The fastest player at this year's CFL combine almost wasn't invited. Concordia Stingers' defensive back Kristopher Robertson, who blew away the field in both the broad jump and vertical jump Saturday, continued his dominance of the combine Sunday, posting an event-best 40-yard dash time of 4.423 seconds that tied then-Laurier receiver Shamawd Chambers' combine-best time from 2012. (The overall record for the CFL combine is the 4.31-second mark Bishop's running back Steven Turner posted in 2010.) Video of Robertson's impressive run is available here. What's really remarkable is that Robertson's only at this event because he shone at a regional combine in Quebec City this week; this is the first year those league-organized regional events have been held, so in any other year, Robertson might never have made it to the combine. It makes you wonder how the scouts and executives who draw up the list of combine invitees missed such a promising talent.
Of course, the combine's about more than just raw numbers, and performances in the measurable drills tend to be more about altering impressions of individual players' stock rather than drastically rewriting draft boards. As Drew Edwards pointed out recently, combine record holders like Turner and Michael Knill (who benched 225 pounds 47 times in 2011) aren't currently in the CFL. What a player's shown in his college or junior career's also a critical component of how much CFL interest there is in him. When you factor college statistics in, though, the omission of Robertson from the initial list of national combine invitees becomes even more staggering.
Robertson had a tremendous 2012 season with the Stingers, leading the team with four interceptions (which he collectively returned for 127 yards and two touchdowns). He was also Concordia's leading kick returner (636 yards on 29 returns, a 21.9 yard average) and punt returner (279 yards on 32 attempts, an 8.1 yard average). Sure, Concordia was terrible in 2012, going just 3-6 (which was later corrected to 1-7, thanks to a forfeit against St. FX over an ineligible player and a double forfeit against Bishop's thanks to both sides fielding ineligible players), so it's understandable that Stingers' highlight tapes weren't at the top of the list for CFL coaches, GMs and scouts. Robertson was known even before this, though, thanks to his play both at Concordia and on Canada's 2009 silver-medal winning (PDF) IFAF Junior World Championship team (alongside other notable prospects for this draft, including Calgary Dinos' DL Linden Gaydosh and McMaster Marauders' OL Matt Sewell), and even the worst CIS teams tend to have some players who stand out. Robertson certainly appears to have that kind of potential.
One conceivable knock on Robertson is his size; he's listed at 5'9'' and 185 pounds, which certainly doesn't make him a physically imposing defensive back. That's not far off from many current CFL players, though. Consider the B.C. Lions' dominant secondary, which includes Ryan Phillips (5'10'', 195 pounds), Dante Marsh (5'10'', 190 pounds) and Korey Banks (5'11'', 190 pounds); all of those guys have been selected as league all-stars. Moreover, it's not raw height that's as crucial as how much elevation you can get; Robertson's combine-high 43-inch vertical helps him significantly in that department. The next-best DB at the combine was junior football player Jermaine Gabriel from the Calgary Colts (another guy who worked his way in through a regional combine!), who posted a 40.5'' mark. Gabriel's listed at 5'10'' and 190 pounds, so while he has an inch of height on Robertson, Robertson could get an inch and a half higher going for a ball. That contrast gets even more stark when you go to DBs who posted less-stellar vertical jump marks at the combine, such as Saint Mary's DB Neil King, whose 30.5'' mark was the worst amongst the position group. King's listed at 6'0'', 195 pounds, so he has three inches of height on Robertson, but Robertson was able to rise 8.5 inches higher Saturday. Height alone isn't everything when it comes to defensive backs.
Regardless of how you approach it, Robertson sure seems like a compelling CFL prospect. A defensive back with that kind of speed, that kind of vertical and proven ball-hawking ability? Oh, and he can also return kicks? It's hard to see how he was passed over for a combine invite initially, unless everyone just decided to ignore the Stingers this year. Robertson worked his way in, though, and he definitely has people talking with what he accomplished at the combine this weekend. His ascension's proof of the depth of Canadian talent out there, and it suggests that the regional combines were an excellent move on the league's part; missing out on a player with these kinds of physical gifts would be unfortunate. We'll see if Robertson's able to translate those into a draft selection and a CFL career down the road. For now, though, he's probably had the best weekend of any CFL prospect at the combine, which is amazing when you consider that he initially wasn't invited.