Behind a breakout performance from pivot Matt Nichols, a career year for the ages from Andrew Harris and an opportunistic defence/special teams unit that scored 11 touchdowns, the Blue Bombers led the league in scoring, averaging 30.8 points per game en route to reaching the Western Semi-Final
Winnipeg added former All-Star Adarius Bowman to its receiving corps, but Fantasy players should beware that Father Time is starting to walk down the core of the offence. Nichols (31), Harris (31), Bowman (32) and Weston Dressler (32) each have considerable kilometers on their tires, making it likely at least one of them could either decline sharply or suffer an injury. Buyer beware, indeed.
To make matters worse, Nichols will miss the first four to six weeks of the season after suffering a non-contact injury to his knee. The Fantasy implications in the first month of the season could be significant.
Finally given the keys to the offence, Nichols responded by methodically carving up defences with a short-to-intermediate game that spurred him to lead the league in passing efficiency (103.8) and completion percentage (71.0). Nichols tossed a career-best 28 touchdowns to just eight interceptions while playing in all but one game. Although the game plan was designed for a ball control, Nichols still tied for second in the league with 13 passing majors of 30 or more yards.
While Nichols’ presence will be missed in the early going, his injury isn’t as bad as initially feared. He will be back, and when he returns, Fantasy players can count on Nichols contributing to their cause with his running, as he has tallied eight rushing touchdowns the past two seasons.
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If there is a concern about Nichols, it’s that he runs an offence that finished seventh with 355.6 yards per game and tied for last with 6.2 yards per play on first down. For all of their focus on controlling the ball, the Bombers were just seventh in time of possession (29:02) per contest. In short, as good as Nichols was last season, he will have a chance to be even better if the offence becomes more aggressive.
Bryan Bennett returns to Winnipeg and will compete with former Lions backup Alex Ross for the backup role that opened when Darian Durant suprised everyone and retired in May. Rookie Chris Streveler has opened eyes in training camp but lacks the experience to be considered an option should Nichols go down for an extended period.
At times, Harris put the offence on his broad shoulders, delivering big plays either on the ground or in the air. Harris led the league with 1,035 rushing yards on 189 carries and scored six times while also topping the CFL with 104 receptions (a single-season record for running backs). He tallied 857 yards and a major, becoming the first player in league history to rush for over 1,000 yards and register over 850 yards receiving in a single year.
The league leader in yards from scrimmage (1,892), Harris is going to be a good pick for Fantasy players, yet the reigning CFL All-Star and Most Outstanding Canadian has the bumps and bruises of 1,646 regular season touches from scrimmage. There is a concern that Harris could slow down, but while Fantasy players shouldn’t expect a repeat of his 2017 numbers, Harris should have enough left in the tank to push toward the fourth 1,000-yard rushing campaign of his career.
Timothy Flanders shined in a receiver/running back hybrid role that saw him fill in at slot when Dressler went down in mid-season. Flanders ran for 254 yards and a score while also pulling in 26 passes for 206 yards and three scores. He’s a low-end RB2 who will be the first option Winnipeg turns to if Harris goes down.
The Bombers might have a gem in Kienan LaFrance, who played with the Roughriders last season. No one has ever questioned LaFrance’s talent, but the veteran has struggled to stay healthy throughout his career. If he holds down the third running back spot, LaFrance’s value will climb significantly if he ever gets a chance to play in a bigger role. Rookies Johnny Augustine and Jahad Thomas will battle for an opportunity to make the practice squad in hopes of getting a call-up to the main roster at some point.
After two seasons of teasing his potential, Darvin Adams finally blossomed into a featured pass catcher in 2017, leading the Bombers with 1,120 yards and seven touchdowns on 76 receptions. Adams was on pace for even bigger totals before a shoulder injury in mid-October cost him the final three games of the regular season and the playoff loss to Edmonton. He still earned his first West Division All-Star nod and is a strong candidate for All-CFL if he’s healthy for the full ride. The team’s home run hitter, Adams ranked among the league leaders with 11 catches of 30-plus yards. Fantasy players should have no problem using Adams as a WR1 who can anchor a receiving unit each week.
Winnipeg inked Bowman, who comes from Edmonton after enduring his most difficult season since 2012. The three-time CFL All-Star never got into a groove in 2017 as he managed just 534 yards on 45 receptions. Injuries also plagued Bowman, who missed six games last year. There’s every reason to believe Bowman can rebound and deliver the kind of production that’s resulted in four 1,000-yard campaigns since 2011. Fantasy players should look at Bowman as a WR2/Flex option with a chip on his shoulder.
Dressler was hit with injuries that cost him seven games but still managed to catch 51 passes for 691 yards and three scores. He has been clockwork during his 10-year career, having caught at least 50 passes in all but one season. Expect that trend to continue this season as Dressler will make for a solid Flex option and a frequent target of Nichols.
Opportunities exist among the rest of the corps as the team parted ways with Clarence Denmark and Julian Feoli-Gudino, who caught a combined 103 passes last year. The pair had a total of 149 targets, many of which should go to Nic Demski, who started out strong with the Roughriders last season before injuries slowed him down. Drew Wolitarsky had just one catch in his rookie year, but the Bombers are expecting the 2017 supplemental draft pick to have a more expanded role this year. Tylor Henry returns to compete for a roster spot after being released by Winnipeg last summer.
Ryan Lankford scored three touchdowns on his 20 catches and served as a return specialist, but the wild card could be former U SPORTS All-Canadian Rashaun Simonise. A 6-foot-4, 200-pounder brimming with potential, the ex-University of Calgary star spent time with the Cincinnati Bengals in 2016 before taking last year off. If Simonise taps into his upside, the Bombers may have found a star in the making.
Winnipeg’s ball-hawking nature pushed them to lead the league with 25 interceptions, with five resulting in touchdowns. The Bombers were second in the CFL with 42 forced turnovers, but their gambling style burned them often, as they were last in the league in passing yards allowed (321.6 per game) while tying with Hamilton with a league-worst 33 passing majors allowed.
The unit lost defensive back T.J. Heath and lineman Jamaal Westerman, but do have the likes of defensive backs Brandon Alexander, Maurice Leggett and Taylor Loffler returning. Lineman Jackson Jeffcoat led the team with seven sacks while Tristan Okpalaugo added six QB takedowns. The Bombers also added former Lions Anthony Gaitor and Chandler Fenner to the fold.
Their aggressive style of play will work wonders for Fantasy players some weeks, but can backfire in the worst way just as easily.