With COVID-19 still lingering menacingly, the CFL has gone virtual for all combines in 2021. Getting consistent data is difficult under any circumstances, but done individually with differing approaches and standards despite best efforts is sure to create mayhem on the numbers.
Highlights of this new approach include:
• All combine invitees (national and regional) will provide their medical history (with input from their school therapist/doctor).
• All combine invitees will fill out a personal questionnaire.
• Clubs would be responsible for setting up and conducting national player video interviews.
• The league will conduct and record video interviews with global participants with standard questions and distribute to each club. The clubs will also have the option to perform video interviews with global participants.
• The league will establish protocols and guidelines to have each combine (national, regional and global) participant conduct and film themselves performing select tests and positional drills in a safe environment with the league distributing to the clubs by a certain date.
Thankfully for many decision makers, all those digits get is a cursory glance on the way to watch film or interview a prospect; those remain the truest tell of a players’ fit with each organization.
Combine numbers hold a unique place in football evaluation. For some players they matter more than others and can vault you into the top of the draft when paired with game film. For others, the speed and movement drills can be a damning red flag that calls into question a prospect’s ability to sustain at the physical level required to be a pro football player.
With all that in mind, I took a look back at some of the very best CFL national combine performances of the last decade to celebrate simpler times and to remind ourselves where some of the Canadian names most synonymous with CFL football planted their flag to declare they were ready for the next level.
Good luck finding a weakness in Keenan MacDougall’s 2012 CFL combine performance. The strength, speed and quickness were all there, helping the Saskatchewan Huskies’ product climb to the 15th overall pick before winning a Grey Cup in 2014 with the Stampeders.
Tunde Adeleke is the name many CFL fans associate with Canadians at free safety these days. His 2017 combine was special in the bench and 40-yard dash, but four years earlier Jermaine Gabriel blew everyone away with a well-rounded performance for the ages before Toronto took him 17th overall. Just like MacDougall above, Gabriel went on to win a Grey Cup with the team that drafted him in his third season. Now he faces a new challenge with Edmonton, the first time he’ll suit up in the CFL for anyone not named Toronto.
A few years before he blew up the CFL regional combine I learned of Jay Dearborn. Local coaches from my hometown of Kingston, Ontario raved about him and the hype was real in 2019 when one of the tallest defensive back prospects ever showed lower body explosion in the jumping tests we’ve never seen before.
A decade into his CFL career, Henoc Muamba is still leading defences and making headlines. Now a Toronto Argonaut after an impressive run in Montreal, the undersized linebacker’s 2011 combine performance will never be in doubt as one of the best ever at his position. It was a day that contributed to being the top overall pick that year.
I played against Frederic Plesius and he scored on a pick-six right in front of me in the 2011 Vanier Cup. I never understood how a lower body that thick and powerful could shuffle so quickly around the field before delivering a punishing blow. His 2012 combine puts in clear focus how crazy Fredo’s combination of size and athleticism was that day. Anyone still wonder why he’s been so dominant on special teams for a decade?
In 2019 an undersized linebacker from York announced his presence on the draft stage with unique speed and quickness. We haven’t heard the last of Saskatchewan Roughriders 35th overall pick Jacob Janke.
My first impressions of Robbie Smith on Laurier game film involved words like explosive, solid and elite finisher. Toronto clearly saw enough to take him early in the 2019 CFL Draft and to give Smith live game reps quickly. His height/weight/athleticism profile was shockingly similar to the next defensive line top performer.
Similar to Smith, Junior Turner could easily be characterized in the 2011 CFL Draft evaluation process as short or light, but his measurables quickly made GMs across the CFL forget all of that and imagine where he could slot into their lineup as a ready-to-play Canadian.
Yet another example of a U SPORTS defensive lineman operating at a higher clip athletically while being a bit undersized, Connor McGough has long packed a punch since his 2017 combine performance in a loaded Calgary Dinos draft class. Now he goes home to the Stamps to play in front of friends and family after three seasons in Hamilton.
In 2019 Drew Desjarlais — sorry, rookie Grey Cup Champion Drew Desjarlais — laid down the best combine score by an offensive lineman ever at a regional or national combine. His performance led to a top draft grade as the Windsor Lancers’ big man went fourth overall to Winnipeg while setting an athletic benchmark that will be difficult to match; even by a player and athlete the quality of new Stampeders’ centre Sean McEwen.
Owner of a successful four year CFL career in Saskatchewan and Montreal, Matt Vonk now works with CFL prospects at McMaster University, not far from his hometown of Burlington. Any young player would be wise to ask Vonk for some testing tips after this masterful combine performance in 2013.
A 2014 Grey Cup champion, Matt Walter will be remembered by many younger CFL fans for looking like the guy you’d create in Madden growing up: Black visor, big biceps and FAST. While he was much more than a video game look-alike, his combine confirmed his athletic merits.
Ryan Granberg punctuated his senior season by passing Mike Giffin to become the Queen’s Gaels all-time leading rusher, putting his name above those like Larry Mohr, the 1985 Hec Crighton winner, Brad Elberg and of course, further back in history to the likes of Ronnie Stewart, Heino Lilles and Dave Hadden. His combine performance might have left some wanting in size and strength, but the speed and quickness were never in question.
An Ottawa native, Brendan Gillanders returned to the nation’s capital after two years in Toronto to win the 2016 Grey Cup with his hometown team and hasn’t left since. He’ll likely retire with the REDBLACKS as one of the essential locker room pieces referenced by Rick Campbell in his exit press conference.
Anyone who watched OUA football in the early 2010’s knows how feared Shamawd Chambers strides were, but this combine performance was about much more than just running. In 2012, Chambers put together one of the greatest workouts at any position in recent memory.
Dominating the western regional combine in 2019, Shai Ross stole the show with a solid 40-yard time and exceptional lower body explosion in the vertical and broad jump. A name to know in national receiver depth charts moving into 2021.
Anthony Parker owns the highest individual workout score of any player, at any position, ever (94.38). Simply put he had everything when coming out in 2011, which explains why the Stampeders never let him leave home when they made him the third overall pick. Now entering his 10th CFL year, Parker will look to bounce back from a devastating Achilles tear in 2019.