On the eve of the 2014 Canadian Football season, CFL.ca takes a look at some of the players that burst on to the scene last year and could prove to everyone that we have only seen the beginning. In no particular order, here is a list of players that are primed to have phenomenal sophomore seasons.
Jeff Fuller – Calgary – Receiver
It’s tough to find someone else that made more with less than Jeff Fuller. The Texas A&M product didn’t get his feet wet in the CFL until mid-October but quickly became a tough assignment for defences lining up opposite the Calgary Stampeders. The large pass-catcher only played in four games but tallied 15 catches for 254 yards. Is four games enough to tell a lot? Likely not, but Fuller has been regarded by many in the off-season as a potential target to keep an eye on now that he enters his second season but first full year in Calgary.
Greg Ellingson – Hamilton – Receiver
With 2:24 remaining in the first quarter of the first week of 2013, Henry Burris completed a pass to a guy named Greg Ellingson. Most didn’t know much beyond the fact that he was a former Arena player that had impressed coaches in Tiger-Cats training camp. However, by the time his first game was over, everyone knew why Kent Austin and his staff had the big receiver on their radar. Six catches and 120 yards later, Ellingson made his mark and was off to a solid first campaign.
Injuries derailed a 52-catch, 800-yard season but a full year would have put him in the top 10 in receiving. With a full off-season to heal and a mobile quarterback that can scramble to get him the ball, Ellingson may just be getting started.
Duron Carter - Montreal - Receiver
Perhaps the only disappointing part of Duron Carter’s 2013 season is that we didn’t see enough of him. In just 12 games, Carter was arguably the most productive receiver in the CFL, racking up 909 yards and 5 touchdowns on 49 catches. What frightens opposing defences is that had Carter played a full season, he would have easily led the entire league in receiving and was on pace to record 73 catches for 1,363 yards and 8 touchdowns.
With Jamel Richardson now on the outs in Montreal, and if the pre-season was any indication, Carter is likely to be the feature big-play target alongside SJ Green in the Alouettes offence.
Mike Edem - Montreal - Safety
What was supposed to be the future, very quickly became the present once the Montreal Alouettes saw what they had in Mike Edem. Canadian DBs often spend year one out of the CIS honing their craft on special teams but Edem stepped right into the spotlight, quarterbacking the Montreal secondary at the starting safety spot. Edem made life miserable for any receiver who dared to come over the middle, laying big hits and jarring balls loose all year.
After posting 58 total tackles, 5 quarterback sacks and 3 interceptions, Edem is quickly becoming a star and will only get better in his second year as a pro.
Jermaine Gabirel - Toronto - Defensive Back
Gabriel came out of the same draft class as Edem and was a menace on special teams in Toronto. The Scarborough, Ontario native finished just three tackles behind Hamilton’s Marc Beswick for the league lead in special teams tackles with 22. He also added 21 defensive tackles in certain packages in Chris Jones’ defence. With Tim Burke now at the helm, it remains to be seen where Gabriel will fit in but should he continue on this pace, he could turn out to be one of the most impactful draft picks Toronto has seen in quite some time.
John Chiles - Toronto - Receiver
Chiles enters the 2014 season amid high expectations from both fans and his own organization. In 2013, he racked up a surprising 725 yards and eight touchdowns as a rookie. Chiles is the true representation of how much depth the Argos have at receiver. Filling in for an injury-riddled Argos squad midway through last year, Chiles played himself into the lineup and forced Toronto to keep him there with his knack for making big plays.
Rennie Curran - Edmonton - Linebacker
Rennie Curran entered Eskimos camp last season unsure of where he would fit in but very quickly proved he would have almost an immediate impact in Edmonton’s defence. In his first season, Curran helped pick up the slack for JC Sherritt who spent time on and off the injured list to the tune of 70 defensive tackles, 10 special teams tackles and 2 quarterback sacks. With Chris Jones now the head man in Edmonton, the potential is there for Curran to thrive in year no. 2.
CJ Gable - Edmonton - Running Back
Imagine if CJ Gable could get better in year no. 2? Music to the ears of Ticats players and fans, a nightmare for everyone else. Gable waltzed into Hamilton’s training camp last season, took Chevon Walker’s job, gathered over 1,300 combined yards and then got himself nominated for the East Division’s Most Outstanding Rookie. Only Calgary o-lineman Brett Jones proved to have a better year according to the voters.
Now in an offence that is likely to attack the boundaries with a more mobile quarterback, Gable could be the x-factor in Hamilton this year.
Troy Smith - Montreal - Quarterback
There is likely not a player with more pressure on him this year than Troy Smith. Expected to step in and replace one of the greatest of all time, Anthony Calvillo, Smith has a small resume to build off. His numbers didn’t leap off the page last season but his composure and command of the offence in short order did. There is no doubting his arm-strength or his mobility. His ability to deliver the ball on time and in accurate fashion is what will either catapult him to stardom or pin him to the bench.