- Free Agency
TORONTO — The Saskatchewan Roughriders swept the Toronto Argonauts in two regular season games, but that won’t have any bearing on the final result in Sunday’s Eastern Final.
Both clubs look a little different since the last time they played, with the Argos getting healthier on defence and the Riders establishing a dominant running game, led by the emergence of Marcus Thigpen.
CFL.ca breaks down who has the edge in the Eastern Final, position by position.
Ricky Ray is playing some of the best football of his career, averaging nearly 360 passing yards per outing the last five games and a 73 per cent completion rating. As good as Kevin Glenn was in the Eastern Semi-Final, Ray is one of the best quarterbacks and is enjoying an MOP-type season.
Chris Jones had six running backs carry the football in practice last week, and his rotation appears to be working as the ball carriers have fresh legs and an extra bounce in their step. Yet as good as the Riders’ ground game has been, it still falls short of what James Wilder Jr. has accomplished in half a season’s work with the Argos. Widler might now be the best running back in the CFL.
S.J. Green has been a revelation for the Argos this season while DeVier Posey, Armanti Edwards and Anthony Coombs bring speed and playmaking ability to the Toronto offence. Yet that unit just doesn’t hold a candle to what the Riders have, with Duron Carter and Naaman Roosevelt making up arguably the best 1-2 punch in the CFL and Bakari Grant, Caleb Holley and Chad Owens offering additional help.
The Riders might have gotten the nod here had Brendon LaBatte not gotten injured going into the playoffs. Alas, both of these units have fared well in 2017. The switch to Jonathan Himebauch has paid off for Toronto’s front five, allowing James Wilder Jr. to break out in the second half of the season. The Riders’ addition of Bruce Campbell has worked out brilliantly, while the return of Derek Dennis at guard should offset the loss of LaBatte.
The Argos boast three East Division All-Stars on their D-line with Victor Butler, Dylan Wynn and Cleyon Laing powering one of the league’s best four-man groups. That’s not even mentioning Shawn Lemon, who’s healthy in time for the playoffs. While you don’t want to mess with Willie Jefferson, possibly the best defensive end in the CFL, the Argos’ duo of Laing and Wynn inside is hard to beat.
Henoc Muamba has been a defensive centrepiece for Chris Jones’ unit this season, anchoring a group that includes Sam Eguavoen at WILL and Derrick Moncrief at SAM. Jeff Knox Jr. is also in the rotation for the Green and White. The Argos’ linebackers are impressive though, especially with Marcus Ball back at exactly the right time. Ball, Bear Woods and Cassius Vaughn fly fast to the football and get the slight edge at linebacker.
This one might have gone Saskatchewan’s way if not for the Argos’ late-season addition of Mitchell White. One of the best DBs in the CFL, White can erase any of the league’s top receivers and is a big-time playmaker to boot. A healthy Akwasi Owusu-Ansah and East Division All-Star Rico Murray edge out a strong Riders group that includes Ed Gainey and his league-leading 10 picks; former MODP Jovon Johnson; and emerging CFL star Crezdon Butle. But it’s close.
Christion Jones has become a fan favourite in Regina with his penchant for making game-changing plays in the return game. Equally impressive has been Martese Jackson, who’s fourth in the league with 2,399 all-purpose yards. While Jackson has been slightly more productive, his fumble issues are a cause for concern going into the post-season. We’ll call this one even right now.
After some fans called for his job early in the season, Tyler Crapigna shown his mental toughness this year in bouncing back with a 36-of-42 effort. He’s been better than Lirim Hajrullahu, who’s made 47-of-58 tries for the Argos. Crapigna has a bright future as a professional football kicker.