April 28, 2019

An early peek at the 2019 Fantasy bargain bin

Dominick Grave/Montreal Alouettes

TORONTO — It’s starting to feel a little like football season.

Spring is in the air and training camp is less than a month away. And while Fantasy players have plenty of time to set their lineups in TSN CFL Fantasy, it’s never too early to start crunching the numbers and strategizing for Week 1.

The salaries have been revealed and Brandon Banks ($12,817), Mike Reilly ($11,754) and Alex Green ($8,782) lead their respective positions in terms of cost. There’s a good chance you’ll want one of these proven Fantasy studs in your lineup, but the cost may require some creativity on your end.

With that, let’s take an early look at some of the ‘bargain bin’ picks that could provide roster flexibility for your team in the first month of the season.

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QB – Antonio Pipkin ($7,076) or Vernon Adams Jr. ($5,219)

We don’t know much about the quarterback situation in Montreal, but there’s one thing we do understand: mobile quarterbacks are our friend when it comes to CFL Fantasy, and both Antonio Pipkin and Vernon Adams Jr. fit the bill.

Pipkin provided pretty good value in his first few starts but eventually faded before losing his job to Johnny Manziel in 2018. But the 23-year-old is the odds-on favourite to win the Alouettes’ starting quarterback job, and if he does, there’s plenty to like about his Fantasy upside. We know he can run — he’ll also get his goal line carries — but don’t dismiss the arm. Despite a 3:8 TD:INT ratio, Pipkin averaged a very productive 8.5 yards per attempt and showed the potential to be a good downfield passer.

Don’t forget about Adams, who’s even better for his value at $5,219. Adams was once a highly-touted prospect in this league, originally acquired by the Alouettes for a first round pick from BC. Despite bouncing around the league since then, the 26-year-old is an elite athlete and likely faces the best opportunity of his career to become a starter and truly break out in a wide open QB contest.

While many will shy away from an Alouettes’ offence that struggled last season, the supporting cast is actually pretty good in Montreal, especially given the team’s ratio flexibility which could allow an all-American cast of starting receivers. The question is whether one of these quarterbacks can seize the opportunity. At these costs, it’s a risk worth at least exploring.

QB – Dominique Davis ($5,244) or Jonathon Jennings ($6,457)

The prices are right in the nation’s capital, but proceed at your own risk. The REDBLACKS’ quarterback situation, featuring open competition between Dominique Davis and Jonathon Jennings, actually feels a little bit shadier than the one in Montreal.

Jennings is the big name after making the move from BC to Ottawa. Once one of the CFL’s brightest rising stars, the 26-year-old is looking to pick up the pieces after things went south with the Lions. Of course there’s a chance Jennings rediscovers his old self, when he threw for 5,000-plus yards and nearly 30 touchdowns while averaging 9.4 yards per attempt in 2016. But there are a few concerns.

For one, the team is dealing with the last-minute departure of offensive coordinator Jaime Elizondo and will deploy an OC-by-committee approach. Meanwhile, Jennings has averaged a pedestrian 7.5 yards per attempt the last two seasons, including 6.8 yards per attempt on 239 passes a year ago. And finally, while Jennings is certainly a mobile quarterback, he’s eclipsed 300 rushing yards in a season just once in his four-year career.

While Jennings is considered the front-runner for the job in Ottawa, the REDBLACKS plan on giving Davis every possible opportunity in a competition. The 29-year-old has been in the league since 2015 but is a total mystery, having drawn just a couple of professional starts. There’s obviously a reason teams like him, and the price is very good, but without Elizondo, as well as departed top receivers Greg Ellingson and Diontae Spencer, there’s reason for skepticism.


RB – John White ($4,736) or Brandon Rutley ($5,015)

The early value pick at running back is in BC, where it appears either John White or Brandon Rutley will carry the rock for the new-look Lions’ offence. White was a popular value pick last year when filling in for Alex Green in Hamilton, and has since landed in BC where he’ll have a chance to reunite with Mike Reilly, who he played with in Edmonton.

It’s easy to forget that White, before two separate devastating season-ending injuries, was emerging as one of the league’s most explosive young running backs. He averaged 6.1 yards per carry and 72.4 yards per game in 2014 and 2016 before suffering a second injury and eventually being released by the Eskimos. Despite some doubts, White returned last season at age 27 and showed glimpses of the same explosive back we’ve seen in the past.

Rutley, acquired in a trade with the Als last year, was primed to take over lead duties in the Lions’ backfield part way through the season before being injured. The eighth-year veteran just celebrated his 30th birthday, but with just 265 career touches next to his name should have plenty of life in his legs.

Whoever ends up starting in BC will have an opportunity for big production, as Mike Reilly will lead a vertical passing attack that should open up plenty of space in the offensive backfield. Meanwhile, the addition of Sukh Chungh gives the Lions a powerful O-line that will generate a push on the ground.

WR – Reggie Begelton ($4,608)

At a cost of over $4,500, it’s not like they’re just giving Reggie Begelton away. Still, the value is impossible to ignore for a receiver with WR1 potential. The 25-year-old is supremely talented, showing the ability to separate early in routes in addition to piling up yards after the catch (the 19.5 average is somewhat skewed by a 99-yard touchdown, but still, wow!). A mid-season injury replacement, Begelton racked up 150-plus yards in back to back games before suffering a season-ending injury late in September.

With Kamar Jorden‘s status unknown has he recovers from knee surgery, along with the off-season departures of proven veterans DaVaris Daniels and Marken Michel, Begelton has a chance to become a top option in the Stamps’ vertical offence alongside Eric Rogers. With Bo Levi Mitchell primed to repeat as Most Outstanding Player, this is the Calgary receiver to own early in 2019.


WR – RJ Harris ($4,554)

Fantasy players really liked RJ Harris as a cheap fourth option in the REDBLACKS’ high-octane offence last season. The 26-year-old wasn’t exactly consistent, but that’s to be expected when you’ve got Brad Sinopoli, Greg Ellingson and Diontae Spencer ahead of you in the pecking order. That problem no longer exists, as Harris could emerge as the team’s clear No. 2 option in the REDBLACKS’ passing game this season.

Inversely, Harris doesn’t come without his risks. While star offensive coordinator Jaime Elizondo is out of the equation, there’s also uncertainty at the quarterback position, where Trevor Harris has gone to Edmonton and will be replaced by either Dominique Davis or Jonathon Jennings. There’s a chance the REDBLACKS’ offence could really lag out of the gate this year, which, as we’ve seen in situations like Montreal or Saskatchewan, could be maddening for Fantasy users.

If that doesn’t scare you, the talent is no doubt intriguing for Harris, who could make a real sophomore surge in 2019 after recording 697 yards and averaging 14.2 yards per catch as a rookie.

WR – Markeith Ambles ($4,428)

When injuries hit hard in Calgary last season, Markeith Ambles became a favourite target of Bo Levi Mitchell, averaging six catches and one touchdown per game over a four-game span. With Marken Michel and DaVaris Daniel playing elsewhere in 2019, Ambles could be the benefactor of more playing time this coming season.

It’s hard to say what exactly Ambles could become for the Stamps moving forward, but he should be in the equation. The 27-year-old has been around the league for a while, while star pass-catcher Kamar Jorden‘s recovery from knee surgery should elevate Ambles into a premiere role in the offence early in the year.

If Ambles can start the year hot, he’ll be a long-term factor for the Red and and White. And if you plan on going Stamps-heavy, Fantasy players can likely fit all of Ambles, Begelton and Mitchell into their lineup for an affordable and strategic stack.

WR – Duron Carter ($3,096)

Get him while he’s cheap. The hype machine is already up and running on the CFL’s most polarizing player, who should be the most picked player in Week 1 of the season. Love him or hate him, Duron Carter is in line for a career year after moving to the west coast this off-season to play with former Most Outstanding Player Mike Reilly, and at barely over $3,000, the reward far outweighs the risk for No. 89.

Considered one of the most talented receivers in the three-down game, Carter’s price was driven down by a nightmarish 2018 season which saw him play mostly defensive back in Saskatchewan before being released. Then, with the Argos, Carter caught just 10 passes over the span of eight games, failing to go over the two-catch mark and spending much of his time standing on the sideline.

Some fans may be skeptical, but Carter’s 2018 campaign was a statistical outlier. The 28-year-old, who’s still in his prime, started his career with 900-plus yards in four straight seasons, including a career-high 1,043 yards in 2017. What has us excited is that he’s never played with a proven elite passer, and Reilly is one of the best of his generation. Barring injury, Carter should hit career highs in yards, receptions and touchdowns as one of Reilly’s top weapons.


WR – Anthony Coombs ($2,963)

You won’t find Anthony Coombs on your Week 1 Fantasy roster because of a Week 1 bye, but I figured I’d give the idle Argos a shoutout anyway. The oft-injured receiver comes in at a bargain price under $3,000, and should be an important part of an Argo offence under new offensive coordinator Jacques Chapdelaine.

Coombs isn’t your token starting Canadian Z receiver. The former third overall draft pick is quick and talented and has shown flashes of being a consistent, dynamic weapon from his hybrid running back/slotback position. A good example is 2017, the only nearly-complete season of Coombs’ portfolio, when he posted eight or more catches in four of his 12 games, averaging nearly five catches per contest.

The ceiling may not be incredibly high, but in a point-per-reception format Coombs probably has the highest floor of all the value picks out there. He’s a savvy and financially responsibly choice that won’t end up on many rosters early in the season.

WR – Tevaun Smith ($2,500)

Who? If the incoming receiver sounds familiar to Eskimos fans, that’s because he was the team’s first round pick back in 2016. That was three years ago, but Smith is just arriving now after spending time with a few teams south of the border, including the Indianapolis Colts.

The former top prospect is described as an explosive receiver who’s got plenty of polish after plying his trade in the NFL, and if one thing’s certain, the Eskimos didn’t spend a ‘futures’ pick to have Smith come to Canada and sit on the bench.

The Esks’ off-season moves suggest there’s a good chance they start two Canadian receivers this season, and if Smith gets the start at slotback, he could quickly become a favourite target of new quarterback Trevor Harris. At $2,500, he’s worth a look even if he’s behind Greg Ellingson and DaVaris Daniels in the Eskimos’ pecking order.

WR – KD Cannon ($2,500)

We’re a bit in the weeds now, but I want to offer a few possible ‘home run’ bargain picks for players looking to manipulate their roster. Understand that there’s going to be some risk for almost any $2,500 player, but any of these receivers in a starting role could easily exceed their value and allow Fantasy users to add higher-priced options elsewhere.

KD Cannon is one player that comes to mind because the Riders’ receiving corps is just so wide open. We don’t know about the status of Emmanuel Arceneaux (knee) for the start of the season, while Kyran Moore and Naaman Roosevelt are probably the only two locks to start, leaving the door open for Cannon to win a job in camp.

If Cannon does end up being a starter, he’s a high-upside play as an explosive vertical threat. The 23-year-old will be in his second CFL season and brings undeniable speed after running a 4.42 at the NFL Combine in 2017, and the Riders’ offence is just aching for another young star receiver to break out.


WR – Kenbrell Thompkins ($2,500)

Former NFL receiver Kenbrell Thompkins wasn’t exactly a household name in Fantasy last season, but did enter the equation as a value pick at times. The 30-year-old did establish some chemistry with veteran pivot Matt Nichols, who often looked to Thompkins downfield, nearly connecting on a few deep ball attempts.

The Bombers ranked seventh in the CFL in completions of 30- and 20-plus yards last season, so it’s reasonable to expect some regression to the mean there (regression, in this instance, meaning improvement). And while Thompkins may not be guaranteed a job, his involvement in the offence could grow if free agent receiver Weston Dressler doesn’t return.

That means that after failing to land a big name receiver this off-season, the Bombers could see Thompkins emerge as a top option outside of star receiver Darvin Adams.

WR – Nathaniel Behar ($2,500)

It’s not quite a blindfolded dart throw, but it’s probably the closest thing to it on this list. There’s really no telling what Nate Behar’s impact will be until we see it on the field, but Behar’s name is intriguing no less. The draft’s fifth overall pick two years ago, Behar is entering his all-important third season in the league and is already getting a change of scenery with the new-look Ottawa REDBLACKS.

There’s no questioning the talent; the concerns instead stem from Behar’s role in an offence shrouded in mystery following changes at quarterback, receiver and offensive coordinator. The 24-year-old is probably viewed as a future replacement for the CFL’s top Canadian receiver in Brad Sinopoli, who just turned 31, but it’s not outlandish to see him emerging as a consistent, productive receiver in 2019.

DEF – Edmonton Eskimos ($3,734)

The defence slot was such a zero-sum game in 2018 that many users often left it empty, using that money elsewhere in their lineup. That strategy avoids the dreaded zero or even negative point total that burned Fantasy players often last season, though the reward of a defence hitting 15-plus points is difficult to ignore.

My advice is simple: If you like a certain matchup and are projecting big points from an expensive defence, don’t hesitate to spend the cash. If you think every single defence is going to be torched in a particular week, leave the slot empty and bolster your lineup elsewhere.

I personally like to find the defence that’s a little under-valued and has a great matchup, like the Eskimos in Week 1 against Montreal. Yes, the Als have improved this off-season. Their O-line is much deeper and they have some really fast, scary weapons at receiver. But the Alouettes don’t know who their quarterback is yet, and projected starter Antonio Pipkin threw eight interceptions in a span of just four games last year, including four in one game against BC.

Add that to the fact that the Eskimos spent a large focus of free agency on their defence and you have a pretty good value pick on defence in Week 1.