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.

Grey Cup Matchup #3 (Offense)

The home stretch is in sight! With the Grey Cup less than 24 hours away lets break down the most exciting matchup of any football game, OFFENSE!

Running Back (and Fullback)

Ottawa: William Powel and Patrick Lavoie

Edmonton: Akeem Shavers and Calvin McCarthy

Its a little shocking that neither team in the Grey Cup has a dominant running back or dedicated running game, but in the CFL you win by passing. Ottawa has had a number of their backs go down due to injury  this season but have found a way to make things work with the shifty Powel. With decent speed and power Powel has also helped Burris on passing downs with his ability to catch passes out of the backfield. There is not much depth behind Powel, however, so the REDBLACKS could be in trouble if he goes down. Lavoie is a solid blocker who can be a sneaky good pass catcher near the goal line.

Edmonton has had trouble running the ball the past few years…with a running back anyway. Whether by design or injury issues Mike Reilly has been either the leading or second leading rusher the last three years in Edmonton. With yet another injury taking down Shakir Bell the newcomer, Akeem Shavers, will step in and try to make an impact. Shavers didn’t show much as a pass catcher in his lone start but made several good runs as the game went on. McCarthy is a multipurpose back who can block, run, catch, and play Special Teams, I actually have far more confidence in him than Shavers. In the end I’m not expecting much from this position other than blocking for Reilly.

Advantage: Ottawa

Offensive Line (LT-LG-C-RG-RT)

Ottawa: SirVincent Rogers,  J’Micheal Dean, Jon Gott, Nolan MacMillan, and  Colin Kelly

Edmonton: Tony Washington, Chris Greaves, Justin Sorensen, Matthew O’Donnell, and D’Anthony Batiste.

I know a bit more about Offensive Line play than the average fan, but that’s not saying much. Still, when looking at the REDBLACK’s lineup I am impressed how quickly they became a better unit after being near the bottom in 2014. Veteran acquisition Rogers has helped establish the left side while Dean and Gott (both former Stampeders) provide a solid interior presence. MacMillan (the first  ever draft pick by the REDBLACKS) and Kelly form a young right side that has developed quickly to keep Burris upright.

The Eskimos has a line that has performed far better than expected this season. Greaves, Sorensen, and Batiste have been serviceable but not top tier options in the past. This season has seen the Esks O-Line gel and excel with Washington and O’Donnell doing bang-up jobs as well. “Greater than the sum of its parts” is an expression that I feel sums up this years Edmonton line which has been helped by Reilly’s ability to escape pressure.

Advantage: Ottawa

Receivers (Slot and Wide)

Ottawa: Chris Williams, Ernest Jackson, Brad Sinopoli, Greg Ellingson, and Maurice Price.

Edmonton: Adarius Bowman, Derel Walker, Kenny Stafford, Nate Coehoorn, and Cory Watson.

Here be fireworks! Both teams possess an embarrassment of riches at the received position and will make life incredibly hard for the opposing defenses, no matter how good they are. Ottawa is almost uncoverable when it comes to the position, every player starting has over a 1000 yards (save Maurice Price who had several very nice years in Calgary). Every week it seems to be a different player who steals the show and that has to be driving Chris Jones mad as he tries to scheme a way to slow this offense down. Williams and Ellingson provide the speed, Jackson and Sinopoli terrorize the middle, and if you ignore Price he will be in your endzone before you blink. For my part I think it will be Sinopoli who makes several big plays this week, but your guess is as good as mine.

Bowman and Walker are, in my opinion, better receivers than anyone on the REDBLACKS. Bowman would be on the level of Milt Stegall or Geroy Simon if he didn’t have drop prone hands at the worst times. That said, Bowman is miles ahead of anyone else in the matchup when his head is in it.  Walker amazed everyone with how fast he became a top receiver in the CFL, if he doesn’t disappear to the NFL I could see him becoming unstoppable. Stafford disappears for several games at a time and then reappears to score touchdowns galore (9 TDs this year). That’s where the firepower ends for the Eskimos though. I like Coehoorn and think he is a tough, underrated competitor and Watson has loads of talent but the back end of this receiving core doesn’t hold a candle to the REDBLACKS.

Advantage: Ottawa

Quarterback

Ottawa: Henry Burris

Edmonton: Mike Reilly

Arguably the most important matchup of the whole Grey Cup, Burris and Reilly are at opposite ends of their careers but both are a big reason their team got this far. Burris has had an incredible career (3rd all time passing) despite losing two years to the NFL and switching teams 5 times. He can rub people the wrong way at times but is Hall of Fame bound whether he wins tomorrow or not. At the seasons start I didn’t think Burris could make use of all the new toys the REDBLACKS picked up in the off season, boy was I wrong. At the tender age of 40 Burris was easily the best QB in the league. My one problem with Old Man Hank is that he tends to have cold streaks in the middle of games (like last week in the East Final) where he misses throws or forces them in bad situations. This season he has often recovered before his team suffered a loss but in the Grey Cup is a one and done game, any throws off the mark could be very costly.

Reilly missed a big chunk of the season with an injury before coming back to lead his team on an incredible winning streak right to the Cup. A complete football warrior, Reilly takes punishment that would incapacitate many other players and yet still delivers in the clutch. Whenever I watch Reilly play, I just have a feeling he will make something happen at any moment – and he often does. With a half decent O-Line and two superstar targets in Bowman and Walker, I have a hard time seeing Reilly crumble in the spotlight. That said, Reilly has a bad habit of forcing throws or try too hard to make plays when he feels his team is falling behind. If Ottawa can take an early lead it may lead to Reilly throwing the game, literally.

Advantage: Even

Grey Cup Matchup #2 (Defense)

The Grey Cup is tomorrow! With that said I have a lot to cover to finish the matchup between the Ottawa REDBLACKS  and the Edmonton Eskimos. Let’s continue to Defense!

Defensive Line

Ottawa: Shawn Lemon, Justin Capicciotti, Keith Shologan, Moton Hopkins, Zack Evans

Edmonton: Odell Willis, Eddie Steele, Almondo Sewell, Willie Jefferson, Marcus Howard

The meat of the matchup, both teams have scary defensive lines capable of stuffing the running and making life miserable for the opposing quarterback.

Ottawa’s DL is unique in that a lot of pressure comes up the middle rather than from the edges. Evans and Shologan have been maniacs in the center with seven sacks a piece and plenty of stops for no gain. Hopkins doesn’t put up huge numbers but is a veteran presence that helps everyone get on their correct assignment. Capicciotti has been a revelation at rush end with double digit sacks in back to back years, though he seems to have slowed down a bit as of late. Lemon has shown he wasn’t a one hit wonder in Calgary, coming back from the NFL to be an impact player.

Edmonton’s unit didn’t post as high a sack total as Ottawa’s but they were close, though more of it came from the edge rush than the middle of the line. Odell Willis has had a down year (by his standards) with 9 sacks while Sewell and Steele have been solid interior run stuffers. Jefferson has steadily improved over his two seasons and will be counted on to provide consistent pressure opposite Willis.

While Ottawa ranked higher defensively and posted more sacks than Edmonton I favour the Esks in this matchup. Edmonton beats down their opponent with a variety of player substitutions and blitzes, especially along the DL. Ottawa is good but allowed the inexperienced Jeremiah Masoli to put up big numbers on them. Mike Reilly is a much bigger threat than Masoli.

Advantage: Edmonton

Linebacker

Ottawa: David Hinds, Damaso Munoz, Antoine Pruneau

Edmonton:Dexter McCoil, JC Sherrit, Otha Foster

Injuries early in the year forced Ottawa to cycle through various players at the Linebacker position. Pruneau, one of the REDBLACKS promising defensive backs from 2014, moved down to LB while Hinds was promoted midyear when Malik Jackson went down. The most impressive of the bunch is Damaso Munoz who was a solid starter in Edmonton for several years before being let go. Munoz is strong against the run and will likely be asked to contain Akem Shavers and Reilly (when he starts to roll out of the pocket). The big question is if this group of LBs can cover the quick passes from Reilly to Bowman and Walker, an Eskimo staple.

In contrast to the REDBLACKS, the Eskimos have had an an excellent trio at Linebacker for most of the season. JC Sherritt is a former Defensive player of the year and once broke the tackle record for most in a season. While this year Sherritt’s tackles were down he continued to make plays and had a career high three forced fumbles. Dexter McCoil finished off last year by winning the Rookie of the Year and has kept playing at a high level (though, like Sherritt, his numbers are down a bit). Foster doesn’t come with any of the awards hardware of his counterparts but has shown himself to be an above average starter. Watch for this group to make life hard for Henry Burris and William Powel.

Advantage: Edmonton

Defensive Secondary (Halfbacks and Corners)

Ottawa: Abdul Kanneh, Brandon Sermons, Brandyn Thompson, Jovon Johnson

Edmonton: Aaron Grymes, Patrick Watkins, John Ojo, Marcell Young

The REDBLACKS secondary can be described aptly in two words, Ball Hawks. When it comes to interceptions Kanneh has 6, Johnson has 5, and Thompson has 3. Sermons, filling in for the injured Jerrell Gavins (who had 4 picks), doesn’t have a whole lot of statistical bragging rights  but has impressed enough to remain a starter for the GC. Johnson is enjoying a career renaissance in Ottawa after several years in Winnipeg and provides the veteran leadership to a very young group. Kanneh is the top cover-man and will likely see Adarius Bowman much of the evening. It will be interesting to see how Thompson and Sermons hold up against the underrated Kenny Stafford and Nate Coehoorn.

Edmonton, no slouch in the Ball Hawking department either, will counter with elite cover-man Patrick Watkins and the hard hitting Aaron Grymes. Both can cover top receivers and make plays on the ball (both have 3+ interceptions). John Ojo, in addition to having an awesome name, has gained a reputation for big plays with 5 picks and can hold his own on the outside. Marcell Young is the only weak point I see in this secondary, having bounced around a couple years as a backup/starter between Edmonton and Hamilton. This matchup is tough to call, but I have to take experience over young talent when it comes to the big game.

Advantage: Edmonton

Safety

Ottawa: Jermaine Robinson

Edmonton: Cauchy Muamba

Easily the weakest point in the REDBLACKS defense, no one seemed to be able to hold on to the position with over 5 different players being named the starter in addition to Robinson. With only 2 tackles to his name this season despite starting two games prior this is should be a major area of concern if Ottawa’s DB’s struggle in coverage.

Not all that much better than Ottawa, Edmonton rolls out Cauchy Muamba. Muamba has had several years experience at the position with several teams and can make plays from time to time, though he hardly qualifies as top of the line. With so many deep threats from Ottawa Muamba will have to bring his absolute best to remain a starter into next year. That said, its still no question who has the edge here.

Advantage: Edmonton

2015 Grey Cup Matchup #1 (Special Teams)

As the 2015 Grey Cup looms closer I wanted to take a closer look at the rosters of both Edmonton and Ottawa to decide who has the edge going into the biggest game of the year. This is a feature I will likely be doing for one game a week going forward as I switch to NFL after the GC. Today will be Special Teams and tomorrow will be Offense and Defense. Let’s begin!

Kicker

Ottawa: Chris Milo

Edmonton: Sean Whtye

Neither kicker began the year on their current roster due to performance issues with their previous team, now they will be called upon to make the most pressure packed kicks of the year (Irony!).

Milo has had a rollercoaster career field goal average, an 84.6% 2011 followed by a 64.7% 2012 and then a 88.5% 2013 followed by a 71.4% 2014. As this is an odd year he is therefore doing incredibly well in Ottawa with 91.2% average. Milo has elite kicker ability and a tendency to get wildly erratic, a dangerous mix for his position.

Coming into this year Whyte was on my list of the top three kickers in the CFL behind only Rene Paredes and Justin Medlock. I don’t follow the Montreal Alouettes newsreel as closely as other teams but I still can’t imagine why the Als let Whyte walk. An accurate and consistent kicker, Whyte has never diped below 80% since becoming a starter and finished this year over 92%. While I don’t believe he has the range of Milo, I trust him more with a game winning kick

Advantage: Edmonton

Kick Returner

Ottawa: Chris Williams

Edmonton: Kendial Lawrence

A very close matchup as both players are dangerous on returns and as starting offensive pieces.

Lawrence had an incredible rookie year, contributing in returns, receiving, and rushing but this year has seen his touches reduced due to the presence of other stars (Bowman, Walker, Stafford, Bell). This is not to say he has not been effective, Lawrence finished second in the league in total return yards had has a punt return TD.

Williams seems to have lost none of his supreme talent after his journey south to the NFL. Prior to his depature Williams was an unstoppable return man in the Brandon Banks mold (small frame, big speed).  Williams has primarily been a focus on the REDBLACKS offense and as such he has shared much of his special teams duties with Jamil Smith. Still I expect the REDBLACKS to give the ball as often as they can to Williams, including on returns.

Advantage: Even

Cover Team

Ottawa: Antoine Puneau, Nigel Romick, James Green

Edmonton: Deon Lacy, Mike Miller, Blair Smith

Most people won’t know any of the names I listed above, but that hasn’t stopped them from being key cogs in keeping their teams from surrendering long returns. Considering the importance of field position these two groups will likely have big roles in the Grey Cup.

I don’t know enough about the intricacies of cover team work to get into much detail so I’ll single out one thing for each side. For Edmonton Deon Lacy is a beast. I don’t use that term lightly, Lacy lead the league in Special Teams tackles last year and was one tackle short of leading this year. He got into the starting defensive rotation this year and walked away with six sacks and two forced fumbles. Lacy is a playmaker and always seems to be around the ball. In a big game like the GC I can see him making a mark on Special Teams or otherwise.

For Ottawa no single name jumps off the page, but it doesn’t have to. Ottawa has been lights out in coverage this year thanks to contributions from a variety of sources. They completely shut down Brnadon Banks (who as I mentioned is just as deadly as Chris Williams) in the Eatern Final and can consistently make teams face long fields. That kind of team effort outshines individual performances, even Lacy’s.

Advantage: Ottawa