TORONTO — The road to the draft always proves to be busy for CFL head of football operations Greg Dick and his staff, but the 2021 off-season and the COVID-19 pandemic have offered some new and unique challenges.
The same goes for the nine CFL franchises, who have had to navigate this draft process without seeing or talking to players in person.
“I think that every team evaluates players differently. But I think they’re going to look at game films from past seasons more closely. Combine results will be considered, but because it’s such a unique year, that may not put as much weight on those,” Dick told Donnovan Bennett on the latest episode of The Waggle presented by Sport Clips.
On April 15, the league will hold the 2021 Global Draft, allowing teams to pick from some of the best talents that the world has to offer.
The CFL international strategy has been a key piece of commissioner Randy Ambrosie’s vision since he took his current position in 2017.
In 2019, the first CFL-LFA Draft took place in January. That saw 27 total players hailing from Mexico brought into the league. That was followed by the 2019 Global Draft. Another nine players entered there, with Germany’s Thiadric Hansen being the big standout from that class. He made the transition from linebacker to the defensive line for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and delivered one of the highlights of the year, blowing up a return by Hamilton’s Frankie Williams with a bone-rattling hit in the 107th Grey Cup.
Episode 256: Global Draft and Scouring the World for Talent
EPISODE OVERVIEW: With the CFL Global Draft coming up on April 15th, the Canadian Football League’s CFO & Head of Football Operations, Greg Dick, joins Donnovan to discuss the challenges of scouting and drafting global talent during a pandemic.
EPISODE RUNDOWN: Donnovan intro (0:10), Greg Dick interview begins (1:50), Challenges faced and adaptations made to scouting virtually (2:30), Impressive numbers coming from virtual combines (5:30), How global players are identified as candidates for CFL (8:00), Covid impact on players travelling (12:00), Backlog of young talent (Canadian & Global) at 2021 training camps (14:00), NFL International Pathway players and how they’ll be evaluated (15:50), The move to “snake” draft format for Global & National drafts (18:45), Greg interview wrap-up (20:30), Donnovan final thoughts (21:00 )
Following the 2019 campaign, the league made the announcement that they’d be travelling the globe, searching for the best talent from around the newly formed International Alliance of Gridiron Football.
In total, nine global combines were completed, with stops in Germany, Sweden, Finland, France, England, Italy, Japan, Denmark, and finally Brazil. Each of the representatives hand-picked from those combines was invited to attend the 2020 CFL Combine in Toronto, however, the COVID-19 pandemic threw a wrench in the plans.
The remaining global combines were scrapped, as were the national combine and the 2020 Global Draft. The combine in Mexico was cancelled, which would have likely had one of the biggest turnouts of any country.
Luckily, those individuals were able to be differed to this year’s draft, allowing them to participate and have their respective shots to play in the CFL. While those players have been staying ready for their opportunity, Dick and the league put on a Global Combine virtually, allowing players to send in video of them running the regular drills — 40-yard dash, 3-cone drill, shuttle, vertical jump, and bench press — to have a chance to be drafted.
“We overlaid some timers on it so we knew that a guy wasn’t running a four-flat 40,” Dick said. “So we had some integrity to the video. National players that were eligible for the draft last year and wanted to produce their virtual combine results did that. New global players for 2021 were able to do that, and global players that were selected last year or that we saw last year were also able to re-submit their virtual combine results for the CFL clubs to evaluate.
“It’s a very unique year. Everyone has to be flexible and pivot in the COVID time to do their evaluation. This is the best we could do under the circumstances.”
There are a number of highly skilled individuals available to be picked this year — some of whom have played at the highest levels of global football along with the NCAA.
Who is the next Thiadric Hansen? Who will come out of this draft and make an impact on their new squad in the near future? We’ll have to wait and see in the coming months. But with the global roster slots expanding to a minimum of two, there’s more opportunity for players outside of North America to thrive in 2021 and beyond.
“We got that chance to go and see them in person and evaluate them and see their test results. Before that, we got all of the video from the top players that would be considered for the CFL Global Draft. Mexico was more difficult because we didn’t have the combine there. So we had to rely on our partners in the LFA to put on a combine for those players so we could get some video. And they were allowed to run a combine down there,” said Dick, who added that Italy and Japan were also able to run combines under their regulations.
“We have 68 former NCAA players and six former U SPORTS players that classify as Global players for our draft. We did the evaluation of the talent that was here in North America for the guys that play college football in North America.
“We went to a lot of places around the world and found the best guys that are eligible for the draft this year.”