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Monday, March 19, 2018

OUT OF THE TUNNEL'S POWER RANKINGS AND COMBINE PREVIEW


By: RodPedersen.com Staff

That sound you hear off in the distance is the heartbeat of 2018 training camps across the CFL. In just nine weeks, your favourite teams across Canada will report and begin the long trek towards the Grey Cup in Edmonton.

With free agency done and the National Combine this week in Winnipeg, various media outlets across the CFL are putting out their Power Rankings. As rosters and coaching staffs are being built and rebuilt, this looks like it may finally be the full parity the CFL front office is looking for.

Saying that, here is the Out of the Tunnel Top 9 from the bottom up.

OUT OF THE TUNNEL OFF-SEASON POWER RANKINGS

9: Montreal – Not much question here. It’s a new staff led by Mike Sherman and there are still a lot of things to be worked out before the Alouettes can crawl back into the playoffs in the East Division. It all starts at quarterback, with the battle more than likely being between CFL veteran, Drew Willy and former NFL pivot, Josh Freeman.

8: B.C. – They did some good things in free agency trying to rebuild their offensive and defensive lines. Jonathan Jennings will be the starter heading into training camp, but he took a step back in 2017. With the impending retirement of Mr. B.C. Lion Wally Buono, that is the kind of off-field distraction that can only hurt.

7: Hamilton – Which Ticats team will show up in 2018? The one that started the season 0-8 or the one that made a late season surge at 6-4? Jeremiah Massoli took over from Zach Collaros and almost led Hamilton on a miraculous run to the playoffs and he will be the starter as training camps begin in May. A lot of changes to their coaching staff as well.

6: Toronto – The Argos caught fire at the right time to win the 2017 Grey Cup in Ottawa. Toronto will have the top one-two punch at quarterback with Ricky Ray and James Franklin. A solid offence with a lot of questions on defence. The question remains: can there be sustained success in Toronto?

5: Edmonton – A solid team with one of the top quarterbacks in the CFL, Mike Reilly. They overcame an array of injuries in 2017 to make it to the West Division final. There is some notable turnover with some well-known vets out the door to make way for some youth.

4: Saskatchewan – Great talent across the board with a solid and consistent coaching staff. Zach Collaros is the newly minted starter with the Green & White, but which Collaros will you get? The 25 touchdown, eight interception standout from 2015, or the one who went winless to begin the season in 2017? Canadian depth is a big question mark in Rider Nation.

3: Ottawa – The Redblacks overcame what may have been the worst schedule in recent CFL history. Ottawa was pretty beat-up when they hosted Saskatchewan in the East semi-finals. The Redblacks have one of the best Canadian rosters and a solid coaching staff made better with the addition of Noel Thorpe as defensive co-ordinator. They are easily the top team in the East.

2: Winnipeg – The Bombers are building for right now. It is a veteran laced roster that wants to build on the heartbreaking loss to Edmonton in last season’s West semi-final. If Matt Nichols can stay healthy, they will go far.

1: Calgary – The Stampeders are smarting from another Grey Cup loss in 2017. General manager John Hufnagel was incredibly shrewd this off-season releasing many high-priced, 30+ year-old players. This is part of the turnover that great teams do, they let expensive players go on the down-side of their career and bring in younger talent.  Football is an under-30 league. Calgary also has the best quarterback in the CFL.


NATIONAL COMBINE PREVIEW

The CFL combine is this Saturday and Sunday in Winnipeg. Most of the top eligible players for the upcoming 2018 CFL Draft will attend and strut their stuff in front of every front office member across the league.

Most of you watched the NFL Combine, but don’t expect those kinds of numbers. Sure, there have some great performances like Tevaughn Campbells 4.36 40-time and Byron Archambault’s 41-reps in the bench press (both were in 2014). The thing is, most of those players competing in the NFL combine have either finished or left school and were training full-time for the combine.

The potential CFL draftees are still in school and can only get in as much gym and track time as they fit into their schedules.

In the CFL, the Combine itself won’t make or break a player, but a big combine number must match the tape and what they do in the drills. Unlike the NFL combine, players will pad-up and do one-on-ones, much like what the Senior Bowl does for NFL scouts.

So, if like many of us, you're planning to tune into CFL.ca’s livestreaming of the combine, here are some things to look for:

The 40 is the showcase event. Yes, a scorching time is awesome and will make for some great headlines, but pay attention to the 10-yard and 20-yard times. A quick explosion is key to success in football. For example, the elite of the elite in the 10-yard will be around 1.6 for running backs, 1.85 for offensive linemen, 1.75 for a middle linebacker, and 1.85 for a defensive tackle.

Bench press is just a great indicator if a player loves the weight room. Top players on the offensive and defensive lines will hit the 25-30 mark, linebackers should hit between 15-20 and receivers around 10-12. Longer arms will have a tougher time with this, so the taller players will struggle.

Vertical and broad jump numbers should match the explosiveness of the 40-time.

3-cone and shuttle run is key to judging athletic ability. If they just look ‘good’ doing the drills and can pull off a solid time while doing so this is beneficial. But if they come across as stiff, that can hamper their stock.

For defensive backs and linebackers watch the 10-yard backpedal then 10-yard sprint. If they can get in and out of a back pedal with ease, they will do the same on-field.

The two most important things we will not see are the interviews these athletes will have with all nine CFL clubs and the Wonderlic test (or whatever the CFL names their exam). The interview is key to see if a certain player will fit that organization's plans and the exam is to see if a player's intelligence (or lack thereof) will impact his play on the field.

Much has been made by the CFL with eight “NCAA” trained players making an appearance at the combine. Yes, they play in the NCAA, but at drastically different levels.

There are four FBS (NCAA D-1) players attending: Mark Chapman (Central Michigan), Sean Harrington (Michigan State), Julien Laurent (Georgia State), and Peter Godber (Rice).

Three of the players are from the FCS level of football (NCAA D1-AA): Bo Banner (Central Washington), Norvell McGlaun (Indiana State) and Ryder Stone (Dartmouth) and one player from Division Two football, Christian Strong (Seton Hill).

The three top ranked players will not attend but we will have results from their pro-days.

Connecticut offensive linemen Trey Rutherford will have his pro-day on March 21st and Bowling Green offensive lineman Ryan Hunter's is March 19th.

David Knevel of Nebraska had his pro-day last week and his numbers were less than stellar, but it looks like he is focusing more on how he is preparing to play on the field.

Knevel told Brian Christopherson of Huskers Illustrated, “It's kind of funny. I'm a big guy and I'm learning how to run like a track athlete," he said. "It's a lot of fun, a good experience. Probably won't do it ever again. But I'm ready to get into football training.”

The only numbers that were reported were a 5.3-5.6 in the 40 and 16 reps on the bench press.

So we will have these numbers to compare to the other 50 taking part in the CFL combine.

The CFL Combine is growing in popularity and it whets the appetite of football fans with just a little something that looks like football. It will be interesting to watch.

(RodPedersen.com Staff)