Ferguson: Did the Combine DBs have more size than usual?
Every year as I walk through the front door of the CFL Combine presented by New Era, I wonder what will jump out to me by the time we leave. To the credit of players and coaches across U SPORTS and the NCAA, I am regularly fascinated by the unique combinations of size, speed and football talent.
Of course I do my homework before landing on the turf for a week of testing and on field competition, but there is just something different about seeing players in person. The way players move between drills, how big men carry their weight and the interactions between drills all help to shape opinions of prospects for evaluators, present company included.
Behind closed doors, teams learn much more about a players’ character, decision making, football IQ and system adaptability, but to anyone in attendance, the physical design of players who have spent years crafting themselves in the gym and on the turf for this moment is consistently a sight to behold.
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Look any direction at the CFL Combine in Edmonton this past weekend and you would be struck by the years of effort represented by muscles on top of muscles moving with the greatest of ease.
As I stood at field level for the East-West Bowl last year, an annual celebration of the next year’s CFL Draft class potential, I was struck by how long and aggressive the defensive back class of 2023 was. As an ex-quarterback, this is the type of thing that puts fear in my soul to this day. Watching pivots attempt to pass into smaller and smaller windows against unreasonably lengthy defenders still gives me the shivers.
So, as I stepped into the Commonwealth Stadium Field House on Thursday for testing and the first padded practices on Friday, that memory of the 2022 East-West Bowl defensive back night terrors hung with me. What I remembered from the previous year was that much more apparent in the underwear olympics on Thursday. From Windsor’s Breton MacDougall to Bishop’s Jake Kelly, Saint Mary’s Jassin States-McClean to Toronto’s Tolu Ahmed and many more in between, the reach and range of the defensive back crew caught me as elite, an ever-evolving body type that continues to arrive at CFL Combines, but at this kind of rate? I hadn’t seen it.
To prove, or disprove, my theory, I dug into some custom constructed numbers with an examination of length (height percentile plus arm length percentile divided by two) vs. speed (10, 20 and 40-yard dash percentile divided by three). Both of these numbers include data for every player tested at a CFL Combine (Regional, Invitational and National) since 2001.
What I found wasn’t necessarily as exaggerated as I originally expected, but the fact remains that even with some shorter, more stout body types mixed into this class, the overall group is still the fourth longest group of CFL Combine defensive backs measured since Y2K bested only by 2004, 2008 and 2014.
Despite running very well, the overall group didn’t rate as high in speed vs. every other DB tested since 2001 either, but there is no doubting the top end of this defensive back draft is a collection of special body types.
With the caveat that Alberta’s Jacob Taylor will likely be moved to weak side linebacker thanks to his elite size and movement, and Saskatchewan’s Charlie Ringland suffered what could be a tough knee injury at the Combine, this group jumped off the turf for me from the first whistle of warmup on Friday morning.
If you’re new to these Combine charts, the more colour the better, and there is a heck of a lot of colour when charting these four.
Last year, there were 19 defensive backs drafted. That’s eight more than the ten year CFL Draft average of 11 ballhawks per selection show. With the trend in this year’s draft once again leaning towards defensive prioritization, could we see another year of defensive backs going early and often? Based on the workouts last week in Edmonton, I wouldn’t bet against it.
The group as a whole might not have reached Space Jam Monstar status as I originally expected, but there is no denying the number of CFL-ready prospects from a special 2023 defensive back group who will be making their mark on CFL fields for you to enjoy starting this summer.