2016 CFL Preveiw: Top Quarterbacks

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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. Mike Reilly (2015 Stats: 2449 Yards-15 TD-10 INT)

Hard to dispute Mike Reilly taking the top spot after his return from injury sparked and incredible 10 game winning streak and a CFL championship. Forget Reilly’s average statistics, those will return in spades this year with a healthy body and the terrifying duo of Adarius Bowman and Derel Walker to throw to. Instead, look at how the Eskimos came together as a team when under the veteran leadership of the CFL’s toughest player. The Eskimos lost their entire coaching staff and many impact players this past offseason, but with Reilly under center this team still has one of the best chances to win it all yet again.

2.  Henry Burris (2015 Stats: 5703 Yards-26 TD-10 INT)

In terms of statistical production Henry Burris was in a league of his own last year as the director of the CFL’s best passing attack. Piling up nearly 6000 yards and creating enough opportunities for four different 1000 yard receivers Burris shot down any suggestion that the aging passer (41) had lost any of his edge. In fact, Burris was so successful that his stellar season keeps potential top 5 QB Trevor Harris (who now backs up Burris) off the list entirely.

Having come just 6 points away from adding another Grey Cup ring to his collection I see Burris keeping his foot on the gas pedal in 2017. With all four of his elite receivers from the previous year still on the roster and yet another first round offensive lineman added via the draft there is no way I can drop Henry any lower than #2.

3. Darian Durant (2015 Stats: 165 Yards-2 TD-0 INT)

Perhaps the biggest leap I have taken on any of my positional rankings this offseason, I have DD coming back from not one but two (!) season ending injuries to be the #3 quarterback in the CFL. Despite not seeing a CFL snap in nearly a year  reports are that Darian’s poise and accuracy are leaving teammates stunned by the scope of his game. At 33 Durant is both experienced enough to fully understand the intricacies of the CFL game while still young enough to keep the physical edge and escapability that have defined his career with the Roughriders. While people will point out the absolutely awful season the Riders had a year ago don’t forget that the Green and White still had one of the most productive offenses without Durant. Now with a blank slate and a completely new coaching staff I can see the Riders offense reaching new heights with Durant at the helm.

4. Bo Levi Mitchell (2015 Stats: 4551 Yards-26 TD-13 INT)

Bo Levi is one of the most curious cases in the CFL when it comes to discussing his place among the best quarterbacks in the game. On one hand you have people pointing out his record setting number of wins to start a career (12 of 13), his Grey Cup ring won at the young age of 25, and his elite level of production the past 2 seasons (over 3000 yards and 20 TDs both years). Yet on the other hand you have the fans that point out the Mitchel was placed on one of the strongest and deepest rosters the CFL has seen in decades, tutored under one of the best offensive coordinators in the game, and buoyed by the presence of the indomitable Jon Cornish.

I can see validity of both sides of the argument but I keep coming back to one simple truth: Quarterback is the single most important position in football and you either have one or you don’t. The Montreal Alouettes had a very powerful roster last year and they got nowhere because they didn’t have a quarterback. The Edmonton Eskimos were the Grey Cup champions but you cant tell me that team wins with just anyone at throwing the rock. Bo Levi may benefit from having an incredible team around him but he alone is making the reads and completing the passes. I for one see Bo continuing to produce at a high level in 2017 and beyond.

5. Ricky Ray (2015 Stats: 423 Yards-2 TD-1 INT)

Taking a leap of faith here when it comes to placing Ricky Ray at #5 after the veteran passer missed nearly all of last year with a nagging injury. Yet Ray is uniquely qualified to make an excellent return from injury. Why you ask? For one it was never his physical gifts that made Ricky Ray dangerous. Essentially the “Peyton Manning” of the CFL Ricky Ray is renowned for how well he can read a defense, single out a weak spot, and put the ball where no one but his intended receiver can get it. I haven’t heard anyone talk up Ray’s fastball in the past 6 years but that hasn’t stopped him from winning a Grey Cup or snagging multiple League All Star nods.

The second reason to belive Ray will make a solid return is what surrounds him on offense. The incredibly promising young receiver corps of Kevin Elliot, Tori Gurley, and Vidal Hazelton is more than most QBs have to play with. Combine this with two of the leagues best pass catching backs in Andre Durie and Anthony Coombs and Ray has all the weapons he needs to keep pace with the CFL’s elite passers.

Comeback Player of the Year: Travis Lulay (2015 Stats: 1953 Yards-12 TD-10 INT)

Its easy to forget but from late 2010 to 2012 Travis Lulay was the best quarterback in the league, leading the Lions to a Grey Cup win in 2011 and snagging an MOP for himself. Yet a scant 5 years after his crowning achievement Lulay finds himself battling 23 year old Jonathan Jennings for starter snaps in training camp. Injuries and the inconsistent play that accompanied playing through them stripped Lulay of his elite status and have some already resigning him to the “Kevin Glenn” like career of a perpetual backup.

Despite all this I think Lulay is ripe for a comeback season that downright shocks the CFL. Finally healthy and undoubtedly motivated Lulay still has the mobility and veteran savvy that helped make him one of the games most dangerous signal callers. If his accuracy returns and he stays out of the trainers room I think Lulay could climb right back up to #1 on this list for 2017.

Previous Articles in the Series:

Top Wide Receivers

Top Defensive Secondaries

Top Running Backs

Top Linebackers

Top Pass Rushers

Top Kickers

2016 CFL Preveiw: Top Wide Receivers

*For previous articles in the series see the bottom of the page*

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. Chris Williams (2015 Stats: 88 Catches-1214 Yards-5 TDs)

I may get roasted for not placing Adarius Bowman up here but I can’t ignore what Williams has accomplished in his career since day one. I remember Williams exploding onto the scene in 2011 in a game against BC and then seeing him torch seemingly every opponent since then. Williams has never had less than 1000 yards or 5 TDs in a season and is one of the most dangerous return men in the CFL to boot. Blazing fast and able to handle a high volume of targets (70+ receptions every year), I see Williams as the unquestioned #1 receiver going into 2016.

2. Adarius Bowman (2015 Stats: 93 Catches-1304 Yards-7 TDs)

No way I can drop Bowman any lower than #2 after back to back years of monster production at level we haven’t seen in the CFL in some time. My issue with Bowman is his penchant to drop easy balls and, at times, disappear completely from a game. But make no mistake, when the 6’3 217 pound receiver gets going you CANNOT stop him. Recently watching the NBA playoffs, I liken Bowman to Lebron James: when it comes to these two being motivated and on their game they are too strong and too good for anyone to do anything but hope to slow them down. Maybe Bowman will put up a third monster season and forces his way back to the top of the list, I sure wouldn’t be opposed to watching that happen.

3. Emmanuel Arceneaux (2015 Stats: 76 Catches-1151 Yards-9 TDs)

One of my favorite CFL memories was watching Emmanuel Arceneaux come down with the game-tying Hail Mary touchdown against the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the 2010 West Division Semifinal. I knew then that the BC Lions star wide-out would be something special in the league, and nearly 6 years later I (and the Lions) haven’t been disappointed. As strong, fast, and keenly aware of the field and his position in it, Arceneaux fits the prototypical mold of a #1 receiver and has provided the Lions with a reliable option in the passing attack. While Arceneaux lost a few years to the NFL and his year to year numbers aren’t on the same level as Williams or Bowman there is no receiver I trust more to go deep and snag a critical jump-ball. With the strong-armed Jonathan Jennings set to take over at QB in 2016, Arceneaux could be set to light up the league in a big way.

4. SJ Green (2015 Stats: 71 Catches-1036 Yards-3 TDs)

SJ Green has made his name in the CFL with his incredible circus catches but it is his consistent production and leadership in the past few years that have him at #4 on this list. With Anthony Calvillo retired  and Jamel Richardson no longer on the roster, Green became the big dog on the Alouettes and put the offense on his back with several 1000 yard seasons, and yes, more circus catches, to keep his team competitive. With the return of Duron Carter (more on him below) and the steady hand of Kevin Glenn at QB (or tantalizing rookie Vernon Adams), I can see Green being a contender for leading the league in receiving this year. Even if his numbers don’t climb that high, Green will surely put on a show for CFL fans as he has each and every year.

5. Luke Tasker (2015 Stats: 76 Catches-1066 Yards-6 TDs)

Tasker may have been higher on the list had Quarterback Zach Collaros not been hurt last year (and now possibly to start this year). The two have an incredibly chemistry which has allowed Tasker to steadily improve over the years to my #5 overall receiver. This season, despite Collaros’s injury, Tasker never had less than 3 catches in a game and only fell beneath 50 yards twice. Consistent production like that, coupled with clutch plays in some tight games, already place Tasker in an elite category despite his slightly smaller size and frame (5’11 191lbs). Now, with yet another year under his belt, Tasker can really come into his own, especially if Collaros comes back earlier than expected.

The next superstars: Derel Walker (2015 Stats: 89 Catches-1110 Yards-6 TDs), Duron Carter (2014 Stats: 75 Catches-1030 Yards-7 TDs), Ryan Smith (2015 Stats: 59 Catches-991 Yards-7 TDs)

The future is bright for the CFL and these three young men are all a big part of it. Walker burst onto the scene with a rookie campaign that have some already crowning him the best receiver in the league. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t consider listing him above, but I need to see it once more before he knocks off one of the vets. Carter was well on his way to his own epic CFL career when an opportunity down south stole him away and reset expectations (to a degree). Now back with the Als, Carter can get to work in earnest for his own bust in the CFHOF which should match nicely with his Dad’s down south. When Ryan Smith left Saskatchewan there were some who felt it was a bigger loss to the Riders than similarly diminutive receiver Weston Dressler. While I’m not sure if I agree there, Smith wowed the CFL with several outstanding catches and nearly snagged 1000 yards while on a very bad Rider team. Expect Smith to continue to produce at a high level and work his way out of Dressler’s shadow to forge his own legend, in Winnipeg or elsewhere.

 

Previous Articles in the Series:

Top Defensive Secondaries

Top Running Backs

Top Linebackers

Top Pass Rushers

Top Kickers

2016 CFL Preview: Top Defensive Secondaries

***For the Top Running Backs***

https://thepracticesquadblog.wordpress.com/2016/04/30/2016-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.

*For this particular preview I will be listing which teams I see as having the top overall defensive secondaries going into 2016. This makes it easier to account for corners, safeties, and hybrid linebackers all in one go.*

Here we go…

1. Hamilton Tiger-Cats (Notable Players: Courtney Taylor, Emmanuel Davis, Johnny Sears Jr, Rico Murry, Demond Washington)

The more I researched the players above for this article the more I found myself thinking, “Wow, this team is scary in the back end“and for good reason. The thought was that both Taylor and Davis were too good for the Ti-Cats to not lose at least one of the dynamic playmakers to other teams (or the NFL) but they somehow managed to keep both! Combine those two elite corners with the hybrid player Rico Murry (one of my favorite tacklers in the CFL) and Johnny Sears Jr who was a solid playmaker early last year and even before then in Winnipeg and you have a crazy good group of guys to work with. That’s not even mentioning Demond Washington who is an underrated threat on defense and special teams, and the promising Mike Daily who filled in for Craig Butler last year. Oh yeah, Craig  Butler, scary to imagine if he makes it back this year isn’t it? This is a secondary that can absolutely smother people (and will need to with Collaros set to miss the start of the season).

2.  Calgary Stampeders (Notable Players: Brandon Smith, Fred Bennett, Jamar Wall, Joshua Bell, Brandon McDonald)

Depth. That’s what is see when I look at the Stamps secondary, and it’s not even close. All the above names could start on most teams if they were cut tomorrow and yet they are all in one lineup. While Calgary doesn’t have the elite covermen (at least in my humble opinion) that Hamilton and Edmonton boast the Stamps don’t have an area of real weakness or injury concern, and that can be way more valuable. Calgary has made it a point to develop and retain its stars each offseason and the result is a rock solid lineup with no overpriced free agents and tons of quality players who know the system. A new HC and the loss of some key players will hurt the Stamps some, but their Secondary should not be a concern.

3. Edmonton Eskimos (Notable Players: Patrick Watkins, John Ojo, Marcel Young, Cauchy Muamba, Korey Jones)

The reigning champions had a severe case of gang green this offseason, losing Head Coach Chris Jones (and their entire coaching staff), Otha Foster, and Kendail Lawrence (among others) to the rival Roughriders. For this list the Jones and Foster losses are particularly painful and contributed to the fall to #3. Yet the Esks still have a championship foundation they can lean on in the back end. Watkins is getting on in age but is still a top cover man, Ojo is a productive defender who looks to be the future star in the secondary, and Muamba has gotten markedly better every year he has played. The Eskimos will play with a chip on their shoulder this year with everyone doubting them, time will tell if the secondary can hold down the fort for a team desperate to repeat.

4. Ottawa REDBLACKS (Notable Players: Abdul Kanneh, Jerrell Gavins, Antoine Pruneau, Ryan Hinds, Brandon Sermons)

The REDBLACKS ended the year with possibly the best secondary in the CFL but several major departures have stripped them of some of the shine they held in the Grey Cup. Brandyn Thompson and Jovon Johnson were key parts of a nearly championship defense and not having them back has to create unease in Ottawa. Still, this roster possesses two top tier covermen in Kanneh and Gavins and one of the more versatile defenders in the league in Pruneau. Sermons was good enough to start in the GC last year despite little statistical production while Hinds is a journeyman defender that can still produce. If the REDBLACKS can keep stocking their depth behind Kanneh and Gavins they should remain an elite secondary into 2016.

5. Winnipeg Blue Bombers (Notable Players: Johnny Adams, Maurice Leggit, Macho Harris, Matt Bucknor, Chris Randle)

When I did my initial assessments for this article I started by leaving Winnipeg off the list because I didn’t remember anything especially outstanding about them last year. In my reviews I went  back and actually looked at the Bombers roster was was blown away at the talent there. The above names are all productive starters and that’s not including Teague Sherman and Bruce Johnson who are also on the roster. Johnny Adams was tied for the league lead in Interceptions last year and is an ascending young talent. Macho Harris was a bright spot on a bad Riders team, Chris Randle is a rock solid starter, and Matt Bucknor is shaping up to be one of the better national defenders in the secondary. The Bombers greatly underachieved last year and may again this year but it won’t be due to lack of talent in the back end. If Coach O’Shea (or La Police…just wait) can get his team motivated and playing to their potential this could be an upper echelon secondary.

Wild Card: Saskatchewan Roughriders

The worst secondary in the league a year ago the Riders have completely remade their secondary to the point that Matt Webster is really the only player who played consistent snaps last year (and not much at that). This makes the secondary a complete mystery and nigh impossible to properly rank. The cynic in me says they stay near the bottom, but the football analyst in me says that there is no way Chris Jones puts out anything below average when it comes to his defense. Time will tell but I’ll give them a tentative ranking of “Tied for 5th” with the Bombers.

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.

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.

 

The 2016 “Free Agent” Dream Team

Following my Top Remaining Free Agents post I decided to go one step further and make a complete team from the remaining Free Agents from CFL.ca’s Free Agent Tracker. Because of a shortage at certain positions I had to move some players into a role they don’t traditionally play (ie Offensive Guard playing Center or Defensive Back playing Safety). Since I have always wanted a team in the maritime provinces (and to get the league to an even number of teams) meet the Moncton Marauders!

Quarterback
Thomas DeMarco (Starter)
Mitchell Gale

DeMarco impressed the REDBLACKS with his final few games as the backup to Travis Lulay in 2103, and was once considered the future of the franchise. I originally had Dan LeFevor listed as DeMarco’s backup until I discovered he had left the CFL to join the “MLFB” down south. Once upon a time I thought Gale was a better backup option than Trevor Harris based on his performance in the 2013 and ’14 preseasons.

Running Back
Chad Simpson (Starter)
Mossis Madu
Chevon Walker

Simpson was a feature back in Winnipeg (2012) where he showed off his power running and receiving skills on his way to over 1300 yards from scrimmage. Simpson also performed well for the Eskimos last year in relief duty and would be my between the tackles runner. Madu is a utility back who can do a little bit of everything and provides Special Teams help. Walker may be the fastest running back in the league but has struggled to stay healthy, I like him in a change-of-pace role with plenty of screen passes going his way.

Fullback
Carl Volny (Starter)
Scott McHenry

Volny would act as the lead blocker for Simpson and Co. while McHenry doubles as a receiving option out of the backfield. Having both as Nationals helps the ratio no matter who is on the field.

Wide Receiver and Slot Back
Marcus Henry (Starter)
Fred Stamps (Starter)
Matt Carter (Starter)
Courtney Taylor
Jabari Arthur

Henry is a physical specimen who enticed both the Eskimos and REDBLACKS with his potential as a lead receiver, he should still be able to win jump balls and help in the Redzone. Stamps had a down season year but his production hampered by inconsistent quarterback play. I can still see Stamps helping stretch the field for some deep strikes. Cater surprised me with how often he was targeted deep in 2014 even though he didn’t always pull in the passes. As a National with speed Carter could work the slot backed up by fellow National Jabari Arthur. Taylor had some great moments in BC and could step in for any of the receivers on this list making him the perfect depth player.

Offensive Tackle
Figueroa, Joel (Starter)
Fulton, Xavier (Starter)

One if the strongest areas of the Marauders, the tackles’ biggest weakness is health concerns. Fulton was once seems as a top option at Tackle with Saskatchewan while Figueroa possesses elite talent and physical characteristics for his position. If both can stay healthy then DeMarco should stay upright.

Offensive Guard
Mitchell, Scott (Starter)
Dile, Mark (Starter)
Olson, Jake
Capers, Selvish

I’ll be honest, I had to reach to fill the guard positions, mostly because I am still learning about O-Line play and there were not many option out there for me to choose from. Mitchell is a young National player who was drafted highly and should still have upside. Dile has both NFL and CFL experience as a starter. Olson and Capers have both started at Guard and Tackle making them ideal depth signings.

Center
Wojt, Greg (Starter)
Norman, Matthew

As far as I could tell there were no true Centers left on the market so I moved Wojt there as the most decorated of the interior O-Linemen. Norman is younger and a National to boot so he could see time in the middle as well.

Defensive End
Alex Hall (Starter)
Jason Vega (Starter)
Marlon Smith

Hall was productive as a pass rusher on the worst team in football, and that’s saying something. I expect Hall to still play at an elite level for one more year while Vega has intrigued me since he left Winnipeg with his own pass rush prowess. Smith is a younger pass rusher that could benefit playing next to some more established veterans.

Defensive Tackle
Derek Walker (Starter)
Khreem Smith (Starter)
Thaddeus Gibson

Walker and Smith would form an intriguing pass rush option on the interior of the D-Line if Smith can keep producing at an advanced age. Gibson doesn’t have the star power of Smith or recorded a 5 sack season like Walker but I think he can be a good rotational player on a line that is older than most.

Linebackers
Weldon Brown (Starter)
Rennie Curran (Starter)
Karl McCartney (Starter)
Dan Molls
David Caldwell

Curran gets the chance to shine as a middle linebacker and will hopefully be the defensive force he was back in Edmonton. Brown was a starter at linebacker for several years in Saskatchewan and is skilled as a defensive back as well. McCartney is a Special Teams maven but will now also play at linebacker and fills a National stater role as well. Molls and Caldwell have interesting credentials but will serve as Special Team players and spell the starters for now.

Defensive Backs
Jonathan Hefney (Starter)
Brandyn Thompson (Starter)
Terrell Maze (Starter)
Cord Parks
Jalil Carter

Hefeny proved he can still play at a high level last year and would provide veteran leadership in the secondary. Thompson may be the best free agent not signed in the CFL, and as a young and productive defensive player he could be the top corner on the team. Maze doesn’t have the stats of Hefney or Thompson but was, when healthy, the best cover corner on the Riders before they nosedived lat year. Parks is on this list for his 6 pick season some years ago, hopefully he can rediscover that production as he is still a younger corner. Carter is a depth signing who could develop into a starter as the season plays out.

Safety
Tyron Brackenridge (Starter)
Lin-J Shell

Our team gets one of the hardest hitters in the league in Brackenridge and an effective blitzer as well. Shell is placed at safety due to his age but could be a boon in coverage if Brackenridge is staying near the box to make tackles.

Kicker/Punter
Hugh O’Neil (Starter)
Anthony Alix

O’Neil has bounced around the league yet still manages to find work. Ideally handle O’Neil would field punts as well but Alix is an interesting fallback option.

Long Snapper
Randy Chevrier

As the only option on the market Chevrier gets the job by default, though he was highly thought of in Calgary wile he was there.

Kick Returner
Mardy Gilyard

Gilyard impressed in limited action for the Als last year, but injury concerns hampered him. If he can stay healthy I would like to see what he can do over a full season with his speed and quickness.

So can the Moncton Mauraders win any games at all this year? I think they can manage a solid 4 Win year, maybe 5 even. What do you think? Leave a comment if you have alternative options for signees, alternate names, and I have no idea about a coaching staff.

Top 10 Remaining Free Agents

With the CFL’s Free Agency madness calming down, I decided to take a look at some of the remaining players on the market who could still have value to the league’s 9 teams.

*Please note these players are not ranked in any particular order 

Jonathan Hefney (’15 Stats – 46 Tackles 4 Interceptions)

I remember when Hefney was released at the end of 2012 from Winnipeg and had a disappointing 2013 in Calgary. I thought at the time that was it for the enigmatic DB when he did not emerge in 2014. He proved me and many others wrong with a strong comeback 2015 season with the REDBLACKS. Hefney snagged 4 picks and made 40+ tackles, a promising stat line that shows he still has some game left. While his age (31) may still be a concern, Hefney should have value to teams needing a veteran secondary player.

Chad Simpson (’15 Stats – 290 Rushing Yards 1 Touchdown)

Chad Simpson burst onto the scene with over a 1000 yards in only 14 games back in 2013. The following years saw inconsistency and injury bump Simpson around they league for a little bit but he still showed power when he filled in for the Eskimos last year. I don’t see him getting a starting position but he can hold down the running back position if a starter goes down. Simpson would be a solid depth signing that can keep an incumbent starter from resting on his laurels.

Brandyn Thompson (’15 Stats – 42 Tackles 3 Interceptions)

The biggest shock on this list: Thompson is 26 and had a productive 2015 season. With the REDBLACKS loaded secondary I see why Thompson was allowed to test the market but it strikes me at he should have had a suitor by now. My initial thought is that Thompson is looking south for a contract, but if nothing emerges he should be someone teams lineup for.

Jason Vega (’15 Stats – 11 Tackles 2 Sacks)

At only age 28, Vega has averaged 4.75 sacks a season over his career and had enough talent to get an NFL shot back in 2013. Last year was down year with only 2 QB take downs but its surprising he has yet to sign. With all the money most teams have spent, Vega may have to wait to get an offer. I can see him signing once injuries start to pile up on a team’s D-Line.

Tyron Brackenridge (’15 Stats – 58 Tackles 2 Interceptions 1 Sack)

The following three players are all Saskatchewan Roughriders and were all on my Best Free Agents by team post in January. The fact that all are still unsigned is unsettling as I still feel they all have a lot to give, though signing players from a 3-15 team could be seen as counterproductive. Brackenridge was touted around the league as one of the hardest hitters and a was fan favorite in SSK. With his skill set as a capable linebacker and safety, I can see T-Brack getting a shot with a team closer to training camp.

Xavier Fulton (15′ Stats – 18 Regular Season Games Played)

*Because CFL.ca does not have games played as a stat on Fulton’s page this info comes from cflstats.ca

Throughout this offseason all I have heard is that Fulton is an incredibly tough player, frequently playing through very painful injuries rather than abandon his team. Unfortunately this likely lowered his playing ability and may be why he has not been signed yet. However, I still remember his breakout 2013 season where he was one of the best tackles in the CFL. If he can be had on a one year “prove it” deal, he may be a low risk-high reward candidate.

Alex Hall (’15 Stats – 43 Tackles 7 Sacks)

Hall is a curious case: his last three CFL years have had him post 9-16-7 sacks (he missed 2014 in the NFL). While he has hit the dreaded football age of 30, I think Hall has showed he has plenty left in the tank. Posting 7 sacks in a year when teams were making a mockery of the Riders is still a feat. He may still be pushing for an NFL shot or have too high a price tag for teams looking for younger, cheaper options but I can’t imagine that if Hall wants to play no one will give him a shot.

Rennie Curran (’15 Stats – 5 tackles 5 Special Teams Tackles)

Go back to Curran’s 2013 season where he looked capable of replacing JC Sherritt in the middle of Edmonton’s defense (70 Tackles 2 Interceptions) and you can see how disruptive a player he can be. Curran got his shot down south a while later but made little impact when he returned and signed with BC. It may be that being held behind Solomon Elimimian and Adam Bighill prevented Curran from reemerging but it should be worth a team’s while to find out.

Karl McCartney (’15 Stats – 11 Special Teams Tackles)

I want to preference this section by stating how frustrating the CFL’s new stats page is, especially the lack of any box score being available for previous games. This makes researching special teams tackles much harder than it should be. That being said, it was not hard to find information on McCartney’s special teams prowess from other sources. Registering 23 Special Teams Tackles in 2014, McCartney only had 11 last year but is still just age 28 and an experienced veteran. I’m not sure if it was health or price that sent McCartney packing but he should have value to a number of teams whose return coverage suffered last year.

Joel Figueroa (’15 Stats – 6 Regular Season Starts 2 Playoff Stats)

*Because CFL.ca does not have games played as a stat on Figueroa’s page this info comes from cflstats.ca

As I have mentioned in this space previously I am not an O-Line expert though I try and learn more every year. I do, however, listen to experts and they say Figueroa has NFL level talent at the tackle position. The catch is that he can’t stay healthy with only 6 games started last year (as well as 2 in the post season). I’m unsure of whether he is holding out for an NFL shot or teams are spooked by his price tag when an injury could knock him out for an extended period of time. Either way, if he can get a shot on a team, he stands a good chance to taking a starting role.

 

 

Top CFL Free Agents – East Division

*Happy New Year! Welcome to my first post of 2016. As an editors note I started this post in early December but life typically got in the way. As such several of my original picks have been signed. I’ll make a note of which of my picks have now been taken off the Free Agent Market.*

Welcome to the East Division overview of the CFL Free Agent class of 2016. Below are the top 3 Free Agents for each team in the CFL East Division as well as 2 potential bargain pickups that could provide great value to a team who picks them up.

Toronto Argonauts

Trevor Harris: (4354 Yds-33 Tds-19 INT)

Harris was a revelation at QB for the Argonauts who looked certain to fall to the East Division basement when All-Star Ricky Ray was lost to a shoulder injury. Harris started the season red hot and forced people to take notice of his playmaking skills. Able to make all the throws a CFL QB needs to Harris was also able utilize his underrated athleticism to pick up first downs when things broke down. I felt that Harris showed he could be the prototypical CFL quarterback that all teams are looking for. I believe the Argos made a big mistake not playing Harris in the East semis and I think they are making a mistake resigning Ray and not establishing Harris as the future. Time will tell if I’m crazy but Harris is starter material and the Argos may lose him to a QB needy team.

Tristan Okpalaugo: (27 Tkl-11 Sck-3 FF) 

Okpalaugo took the league by storm last year with a staggering 12 sacks as a rookie. While he started this year at a slower paced (much to the chagrin of my fantasy team) he caught fire down the stretch and finished with 11 sacks in year 2. Okpalaugo can play multiple positions along the line and will cause havoc when he gets going. As a bonus he is a hard hitter and tends to force  fumbles when he gets home. Still a very young player with nowhere to go but up Okpalaugo will draw likely interest down south and from nearly all 9 CFL teams should he not resign with the Argos.

Chad Owens: (55 Cth- 570 Yds-2 TD)

Owens was the heart of the Argos offense for several years and it was unfortunate to see him struggle with injury throughout the season. Even when healthy his numbers dipped as he never seemed to fit what the Argos were doing with their overhauled receiving corps. That said, Owens is a leader and can provide a veteran presence on a team in need of receiver help. He showed he can still ball out when he is healthy and will still be a danger in the return game.  I would think he would like to stay in TO but it may depend on the Argos willingness to pay him like a top tier receiver or whether he will still be a feature player after three very raw players (Gurley, Hazelton, Elliot) posted better numbers in 2015.

BargainsThomas Miles and Gregory Jones. This pair of linebackers held up well in the absence of Cory Greenwood (who missed time with injury). Jones was a tackling machine and played the run well while Miles is a National that a team could develop into a solid starter at Middle Linebacker in  year or two. Both will find homes quickly if they hit the market. (*MILES HAS NOW BEEN SIGNED TO AN EXTENSION WITH TOR*)

Montreal Alouettes

John Bowman: (46 Tkl-19 Sck-2 FF)

The reigning CFL sack champion put the league (and his own team) on notice that he can still play, and play better than anyone. To have that kind if impact at  age 34  and with the mileage he has is truly remarkable. Bowman wears down O-Linemen with relentless effort and seems to wait for the perfect moment to put a clownsuit on his blocker and make a game changing play. The logical part of my brain doubta he can repeat this feat in 2016 (please don’t hurt me John) but the Als would be foolish to think Bowman couldn’t be a top tier defender for at least another year. If he hits the market Bowman might not get top dollar due to his age, but he will be terrorising QBs in 2016, count on it.

Winston Venable: (104 Tkl-5 Sck-3 FF)

A versatile piece on defense for the Als, Venable racked up tackles and made an impact in the blitz game as well. I didn’t get to watch Venable as much as I would have liked but the few times I did he seemed to always be around the ball or rallying to a tackle, teams appreciate that kind of hustle and effort. Venable could fit on any team as a starter or high level depth and should have no shortage of suitors on the open market.

Josh Bourke: (stats for an O-Line?)

I will preface this by saying that while I feel myself to be above average in terms of analyzing football players I have very little experience with properly watching Offensive Line play. That said Bourke does see to get plenty of praise from teammates and other analysts for his effort and protection. A National to boot, Bourke is a solid piece on the O-Line and will likely be retained by the Als. If he reaches the open market expect a bidding war for the behemoth protector.

Bargains- Fred Stamps and Nik Lewis. Once considered the two best receivers in the CFL both players landed in Montreal after being dumped by their previous teams. Lewis remains a clutch player on 2nd down and can pick up yards with savy moves and brute force. Stamps showed some speed and playmaking ability on deep strikes and may shine again with a strong armed QB who takes shoots downfield. Teams may shy away from both due to age and injury concerns but I see a lot of value in these two former greats.

Hamilton Tiger-Cats

Emmanuel Davis: (61 Tkl-5 INT-1 Sck)

Davis had flown under my radar (apparently not hard to do) until one morning when I performed my weekly review of the CFL Stats page and saw his name with 3 INTs next to it. I started watching Davis more closely and saw a cover corner that makes tackles rather than shying away from them and makes plays on the ball (12 passes defended). He has already garnered NFL interest and, should he stay, will be a coveted asset in a pass heavy league. I can only imagine that Austin wants him to stay in the Hammer.

Ted Laurent: (26 Tkl-3 Sck-1 FF)

Laurent didn’t have the explosive stats from a year ago (9 Scks in 2014) but the stats don’t tell the whole story of how disruptive he can be on the field. A beast of a man who can swallow running backs whole or out-muscle his way to the quarterback Laurent can be a centerpiece on any defensive line. A National designation makes him even more valuable and his ability to turn it up when its all on the line (4 Scks in 2 playoff games this year) is something you cant teach. Laurent stands to make good money this offseason no matter where he goes.

Justin Medlock: (42 of 47 FGs-89.4%)

Readers of my blog will know I have a special place in my heart for kickers and Medlock is high on my list. With the extra point no longer being automatic and points coming at a premium with defenses now adjusting to the new “no-contact” rules on receivers (and seemingly every QB getting injured), kicker value has risen. In my humble opinion Medlock has replaced McCallum as the best best kicker in the league and yet I don’t see him getting a big deal on the open market. Teams are all looking for a young, cheap kickers and the fact that Medlock is not a National will further complicate negotiations. That said I believe Medlock would provide a clutch kicker and a decent punter to any team that picks him up.

Bargains – Justin Hickman and Andy Fantuz. Hickman regained his form the season after he returned from the NFL with 8 Scks. Although he may be a little old for some teams Hickman can provide a solid veteran presence and is still a defensive threat that may come more cheaply than Laurent. Fantuz struggled with injuries and isn’t likely the ideal #1 receiver anymore but his playoff action showed he can still make clutch catches and act as an excellent safety valve for his QB, add that to his National status and he can be a great pickup.

Ottawa REDBLACKS

Chris Williams: (88 Cth-1214 Yds-5 Tds)

I remember when Chris Williams made his debut in the CFL back in 2011, I jokingly told my friend Mark that this guy will be big and he should pick him for his fantasy team rather than Dave Stala (whom I secretly coveted for my team). While Stala had a solid season Williams blew up the league as the hottest star in town, and 5 years later he still is. A threat to score anytime he touches the ball Williams will command one of the largest paychecks for a receiver should he hit the market. (*WILLIAMS HAS SIGNED AN EXTENSION WITH OTT*)

Justin Capicciotti: (47 Tkl-12 Sck-1 FF)

GM Marcel Desjardins deserves huge kudos for seeing the star that Capicciotti would become when he took him on from the Eskimos. With 23 Sacks  in the last 2 seasons (with only 2 in the previous 2 years) the National pass rusher is only 26 and has many more productive seasons ahead. With his value at an all time high Capicciotti may wish to test Free Agency to gauge how much he can get. If he stays with Ottawa they will have secured a big building block to get back to the Grey Cup in 2016.

Zak Evans: (17 Tkl-7 Sck-1 INT)

Evans came on strong in his 4th season as the young National blew past his previous career high in sacks with 7. Stepping out of Keith Shologan’s shadow as the most promising Canadian DL acquired in the Expansion draft (though Shologan is no slouch either) Evans is just entering his prime and will have his share of suitors on the open market. It will be interesting to see what Evans can do if he is signed and made a feature player rather than a rotational one. (*EVANS SIGNED AN EXTENSION WITH OTT*)

Bargains – Damaso Munoz and Keith Shologan. Munoz was a highly productive linebacker for the REDBLACKS and added a pass rush element in addition to run defense, only the recent glut of solid linebackers appearing across the league kept him from being listed higher on my list. As mentioned above Shologan was also an impact player with the REDBLACKS and only his age kept him beneath Evans, he will find work even if he is not resigned.