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 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 – West Division

*Editors note: for some reason I forgot the year and did not include the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in my preview. They are now added below.

Now that the Grey Cup has slowly faded from our minds and the long dark of the CFL offseason has begun I figured it was time for me to work on some more material. The CFL Free Agent list was released a little while ago (you can find it here http://www.cfl.ca/2015/12/07/fa16/) and it got me thinking who the top Free Agents for each team were. So for this week I am going to pick the top 3 Free Agents for each team in the West as well as 2 Bonus players who could be real bargains for prospective teams.

BC LIONS

  • Emmanuel Arceneaux (76 Rec-1151 Yds -9 Tds): The Lions top receiver had the best season of his career and showed some explosive chemistry with Jonathan Jennings down the stretch. Arceneaux is a tall and speedy receiver who wins contested catches and excels at making big plays when his team needs them the most. I don’t see him leaving the Lions but if he did he would have at least 6 teams calling for his services.
  • Andrew Harris (1039 Yds-4.7 Avg-7 Tds): Despite seeing a dip in carries and having several games of very low production Harris finished 2015 in style and fell just short of the rushing title. A true dual threat (Harris has averaged 53 catches a season over his career) Harris is one of the most dangerous play makers in the CFL and can be simply unstoppable when he gets rolling. With Jon Cornish retiring and Jerome Messam turning 30 Harris should be seen as the top National running back and should command top dollar this offseason.
  • Travis Lulay (1953 Yds-12 Tds-10 Int): Its been quite a fall from grace for Lulay, going from Most Outstanding player in 2011 to likely being replaced by a younger and more promising QB going into next year. Lulay showed flashes through his few healthy starts this year and I believe he can still be a quality starter if he lands int he right spot. That said, I can see Lulay taking the path of Kevin Glenn over the next few years as a journeyman backup (ie good enough to start and win, never seen as the long term answer).

Bargains -Rennie Curran and Cord Parks: Curran looked like the successor to JC Sherritt in Edmonton before he left for the NFL. He is a solid tackler but can be had in coverage, best part is that he is just 27. Parks finished second in INTs with 6 in 2013 but has had his production plummet since then. I still think he can be a possible starter on a lot of rosters.

Edmonton Eskimos

  • Adarius Bowman (93 Rec-1304 Yds-7 Tds): The best receiver in the CFL over the past two years Bowman is the complete package. Tall, powerful, and able to make any (difficult) catch Bowman’s only flaw is his inexcusable tendency to drop the easiest catches. That said when Bowman gets rolling he is uncoverable and being pared with Derel Walker made the Eskimos passing attack deadly. Bowman wont last long on the open market, that is if the Eskimos even let him get close to testing it.
  • JC Sherritt (71 Tkl-3 Sck-2 Int): A tackling terror, Sherritt is the backbone of a Grey Cup winning defense and has shown himself to be one of the best Linebackers in the CFL. Sherritt excels at stopping the run and making plays behind the line of scrimmage but has also become very good in coverage as well. Any team that picks him up, if he leaves, is instantly upgraded on defense.
  • Aaron Grymes (43 Tkl-4 Int-1 Sck): Grymes has always struck me as a Linebacker trapped in a Defensive Backs body with the physical way he tackles and how willing he is to help in run support. Grymes has steadily improved in coverage since his entry to the CFL three years ago and can run with just about any receiver out there. A versatile threat and just 24 Grymes is a rising star about to get paid.

Bargains – Don Oramasionwu and Otha Foster: Donny O is a rock in the middle and a National to boot. Capable of swallowing up running backs and putting heat up the middle on QBs Ormasionwu needs to stay healthy for whatever team picks him up. Foster makes my list of “solid” players. He doesn’t blow you away on the stat sheet but he gives you solid production at Linebacker and Defensive Back and every team wants more of those guys.

Calgary Stampeders

  • Eric Rogers (87 Rec-1448 Yds-10 Tds): I was intrigued when I saw Rogers at the tail end of 2014 when he lit up the last two games season, but I had no idea just how good he was going to be. Leading the CFL in receiving and receiving touchdowns (tied with Todd Gurley for that honor) and making catch after catch no matter who covered him Rogers WAS the Stamps Offense. Given that this is only his second year Rogers has a legit shot to smash all kinds of records, but his talent also means we will likely lose him to the NFL. However, If Rogers doesn’t latch on with a team down south he will start an all out bidding war when he return.
  • Junior Turner (32 Tkl-3 Sck -4 PD): A valuable run stuffer Turner also made his mark as a pass defender with 4 swatted passes this year. Capable of beating blocks and providing pressure up the middle Turner is also a National and will be a high priority for Calgary to resign, especially with Corey Mace likely going into coaching.
  • Freddie Bishop III (44 Tkl-11 Sck-1 FF): Another candidate to lose to the NFL Bishop was a force off the edge for Calgary. There were several games this year where Bishop was seemingly in the backfield before the snap to take down the QB or Running Back, that kind of disruption is priceless. At 25 Bishop has a legit shot to make a mark down south but will have a place on any team should he return.

Bargains – Anthony Parker and Jerome Messam: Parker came on strong down the stretch for the Stamps with his best statistical season. A high Canadian draft pick who just seems to be hitting his stride Parker could easily take off in the right system. Messam might seem like a strange pick for the bargain category (he came in third in rushing with 1006 Yds) but the bruising National is turning 30 and has taken a lot of hits over his career. I don’t see teams rushing to sign him to big money deals when so many young backs are popping up around the league.

Saskatchewan Roughriders

  • Ryan Smith (59 rec-991 Yds-7 Tds): Small in stature but not in spirit Smith was one of the few bright spots for the Riders this year. Coming in just 9 yards shy of a thousand despite missing multiple games in his second season Smith was a dangerous deep threat and showed he was never afraid of taking hits over the middle. While his fearless style of play lends itself to injury Smith will be south after as a top tier receiving option on several teams
  • Tyron Brackenridge (58 Tkl-2 Sck-1 Int): A down year for T-Brack as he seemed frustrated in Brian Quicks defensive scheme. Still the DB/LB hybrid is an earth shattering hitter who can time up his blitzes better than any DB I have seen. In the right system and with the right surrounding pieces Brackenridge will make plays (and noise) for whoever pick him up.
  • Alex Hall (43 Tkl-7 Sck-2 FF): Hall came in with much fanfare as the replacement to Rickey Foley across from Jon Chick in what should have been a dominant Rider Defensive line. While that didn’t work out like the Riders wanted Hall held up his end and would have had much higher numbers if Saskatchewan could have kept games closer. Hall may leave Riderville and if he does will get several offers for his services.

Bargains –Rob Bagg and Xavier Fulton: One of the easiest people to cheer for in the league Bagg (in my opinion) shines best in a complementary role and can  seem to struggle against top corners. Still, as a National receiver who can turn in some very good performances Bagg will find a home if the Riders let him walk. I cant figure out Fulton who was arguably the Riders best O-Lineman three years ago and has seemed to lose steam ever since . At the very least he is still quality depth material and you need that in the CFL.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers

  • Matt Nicholas (3245 Yds-18 Tds-17 Int): This was certainly the year that Matt Nicholas got a shot to prove himself (With two teams!) and for the most part he did well. I cant fault his stats for declining too much in Winnipeg because of how fast he went over and started but Drew Willy is still the superior option there. I’m not sure Nicholas gets another starting gig but he can certainly make a number of training camps interesting and provide a quality backup.
  • Nick Moore (76 rec-899 Yds-4 Tds): Injuries have hampered Moore throughout his time in the Peg but when healthy he has shown elite talent. This year saw him put on a nice string of games despite inconsistent QB play for much of the year. Going forward it will be interesting to see if he stays on or tries his hand at FA, he will certainly have options.
  • Demond Washington (67 Tkl-3 Int-1 Sck): Washington has developed into another of what I call “solid” football players (explained above). He makes several wow plays every year and is important to his defense for his good tackling and return ability. Going forward I can see a team taking him for an increased role in returns and depth in the Secondary.

Bargains– Lirim Hajrullahu and Cameron Marshall: Last year I was drawing comparisons to Paul McCallum when it came to Hajrullahu and his kicking ability, this year he looked like completely different. I’m not sure what messed with his game but if he can fix it then he will be a great kicker for whoever takes a flier on him. I liked Marshall when he played this year, he showed good hands catching the ball and had some good cuts. I’m not sure if he takes a lead role somewhere but he certainly could find a home as a role player or backup.