While the CFL is more than a worthy opponent for the National Football League when it comes to on-field entertainment, it is fair to say the Canadian Football League Draft, which begins tonight at 6 p.m., regularly has all the appeal of a blizzard in May.
Like it or not, in Canada, university football is nowhere near as popular as its American counterpart, so CFL fans don't tend to get too excited, or even get to know their newest players until they've been in the pro ranks for at least a season or two. Yet finally, tonight, through the emergence of an unfortunate drug testing result, for those of you interested in the inner workings of CFL franchises, drama and intrigue will now be on deck.
In case you haven't heard, Quinn Smith, a 22-year-old defensive tackle out of Concordia, recently acknowledged he tested positive for stanozolol metabolites when administered a drug test at this year's CFL combine. The fact he made a mistake isn't what interests me here -- there are active players in both the CFL and NFL who have committed far more treacherous transgressions than using performance-enhancing drugs -- but the repercussions to his draft status do. The interest and curiosity is now whether his ranking as the fourth-best prospect will change, to what degree, where he will end up, and how it will be justified.
Less than a week ago, you could have read about how Smith -- who wasn't even a ranked player until the combine -- was in the discussion to be the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. Not only did he dominate on both the defensive and offensive lines at the evaluation camp, but his testing numbers were not of this planet. In fact, one of his physical measurables was so incredible, I wholly endorsed him as someone the Bombers should seriously consider taking with their No. 2 pick -- if he were still to be available -- on last week's CJOB sports show.
While his bench reps, vertical jump and broad jump were good, they were all still well within the normal range of what a CFL defensive line prospect should look like. What made him go from an unranked, run-of-the-mill lineman prospect, to a, "Will the Redblacks take him No. 1 overall?" sure-fire, blue-chip pick was his 40-yard dash time. Listed at 6-2, 305 pounds, Smith ran either a 4.80 or 4.82 second 40, depending on the source. That is nothing short of spectacular for someone who weighs in excess of 300 pounds. In fact, I would defy you to find me the last lineman -- in the NFL or CFL -- who ran a quicker 40 time, and who also weighs over 300 pounds. Because I went and looked, and it simply does not happen.
Now the drug testing results have been announced we can look back and see that, less than a year ago, this was previously a 5.11, 40-yard athlete. It may only be three-tenths of a second, but in a 40-yard dash that's at least five yards. So now the question remains, how far does this cause his stock to fall? Smith will automatically be in stage two of the CFL drug-testing policy, which means he is going to be tested more often than Lance Armstrong at a BMX event.
At a position where power, size and speed go hand in hand, how does a team draft a player when they don't know to what extent these qualities were synthetic? In a piece by Herb Zurkowsky in the Montreal Gazette, it was noted this was the first time Quinn had been tested throughout his entire four-year collegiate career. So it's possible, though unlikely, Quinn could have been using performance enhancing drugs his entire university career, or this really could have been the first instance he tried using them, as his testing numbers would appear to show.
This draft will tell us all how important the character interviews are each team administers at the combine, who believes his story and who doesn't, and who is worried a 6-2, 305-lb. player, running a 4.80 40-yard may turn into a 6-2, 280-lb. player, running a 5.2-second 40 by June. Add to this equation players who dabble in performance-enhancing drugs tend to have a much greater propensity for injury and muscle pulls, and these are some serious considerations for any CFL franchise to take stock of.
It may not be the ideal scenario to pique the interest of Canadian football fans across the country, but in the case of the otherwise mundane CFL draft, any press is good press.
Doug Brown, once a hard-hitting defensive lineman and frequently a hard-hitting columnist, appears Tuesdays in the Free Press.