State, Jackson was poised for a breakout senior campaign until injuries limited him to one game in 2015. It comes down to this weekend for Jackson, as scouts essentially have no game tape of him on defense to evaluate.

7. MLB Alex Ogbongbemiba, Calgary Colts (6’1″, 238-lbs)

Ogbongbemiba tested well in the vertical and the shuttle at the Edmonton regional, earning himself an invite to the big show this weekend. A productive, smash-mouth Mike LB with Calgary, Ogbongbemiba recorded 23 tackles, 1 sack and 1 INT in six games last season, and scouts are certainly interested to see how he’ll look surrounded by blue-chip CIS prospects at the national combine.

8. MLB Doug Parrish, Western Oregon (6’1″, 235-lbs)

Parrish, a former San Jose State commit, has great middle LB size if he can watch his weight. Watching parts of several of Western Oregon’s 2015 games, I don’t believe he was even a starter, which is obviously a huge red flag. He could be a late round pick if he performs well enough at the combine.

9. OLB Marc-Antoine Laurin, Ottawa (6’1″, 222-lbs)

Although he didn’t stand out on defense with the Gee-Gees, it’s possible that a CFL team takes a late-round flier on Laurin after he tested decently in Toronto. At this point, he simply doesn’t seem to have the athleticism or raw football talent to become a future CFL player.

Photo courtesy of University of Calgary Dinos. I DO NOT OWN THIS PHOTO.
Photo courtesy of University of Calgary Dinos. I DO NOT OWN THIS PHOTO.

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