CFL teams use information gleaned from the combine in different ways

A key component in the evaluation process – the CFL combine – provided teams with lots of information that will form the final rankings on draft boards across the country.

Personnel men are pouring through it all and assigning grades to each prospect deemed draftable.

The combine has varying degrees of impact and weight for each franchise. Bombers general manager Kyle Walters believes the combine can “substantially” affect how a prospect is viewed. Riders boss Chris Jones agreed that players stocks can “go up or down”. Toronto GM Jim Popp is careful not to get “caught up” in the hype created by players at the combine. Ticats vice president Kent Austin feels it’s more of a confirming tool. New Montreal head coach Mike Sherman shared some interesting insight on his experiences from the same event in the NFL.

“We would set our draft board before we went to the combine, first round, second round, third round…we go to the combine and go height, weight, speed, agility, comeback change the arrangement of the board. Then we go back and look at the tape again and we put them all back where they were originally,” Sherman said.

“Basically how the kids play football – the effort, the toughness, the character they show on the field really matters. You need these tests because you need comparisons, but the bottom line is: look at the tape, grade them, put them on the board, go to the combine we change them, go back and look at the tape and put them right back where they began. How are they as football players is all that really matters to us.”

Sherman stated a combine can offer useful information, in particular, the medical reports and the chance to actually meet the young men. That sentiment has been echoed by other CFL personnel types as the interviews can be the most important facet of the combine.

“In the last year or so we had a player that was going into law enforcement as he was going through school he was doing basically volunteer work and as he was going through the process they asked if anybody wanted to feel what it felt like to be tasered,” Popp said.

“He volunteered and then after he was tasered slightly he said he enjoyed it and volunteered again. These are the kind of things you learn about people that you go ‘wow’. We didn’t take him, but he’s playing in the league.”

Scouts already have an idea about what kind of football players they’re going to see and are educated on the level of athleticism each invitee might possess based on tape work.

“We’ll never take a player off of combine information. What we’re looking for is an aberration from all of the work that we’ve done: is there an aberration that stands out during the combine that forces us to go back and relook at more film?” Austin said.

“If there is somebody that stands out physically that was different from our evaluation leading into camp that will prompt us to go back and watch more film and delve into it deeper to make sure that our evaluation and where we have him slotted in is more accurate.”

For example Western University defensive back Jordan Beaulieu, part of a dominant team that won the 2017 Vanier Cup championship. Scouts felt he was a solid player entering the cross-country combines, but the athleticism and chiselled frame Beaulieu displayed when pro evaluators saw him live benefitted the Mustangs product.

“You see him at the Toronto regional, the testing numbers – there’s an example of a young man through his testing numbers and the way he carries himself that’s really caught teams attention from the testing and interview process,” Walters said.

Beaulieu ran a fast 4.57 40-yard dash, 4.13 shuttle and 7.06 three-cone was quick, proved his explosiveness from a 35.5-inch vertical and strength with 17 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press at a cut 5-foot-11, 200 pounds.

“The combine is a really, really big component in our draft of where these guys get picked. You have to marry the two [combine and film]. You always have to go back and trust the film. You’ll go back and watch a few more games to solidify your thoughts on the player. Ideally what you like to see is the player you like on film tests enough to say that’s a good football player,” Walters said.

“The interesting ones are the players that don’t grade out well on film, but physically they come and have good days [at the combine]. Then you have to go back and double up your work and figure out why.”

That’s exactly what CFL teams are in the process of breaking down and solving.