Timing issues muddle CFL combine results

Newly-released results from the CFL combine have crowned a new winner in the 40-yard dash – and exposed startling discrepancies in the two primary methods used for timing prospects.

Personnel men across professional football – CFL and NFL – use a stopwatch to measure speed, otherwise known as a “hand-time.” The league released the official national combine testing results Thursday which included hand times and using that criteria, Wilfrid Laurier defensive back Isaiah Guzylak-Messam posted the fastest number among the top prospects who were in Winnipeg.

Over the last while, both the CFL and NFL have increasingly used laser technology at the combine to register 40 times, producing what’s known as a “laser time.” But that method cannot be used at every free agent tryout which means hand times are the main point of reference for pro evaluators. Long-time scouts have watched and timed thousands of prospects with their own hands and young men in the evaluation game use the same technique.

Looking at the numbers provides an example of why scouts feel wary about banking on laser times.

McMaster receiver Daniel Petermann was anointed as the fastest player at the national event with a 4.54 laser-recorded 40-yard time. However, Peterman clocked 4.57 on both attempts at the 40 according to the hand time and his other laser time was 4.63. Compare those results to Mark Chapman’s 4.57 hand time – exactly the same as Petermann’s – and the laser was 4.69. As for Guzylak-Messam he put down 4.51 and 4.59 hand times to go along with 4.60 and 4.68 lasers.

Conventional wisdom normally discounts one- to two-tenths from a laser time to match it up to the hand equivalent but even by those standards, the CFL’s recent combine results are inconsistent. Surface matters too. The turf at the RBC Convention Centre in the Manitoba Capital was slippery, having just been laid down for the combine, and athletes were “running into the grain,” further muddling times. It should be said all prospects had the same conditions so the times are relative when contrasting the difference in speed between the prospects who were there.

But that’s cold comfort for the high-end Canadian players with hopes of getting an NFL opportunity of some sort where tenths of a second can be game-changers, especially at the skill positions.

That’s why prospects are becoming increasingly careful about controlling the conditions for their workouts. Highly ranked offensive linemen David Knevel, Ryan Hunter and Trey Rutherford didn’t attend the combine and elected to perform at their NCAA pro days. Big men such as the aforementioned trio or Peter Godber are not required to sprint in a straight line each snap as an offensive linemen and smart speculation would surmise that part of the reason he decided against testing at the CFL combine was due to the turf. The CFL ultimately sent Godber home the same day he elected to go that direction, but it’s hard to fault any athlete that is aware how much the testing portion of the draft evaluation process matters and makes an informed decision.

In both pro leagues on either side of the border, baseline athletic standards must be met to even be considered by a team using a pick or signing a player to an undrafted free agent deal. Hindsight would prove that Godber’s call to perform at the Rice University pro day paid dividends instead of risking working out on a slippery surface as he put up the best times among the eight offensive linemen who attended the combine in quickness and agility drills.

Versatile Ottawa defender Jackson Bennett further proved the importance of both an ideal surface and discrepancy in laser times. The Ottawa native clocked a 4.69 laser time at the CFL combine and 4.48 mark during his pro day at Gee-Gees Field.

It’s in everyone’s best interest for the CFL to provide conditions and a timing mechanism that produces consistent (and hopefully excellent) results. For now, the fast and experienced hands of the league’s personnel men should be what’s taken as gospel.