Tuesday, April 11, 2000

Mercier Heads Canadian Contingent at NFL Draft
By DAN RALPH -- The Canadian Press

The suspense is almost over for Richard Mercier.

For more than three months, the 24-year-old Montreal native who played college ball for the Vanier College Cheetahs, has been poked, prodded, timed and tested by NFL officials in preparation for this weekend's annual college draft.

"It has been a long, tough process and I'd honestly be happier if I knew where I was going," the University of Miami offensive lineman said Tuesday from Florida. "Since our season ended Jan. 1 at the Gator Bowl, I've gone to the Senior Bowl, the NFL combine, had workouts at school and visited a lot of teams.

"Basically all the hay is in the barn, all the work is done. All I can do now is wait and hope."

Mercier, defensive lineman Rob Meier of Washington State and running back Morgan Kane of Wake Forest top the Canadian contingent for this weekend's draft. The three were the lone Canucks invited to the NFL combine in February where the top college prospects are tested extensively by league officials.

This year's Canadian crop doesn't include first-round prospects like Tony Mandarich of Oakville, Ont., Mike Schad of Ottawa or Montreal's Tim Biakabutuka. But Mercier, Meier and Kane are all projected to go anywhere between the fourth and seventh rounds, with Pro Football Weekly giving the them a better-than-average chance of making an NFL roster.

Mercier enjoyed a stellar collegiate career, cracking the Hurricanes starting offensive line as a freshman in 1995. After playing every game in 1996, Mercier missed the entire '97 season after undergoing reconstructive knee surgery. He reclaimed his starting guard position in 1998 and was a Big East all-star the last two years.

Mercier didn't test particularly well at the combine, bench pressing 225 pounds 18 times and covering the 40-yard sprint in 5.39 seconds. And at six foot three and 295 pounds, Mercier is small by NFL standards.

But he remains unfazed.

"When I first got here people said, 'We signed a Canadian?"' Mercier said. "I've had to prove myself all along and this (NFL) will be no different."

Ralph Cindrich, Mercier's agent, said his client might be more suited to playing centre in the NFL. To that end, Mercier has spent much of his off-season working on perfecting short- and long-snapping.

Cindrich knows what it takes to play centre in the NFL. He also represents Dermontii Dawson (Pittsburgh), Mark Stepnoski (Dallas) and Tony Mayberry (Tampa Bay), all former Pro Bowl players at the position.

"If you look at best athletes out there, you're not going to talk about Richard," said Cindrich. "If you look at heart, blood, guts, intensity and all the intangibles, he's the guy you want on your side.

"Richard is a tough kid, like a 295-pound hockey player in cleats."

Greg Mohns of the CFL's B.C. Lions agrees. Mercier's tenacity was a big reason why Lions drafted Mercier in 1999 despite knowing he would attract plenty of NFL interest.

"You don't start at the University of Miami by accident," Mohns said. "Richard is a terrific competitor and will get a chance in the NFL.

"But he would be a star in our league. We just have to wait and see."

Mohns will also be watching Meier, a native of West Vancouver, taken first overall by the Lions in the '99 CFL draft. The Washington State product tested well at the combine (bench pressing 225 pounds 27 times, covering 40 yards in 4.99 seconds) but scouts say the six-foot-five, 275-pound lineman is not strong enough to play tackle or athletic enough to be an effective pass-rushing end in the NFL. Meier had just five sacks during his collegiate career.

Kane, an Ottawa native, raised eyebrows this year at Wake Forest. The six-foot-one, 220-pound senior rushed for 1,161 yards and 10 touchdowns, then bench pressed 225 pounds 29 times and ran a 4.62-second 40-yard dash at the combine. The scouting report on Kane is he has good vision, strength and ability to break tackles but doesn't possess the pure speed and elusiveness required to be a feature tailback or the blocking ability to play fullback.

But Pro Football Weekly said if Kane is not drafted, he will be a prized free agent. That's bad news for CFL clubs because Kane is eligible for this year's Canadian college draft.

"Morgan Kane is a good player," said Mike McCarthy, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats player-personnel consultant. "He tested well at the combine and really surprised people."

The Canadian sleeper, however, could be Toronto native Jason Gavadza. The six-foot-three, 247-pound tight end replaced O.J. Santiago of Whitby, Ont., at Kent State after the Atlanta Falcons drafted Santiago in the third round in 1997. Scouts like Gavadza's quickness (4.52 seconds over 40 yards), athletic ability and pass-catching skills (47 receptions, 654 yards, seven touchdowns last season) but question his strength and blocking ability.

Other noteworthy Canadians include Toronto's Adriano Belli, a six-foot-four, 284-pound defensive tackle with the University of Houston, Ottawa's Jeff Pilon, a six-foot-five, 300-pound offensive tackle with Syracuse and Toronto's Donnavan Carter, a six-foot, 200-pound safety with Northern Illinois. But Pro Football Weekly says if the three go to NFL camps it will be as free agents.