- FREE AGENCY
Bank this: the Lions offence won’t be lagging near the bottom in 2019. The signing of All-Star quarterback Mike Reilly caused a seismic boom throughout the league, changing BC from a fringe playoff contender to one that will challenge the Stampeders, Blue Bombers, Roughriders and Eskimos in the ever-competitive West Division. Expectations will be high for new coach DeVone Claybrooks as Lions players will have prominent roles in the success of many a Fantasy user this season.
The Lions reached deep into their pockets to ink Reilly, who accounted for more touchdowns last season (43) by himself than the entire BC offence (36), which also finished eighth in total yards per game (316.8) and seventh in passing yards (237.9). Fantasy users will continue to gladly let Reilly eat up more than a fourth of their total salary cap because his big-play ability as both a passer and rusher have resulted in a combined 85 touchdowns (60 passing, 25 rushing) over the past two seasons. With the obvious green light to make plays (19 of his 30 TD passes last season were for more than 20 yards), Fantasy users can rest comfortably in knowing Reilly will eclipse the 5,000-yard mark for a fourth straight season.
As great as Reilly is, he’s not bulletproof, evidenced by the league-high 18 interceptions he threw last season. The flow of passing majors dried up down the stretch as Reilly tossed just four touchdowns in his last six games, a stretch that saw him pass for fewer than 300 yards four times. This isn’t to say Reilly’s hitting the back nine of career; rather, it’s a sign that even the best can have bad stretches.
Brandon Rutley appeared headed for an impressive debut season with the Lions before a torn ACL in in Week 6 ended his campaign less than one game in. Still, Rutley rushed for 91 yards on 17 carries and should be ready to handle the RB1 role in Vancouver. A questionable history with injuries (he has never played more than 12 games in a season), Rutley will be a weekly throw of the dice for Fantasy users, which is why it would be hard to project him as more than an RB2. Rutley is also a solid pass catcher, having averaged 9.6 yards per reception with five majors among his 76 career catches.
The Lions will back up Rutley with another runner with a checkered injury history in John White. The former Eskimos lead back appeared in seven games with the Tiger-Cats last season and averaged 5.1 yards per carry in 78 attempts (400 yards) with two touchdowns. When healthy, White has shown he can be a featured runner, having recorded a combined 1,738 yards in just 24 games with Edmonton in 2015-16.
Shaun Wick, who ended last season on the Lions practice roster, offers potential as both a runner and receiver. Seldom-used Wayne Moore is available, although his value is more on special teams than using his 220-pound frame to run through defenders.
Look for Bryan Burnham to have a huge season. Burnham earned West All-Star honors even though the inconsistent play at pivot hampered him at times, finishing with 67 catches for 1,029 yards and a career-best nine touchdowns. Last season was the third consecutive 1,000-yard campaign for Burnham, and if his 17.3 yards per catch is maintained, he will be considered a solid WR1 for Fantasy users to ride with on a weekly basis as he and Reilly establish a rapport.
The Lions are hoping their other big addition to the offence pays off. Few receivers in the league can rival Duron Carter’s sheer talent, but his personality has also been a detriment. Carter has never played with a quarterback like Reilly, which is why Fantasy users have every reason to be excited about the prospects of what a focused and happy Carter can do with an elite passing talent like Reilly. However, Carter will have to prove his worth to Fantasy users after a forgetful 2018 split between the Roughriders and Argos led to a combined 21 receptions for 250 yards.
Lemar Durant may finally get his chance to shine after signing with BC following four seasons with the Stamps. Only 26, Durant has a chance to develop as the WR3 in BC, and with the track record Reilly created in Edmonton, he has a great opportunity to approach 1,000 yards for the first time in his career.
Shaq Johnson pulled in 28 passes and scored three times last season and has the chance to see his numbers increase. Another Shaq, this one surnamed Hill, will compete to win a starting slotback role, while Joshua Stanford will look to find his way into the rotation after spending last season with both the Roughriders and Alouettes. Protected junior player Jevon Cottoy is a 6’5, 230-pound talent that could make the roster. Will Watson worked his way to the practice roster last season as a seventh-round selection and should make the active roster as a reserve. Shakeir Ryan will make his impact on the return game, accounting for a 104-yard kickoff return for a touchdown as a member of the Tiger-Cats.
Claybrooks, one of the best defensive minds in professional football, will be involved with the defence, but it will be coordinator Rich Stubler handling the bulk of the work. The Lions were solid overall in 2018, but will need to improve on a run defence that was seventh in yards allowed (113.8 yards per game) and in yards per carry allowed (5.4). The unit did tie Saskatchewan with a league-best 21 interceptions and should be even better after acquiring halfback Aaron Grymes in free agency. Odell Willis had 11 sacks last season, but the Lions can’t continue to rely on the 34-year-old end to be the featured pass rusher. Keep an eye on linebacker Jordan Herdman-Reed, who has the potential to make the Lions a productive unit for Fantasy users.