The Canadian Press
TORONTO — Just like in real life, the quarterback position often holds the key to Fantasy success.
The introduction of Points Per Reception (PPR) certainly altered the landscape last season, turning high-volume receivers like Brandon Banks and the now-departed D’haquille Williams into the game’s hottest and most expensive commodities.
However, a poor performance from your quarterback can turn an otherwise solid week into a major scoring letdown — especially if you’re springing the big dollars on someone like Mike Reilly, who at $11,754 will cost users nearly 30 per cent of their $40,000 cap in Week 1.
With kickoff roughly a week away, the CFL Fantasy Podcast breaks down five quarterback questions for 2019.
CFL FANTASY PODCAST RANKS THE QBS IN 2019
1. Mike Reilly ($11,754)
2. Jeremiah Masoli ($11,024)
3. Bo Levi Mitchell ($8,636)
4. Trevor Harris ($8,698)
5. James Franklin ($9,608)
6. Matt Nichols ($6,811)
7. Antonio Pipkin ($7,050)
8. Zach Collaros ($5,323)
9. Dominique Davis ($5,221)
1. Is Mike Reilly worth the hefty investment?
Of all the headlines the last few months, there was no bigger storyline than Mike Reilly signing with the BC Lions. But can Reilly, touted as the league’s biggest signing since Doug Flutie in the mid-90s, live up to the hype?
Despite the cap hit, the podcast trio is all-in. After all, Reilly has been the CFL’s most exciting playmaker the last three seasons, totaling nearly 17,000 yards and 122 combined touchdowns.
“He’s got the highest ceiling, he was the top-scoring quarterback six out of 18 weeks that he started, and also the highest floor,” said Hannah Nordman. “The most exciting part about Mike Reilly being number one is that he only costs $11,754, which is as low as you’ve ever seen him in this game.”
Playing devil’s advocate, no quarterback is without risk, and Reilly is no exception. Even with 5,500-plus passing yards in each of his last three seasons, much of Reilly’s Fantasy upside comes from his rushing ability. With a new team, and having just passed his 34th birthday, will Reilly make the same impact on the ground?
Another question is how quickly Reilly can adapt to his new surroundings. His best seasons have all come under Jason Maas in Edmonton, and in 2019 he’s not only learning a new playbook but also adapting to an entirely different set of receivers.
For all three of our podcast hosts, the risks are vastly outweighed by the possible reward. Not only do Bryan Burnham and Duron Carter make up a dynamic duo of receivers, but Reilly will have the benefit of playing nine games indoors, where he’s had better numbers throughout his prolific career.
“BC’s offence is going to be structured around him,” said Pat Steinberg. “They’re going to let it loose again. They’re going to allow him to throw 35, 40 times per game and when you allow Mike Reilly, who I think is going to have some decent protection this year too, you allow him to throw that often you’re going to see some numbers pile up.”
“He’s number one for a reason, and right now I don’t think there’s anyone close,” added Jeff Krever.
2. Will Jeremiah Masoli miss June Jones?
While many agree that Mike Reilly still holds the Fantasy quarterback crown, Jeremiah Masoli could be his closest competition. The Ticats’ quarterback emerged in a big way in 2018, leading the CFL’s top offence and also topping all other starters in both yards per attempt and yards per carry.
There’s no doubt Masoli is a dynamic threat, but with the departure of June Jones to the XFL, is a repeat of Masoli’s breakout season in store? It was a hot topic of debate on the CFL Fantasy Podcast.
“I don’t want to discredit Jeremiah Masoli and the talent,” said Krever. “He is absolutely in the upper echelon of quarterbacks in this league. For me, this is more a healthy respect for June Jones and what he’s done in the CFL.
“I think it’s one of those situations where you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone. June Jones is a football visionary that we haven’t seen in this league in the sense that he did things that others may not have done. He’s an outside the box kind of thinker.
“Tommy Condell is a veteran coordinator — he got the best season out of Zach Collaros‘ career in 2015 — but I really do think you’re missing something when you take June Jones out of the fold there. I don’t know if we’re going to see better than what we saw from Jeremiah Masoli last season.”
Even without Jalen Saunders and Alex Green, who were both released before the start of camp, the Ticats have an array of weapons that includes Brandon Banks, Luke Tasker and Bralon Addison. They also fortified their O-line, bringing back Ryker Mathews from the NFL and signing Argos tackle Chris Van Zeyl.
For Steinberg and Nordman, regression is not in store for the 30-year-old quarterback. Instead, they believe Masoli could build on his breakout season.
“I think a lot of that offence is still in tact, they know each other, they know what’s going on,” said Nordman. “I don’t think there’s going to be a whole lot of regression and you can see a better season from Masoli here.”
“Personally, I think Masoli is an elite quarterback, has elite ability, and he’ll be able to make up for the loss of June Jones and we’re not going to be talking about this as a big time drop off in production,” said Steinberg. “But it is something to watch. I think he can, and I’m really high on Masoli. I like the prospect of him and Banks together. I think Hamilton’s going to be a high octane offence once again.”
3. Is this finally the year for James Franklin?
James Franklin is the definition of a post-hype sleeper in 2019. Once considered the league’s top quarterback prospect, Franklin never found his footing last season, struggling to replace an injured Ricky Ray while throwing more interceptions (9) than touchdowns (8).
Things certainly went wrong for Franklin in Toronto, leaving many skeptical of his long-term future. However, after a failed bid to land superstar free agent Bo Levi Mitchell, the Argos committed to Franklin as their starting quarterback this season, giving the 27-year-old the chance to re-assert himself.
With a new offensive coordinator, the addition of Derel Walker and a fresh beginning, the podcast crew is optimistic about Franklin’s prospects in 2019 — though the excitement level varies.
“James Franklin bounces back this year, in a big way,” said Krever. “When you have a young quarterback, you have to put him in positions to succeed. The Toronto Argonauts did not do that last year with James Franklin.
“For James Franklin to have the trust of his coaching staff, that’s going to mean a lot,” he added. “He’s not going to play with fear, he’s going to play as himself and play with confidence. That is a really big factor for James Franklin in 2019.”
While Franklin was benched after his first four starts, it’s worth noting that his play improved after returning to the lineup. In a five-game stretch to end the season, Franklin completed 65.3 per cent of his passes and threw five touchdowns against three interceptions. Though the yards per attempt (7.4) were still relatively low, he added 223 rushing yards and a pair of touchdowns on the ground.
If Franklin can break out as a passer, his ability as a rusher could make him a top-three Fantasy option at his position by the end of the season.
“He might be the most intriguing player for me across the league in 2019,” said Steinberg. “I did not like when he stepped in for Ricky Ray early on, I thought he struggled mightily, but those were not ideal circumstances. If Franklin can pick up where he left off in his second stint as starter last year, I think there’s a lot of potential there.”
4. Is Nichols’ starting job at risk?
Of all the starting quarterbacks going into the season, Bombers pivot Matt Nichols may be the biggest question mark. On the one hand, there’s the potential for greatness after seeing Nichols throw 28 touchdowns and just eight interceptions to go with seven 300-plus yard games in 2017. Last season, however, saw steep regression for Nichols, with just one 300-yard game in an injury-shortened campaign.
Nichols’ actual outlook probably lies somewhere in between his 2017 and 2018 production, but the presence of Chris Streveler both in short-yardage situations and as the team’s quarterback of the future highlights some element of risk for Fantasy users.
“[Nichols] is the installed starter and should be going into the season,” said Steinberg. “He knows how to win, and he has been the guy at the helm for this Bombers resurgence over the last three years, one that he was the catalyst of.
“In saying that, I think there is comfort in Chris Streveler in starting games there, and I don’t think O’Shea will wait too long. If Nichols isn’t winning games, if all of a sudden teams are keying in on Andrew Harris and the passing game isn’t working, I don’t think there’s going to be much hesitation to go to Streveler.”
Last year, Nichols was thrown off by an injury during training camp that sidelined him the first three weeks of the season. This off-season, meanwhile, the offence has added a significant upgrade in Chris Matthews, a physically dominant receiver who could make more room for other playmakers like Andrew Harris, Darvin Adams and Nic Demski.
Still, while Steinberg, Krever and Nordman all agree that Nichols’ job is safe heading into the new season, they believe his Fantasy upside may be capped.
“I think if you’re gambling with him, you’re more likely to get a bust week than a boom week,” said Nordman. “That’s not what we’ve seen with anyone ahead of him on this list.”
“He is a game manager, and that doesn’t have to be a bad thing,” said Krever. “He is really good at managing the game. If Matt Nichols needs to do that, that’s fine. From a Fantasy perspective, I don’t know if it’s going to work.
“Where are you getting your points from with your quarterback? Touchdown passes, rushing yards, and rushing touchdowns. Matt Nichols doesn’t really check off any of those three boxes.”
5. Does Antonio Pipkin warrant sleeper status?
The Alouettes’ quarterback job is one of the most hotly contested training camp battles across all of camp this spring. Fantasy users are also watching intently, as the result will directly impact lineups in Week 1 depending on who wins the job.
Favoured to win the starting job, is Pipkin a risk worth taking with a price tag of $7,050? Both Steinberg and Nordman are skeptical.
“I think Pipkin is extremely athletic, is extremely young and is still learning this offence, but from a Fantasy perspective I almost think, and this will sound disrespectful, I almost think there’s not a whole lot to talk about in Montreal this season until they show us otherwise,” said Steinberg.
“It’s not to say there aren’t some interesting playmakers there, but Antonio Pipkin is another name in a long line of quarterbacks that haven’t gotten anything done. I’m not ready to have him anywhere near a Fantasy lineup.”
In his second season in the league, Pipkin flashed potential and even pushed Johnny Manziel for the starting job, despite the blockbuster trade to bring Johnny Football to Montreal. In the end, though, Pipkin found himself benched after a four-interception game against BC. He finished the season with more than twice as many picks as touchdowns.
Still, entering his third season in the league, and with an intriguing array of talent around him, the 23-year-old offers breakout potential.
“I like what the Als have,” said Krever. “I think they’ve got a really good roster. You like the receivers. B.J. Cunningham, really underrated, he’d be a 1,000-yard receiver every year with a top quarterback. DeVier posey, true vertical threat. Eugene Lewis, really good receiver.
“Pipkin doesn’t have to throw for 300 yards every game. If he’s the guy, he’s going to run around, he’s going to get yards on the ground, short yardage touchdowns, he has a strong arm.
“They’re a better team. He’s a year more experienced. Antonio Pipkin’s going to put up some points.”