January 30, 2018

Canadian Content: Ranking the national free agents

Patrick Doyle/CFL.ca

TORONTO — CFL.ca recently revealed the list of the top 30 players due to become a free agent on Feb. 13.

Only six of the top 30 have a Canadian passport, but as we understand well in the three-down game, the real difference-makers in free agency are those who can change the ratio.

Ted Laurent, Jamaal Westerman and Jerome Messam are a few of the big names pending free agency, but this year’s list offers plenty of depth outside of the stars.

CFL.ca checks in on its top 15 national free agents, with a quick snapshot at the rest of the field for teams looking to improve their Canadian content.

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1. TED LAURENT

DL | HAM

The sixth-ranked player in the top 30, Ted Laurent might be the best defensive tackle in the CFL. He’s coming off a down season by his standards (13 tackles, 4 sacks in 12 games) but has plenty of gas in the tank in his career after just turning 30.

Laurent has only missed 16 games over the last seven seasons and his play in the middle can elevate an entire D-line.

2. ADAM KONAR

LB | EDM

Adam Konar, ranked 15th overall on CFL.ca’s list, will be one of the most highly-coveted free agents if the Eskimos don’t sign him before Feb. 13. The 2015 third-round pick stepped in after a season-ending injury to Cory Greenwood, logging 59 tackles in 12 games at WILL linebacker.

Konar’s average of 4.9 tackles per game put him in elite territory, and if he’s not already a household name, he will be by the end of 2018.

3. JAMAAL WESTERMAN

DL | WPG

If not for a season-ending injury last autumn, Jamaal Westerman likely would have come in higher than 17th on the list of the top free agents. Westerman has 32 sacks in 47 games since joining the CFL with the Bombers in 2015, including seven sacks in 11 games last season.

The downside is that Westerman will be 33 when the season starts, but on the other hand, how many Canadian defensive ends have the potential to produce double-digit sacks? Westerman is the definition of a ratio-breaker.

Jamaal Westerman (right) had seven sacks before his season was cut short in 2017 (Johany Jutras/CFL.ca)

4. ESE MRABURE

DL | SSK

Much like Adam Konar, Riders defensive tackle Ese Mrabure’s name has not gotten the press it deserves going into free agency. Defensive tackles can go a little unheralded around the league, but the former first round pick played a key role on Chris Jones’ defence in 2018 and offers big upside with his age (25) and physical ability.

Mrabure was ranked 22nd on CFL.ca’s list of the top free agents and, if he does become a free agent, should receive interest from every CFL team.

5. JEROME MESSAM

RB | CGY

Jerome Messam, ranked 25th by CFL.ca, is easily the most polarizing and controversial player headed towards free agency. Some have him in the top 10 overall while others would drop him outside the top 30.

The skeptics will point to Messam’s age (he’ll be 33 when camps open) along with a heavy workload that may have taken a toll on his body. Others will accurately highlight his status as a ratio-breaker along with his league-leading 20 rushing touchdowns over the last two seasons.

6. NOLAN MacMILLAN

OL | OTT

One of the top-ranked free agents before signing an extension last year, injuries have limited 6-foot-6 Nolan MacMillan to just 18 games over the last two seasons, bumping him out of the top 30 this year. The 27-year-old is still very talented and Canadian offensive linemen in their prime just don’t come along often.

Injuries have been a thorn in the side of Nolan MacMillan the last two seasons (Andre Ringuette/Freestyle Photography)

7. ZACK EVANS

DL | OTT

Staying in the nation’s capital, Zack Evans has enjoyed a productive four seasons for the REDBLACKS, racking up 21 sacks while playing 70 out of a possible 72 games. The 6-foot-4, 295-pound defensive lineman is in his prime (27 years old) and isn’t far from the top tier of Canadian interior linemen in the CFL.

8. DAN CLARK

OL | SSK

It still seems unlikely that the Riders will lose their 29-year-old centre, who’s been in Regina his whole life after being born there, playing for the Regina Rams and then playing for the Roughriders for six seasons. Clark is both reliable and versatile, two traits that top the list in a Canadian offensive lineman.

9. HUNTER STEWARD

OL | BC

The Lions’ O-line struggled in 2017 without Jovan Olafioye, but former sixth overall pick Hunter Steward started 15 of 16 games for Wally Buono’s team up front. What stands out about Steward is his ability to play tackle, as he’s moved there at times from guard.

10. ANTHONY PARKER

REC | CGY

Only the second skill position player on the list, Anthony Parker just edges Nic Demski to round out the top 10 Canadian pending free agents. Somewhere close to the upper echelon of Canadian receivers in the CFL, Parker has missed only one game the last five seasons and has hit 30-plus receptions in four straight campaigns.

Anthony Parker has been a reliable playmaker in the Stamps’ offence the last several years (Johany Jutras/CFL.ca)

11. NIC DEMSKI

REC | SSK

Nic Demski was headed towards a breakout campaign before an injury in Week 11 limited his season to just nine games. It’s easy to forget that the explosive returner/receiver is only 24, making him an interesting sleeper going into free agency. The Manitoba grad can be a game-breaker if given the chance.

12. JUSTIN CAPICCIOTTI

DL | HAM

After flashing greatness with 23 sacks in two seasons for the REDBLACKS, Justin Capicciotti returned to earth in 2016 with only two sacks for Saskatchewan and Hamilton. The 28-year-old bounced back nicely last year for the Ticats, however, logging seven sacks and 40 defensive tackles in a full 18-game season.

13. JERMAINE GABRIEL

DB | TOR

Injuries have limited Argos safety Jermaine Gabriel to 13 games or fewer in each of the last three seasons, but the talent is there for the 27-year-old Scarborough, Ont. native. The former second round pick has 158 tackles in 72 career games and is a Canadian starter at safety.

14. KIRBY FABIEN

OL | BC

While the Lions jumbled their O-line following the Jovan Olafioye trade, Kirby Fabien remained a key piece at guard, starting 17 of 18 games for the Lions this season. The seventh overall pick in the 2012 draft hasn’t missed a game the last four seasons and will start somewhere in 2018.

15. TEVAUGHN CAMPBELL

DB | MTL

Tevaughn Campbell started the last nine games of the season for the Alouettes at corner and held his own, recording 13 defensive tackles and adding an interception and two forced fumbles. The former third overall pick is ultra-athletic and still only 24 years old, playing a position where Canadians don’t usually start.

Tevaughn Campbell carved out a starting role for himself late in the 2017 season (Johany Jutras/CFL.ca)

THE REST

While the top 15 pending Canadian free agents are all likely starters in 2018, the potential for contributors goes well beyond that. The depth of this year’s group continues to stand out, especially among offensive and defensive linemen.

Let’s look at the remaining nationals scheduled to become free agents by position:

RECEIVER

Cory Watson (EDM)

Devon Bailey (SSK)

Jake Harty (OTT)

Julian Feoli Gudino (WPG)

Rory Kohlert (CGY)

Stephen Adekolu (MTL)

S.J. Haidara (MTL)

RUNNING BACKS

Carl-Olivier Prime (HAM)

Spencer Moore (SSK)

Christophe Normand (WPG)

Martin Bedard (MTL)

Alexandre Dupuis (EDM)

Levi Steinhauer (EDM)

Pascal Lochard (EDM)

James Tuck (EDM)

John Delahunt (EDM)

Nathan O’Halloran (MTL)

Anthony Woodson (CGY)

Greg Morris (SSK)

OFFENSIVE LINE

Philip Blake (MTL)

Matthew Albright (OTT)

Cameron Thorn (CGY)

Christopher Greaves (MTL)

Simeon Rottier (EDM)

Jas Dhillon (BC)

Andrew Jones (BC)

Matt Vonk (MTL)

DEFENSIVE BACK

Matt Black (TOR)

Adam Berger (OTT)

Dan West (OTT)

DEFENSIVE LINE

Jake Thomas (WPG)

Eddie Steele (SSK)

Arnaud Gascon-Nadon (OTT)

Don Oramasionwu (MTL)

Maxx Forde (BC)

Daryl Waud (TOR)

Mike Klassen (CGY)

Michael Atkinson (HAM)

Cameron Walker (TOR)

Evan Gill (HAM)

LINEBACKER

Nick Shortill (HAM)

Sam Hurl (WPG)

Doug Parrish (EDM)

Tanner Doll (OTT)

KICKER

Lirim Hajrullahu (TOR)

Quinn Van Gylswyk (SSK)

Hugh O’Neil (EDM)

Fan Poll
Which top pending Canadian FA would you rather have?
Ted Laurent
Vote
Jamaal Westerman
Vote
Adam Konar
Vote
Ese Mrabure
Vote
Jerome Messam
Vote
Other
Vote