March 16, 2020

O’Leary: Under the radar impact players in the West


After looking at possible East under the radar players on Sunday, we’re moving on to the West. To briefly recap, this is focused on players that may not be front of mind at this point in the off-season. It’s about players that aren’t necessarily stars on their team, but ones that could have a significant impact on their team’s season in 2020. We’ll get it started with the Grey Cup champs.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers
Nic Demski | WR

Nic Demski has been a consistent performer for the Bombers since joining his hometown team in 2018 (Photo: The Canadian Press)

During a replay of the Bombers’ Grey Cup win over the weekend, TSN’s Glen Suitor raved about the contribution that Nic Demski made in the game. The Winnipeg product had four catches for 45 yards and took a handoff for 22 yards in the final game of the season. That’s exactly what he’s done since signing with his hometown team in 2018. Demski has shown himself to be a valuable and versatile piece of the Bombers’ offence. Just 26, Demski was the team’s third-leading receiver (543 yards) in 2019 and turned 26 carries into 147 yards and two touchdowns.

Many of the key pieces are back in Winnipeg this year hoping for a repeat title run, but it won’t be without its challenges. Zach Collaros proved to be just the quarterback the Bombers needed in the final stretch of the season, but a full season as the starter will be something new for him. Andrew Harris and Darvin Adams will get a lot of attention in O.C. Buck Pierce’s offence, but a reliable and productive year from Demski could help the Bombers separate themselves from the pack the way they did at the start of last season, when Matt Nichols was running the show.

Saskatchewan Roughriders
Otha Foster | LB

Otha Foster, seen here in a 2016 game with the Riders, brings another vet’s presence to a tough linebacking corps (Geoff Robins/

The Riders knew what they were getting when they signed Otha Foster. He joined the team in 2016 and had 71 tackles, three sacks, an interception and a forced fumble, before signing with the Baltimore Ravens in the NFL. A final cut from the Ravens roster, he re-joined the Riders late in the 2017 season before moving on to BC for 2018. Foster was out of football in 2019, but he was ready when the Riders reached out this winter.

Through a four-year stretch that saw him go from Edmonton (2014 and 2015) to Saskatchewan, Foster grasped and worked within Chris Jones’ notoriously complex defences. Returning to the CFL, he’ll play for Riders’ D.C. Jason Shivers, who came up as a defensive coach those same years under Jones.

There’s always an element of risk in taking on a vet that’s been out of the game but at 31, Foster should have lots left to offer the Riders. They’ll need it, as they look to take the next step as a team and try to play for a Grey Cup in front of their home fans at Mosaic Stadium this year.

Calgary Stampeders
Dakota Prukop | QB

In limited action, Dakota Prukop showed potential with the Argos and will look to take the next step as a backup in Calgary (Johany Jutras/CFL)

It doesn’t take long to read his CFL resume — he’s made 18 of 30 passes for 284 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions in just 41 games as a third-stringer — but Dakota Prukop showed some spark when he got into the game late in the Argos’ lost 2019 season. The 26-year-old that played at Montana State and Oregon had a good command of the field was a combined 10 of 19 for 216 yards and had three touchdowns in those two games.

An Argo for the last three years, Prukop has a Grey Cup ring from his rookie season in Toronto and was able to study under an all-time great in QB Ricky Ray. In Calgary, Prukop is a part of one of the best-run organizations in the league and while it’s clearly Bo Levi Mitchell‘s show there, there’s a lot of room for a still young QB with a lot of potential to grow. It’s worth noting that this time last year, another unheralded former Argo QB signed with a new team after a few years as a third-stringer. A year later, everyone knows Cody Fajardo‘s name.

Edmonton Eskimos
Rodney Smith | WR

Rodney Smith had 646 receiving yards and five touchdowns with the Argos in 2019 and will be looking for more in 2020 in Edmonton (Johany Jutras/CFL)

Another player that showed flashes in Toronto over the last two years, Rodney Smith signed with the Esks just last week. The six-foot-five, 235-pound receiver from Florida State played in 14 games last year with the Argos and had 646 receiving yards and five touchdowns. He’s got the size and has shown he has the hands to play in the CFL. Paired up with Trevor Harris in Edmonton in Scott Milanovich’s offence, Smith could be in position to fully show what he’s capable of.

BC Lions
Jevon Cottoy | WR

Jevon Cottoy didn’t look like a kid on the field in his rookie year with the Lions (Jason Halstead/

As a territorial signing in 2018, Jevon Cottoy did a good job of not looking like a 22-year-old as a rookie with the Lions last year. The six-foot-five, 230-pound receiver won a starting job out of training camp, when many players that come to the CFL from the junior ranks need a few years to adjust to the level of play. Cottoy pulled in 38 passes for 386 yards and a touchdown and was named the team’s nominee for Most Outstanding Rookie.

A dark cloud hung over the Lions for much of the 2019 season, but Cottoy provided that odd beam of sunlight to periodically break up an otherwise frustrating year. With a year of experience to his name and with one of the top quarterbacks in the league getting him the ball, Cottoy could go from something of a west coast secret to a household name on TSN.