- FREE AGENCY
Benefiting from an aggressive defence that forced a league-leading 49 turnovers, the Bombers offence was the CFL’s most prolific scoring unit in 2018 with 59 touchdowns despite finishing fifth in total yards. Winnipeg cashed in a league-best 151 points off opponents’ miscues due in part of an offensive line that helped Andrew Harris win the rushing title and kept quarterbacks Matt Nichols and Chris Streveler upright (league-low 27 sacks allowed).
The Blue Bombers have the best quarterback depth in the league, but there’s no question this is Nichols’ offence. The veteran missed the first three games of the season and endured a five-game mid-season skid where he managed only three passing touchdowns, but with a post-season berth at stake, Nichols looked a lot like his 2017 version, throwing six of his 18 touchdowns in the final three weeks to secure a third straight post-season bid for the Bombers. His numbers didn’t come close to his career-best 2017 totals, but Nichols — who tossed a career-high 13 interceptions, did not throw one in his final six games of the season.
The addition of Matthews, along with the presence of West All-Star Darvin Adams and potential star-in-the-making Drew Wolitarsky, will give Nichols the firepower to push his numbers closer to his 2017 marks. Fantasy users will be willing to give Nichols another look, as he should finish near 4,000 yards and eclipse the 20-TD barrier for the second time in his career.
Streveler gives Winnipeg the pleasant problem of how to maximize a talent that would be starting for a handful of teams in the league. The athletic rookie accounted for eight touchdowns in his three starts and provided the Bombers with a potent short yardage weapon that averaged 5.7 yards per carry and finished the season in the top 15 in rushing (447 yards). Streveler (10 majors), along with Adams (10) and Harris (11) each ranked among the top 10 touchdown scorers in the league. Should Nichols go down for an extended period, Streveler’s dual-threat skills will make him a sought-after option for Fantasy users. Bryan Bennett is a lock as the third quarterback and would have minimal value if forced to start.
There’s little reason to think Harris won’t earn a fifth straight nod to the All-Star team. At 32, the back-to-back rushing champion seemingly gets better with age and should record the fifth 1,000-yard campaign of his career. Harris dashed for a career-best 1,390 yards last season and tied his personal best with eight rushing majors while also topping the league with 11 runs of better than 20 yards. His career-high 239 carries took away from his receiving totals as he finished with 58 receptions, almost half off from his record-setting 105 catches in 2017.
An increased emphasis on the passing game will take the load off Harris, who had at least 19 carries four times last season. He will still be the most valuable runner in the eyes of Fantasy users, especially if he is able to maintain his scoring rate from 2018. No back is as important to his team than Harris, so expect him to remain a focal point of the offence, be it as a rusher or receiver.
Johnny Augustine is an intriguing prospect who should see more touches as a change-of-pace back. When given the chance to show his wares in the regular season finale against the Eskimos, Augustine rushed for 51 yards and a touchdown on seven carries, showing the Bombers that he would be a reliable option should (Bombers fans forbid) Harris is lost for an extended period. Like Streveler, Augustine would see his Fantasy value increase sharply. Second round pick Brady Oliveira is a 230-pound version of Harris and will patiently await a chance to step up if needed.
Adams proved his 2017 breakout was no fluke as he continued to emerge as one of the league’s premier deep threats. He recorded his second straight 1,000-yard season (1,028) while averaging an impressive 16.9 yards per catch with a career-high 10 majors. Adams placed fifth with nine catches of better than 30 yards and could better that total with an increased volume of targets. He’ll see less double coverage with the addition of Matthews, who averaged 21 yards per catch in his four regular season games with the Stampeders. Matthews, who began his career in Winnipeg in 2012, will be a solid WR2 for Fantasy users and will go a long way toward the Blue Bombers’ passing game that had just 25 completions of at least 30 yards last season.
Defences seeking to focus on Adams and Matthews will open the door for Wolitarsky to cause damage. He emerged as a key part of the offence after Week 9 as he caught 35 of his 45 passes in that stretch and added a key touchdown reception in the Western Semi-Final win over Saskatchewan. Wolitarsky looks like a good flex play that will hover in the 60-65 catch range with a good chance to hit the 1,000-yard mark. Versatile Nick Demski ranked among the top 20 in all-purpose yards and gives the Bombers a flexible piece as both a runner and receiver. With Kenbrell Thompkins on the suspended list, Rasheed Bailey, Garrett Johnson and Tim Wilson will compete for a starting role.
Rashaun Simonise and Corey Washington are still highly valued by the Bombers and will seek to find their way into the rotation. Charles Nelson and former Dallas Cowboy Lucky Whitehead are neck and neck when it comes to winning duty as the primary return specialist.
Coordinator Richie Hall will continue to push a high-impact unit to create turnovers. Winnipeg had a plus-13 turnover ratio and was second in scoring defence (23.3 points per game) and fewest touchdown passes allowed (15). Despite losing All-CFL safety Taylor Loffler, the secondary is in good hands with rising talents Brandon Alexander and Marcus Sayles along with Derek Jones, who could break out in a big way. Middle linebacker Adam Bighill comes off a 105-tackle season, while the unit received a significant upgrade with the addition of free-agent end Willie Jefferson, who will team up with Jackson Jeffcoat and Craig Roh to give Winnipeg an impressive trio of pass rushers.