Last week here on CFL.ca I wrote about celebrating the return of Combine season. It’s that part of the calendar where years of hard work and athletic refinement get parsed into tiny sample sizes for CFL decision makers to pick apart.
Dozens of athletes from all over the country made the trip to the University of Waterloo on March 3 with the promise of a golden ticket to Edmonton waiting if their performance warranted. The past CFL regional combines (Eastern, Western, Ontario) each saw around five players selected to advance to the national showcase.
I asked around early Friday morning and discovered that since the new format includes one big invitational combine before nationals, the CFL and their teams — who vote for players they wish to see more of in Edmonton at the end of the month — would be selecting up to 15 players to advance.
When the dust settled on Friday afternoon after runs, jumps, and some entertaining one-on-ones, 12 players were selected to advance to the national combine. Here are my five favourite picks of those standout dozen with their full combine breakdown. This is a visual representation for future prospects of what is required to take another step towards earning a CFL contract.
CFL Combine presented by New Era
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Tolu Ahmed, DB, Toronto
With a long, lean build, I’ve always liked the way Ahmed looks in pads but seeing his frame — and its natural potential as a rangy CFL free safety — in-person really intrigued me ahead of testing Friday morning.
In a group of relatively undersized, thick defensive backs, Ahmed stood tall and stood out with a natural 40-yard dash that has me wondering how he’ll match up against the CFL Draft best in Edmonton in a few weeks.
Gabriel Appiah-Kubi, WR, York
There is no way around it. Gabriel Appiah-Kubi is small. He’s one of the lightest prospective CFL receivers ever evaluated at a combine and will have an uphill battle against the length and physicality of the CFL Combine’s defensive backs.
Testing is no longer a question. His numbers speak for themselves but the challenge now is to apply those tests in a way that proves he can play at the next level. Step one was securing the interest of CFL coaches and personnel managers. Mission accomplished.
Theo Grant, OL, Queen’s
Grant’s movement skills were readily apparent amongst his invitational combine cohorts. Asking a lineman to run and cut on a dime in nothing but shorts and a t-shirt reveals a lot about body composition and agility.
While the Queen’s product from Citadel High School in Halifax is lighter than most teams will like, he might be in line to follow former Ottawa Gee-Gees turned REDBLACKS’ OL Zach Pelehos just one year after Pelehos went second overall out of a regional combine.
Both men have a similar physical makeup with Grant being slightly less athletic, but the Pelehos pick sets a precedent for athleticism over size at Canadian pass protector.
Sebastian Howard, TE, Saint Mary’s
We LOVE a tall receiver. Each year around the combine, someone shows up with a frame that just can’t be replicated and teams need to see more. Howard was listed as a tight end and shut it down Friday after working through with running backs and fullbacks in Waterloo.
That’s disappointing for people like me that wanted to see him waggle and run cute from the slot. I have a feeling that won’t be an opportunity missed now that he has punched his CFL Combine ticket back to his native province of Alberta.
Aidan John, DL, Saint Mary’s
The defensive line group were the first to put pads on during the regional combine. They set the tone with bag drills and pass rush simulations as the rest of the combine watched on. From the first drill, Aidan John’s quick hands and smooth flips of the hip caught my eye.
A tall, lanky edge rusher with good top-end acceleration, I wonder what evolution will come for the Huskies’ standout. It’s a question we have plenty of time to answer now that he’s off to Edmonton with a host of other Saint Mary’s prospects who — it has to be said — won the day from a U SPORTS perspective.