Calgary Dinos' defensive lineman Michael Klassen has been invited to the national CFL combine.The CFL's decision earlier this month to expand its pre-draft combines by adding regional combines in Edmonton and Quebec City before the national combine in Toronto represented a gamble on the depth of Canadian talent in this year's draft class. Following the first regional combine, which was held in Edmonton Monday, it seems that bet is already paying off. Two players from that combine, University of Calgary defensive lineman Michael Klassen and Calgary Colts (junior football) defensive back Jermaine Gabriel, have been invited to the full national combine in Toronto this coming weekend. That suggests the field of Canadian talent is quite deep, and that expanding the combines was the right move to make.
Of course, it's been common knowledge for a while that the national combine alone doesn't showcase every potential Canadian CFL player. Some of the top NCAA prospects in particular don't usually attend it, so that's one class of player that's missed, but there also are plenty of intriguing CFL prospects who don't earn a combine invite for one reason or another. Sometimes that's thanks to unimpressive CIS or CJFL stats (which can be for a variety of reasons unrelated to the player's ability, such as injuries or the role they were used in), sometimes it's thanks to them being from a lesser-known program, but the point is, talented players can fall through the cracks. That was the mindset behind Duane Forde's alternative National Invitational Combine, which showcased extra players on the same weekend as E-Camp from 2010 to 2012. As with these regional combines, not everyone there had real potential to play professionally, but there were some that did, and some wound up being picked up by CFL teams as a result. The expansion of the official CFL combines suggests teams are seeing value in looking at more Canadians than just those high-profile players invited to the national combine, and that's a positive statement about the quality of Canadian talent out there.
Does this mean Klassen and Gabriel are locks for the CFL? Not necessarily. Plenty of players at the national combine never get drafted or play professionally. What they've done so far is notable, though, and they clearly impressed at the Edmonton combine. Gabriel showed off impressive speed, posting a 4.75-second 40-yard dash (tied for the best at that combine) and a 4.11-second shuttle run, and that was enough to get him noticed despite his less-than-stellar vertical (29.5 inches, lowest amongst defensive backs at that combine). Speed also helped Klassen, who posted a DL-best 5.07-second 40 and a tied-for-DL-best 4.34-second shuttle run. We'll see if they can turn these invitations into strong showings at the national combine and perhaps eventual CFL careers. Regardless of where they go from here, though, these invitations show that expanding the combine's produced at least some positives so far, and that there's Canadian depth out there beyond just the top prospects.