The art of player evaluation has its unorthodox practices, specifically when it comes to the interview room. Ed Hervey can attest to that. As an athletic wide receiver out of the USC Trojans, Hervey found himself being interviewed by teams while performing at the 1995 NFL Combine. He quickly learned it wasn’t all about football.
“One team had this toy that had a spring in it,” begins the Lions general manager.
“They would push it down and you’d have to keep your hand on the table. As soon as the toy popped up you’d have to catch it before it got into mid-air. I had several attempts and couldn’t get it done. I believe it was humanly impossible to accomplish. They were adamant that someone had done it. I still, to this day, don’t believe it because I haven’t seen any visual evidence of that.”
Hervey would catch on with his beloved Dallas Cowboys before embarking on a successful career north of the border. Nearly a quarter century after playing with toys in an undisclosed team’s interview session, he is now preparing for his second CFL Draft as GM of the BC Lions. That process heats up with the 2019 CFL National Combine presented by New Era on tap in Toronto from Friday to Sunday.
Ironically, finding some of that valuable Canadian content for your roster can be a similar exercise to getting your paws on a toy object before it flies out of reach. The important thing Hervey stresses is to approach this evaluation with an open mind. Are you going to come out of it with a couple of franchise players? Most likely not, but that isn’t to suggest you can’t compliment your roster with some very useful pieces.
“A lot of how we plan to draft is shaped out of free agency,” says Hervey.
“I think we did pretty well there. This being a different year than most, it gives us an opportunity to look at what the draft class has to offer and hopefully we can get some talent on that back end of our roster to make us a better football team moving forward.”
From an outsider’s point of view, the idea of watching prospects in the 40-yard dash, shuttle, three-cone drill, long jump and bench press may sound like a tedious process that doesn’t necessarily show a player’s true value. Hervey believes there is a benefit to seeing what some guys can do without helmets and pads.
“I don’t believe that it’s the same,” he says.
“Some run faster than others, some are slower than others but it’s part of the process. You want to see what kind of athlete they are; you want to see how well they move. This is our first time seeing them outside of their pads, being able to compare their numbers but more so seeing them live, seeing their body composition, seeing what kind of shape they’re in and having a chance to pull them aside to ask questions. You just get that inter-personal effect that you don’t get watching film.”
A real intriguing part for Hervey, head scouts Torey Hunter, Geroy Simon and head coach DeVone Claybrooks will be when they do find that prospect at the combine who wasn’t necessarily on their radar during the actual college football season.
“Sometimes a player looks great on film or doesn’t look great on film and then you get to see what kind of athlete they are,” explains the GM.
“Before you know it, you go back and do more research. We want to improve our team, improve our roster but we’re not going to place a heavy burden on any player that we draft to come in and fill a role for us that we need. We’re looking for depth to come in and fill out our roster.”
As it stands now, the Lions don’t have a selection in the May 2nd CFL Draft until round three (24th overall). Hervey traded his 2019 first round selection to Winnipeg for first and second round selections last year- used to select defensive lineman Julien Laurent and fullback David Mackie respectively- and his second round selection to Montreal for running back Tyrell Sutton prior to last year’s trade deadline.
As we saw first-hand at last year’s draft, trades can happen at any time. Yet Hervey will remind critics that you have to look at the bigger picture when it comes to Canadian players. The Lions significantly upgraded their national content with the signings of offensive lineman Sukh Chungh and wide receiver Lemar Durant. The return of Shaq Johnson combined with defensive pieces such as Junior Luke and Jordan Herdman-Reed should also help that cause. We also need to consider the fact five of Hervey’s seven draft picks from 2018 suited up for at least one game; further proof that picks in later rounds can prove to be diamonds in the ruff.
“We go into the combine with an idea of positions we want to fill,” says the GM.
“There are times when you fill a position based on dire need. I can think back to when we were looking at our offensive line going into the 2015 Draft (with Edmonton). We didn’t have a lot of offensive linemen in- house and we had a couple of guys that had left due to injury. That was an area we needed to address, no matter what. We were able to draft two offensive linemen in that draft and that’s an example of drafting for need.
And even you feel you are set at certain positions, the onus is then on the GM and his scouts to utilize their picks as best as possible.
“Each year is different. In this year’s case knowing that we don’t have picks in the first or second round, we’re looking at the best athletes that can fill different roles, especially on special teams. It’s our intent to get younger on teams. We want to get bigger, athletic and versatile. We’re looking for those kinds of players. My understanding of watching the early film and having our early meetings is there are plenty of those players available to us and we’re looking forward to being up close and personal with them and interviewing them.”
And if he can find one or two new toys before they fly away, mark it down as another successful go at the CFL Combine and Draft.