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March 12, 2021

Ferguson: The 2021 Draft comes with its challenges

Photo: ECU Athletics Media Relations

One year ago this week was the final ‘regular’ week any of us would experience for quite some time.

The pandemic became real, as cases began popping up closer and closer to home, restrictions were placed on an increasing number of daily occurrences I’ve taken for granted since birth and suddenly we were in a holding pattern, trying to figure out what it all meant.

While March 11, 2020 will forever be burned in my memory as the night Rudy Gobert tested positive for the NBA’s Utah Jazz, causing an immediate postponement of the basketball season due to something called ‘contact tracing’ which we’d become far too used to hearing over the next 365 days, there is a different moment that really drove home how much everything was changing in real time.

March 12 was a day like any other for me. Woke up early, walked the dogs, did the radio show, grabbed some groceries for the day and came home.

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The East Regional Combine was the only one that was able to take place in 2020 and Jordan Williams stole the show, eventually becoming the first overall pick in the draft (Chris Tanouye/CFL.ca)

I had circled the date months earlier as it signified the kickoff to CFL Combine season, one of my favourite parts about covering Canadian Football.

I sat down to watch the results pour in and begin calculating my angle on a column due after the Ontario Regional Combine was completed.

Jordan Williams posted a big bench press number, then a stunning vertical of 39 inches and a 40-yard dash time of 4.40 seconds at five-foot-11 and 219 pounds.

Then, like a sudden and unexpected power outage the plug was pulled.

Updates stopped and the information flow was suddenly leaking out through a straw, not the typical overflow of excitement and data that makes combine days so thrilling.

Finally a text came back from someone on the scene. “We’re done”.

Done?!

In a moment it all became real. Little did I know the combine being pulled out from my analyst feet was just the beginning of postponements, virtual draft coverage and ultimately the cancellation of the 2020 season.

All of that made covering the 2020 CFL draft tough, but in comparison to this year, 2020 feels like information overload.

Game tape for U SPORTS players and NCAA seasons that weren’t completely affected in scheduling, practice consistency, team chemistry development and week-to-week player availability?

Easy.

The combine conundrum of 2021 is — like most everything these days — the strangest, most challenging situation we’ll ever cross in attempting to understand how to value players in the draft.

I already knew evaluation would be less consistent and more difficult to apply usual context to going into this month, a thought confirmed further by one CFL executive this week.

“This one is going be real tough on the media, they generally know way less than we do, even harder now with all these futures and no U SPORTS season,” he said. “Projecting kids with third-year tape is so difficult, made tougher with no combine to see how they’ve been developing physically. Guys usually take a massive jump from year three to four.”

He’s not wrong. I’ve seen it.

Kwaku Boateng, seen here in his Laurier days, made a big jump as a player from his third to his fourth year in U SPORTS. Watching third-year players’ tape from 2019 will be a challenge in this year’s draft prep (Kha Vo/Laurier Athletics)

Watch Tunde Adeleke or Kwaku Boateng, Vincent Desjardins or Ryan Sceviour from year three to year four and there is a typically a noticeable difference in approach and physical maturity brought on by young men realizing what needs to be accomplished to be known as a ‘pro football player.’

This year we don’t get the drool inducing one-on-one matchups in pads in front of every CFL evaluator, standardized testing metrics or universally verified measurements. The tools and tricks used to gather information are entirely different, right down to player interviews, which will be conducted virtually. That’s a far less intimidating enterprise — unless your wifi is questionable — than entering a room full of football judges who can decide your near future on the assessment of every answer.

We’re close, the light at the end of the tunnel appears more clear each day but the final hurdle of nonexistent normality could shape the CFL’s Canadian talent for years to come and will happen with less information than ever.

Best to dig into the 2020 game tape, if any exists.

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