June 10, 2019

Riders, Bombers offer high-scoring upside on defence

The Canadian Press

Picking a Fantasy defence every week often doesn’t bring the same kind of excitement as filling out the QB, RB, or WR slots, but it is just as important for Fantasy success. Rather than needing to know the expected performance of a single player, like at other positions, picking a defence requires Fantasy players to get to know all 12 starters and even their rotation replacements.

As the Riders, Bombers, and Stampeders units showed on a few occasions last season, they can win matchups nearly on their own with multiple turnovers and defensive scores. Punting defence and taking a zero in that column is a sure path to failure.

BUILDING BLOCKS

Saskatchewan Roughriders, Winnipeg Blue Bombers

The 2018 edition of the Riders’ defence led the league in sacks (45), was third in forced turnovers (41), led the league in forced two and outs (107), and scored 11 touchdowns. They rarely came cheap but still often paid off their hefty price tag. They lost Willie Jefferson, Sam Eguavoen, and Tobi Antigha in the off-season but look to replace their production with Micah Johnson, Solomon Elimimian, and AC Leonard.

Johnson is the top pass rushing defensive tackle in the CFL and his presence along with AC Leonard, Charleston Hughes, and Zack Evans, ensures that the Riders vaunted defence will continue to create sacks and turnovers this season as the team relies heavily on that unit to win games. One of their biggest question marks going into the season is the potential affects of the loss of Head Coach and Defensive Coordinator Chris Jones to the Cleveland Browns.


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The Blue Bombers have been a high pressure, ball hawking unit for a number of years now but the time eventually arrives when stars need to be paid and Winnipeg couldn’t afford to keep them all. Kevin Fogg, Taylor Loffler, and Jovan Santos-Knox were all key pieces to the Bombers defensive success so there are a few more questions in their secondary than in previous seasons. That said, Willie Jefferson may be the best all around defensive player in the league and his addition will be a significant bump for the Bombers’ ability to create sacks and turnovers. Winnipeg led the league in sacks (45) and forced turnovers (49) last season, while scoring five defensive touchdowns. There is a little more uncertainty here than in past years, but they should be one of the best options at defence every week.

SOLID PLAYS

Edmonton Eskimos, BC Lions, Calgary Stampeders

In 2018, Edmonton’s defence allowed the second most pass yards per attempt (8.9) and rush yards per attempt (5.5) in the CFL. Yet, there are a lot of reasons for optimism on defence in the City of Champions. They said goodbye to Aaron Grymes in free agency but brought in a star-studded cast including Jovan Santos-Knox and all-stars Anthony Orange, Larry Dean, and Don Unamba. This totally rebuilt linebacking corps and improved secondary should be a vast improvement for a defence that led the league in sacks last season (45) but only managed to create 37 turnovers while give up chunks of yardage in bunches. The Eskimos defence may have gone from a matchup to pick on to a defensive unit to consider using weekly.

The Stampeders have reigned as the top defence in the CFL for the past half-decade, but the loss of over half of their defensive starters from a year ago may be tough to overcome. Gone are Alex Singleton, Micah Johnson, James Vaughters, Ja’Gared Davis, Jameer Thurman, Ciante Evans, Tunde Adeleke and more. Maybe even more importantly, the mastermind of their defence, DeVone Claybrooks, left to become the new head coach of the BC Lions. Those are a lot of all-star level holes to fill. Calgary didn’t make any significant signings in free agency, so they will be relying on replacing players internally, banking on their sustained excellence. The Stamps led the league in sacks (45) and forced turnovers (49), while scoring two defensive touchdowns a year ago, but the massive turnover makes this unit more vulnerable than it has been in some time.

Calgary’s loss is BC’s gain, as their new head coach brings a wealth of defensive knowledge along with him to the coast. The Lions tied for the league lead in sacks last season (45) but allowed the third most rush yards per carry to opposing offences (5.4) and struggled at times to get off the field. Shawn Lemon, a noted rush defence liability, moved on to Toronto in the off-season but the losses of Anthony Orange, Bo Lokombo, and Solomon Elimimian will be tougher to deal with. The wealth of offensive firepower that the Lions added will help keep the defence off the field, but they will have a fairly unproven unit to begin the season. The Lions may have to rely more on scheme than talent to produce on defence this season with so much cap space tied up on the offensive side of the ball.

SPOT STARTS

Montreal Alouettes, Hamilton Tiger Cats, Ottawa REDBLACKS, Toronto Argonauts

The Alouettes’ defence was somewhat of an enigma last season, as they were one of the better defences versus the rush but were left vulnerable by an offence that left them out on the field far too much. Much of their defence’s ability to stay fresh will rest on whether the Als can finally find an answer at QB to give them some stability on offence. Montreal made a few personnel improvements in signing Bo Lokombo, Taylor Loffler, and most recently Ciante Evans, so they should have improved pass coverage this season. Their pass rush and ability to create turnovers is still below average though, so they’re only worth consideration on weeks they face weaker offences.

The Tiger Cats were one of those odd situations last season where real football analysis and Fantasy football analysis don’t see eye to eye. Hamilton was a league average defence in terms of both rush and pass yards allowed per attempt but was well below average in Fantasy scoring stats like sacks (31) and forced turnovers (31). The additions of Tunde Adeleke to the secondary and Ja’Gared Davis to the line may help in those areas, but the loss of all-star linebackers Larry Dean and Don Unamba will be difficult to overcome. Their combined 163 tackles, four sacks, and six forced turnovers will be sorely missed. They will get to face expected weaker offences like Montreal, Ottawa, and Toronto in eight of their 18 games though, so they may still be an option when the matchup is right.

Delvin Breaux leads a Ticats defence that could look different in 2019 (Johany Jutras/CFL.ca)

The REDBLACKS were another good real football defence that didn’t provide much Fantasy appeal. They were better than average in terms of rush and pass yards allowed per attempt but couldn’t generate a sustained pass rush, ranking third to last in the CFL with only 31 sacks. The loss of AC Leonard back to Saskatchewan won’t help with that issue and may leave the secondary more vulnerable than in the past. The signing of Chris Randle could add to their high forced turnover numbers (41) but the expected decline of their offence could lead to allowing increased points against this year. There aren’t a lot of reasons for optimism for the Fantasy prospects of the REDBLACKS defence in 2019.

Only a few short weeks into the 2018, it became obvious that the Argos secondary was the one to pick on with Fantasy QB and WR stacks. They allowed the most yards per pass attempt (9.5), and TDs per pass attempt by wide margins while allowing a league high 38 completions of 30 yards or more. The additions of Shawn Lemon, Tobi Antigha, and Kevin Fogg are hoped to shore up that unit, but the Fantasy related issues of a lack of sacks (24) and forced turnovers (26) – both league lows – leave the Toronto defence with little appeal. New Head Coach Corey Chamblin may help, but there is no reason to use the Toronto defence right out of the gate.