March 24, 2022

Cauz: Combine records tell an interesting story

Peter Power/CFL.ca

Maybe it’s because we are in the quiet part of the year for all things CFL or more accurately, it’s because I’m a bit of a draft nerd but I was far more excited than I should have been when I found out I can look back at the combine numbers as far back as 2006. (It’s right here !!!!)

To be fair, as someone with a history degree in my past (McMaster, class of 1998) I have always been fascinated at what future stars looked like coming out of college before they became household names. I have spent more hours than I care to admit going over so many measurables and I wanted to share some of my favourite highlights from the past 14 years of the CFL combine.

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Despite not testing exceedingly well at the YEAR combine, Andy Fantuz established himself as one of top Canadian players in the CFL for over a decade (Photo: Ticats.ca)

2006: Andy Fantuz

The No. 1 theme in this column is don’t trust the combine numbers! That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be impressed by the athletic feats on display at the CFL Combine presented by New Era this weekend, but just remember that being the fastest player this Sunday does not guarantee an all-star career.

Fantuz was an absolute terror in university. As someone who used to broadcast McMaster Marauder games, Fantuz was the most physically gifted receiver I witnessed in all my years as a broadcaster. Yet on combine day he was tied for 18th in the 40-yard dash! The man who was uncoverable as a Western Mustang ran a five-second 40.

There were other receivers who scored a higher vertical jump and a couple were bigger than Fantuz, but none had his career. He had nearly 7,000 yards receiving, was the 2007 Grey Cup’s Most Valuable Canadian and in 2010 was named the Most Outstanding Canadian. On a side note, if anyone has tape on three-time Grey Cup champ defensive linemen Ricky Foley, I’d sure love to take a look. The man finished with the ninth-best vertical jump and was the eighth-fastest prospect despite the fact he weighed 40 more pounds than any of the seven players who clocked a faster time. That dude was a physical specimen.

2007: Chris Van Zeyl and Chris Getzlaf

The Chris Draft! All right, no one refers to the 2007 draft by that name, but they are two of the most impactful players from that year. Looking back at Van Zeyl’s numbers, what stands out were not his results; he had teammates on the same defensive line that performed better, but rather his position.

People may forget but Van Zeyl was a star defensive tackle for McMaster and wanted to remain one in the pros. That just never worked out in Montreal, who originally drafted him. His transformation into a star offensive lineman did not begin until 2009 as a part of the Toronto Argonauts’ practice squad, when he switched from defence to offence. It would be four years until he made his first all-star team. Just think of all the hard work that went into his development that led to him winning the award for the league’s best offensive lineman a decade after moving from one side of the line of scrimmage to the other.

As for the other Chris, there were six other receivers who finished with a faster 40 time. Some were drafted far higher than Getzlaf, however beyond Chris Bauman, I doubt you would remember any of the other receivers from that draft class. Certainly, none of them have the same resume as Getzlaf, who finished his career with two CFL West All-Star team awards and was named the Most Valuable Canadian in the 101st Grey Cup.

Brendon LaBatte didn’t overwhelm anyone with his testing in the combine, but the Riders saw the on-field ability he possessed and wisely took him sixth overall in 2008 (Jimmy Jeong/CFL.ca)

2008: Brendon LaBatte

Brendon may be the best example of why you need to be wary linking combine achievement with actual success. Brendon had the second-slowest time of anyone who ran the 40-yard dash. There were only four players with a worse vertical and despite his size and obvious strength, the man wasn’t even a top-five guy in the bench press.

Brady Browne, a 196-pound defensive back (played five years, only started seven CFL games) completed six more reps on the bench press than LaBatte!! Ultimately it didn’t matter, as Saskatchewan took LaBatte sixth overall and the six-time CFL All-Star/2013 Most Outstanding Lineman Award winner is still getting it done.

2011: Henoc Muamba and Brad Sinopoli

Just to give this column some balance there are also the years where what you do at the combine can help your draft status. I have no doubt that Muamba would have been a high pick based on his collegiate accomplishments, but no linebacker at the 2011 combine had a better 40 time, vertical jump or bench press and only one other linebacker (Peter Thiel) was heavier.

As for Sinopoli, his path is next level Chris Van Zeyl. Sinopoli entered the combine as the best collegiate quarterback, having won the Hec Crighton at Ottawa. But at least Chris got to keep his own name. Did you know that Sinopoli was listed as “Bradley Sinopoli” on combine day? I’m convinced his career is nowhere near as good if he played as a “Bradley.”

Bradley does not put up four 1,000-plus receiving yard seasons or win the Most Outstanding Canadian Award twice. Bradley, on the other hand, just stinks it up at the combine. On this day, 20 players finished with a faster 40 time. To make matters worse not one but two defensive linemen recorded the exact same time as Sinopoli.

Speaking of linemen, four defensive and one offensive manage to out jump this future receiving star. Go back and watch his highlights in Ottawa and tell me that’s a guy who could be bested at the vertical jump by players who make their living being closer to the ground.

Sinopoli would not be selected until the fourth round by Calgary and spent the first two years of his career as a third-string quarterback. It was not until his third year that he finally made the switch to receiver. Just like with Van Zeyl, no one could have known just how special a football player Sinopoli would become.

Both entered the combine at a position they would never play in the pros, both would have underwhelming numbers yet both individuals turned into stars. That’s the great thing about the combine: In the middle of watching all these young men complete the ultimate tests of speed and strength you never know who the next great CFL player will be.

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