With Greg Quick at the helm, the CFL is entering phase two of its 2.0 strategy this year.
That starts with finding new talent, primarily through a string of Global combines beginning this weekend.
By the time you read this, Saturday’s Finnish Combine activities will likely be wrapped up in Helsinki, while Swedish prospects await their turn in the spotlight in Norrkoping on Sunday.
They mark the first of these bold ventures, in which hundreds of prospects will be evaluated in the hopes of bringing 50-60 of the best in the world before CFL scouts at the National Combine in March.
For many fans, the CFL’s Global initiative is hard to grasp and seems understandably foreign. The average joe can hardly be asked to keep up with the GFL or recognize the top talent in the Finnish Maple League. Therefore, I have endeavoured to make it easier by combing through the lists of combine invitees, researching and studying any tape I could find, and sharing the most intriguing names with you.
There is no guarantee the following players get drafted, attend the National Combine, or even impress Quick and his staff, but they are the players who jumped off the screen for me.
Here are my top 15 players attending the Scandinavian Combines.
*Two top prospects were forced to drop out of the Finnish Combine late. I have chosen to still include them here as they will still be highly regarded and potentially draftable.
Chris Mulumba, DL, Finland, Unaffiliated (Colorado)*
*Withdrawn from Combine on January 10th due to NFL
A fascinating prospect, Mulumba’s late withdrawal from the Finnish Combine is actually a perfect example of how year two of the Global initiative is recruiting a different level of talent. Accepted by the NFL as one of nine players in their International Pathway program, Mulumba is now in training to make an NFL practice roster. Even after earning a berth in that program, Mulumba was still listed as a CFL Global Combine attendee. This marks the first instance of the CFL and NFL actively recruiting the same Global players.
A legitimate two year contributor in the PAC12, Mulumba is a 6’2 280lbs force of a run defender who is difficult to knock of the ball. He’s still not a fully developed player and wasn’t really utilized as a pass rusher in college, but he’s big, physical and largely gap sound. While his focus is south of the border, his size and skill set may actually be better suited to moving inside in the CFL. He’ll be a name to keep in the back of your mind should he fail to gain traction south of the border.
William James, FS, Sweden, Dresden Monarchs [Germany] (North Dakota)
You don’t often find NCAA starting safeties in Sweden, but James is a notable exception. A 2015 graduate, he was a stalwart in Grand Forks.
The word that comes to mind about James compared to other Europeans is polished. William James is a finished product. He understands the game and plays with obvious intelligence, reading offences instinctually. He has fluid hips that allow him to cover ground in the passing game but really excelled as a run defender in college. With his ability to track players and make tackles in the open field, at bare minimum James is a day one impact performer on special teams.
Ville Valasti, DL, Finland, Unaffiliated (Eastern Michigan)*
*Withdrawn from Combine due to travel issue
Valasti couldn’t get his flights to work for Helsinki, but expect to see some CFL scouts come to him at the Eastern Michigan Pro Day.
At 6’5 260lbs, he is long-armed, raw and powerful. Valasti is a player with all the tools. An All-State performer in JUCO, he never turned into more than a bit player at Eastern Michigan but he was buried behind guys like Maxx Crosby at defensive end, now dominating with the Oakland Raiders. A high motor guy who hasn’t yet reached his full potential after two years of Division One ball. Seems like a perfect CFL 2.0 diamond in the rough to me.
Nicholas Peterson, CB, Sweden, Stockholm Mean Machine
Its easy to love a long, rangy corner and at 6’2 194lbs Peterson is certainly that. Named the fifth best player in Sweden, he glides in man coverage and at times almost hides his lethal long speed. Peterson is easily Sweden’s top defensive back and plays almost like an American. His reach can break up any pass and he is willing to get his nose dirty with physical play, something which will endear him on special teams.
Eric Murphy, FS/SLB, Sweden, Orebro Black Knights (Simon Fraser University)
A recruit of former B.C. Lion Dave Johnson who played his senior year under Jacques Chapdelaine, Murphy’s CFL connections will stand out amongst the slew of unfamiliar foreign names.
Murphy is a 6’1 210lbs college linebacker who has transitioned into a coverage role in Europe. He plays a breakneck, sideline-to-sideline game, jumping routes underneath with confidence and making tackles from everywhere. His skillset seems tailor-made for Canadian football, a country and environment he’s very familiar with.
Karri Pajarinen, RB, Finland, Helsinki Roosters
They call him Young Karri for a reason, Pajarinen is one of a handful of players from the college recruiting class of 2018 to be invited to the combines. Most are simply too immature physically to compete against grown men, but this is a notable exception.
Pajarinen could test out as a special athlete. With breakaway speed that makes his opponents look like they’re jogging, this youthful back possesses a combo of power and balance that I don’t often see outside of the US. His cuts are decisive, setting up defenders with quick head fakes without losing speed. At times, he bounces off contact like a Finnish pinball. At 5’10 210lbs and without much wear and tear, Pajarinen is well worth a look in my opinion.
Malcolm Engstrom, DE, Sweden, Stockholm Mean Machine
Named the country’s top player by Pro Football Sweden, Engstrom is uniquely gifted and seems born to rush the passer. His hands never stop moving and his technique is head and shoulders above anything his fellow countrymen have to offer. I do not exaggerate when I say his active hands are more lethal than the vast majority of Canadian defensive linemen I watch.
At 6’3 235lbs, Engstrom doesn’t explode off the line with ideal burst but has long speed that can carry him around the edge or down the field on special teams. He feels like a more talented version of Thiadric Hansen, unquestionably the top Global player last year.
Eric Blomgren, OL, Sweden, Stockholm Mean Machine
The top lineman in the Swedish league, Blomgren executes a variety of blocks with technical ease. He has ballerina feet for a big man, with a smooth kick step and a first step that reliably puts him in the right position. His hand placement is both sound and effective, allowing him to gain leverage easily.
Listed at just 260lbs, though the accuracy of that is unknown, Blomgren is problematically light and lacks a true anchor. That doesn’t stop him from routinely finishing blocks with a nasty edge and I’d be excited if he showed up to the Combine heavier.
Akseli Olin, DB, Finland, Helsinki Roosters
Physicality is the name of Olin’s game and its a game he plays well. At 6’1 210lbs, he manhandles people in press and rubs them right out of the play. His speed may not be exceptional but he makes up for it with effective use of size.
Probably a better fit as a safety or coverage linebacker for CFL suitors, Olin’s versatility could be valuable and his style of play indicates he would excel on the teams.
Viljio Lempinen, CB, Finland, Helsinki Roosters
The second Class of 2018 player to make this list, Lempinen also looks beyond his years. He’s that classic long corner at 6’2 190lbs, with long arms to break up every throw coming his way. Lempinen has a deceptive second level of speed and isn’t afraid to throw his weight around.
I find him to be a bit rigid in his play style, but that hasn’t held the youngster back. He’s reactive when it matters and has a couple of crazy picks on the highlight reel.
Sebastien Sagne, REC, Finland, Frankfurt Universe [Germany]
A 6’2 200lbs receiver who has excelled in the German league, Sagne is adept at leaking into space and exploiting lapses in the defence for big plays. He’s got good straight line speed and soft hands, adjusting well to the ball in the air.
My concern with Sagne is that he isn’t a particularly good separator and doesn’t run a variety of routes. That may just be a product of his offence, but those traits are highly translatable and I like to see them demonstrated before I rate a prospect highly.
John Lindgren, OL, Sweden, Carlstad Crusaders
If you want to run power in Sweden, you’d like it to be behind John Lindgren. One of the invitees to the NFL International Combine in October, Lindgren is a downhill bruiser who takes pleasure in burying his opponents. He’s not particularly athletic but he excels as a puller and doesn’t hold anything back.
That lack of athleticism has its draw backs, however, and Lindgren relies too much on torqueing his opponents to the ground in pass protection to compensate for his slow feet. It will be interesting to see if someone will take the time to develop that aspect of his game.
Jere Lahti, OL, Finland, Helsinki Roosters
A far more athletic lineman, its hard not to love the way Lahti fires off the ball. His agility is exceptional for the position and he makes some impressive reach blocks at his level of competition.
Like Blomgren before him, I question Lahti’s anchor and if he had a bit more sand in his pants he might be higher up the list.
Micky Kyei, REC, Finland, New Yorker Lions [Germany]
If you were looking for your route runner, here he is. Micky Kyei sets defenders up with ease and turns them all the way around with a head juke and wiggle. He doesn’t seem to lose any speed out of breaks either, making him lethal in the passing game.
The drawback: Kyei is only 5’8, if that. That lack of size isn’t going to do him many favours with teams.
Daniel Stadler, DT, Hungary, Miskolc Steelers
The only invitee from outside Scandinavia to make this list, Stadler is a hulking unit of a man. All raw physical power and pure muscle, the Hungarian stands at a reported 6’6 and 300lbs. No one he competes against in Europe can stop him from running them over.
I’m not sure he has a ton in the way of athletic upside but the body is sure to raise some eyebrows. Personally, I’d be intrigued to see what he could do on the offensive side of the ball but at 29 he is a bit old for a position switch.