2016 CFL Preview: Top Running Backs

***For the Top Linebackers***

https://thepracticesquadblog.wordpress.com/2016/04/23/2016-cfl-preview-top-linebackers/

***For the Top Pass Rushers***

https://thepracticesquadblog.wordpress.com/2016/04/15/2016-cfl-preview-top-pass-rushers/

***For the Top Kickers***

https://thepracticesquadblog.wordpress.com/2016/04/08/2016-cfl-preveiw-top-kickers/

With the new CFL season getting ever closer, I will be taking a look at each position from Kicker to Quarterback going into 2016 and ranking who I see as the best. This will be a list made up of last year’s players as I have little info on new International players and the draft rarely yields elite level talent (at least in the player’s rookie year). Please feel free to leave a comment if you have other thoughts.

Here we go…

1. Andrew Harris (2015 Stats: 1039 yards – 4.9 AVG )

I’m a big believer in the statistic yards per carry average, especially in the CFL where running backs get fewer carries than the NFL and must make each one count. Harris having the lowest AVG of last years top running backs almost made me move him down, but several factors kept him as the #1. First: Harris has a history of production, despite his teams being up and down over the years he is consistently a top 5 back. Second: Harris “is” the Winnipeg offense. The Bombers offered the big bucks so when Harris came over he could take every possible snap which should net Harris yards/TDs by sheer volume of carries. Finally: When Harris is motivated in a game, he becomes unstoppable. There are several games over the years where something set Harris off and he simply refuses to be brought down. Its fascinating to watch and impossible to defend. Playing for his hometown team and finally getting the big money deal he felt he deserved (he did), I can see Harris having plenty of fuel to quash any doubt of his top dog status in 2016.

2. Tyrrell Sutton (’15: 1059 yards – 5.9 AVG)

Every time I re-watch the Als season finale with SSK and see Sutton “will” his way to the rushing title, my eyes get a little wider. I know SSK had an atrocious defense last year but one man should not be able to out-muscle 3-4 other men his size or bigger, and certainly not multiple times. Sutton was a monster at times last year and his stats would have been even better if the Als offense had not been a train wreck at times. Sutton oozes “effort” when he runs a play but can be a little inconsistent (4 games over 100 yards – 6 games under 50 yards) but the man above him in the rankings had far more variance in his games so I can’t dock him too much. In the end I think the uncertainty at QB and the presence of  runner Brandon Rutley will keep Sutton under Harris in terms of production, but it will be a fun battle to watch.

3. Jerome Messam (’15: 1006 – 6.2 AVG)

My most uncertain ranking of the list. Messam has been forecasted to both lead the league and to bottom out entirely by a variety of experts. Count me as on the fence when it comes to the play of the bruising Canadian rusher. Messam has both a fantastic opportunity and crushing expectation on him going into 2016. Being in Calgary with a superior coaching staff, an elite QB, a solid O-Line, and the outright pedigree of a perennial contender, Messam stands to power his way right back to the top of the league. However, Messam is also in his thirties, taken (and delivered) a huge amount of hits and is now stepping into a situation where a new Head Coach may shake things up on offense with the losses of Eric Rogers and Jeff Fuller to the NFL. My gut tells me that Messam puts up a workman-like season (around 700-800 yards) while being a goal line beast, that should be good for #3.

4. Anthony Allen (’15: 574 yards – 6.2 AVG)

Probably the biggest surprise on my list. Allen isn’t even guaranteed a starting gig with Jeremiah Johnson also signing in BC in a possible split-carries situation. Despite the possible barriers, I still see Allen as a breakout candidate in 2016 and beyond – based on his tantalizing potential (Side Note: I hate the word “potential” as it is way too overused in pro sports). Allen was 70 yards away from 1000 in 2014 despite being benched frequently and only playing in 13 games. The following year, he still nearly got to 600 yards despite running behind #3 Jerome Messam. Top it all off with Allen’s solid receiving skills and two years of CFL experience in pass protection and you got some serious “potential” (ugh). Allen’s biggest knock against him is his fumbling but that can correctable and Wally Buono is exactly the type of coach who will make that a priority while not outlawing Allen to the wasteland like his previous coach Corey Chamblin. If BC’s offense takes off under exciting young QB Jonathan Jennings (whose mobile playing style greatly benefits a running back), I can see Allen leading the league in rushing.

5. William Powell (’15: 447 yards – 5.9 AVG)

I had Brandon Whitaker in this spot for the longest time but the more I was honest with myself, the more I felt that Powell has a much higher upside over the aging Whitaker. In the limited sample size we saw last year, I felt Powell had above average burst and an almost slippery running style – both good qualities for the pass heavy offense the REDBLACKS operate. In addition, with Jeremiah Johnson heading to BC, there is no real threat to steal carries away from Powell which makes him a strong bet to rack up yards and TDs. If Powell can stay healthy and Burris has one more good year in him, I think the REDBLACKS will remain a top scoring offense, and Powell a top scoring RB.

That Pair In Edmonton:  John White (2014 Stats: 852 yards – 6.9 AVG) and Shakir Bell (2015 Stats: 633 yards 5.6 AVG)

Back in 2014, I thought White had the potential to overtake Cornish as the league’s top runner, then, he was lost for a year to injury and people seem to have moved on entirely. White was an absolute beauty to watch when he ran: tacklers slid off him or had their ankles broke when he cut at full speed. Anytime a runner can average just under 7 yards per carry, you take notice – and White made it look easy. That said, coming off a major injury is never easy, even with today’s modern medical care, and White will have to prove he remains the threat we saw a year ago. Further complicating matters is the emergence of rookie sensation Shakir Bell who had a big hand in making everyone forget about White with his sizzling debut. I don’t think Bell has the pure power or toughness that White does but Bell is the better receiver and thus more versatile. The problem with both of these backs is that they are so good that HC Mass will likely have them split carries, thus preventing either from passing the runners above in sheer numbers.

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2016 CFL Preview: Top Linebackers

***For the Top Pass Rushers***

https://thepracticesquadblog.wordpress.com/2016/04/15/2016-cfl-preview-top-pass-rushers/

***For the Top Kickers***

https://thepracticesquadblog.wordpress.com/2016/04/08/2016-cfl-preveiw-top-kickers/

With the new CFL season getting ever closer, I will be taking a look at each position from Kicker to Quarterback going into 2016 and ranking who I see as the best. This will be a list made up of last year’s players as I have little info on new International players and the draft rarely yields elite level talent (at least in the player’s rookie year). Please feel free to leave a comment if you have other thoughts.

Here we go…

1.  Adam Bighill: (2015 Stats: 114 TKL – 4 Sacks)

I’ll come right out and say it, Bighill’s teammate, Solomon Elimimian, won’t be on this list. As amazing as Elimimian is at LB, his injury was so severe that I am unsure he will ever return at his previous high. The same cannot be said for Bighill, who slides into the top spot based on his history of elite production. A sideline to sideline defender, Bighill can also be a dangerous pass rusher and won’t hesitate if asked to cover receivers over the middle. As the most versatile defensive player on the Lions, Bighill will be asked to perform a variety of roles for the Leos and I don’t see him backing down from the challenge. Though he may not lead the league in tackles or sacks this year, I see Bighill as the rock that the Lions can rally around if their season hits a snag or Elimimian does struggle out of the gate.

2. J.C. Sherritt: (“15 Stats: 70 TKL – 2 Sacks)

If you solely consider Sherritt’s last few years it would seem a stretch to rank him this high. However, when I watch how Sherritt played in 2015 I get the feeling that the linebacker from 2012 is about to rear his head again. Hampered by injuries and adjustment to a new scheme, Sherritt’s production tailed off in 2013 and ’14. Yet despite the setbacks the former record-breaking Linebacker showed he had not lost his edge in last year’s Grey Cup run. Even with Chris Jones and his scheme gone to Saskatchewan, I see Sherritt terrorising offenses as the centerpiece of a defense desperate to prove it is still elite. Going even further in my Sherritt prediction, I can see him making the transition from tackling machine to generating more impact plays (tackles for loss, sacks, forced fumbles, INTs) in 2016.

3. Winston Venable (“15 Stats: 103 TKL – 5 Sacks)

Easily the biggest surprise (to me) on this list is Venable who prior to week 12 of last year, I had somehow missed in my weekly stat reviews. Going back and looking at the impact Venable made, however, its not hard to see that he is primed for a huge 2016. Logging over a 100 tackles in a defense that also features Chip Cox (more on him in a bit) is a huge feat. Yes I know the Als were perennially behind and facing lots of runs (thus the inflated tackles) but guys don’t stick around on bad teams long enough to make that many tackles by chance. Venable may actually have an even more profound impact in 2016 if his offense can give him opportunities to put more pressure on the QB on passing downs, and that should scare some people.

4. Chip Cox: (“15 Stats: 79 TKL – 1 Sacks)

For years Chip Cox was my unquestioned #1 Linebacker. The man can cover wide receivers and beat them at least half the time (22 career INTs), blitz the quarterback  (25 career Sacks), tackle anything that moves (709 career TKL), and is a straight up Iron Man (1 missed game in 10 Seasons). A veteran leader and playmaker, Cox seems to make a game changing play every week and is highly consistent in his production. Age and the influx of new, younger talent on the Als roster (aka #3 Winston Venable) are the only reasons I see Cox falling to #4 in 2016.

5. Simoni Lawrence (“15 Stats: 80 TKL – 5 Sacks)

Steadily improving over the past few years, Lawrence often seems to go unheralded as an impact player on Kent Austin’s Ti-Cats, but make no mistake, the man can play. While Lawrence doesn’t place in the elite in any single statistical category he provides a solid mix of tackles, sacks, forced fumbles, and picks every year to give his team a source of well rounded production. With Collaros possibly being limited to start the season I can see the Ti-Cats turning to Lawrence to lead them through some tough games. My guess: he wont disappoint.

Young Guns: Jeff Knox Jr. (“15 Stats: 114 TKL) and Khalil Bass (“15 Stats: 99 TKL- 5 Sacks)

Both of these players had outstanding production for their first year in the league and both have valid claims to be featured on the list above. However, as with Jamaal Westerman and Boris Bede in my previous posts, I am always wary of placing rookies too high with only one year under their belts. Yet, despite my reservations, I cannot deny Knox and Bass a mention in this preview because they could very well be #1 and #2 for years to come if they continue to improve and play like they did in 2015. Go get em young guns…

 

 

 

2016 CFL Preview: Top Pass Rushers

***For last week’s article on the Top Kickers***

https://thepracticesquadblog.wordpress.com/2016/04/08/2016-cfl-preveiw-top-kickers/

With the new CFL season getting ever closer I will be taking a look at each position from Kicker to Quarterback going into 2016 and ranking who I see as the best. This will be a list made up of last years players as I have little info on new International players and the draft rarely yields elite level talent (at least in the players rookie year). Please feel free to leave a comment if you have other thoughts and check out my CFL thread on disqus.com (https://disqus.com/home/channel/cflcanadianfootballleague/)

Here we go…

I want to preface this with just how hard it is to select the best pass rushers in the CFL. I left off about six players who all could make legit claims to be on the list. However, while I can’t say my list is definitive these are the players I feel are going to produce the most sacks in 2016.

1.Justin Capicciotti (“15: 12 Sacks-1 FF)

I know I will have a lot of push back here but I am willing to go out on a limb for the #1 spot. “Cap” surprised everyone when he broke out a couple years ago, then showed he was not a one year wonder by putting together another stellar season. Now in Saskatchewan I see several reasons that Cap can take home the Sack Championship. First, he will be under Chris Jones’ mastermind defensive scheme that will put Cap at the center of attention. Jones targeted Cap in FA for his ability to be a game wrecker and he will have big plans for the Canadian D Lineman. Second, Cap will be placed among several other pass rushers who can wreck havoc (Shawn Lemon and Tearrius George) and will be expected to lead by example with intriguing young talents Dylan Ainsworth and Brandon Tennat waiting in the wings. Health permitting, I can see Cap hitting 16+ sacks this season which should be enough for the title.

2. John Chick (“15: 11 Sacks-1 FF)

This placement is an indication of Chick’s overall talent and past achievements as well as how disrespected he must feel by getting cut from the Riders (motivation will not be lacking). Arguably the top pass rusher in the league over the past few years Chick was unceremoniously dumped and scooped up by the Ti-Cats. Like Capicciotti, Chick is with a coach that knows how to use him (Austin, who was with Chick in “07), and will be on a deadly lineup in Hamilton that includes Ted Laurent and Eric Norwood. The only thing keeping Chick lower than Cap on my list is his age (33) which may signal the start of a decline for the former Rider. Still, a motivated John Chick could be a scary thought for the rest of the league.

3. John Bowman (“15: 19 Sacks-2 FF)

It hurts putting the reigning Sack Champion this low, especially when he he did it in a year when his own coaching staff questioned his necessity. Even ranked at #3 I will never fully discount Bowman after his highly productive career. I still remember some years back when Bowman was taking on 2 Roughrider O-Line men and split em both for a critical strip sack of Darian Durant on the final play of the game. That’s Hall of Fame material and its happened throughout his career. That said, the old adage that “Father Time is undefeated” applies to all players, even Bowman. I still see him being an elite pass rusher, but not leading the CFL for two years in a row.

4. Odell Willis (2015 Stats: 9 Sacks-1 FF)

Willis is a curious case with some valid arguments that he should be higher or off the list entirely. There are weeks where the enigmatic defender will seem completely unblockable and turn in game changing plays, and then there are others where his impact will appear minimal. Still, if you look at his body of work you will see an upper echelon pass rusher who can be a downright nightmare when he is on. I see Willis putting in extra effort as a defending Grey Cup champion with seemingly everyone doubting his teams ability to repeat.

5. Jamaal Westerman (“15: 17 Sacks-1 FF)

I wanted to place Eric Norwood or Charleston Hughes in this spot as Westerman has only played one year, I also wanted to put Westerman higher on the list because 17 sacks is flippin crazy for your first CFL season. The dynamic defender made his way up from the NFL and justified his high CFL expectations with a phenomenal season. In the end I decided this is the safest place to slot Westerman. I expect a drop off from his numbers last year but even if he gets six less sacks he will still be in the top five. Very interested to see what the Bombers top defender will do in 2016.

Sleeper Candidates: Gabriel Knapton (“15: 11 Sacks-0 FF) and Aston Whiteside (“15: 7 Sacks-2 FF).

Knapton logged 9 sacks in 2014 and threw up 11 this past season. The Montreal pass rusher has demonstrated consistency and stayed relatively healthy throughout his two seasons and should only improve at the young age of 26.

For some Whiteside’s name may fly under the radar as he only started 5 games before injury knocked him out for the season. Make no mistake however, his impact on the field was certainly note worthy. Notching 7 sacks in those 5 games to go along with 2 forced fumbles is tremendous production for a player with such limited snaps. Injuries cost him a chance to place higher on the list and may be a concern going forward, but Whiteside is a player who is going to make a splash.

Stay tuned next week for the top Linebackers of 2016…

2016 CFL Preveiw: Top Kickers

With the new CFL season getting ever closer I will be taking a look at each position from Kicker to Quarterback going into 2016 and ranking who I see as the best. This will be a list made up of last years players as I have little info on new International players and the draft rarely yields elite level talent (at least in the players rookie year). Please feel free to leave a comment if you have other thoughts and check out my CFL thread on disqus.com (https://disqus.com/home/channel/cflcanadianfootballleague/)

Here we go…

  1. Justin Medlock-Winnipeg Blue Bombers (2015 Stats: 42 of 47 – 89.3%)

The top kicker in the CFL holds court going into the 2016 season. Medlock has been consistently putting up field goals at one of the hardest stadiums to kick in and still was among the top three in overall accuracy. Medlock boasts range (Career Long 67Y), consistency (Career Average 84.6%) and versatility as a punter (Career Average of 41.3Y). Medlock’s only true draw back comes from his American passport and higher than normal price tag for his position. Moving to Winnipeg and continuing his streak of excellence will give Medlock all the more opportunity to be the consensus top kicker for years to come.

2. Rene Paredes-Calgary Stampeders (“15 Stats: 41 of 47 – 87.2%)

I still remember when Parades replaced an injured/struggling Rob Maver back in 2011 and gave the Stamps an absolute embarrassment of riches at the kicker position. Maver changed his focus to a punter (and became a highly proficient one) and Paredes went on to become an elite CFL kicker. You can make a case that Paredes could be the top kicker in the CFL after his record setting 2013 campaign (94.7%) but he falls to No. 2 on my list after a down year in 2014 (73.3%). Despite this no one stands a better chance of dethroning Medlock in 2016 than Paredes.

3. Sean Whyte-Edmonton Eskimos (“15 Stats: 24 of 26 – 92.3%)

As I have admitted in the past I don’t follow the Montreal Alouettes news cycle as much as I would like, so I was very surprised when Whyte was allowed to leave the team in favour of Boris Bede. Whyte has a solid track record of success throughout his career from the Lions to the Als and didn’t show any signs of slowing down. Whatever the reason Whyte went on to log one of his best seasons with the Eskimos and snagged a Grey Cup in the process. Going into 2016 Whyte should still be motivated to prove the Als made a big mistake in letting him walk.

4. Chris Milo-Ottawa REDBLACKS (“15 Stats: 32 of 36 – 88.8%) *Combined SSK and RB* 

I will always think of Milo as one of the leagues best punters from his time in Saskatchewan, but his kicking career has not been so flowery. Milo emerged on the scene as a promising young kicker but struggled mightily with inconsistency. Last year the Riders tired of Good Milo/Bad Milo and cast him away for kicking legend Paul McCallum. Milo looked like he was on the outs until the REDBLACKS took a flier on the fledgling kicker and were well rewarded for their faith with a full year of Good Milo. Time will tell if Milo has developed into a consistent kicker or if Bad Milo will crop up again.

5. Boris Bede-Montreal Alouettes (“15 Stats: 36 of 40 – 90.0%)

As mentioned before I had no idea what the Als were thinking when they jettisoned Whyte for a relative unknown in Bede, but despite Whyte’s success in Edmonton I cant say the Als truly made a mistake. Bede had in impressive rookie year and didn’t seem to be overly phased by pressure kicks or big time games. Bede also showed an knack for punting and could be a significant advantage for the Als if he continues to develop in both forms. I must advise caution with Bede though, as my getting burned by Lirim Hajrullahu last year has made me wary of rookie wonders. Speaking of Hajrullahu…

Honorable Mention: Lirim Hajrullahu-Toronto Argonauts (“15 Stats: 22 of 32 – 68.7%)

I honestly thought LH would be the next Paul McCallum after watching his very impressive rookie year. I drafted him highly in Fantasy, placed him in my top kickers list, and expected him to do big things for the downtrodden Bombers. I was sorely disappointed. LH regressed and regressed badly in 2015, at one point being benched and relegated to punting for the rest of the year. Yet despite this, I cannot give up on LH as he moves to the Argos and has a real shot at redemption. With youth and a fresh start on his side maybe LH will end up making me look smart by 2017 (hey, all things are possible)

Stay tuned next week for the Top Pass Rushers of 2016.