CFL.ca presents ‘Off-Season Depth Chart’, a series of articles reviewing every team’s depth chart going into training camp. Note that these are not official team-issued depth charts, but projections based on insight and analysis from around the league. Additionally, 2019 draft picks are not included.
REGINA — Chris Jones may be gone, but his legacy lives on in the Saskatchewan Roughriders’ 2019 roster.
Sure, first-year general manager Jeremy O’Day has made his tweaks, but Jones has his name written all over the group that will take the field on June 13 for the season-opener in Hamilton.
While the offence expects to improve this season, the defence is still the trademark of success in Regina. Quarterbacks know that when they go into a hostile Mosaic Stadium they’ll face the fury of Micah Johnson, Charleston Hughes and Solomon Elimimian in the front-seven, with arguably the league’s most athletic secondary backing them up.
As good as the defence is, though, it’s the offence that will determine just how far the Riders can go this season. If Zach Collaros can find the fortune of good health — and return to his previous form — the additions of William Powell and Emmanuel Arceneaux should lead to improvement.
The competition is tough in the highly-competitive West — at least one deep and talented roster is likely to miss the playoffs this season — but the Riders are ready for the fight as first-time head coach Craig Dickenson leads them into a new season.
Let’s first break down the new-look offence:
Even with a couple of noteworthy changes this off-season, the Riders’ offence will travel only as far as Zach Collaros can carry it. The front office made an aggressive pitch to try and land superstar free agent Bo Levi Mitchell, and when Mitchell re-signed in Calgary it became clear Collaros was plan B. It was the best remaining option in Riderville, but will it pan out?
The Rider quarterback’s injury history is well-documented — he’s never played more than 14 games in a season and therefore never crossed the 3,500-yard plateau — but a bigger cause for concern may be the numbers last year, which saw the 30-year-old throw more interceptions (13) than touchdowns (9) for the first time in his career. There are other questions on the QB depth chart, with David Watford and Cody Fajardo, both unproven, slated to be the backups.
Still, Collaros showed flashes of his elite self last season, and if he stays healthy and shows more consistency he could have the tools to succeed. The starting O-line looks similar to last year’s, with late-season addition Philip Blake providing veteran leadership and veterans Dan Clark and Brendon LaBatte anchoring the interior. While Dariusz Bladek works his way back from a season-ending injury, 2018 first round pick Dakoda Shepley should push for playing time as he returns from the NFL.
The backfield has a new look, as the club has parted ways with injured running back Tre Mason and signed the second-leading rusher from last season in William Powell. Powell is a well-rounded back who excels in all facets of the game, including pass protection, as he forms a duo with speedster and change of pace back Marcus Thigpen. The Riders had the league’s second-ranked rushing attack with 111.9 yards per game last year, but their yards per attempt put them middle of the road.
Despite adding veterans Cory Watson and Emmanuel Arceneaux to the fold, there’s still some uncertainty in the receiving corps. Breakout star Jordan Williams-Lambert found work south of the border, while Naaman Roosevelt — as dynamic as he can be — has been sidelined by injury in each of his last three seasons. Younger pass-catchers Kyran Moore, Shaq Evans and KD Cannon will play a big part in the Riders’ passing game this season.
There are plenty of questions about the offence, but the same can’t be said about the defence. Let’s take a look at the other side of the ball:
Even with defensive mastermind Chris Jones in the NFL, the Riders’ defence projects to be the best in the CFL in 2019. Almost all of the key cogs have returned, while the additions of Solomon Elimimian and Micah Johnson help off-set the losses of Willie Jefferson and Sam Eguavoen.
An abundance of talent should make the transition easier for first-time defensive coordinator Jason Shivers, and it starts in the secondary with one of the most athletic groups league-wide. Ed Gainey and his 18 career interceptions headline the group, but 2018 breakout star Nick Marshall adds a new dynamic at boundary corner. Cover linebacker Derrick Moncrief is considered by some the most underrated player in the league at his position.
Speaking of the linebacker position, the Riders may have an emerging starter in the middle with former first round pick Cameron Judge, who could take more playing time from Sam Hurl this season. The 24-year-old saw an increased role last year, totaling 41 tackles and two sacks in all 18 games. This year he’ll have one of the league’s biggest names beside him in Elimimian, who rounds out an impressive group behind the Riders’ D-line.
Up front the Riders will miss arguably the best defensive end in the CFL in Jefferson, who signed with the Bombers. But Charleston Hughes hasn’t yet shown his age (35), coming off the third best season of his career with 15 sacks in 17 games. A.C. Leonard returns to fill Jefferson’s spot on the other side of the D-line, though 24-year-old Chad Geter is likely to see more playing time following the departure of Tobi Antigha.
The signing of Micah Johnson was one of the off-season’s biggest signings league-wide. The 30-year-old is unlike any other interior lineman in the CFL in the way he gets to the quarterback, coming off a career-high 14 sacks in 2018. On the other hand, what’s not always seen in plain view is what Johnson can do against the run. With Canadian Zack Evans in the middle as well, the Riders’ defence could cause big problems for opposing running backs.