Ten observations from the CFL’s national combine

Photo courtesy: CFL

The 2022 CFL Combine came to a close on Sunday, marking the end of the league’s first major off-season national event since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Below are ten observations I made throughout the weekend following dozens of conversations with players, agents, coaches, and personnel men.

Built Ford tough

Prospects are often hand-timed when running the forty-yard dash at pro days, which generally results in a faster time. Waterloo defensive back Tyrell Ford ran a 4.45-second forty-yard dash at the recent University at Buffalo pro day but actually improved on that with a laser time of 4.42 seconds at the national combine.

Ford also tied Wilfrid Laurier receiver Shamawd Chambers for the third-fastest laser-timed forty-yard dash in CFL combine history behind Regina defensive back Tevaughn Campbell (4.36) and UNLV running back Shaquille Murray-Lawrence (4.41). His stock was already high before the combine but it appears to be getting higher.

Question everything

One of my favourite things to talk to prospects about is the type of questions they’re asked while interviewing with teams. The questions seem to have been little more tame this year compared to the past but one that caught my attention came from the Edmonton Elks.

According to multiple players, head coach and general manager Chris Jones asked them who they would cut from Edmonton’s current roster if they had to release one player. That’s an interesting one.

Parental guidance

One of the questions players are often asked during the interview process is what their parents do for work. Here are the three most interesting answers I learned through the course of the combine.

Saskatchewan defensive lineman Riley Pickett’s mother and stepfather are police sergeants who work in narcotics and homicide, respectively. Bryant running back Daniel Adeboboye’s father is a pastor with a doctorate degree in theology, while McMaster linebacker Enoch Penney-Laryea’s father works for the United Nations in the Department of Safety and Security.

ADHD

Ottawa offensive lineman Zach Pelehos was deemed academically ineligible following his first season with the Gee-Gees, which caused him to miss the entire 2019 season. He was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder during that time and has since developed strategies to help him be academically successful.

Pelehos wasn’t originally invited to the national combine but qualified following a standout performance at the eastern regional. All nine teams interviewed the OUA all-star and he was very open and honest about his diagnosis, saying he hopes his story can help inspire others who have faced setbacks while pursuing their dreams.

Ice cold

The weather in Toronto was unseasonably cold during Sunday’s on-field sessions with an outdoor air temperature of minus-four and a wind chill of minus-thirteen. The bubble at Varsity Stadium doesn’t do much to keep the cold out and I spoke to a number of prospects who felt the low temperature negatively affected their testing results.

I asked a few coaches and personnel people who agreed the cold may have hurt testing results, though there was no clear correlation in the results between prospects who tested at a regional combine and the national combine. Some tested slightly better in the cold at Varsity Stadium than they had at the regional level, while some tested slightly worse.

I stepped inside the indoor reception area at Varsity Stadium to use the washroom around the midpoint of the event and ended up having a long conversation with a general manager. When it was time to return to the bubble I asked him why he was sitting out in the reception area. His answer? “It’s too damn cold in there for me.”

Lightning Rod

One of the top performers of the weekend was Alberta offensive lineman Rodeem Brown, who reminds me of fellow Golden Bear and former fifth-round CFL draft pick Justin Lawrence. Both blockers are undersized at a little under six-foot-one but they’re strong, stout, and physical.

Brown will probably be limited to the centre position at the professional level given his lack of height but I still think he could be a big asset to a team. One defensive lineman at the combine told 3DownNation that Brown was the best U Sports offensive lineman he ever played against, which is awfully high praise.

Think pink

Latvian defensive lineman Karlis Brauns was the only prospect at the national combine with bright pink hair, which was a clever way to stand out from the rest of the field. According to my colleague JC Abbott, Brauns often sports unorthodox hair colours but went back to his natural blond while performing for scouts in Texas at the College Gridiron Showcase.

Photo courtesy: CFL

Mach-art attack

One of my favourite players in this year’s draft class is Saskatchewan running back Adam Machart, who should have won the Hec Crighton Trophy in 2019.

The Saskatoon native is only five-foot-seven and 189 pounds but I hope teams don’t hold that against him. He’s one of the most elusive runners I’ve ever seen at the U Sports level and his low centre of gravity makes him really tough to bring down. He also showed off impressive strength, recording 23 reps on the bench press.

Interestingly, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers — one of two teams that are expected to start a Canadian running back this season — did not interview Machart at the combine. The other was the B.C. Lions.

Citizenship

Defensive tackle Noke Tago was born in Pago Pago, American Samoa, which is considered a U.S. territory. He is an American national and played collegiately at Oregon State but qualifies as a Global in the CFL because he is not an American citizen.

The CFL has changed its ratio qualification criteria over the years, but I can’t help but find it funny that Toronto Argonauts’ kicker Boris Bede — who was born in France and played U Sports football at Laval — counts as an American while Tago counts as a Global.

Feel good

The best part of the combine this year was the camaraderie between the participants who were clearly overjoyed at having the opportunity to bond and compete. This was the CFL’s first in-person combine since 2019 and it was great to see so many prospects taking pictures together and celebrating one another’s success.

The coaches and scouts in attendance largely reflected the attitude of the players, expressing their excitement at the opportunity to gather and socialize for the first time in so long. The combine also served as the first time that 3DownNation editor and contributor JC Abbott met either Justin Dunk or myself in person. We were originally supposed to meet at the national combine in March 2020 but the event was cancelled due to the pandemic.

Photo courtesy: Matias Bueno

Abbott and I first saw each other at the airport on Friday and said, “So I guess this means you actually exist and we weren’t just cat-fishing each other this whole time.” I replied, “C’mon, if we were cat-fishing each other we both would have used photos of better-looking people.”