June 19, 2017

New faces aspire to revive fantasy fortunes of Roughriders

Following a season that saw them score a league-low 350 points, the Roughriders chose to start from scratch, a decision that led to them trading quarterback Darian Durant to the Alouettes before signing former University of Texas icon and two-time NFL Pro Bowler Vince Young to compete with Bryan Bennett, Brandon Bridge and Kevin Glenn for the starting job.

Whoever wins the role will greatly determine whether an offence that managed the fewest touchdowns (27) in the CFL last season can find a sense of balance and consistency. The addition of wideout Duron Carter and the recent addition of former Riders running back Anthony Allen will also help add some offensive spark.

QUARTERBACKS: Perhaps the league’s most-watched position battle in training camp, Glenn appears to be the favorite to win the job. Entering his 17th season in the league, Glenn began last season with the Alouettes, throwing for 2,547 yards and 13 touchdowns before moving to the Blue Bombers to serve as a backup to Matt Nichols. With 251 games, 48,782 yards and 270 touchdowns on his resume, Glenn certainly has the experience, yet it remains to be seen whether that can translate into Fantasy success this season.

Bennett, who spent last year on the Blue Bombers’ practice roster, looks like he will be the backup to Glenn, having shown solid accuracy and a grasp of the offence during camp. He has one of the strongest arms in the league and will find his way into the lineup at some point this season. As it stands, Bennett could be the heir apparent to Glenn once the latter calls it a career.

Riders pivot Bryan Bennett is in competition for the backup role in Saskatchewan (Riderville.com)

Young, who has not played football since 2014, had an up and down camp before being injured during practice on June 6. The talent that made him a college football legend in the States has flashed at times, but the inactivity and the adjustment to the Canadian style of play have gone against him. If Young makes the team, he will be intriguing to watch if he gets on the field, but Fantasy owners shouldn’t cast high expectations on the 34-year-old.

Bridge still holds considerable upside. Like Glenn, he started last season with the Alouettes before being signed by the Roughriders. The 6-foot-5, 235-pounder completed 11 of his 13 attempts for 163 yards and added a rushing touchdown. While Bennett is the likely backup to Glenn, Bridge will likely find his way onto the field as well.

RUNNING BACKS: Only the Tiger-Cats (1,205) had fewer rushing yards than the 1,335 the Roughriders totaled in 2016. Greg Morris is the team’s top returning rusher with 122 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries. He added eight catches for 77 yards in his nine games with Saskatchewan and will likely be the lead back. Cameron Marshall, who ran for 614 yards and five touchdowns with the Blue Bombers in 2015, returns to the league after being released by the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars.

At some point (if not early in the season), Allen will become a factor. The former Roughrider, who signed just before the start of exhibition play, ran for a combined 1,504 yards and eight touchdowns for Saskatchewan in 2014-15 before signing with the Lions prior to the start of last season. Allen ran for 436 yards and three touchdowns in seven games with BC in 2016, and might force his way into the lineup. If so, Allen offers the most potential among the players in the Roughriders’ backfield.

The Riders are likely to lean on Anthony Allen at some point in 2017 (The Canadian Press)

Free agent signee Kienan LaFrance will compete for touches with Morris after spending last season with the REDBLACKS. LaFrance showed his potential during the post-season, rushing for 157 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries, and he added six catches for 31 yards in the Grey Cup. Keep an eye on rookie Quincy Walden. The Bethel University standout accounted for 25 touchdowns and 2,559 yards from scrimmage in college and showed great hands (102 receptions). Walden might be at his most productive in the return game, but his explosiveness will earn him his share of touches.

SLOT BACKS/WIDE RECEIVERS: Glenn is counting on good health for Naaman Roosevelt, who was enjoying a breakout campaign before sustaining a season-ending injury in Week 12. He was still nominated as the Roughriders’ Most Outstanding Player, finishing with 76 catches for 1,095 yards and two scores while also recording five games of at least 100 yards receiving. If Roosevelt is healthy, he will be a solid second-tier wideout in Fantasy play with the upside to crack the top tier.

Former Alouettes standout Carter could be the jolt to further improve the passing game. Carter has 17 touchdowns among his 185 career receptions over his first three seasons and could thrive if there’s some consistent play at quarterback, something he rarely experienced in Montreal. He had three games with over 100 receiving yards in 2016 and could easily exceed that total this season. The potential is there for him to overtake Roosevelt as the Roughriders’ featured wideout, and he might be in line for a career year if he does so.

The Alouettes brought in Duron Carter to complement Naaman Roosevelt (Johany Jutras/CFL.ca)

The Roughriders also inked Chad Owens during free agency with the hope that he can still deliver at age 35. Owens had 58 catches for 808 yards and five scores last season with the Ticats and brings 504 career receptions to the table. Bakari Grant had 44 catches for 622 yards and four touchdowns for the Stampeders last season and should be entrenched as the third receiver. The former East All-Star has two campaigns of more than 50 receptions and should have a third if he can stay healthy.

Rob Bagg remains a mark of consistency after recording his third straight season of at least 50 catches. At age 32, Bagg still has plenty left in the tank and could be a good Fantasy play depending on matchups. Caleb Holley had an impressive CFL debut, pulling 52 receptions for 655 yards. Holley played in just 11 games last season and has the upside to flirt with at least 70 catches.

DEFENCE/SPECIAL TEAMS: The Roughriders finished in the bottom half of the league in most defensive stats. The unit was last in the league with 29 sacks, eighth in points allowed (530), tied for seventh in interceptions (11) and sixth in forced fumbles (16). Defensive end A.C. Leonard and the now-retired Corvey Irvin led the team with five sacks apiece. End Willie Jefferson had three sacks in five games and will be counted on to apply more pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

Justin Cox ranked among the league leaders with four interceptions, but off-field legal trouble will keep him out of the league indefinitely. Defensive back Ed Gainey recorded three picks and two forced fumbles while also adding a fumble return for a touchdown. While Chad Owens will be involved in the offence, it’s the return game where the Roughriders expect him to provide the most impact. Owens has 10,300 yards and 10 touchdowns as a return specialist. If healthy — something he has struggled with since his record-setting 3,863 all-purpose yards in 2012 — Owens might be the weapon the team lacked last season.