Every year CFL scouts scour continental North America and beyond to find the best football players to improve their roster in hopes of winning a Grey Cup.
Through free agent workouts, mini-camps and private workouts, every player is evaluated on a multitude of levels including athleticism, personality, character, resume, accolades and game film.
All of this applies to CFL Draft-eligible players as well with the regional and national combines serving as the battle grounds of evaluation.
Year over year there is plenty of variation when answering the question of what defines a player that will improve YOUR team. Some years it’s an undersized receiver, another year it could be a low, strong, thick bowling ball of a linebacker.
Mark Chapman’s speed on the field helped him move up in the rankings this month (Jason Halstead/CFL.ca)
Despite this variation, there are consistently two words that come up when discussing players with CFL decision makers.
Size and speed.
Having one of each is good. Having an above average combination of both plus solid game film and being a stand up person is where prospects hit the sweet spot and get their name called early.
In an attempt to judge year-over-year speed and size, I have taken combine data since 2006 and created a percentile for each.
The size percentile is the player’s height percentile and weight percentile added and divided by two.
The speed percentile is created by averaging the player’s 10-, 20- and 40-yard percentiles, which are calculated against only players from the same positional group. The same applies to the size percentile.
By doing this we can get a better sense for a player’s true combination. A tall but skinny receiver could be in the 90th percentile of height but the 20th percentile of weight. This would make their ‘size percentile’ 55.0. That same player could be quick in the 10-yard split (85th percentile) but slow to the 20- (50th percentile) and 40-yard mark (40th percentile). Averaging all three (resulting in a total in the 58th percentile) gives a true sense of their speed dynamic. Above average (50th percentile) but not elite from start to finish.
In doing this for multiple years, we can also see the median of size or speed shift for positional groups, which helps to define the athletic quality of that position’s draft class.
First up, the trenches.
Here you can see not only did Dakoda Shepley test well but he also lands in the top right quadrant, where the best mixture of speed and size call home. Arnaud Gendron Dumouchel of Montreal features tremendous height and arm length, which helped him advance from the Eastern Regional Combine, while Ciraco and Sceviour of Calgary have remarkably similar profiles.
Alberta’s Mark Korte and Carleton’s Nolan McGreer claimed the right side of the bottom right quadrant, a place for – relatively speaking – faster, more athletic undersized players.
As a whole, the offensive line group in this draft has above average speed but is remarkably small with a positional size percentile of 37.
The defensive line speed vs. size chart shows a group of players all around the same size with varying speed. That is of course for the obvious outliers in Bishop’s Mathieu Breton, who brings tremendous size, and Calgary Dinos Western Regional Combine invitee Joel Van Pelt.
Interesting to note as well where Bo Banner of Central Washington appears in that undersized speedy section to the right side of the bottom right quadrant. He is joined there by a much less celebrated player in Acadia’s Gabriel Bagnell, who has a similar speed vs. size profile.
With this many similar players in size and data it really is all about the game film and interviews.
Micah Teitz stood out at the national combine while looking every bit the part of a top-20 draft pick. He is joined athletically in the elite top right corner by Concordia’s Mickael Cote and Western Mustangs run-stuffing middle linebacker Jean-Gabriel Poulin.
The top left in these charts tend to be the slower and larger players but it is important to take everything into context. Many of the names in the top left project as lengthy backup weak side linebackers who will earn their keep on special teams, including but not limited to Nelkas Kwemo of Queen’s, Sean Harrington from Michigan State, Eric Mezzalira from McMaster and Khadim Mbaye of Ottawa.
The shocker of this chart might be where Alex Taylor falls, in the unenvious bottom left quadrant signifying a slower and smaller player.
To the contrary, the top left here is full of legitimate H-back prospects and special teamers including standout David Mackie of Western, Tanner Green from Concordia and former McGill quarterback AND offensive lineman turned multi-purpose weapon Joel Houle.
Will Altema from Montreal stands alone as the best combination of the game’s pure tangibles at the running back position in 2018 after his performance at the east regional combine.
Holy OUA defensive backs Batman. Those Laurier Golden Hawks love their athletic defensive backs and they produced two great ones in this draft class between Godfrey Onyeka and Guzylak-Messam.
Self proclaimed rock star Jordan Beaulieu of Western is hot on their heels and has the best energy of the whole class, while Jackson Bennett from Ottawa, Royce Metchie and Nick Parisotto of Guelph also feature prominently.
Meanwhile, on the fringe of extremes, Jacob Firlotte of Queen’s is the 2018 draft’s bigger, slower defensive back while Laurier’s Ron Kinga and Windsor’s Lekan Idowu serve as the mighty mice undersized track stars.
Last year saw Danny Vandervoort and Nate Behar possess the best combination of size and speed, which saw them both off the board early in May. This year a large group of pass catchers brings that unique skill-set, ranging from dynamic special teams prospect Marco Dubois of Laval to top receiver Mark Chapman of Central Michigan.
All of these charts are to be taken with a grain of salt and demand further understanding of the players’ full makeup, but they do help to paint the picture of who possess that age old combination scouts will travel thousands of kilometres to find.