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Ferguson: Evaluating this year’s crop of pending free agent receivers

When I think of CFL free agency, I think receivers.

Sure, every position has difference makers and thanks to the sheer amount of names on the annual list a major shift of power can happen at any positional group, but never are there more players available than in the pass catchers category.

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2021 has been no different with marquee names such as Greg Ellingson, Shaq Evans, Brandon Banks and Bryan Burnham all available to begin the dance. As we near the opening of free agency, though, most if not all of the names have avoided the open market or even the negotiation window in an attempt by personnel departments to lock up the top-end talent they prioritized over the previous two years.

To get a sense for the CFL receiver landscape the last time we had players on the field, here is a look at Production Grade x Targeted Touch Percentage.

It’s an incredible mosaic of talent. A mixture of Canadian, American and soon globally renowned hands dancing their way to the end zone from hot summer nights to frigid winter playoff afternoons.

I love how this chart uses the CFL averages for both metrics to create quadrants which can be further separated into further tiers of your own imagination.

The top right features players with above average usage and production. These are your game breakers, playmakers and elite high money receivers.

The kings of 2019 are clearly Burnham and Banks, with an honourable mention to Shaq Evans of Saskatchewan, Geno Lewis in Montreal and more. To see Burnham’s season target chart or location in the elite quadrant doesn’t do his effort justice after playing in a BC Lions offence that struggled to protect Mike Reilly at the best of times.

In the bottom right quadrant you’ll find 2019 receivers with above average targets but production below the CFL standard. A down year for Nic Demski and Luke Tasker has them surrounded by a variety of REDBLACKS, as Ottawa’s passing game collectively failed to produce in 2019 behind quarterbacks Dominique Davis, Jonathan Jennings and Will Arndt.

I call the top left the ‘potential’ quadrant. These are players with plenty of production but not enough targets. Players to appear here in the past few years include Hamilton’s Sean Thomas-Erlington, Toronto’s Jimmy Ralph and Saskatchewan’s Marcus Thigpen.

This year a plethora of up-and-coming Canadian players are featured in the potential risers including the Argos’ Juwan Brescacin, Stampeders’ Hergy Mayala and Winnipeg’s Dan Petermann, the last of which curiously remains unsigned.

The bottom left is not where you want to be. Below average production meets below average targets here. No bang for the buck, resulting in no investment. This years’ low qualifiers include BC’s Rashaun Simonise, Ottawa’s Nate Behar and Calgary’s Micheal Klukas.

With less than a week to go until free agency officially opens the receiver market has been drastically reduced, but there are some important — and productive — names still available.

DeVier Posey and Ricky Collins Jr. are the lone elite level receivers left as of writing this while Kenny Stafford, Dan Petermann and Montreal’s Malcolm Carter have plenty of upside worth investing in.

Curiously, of the 11 receivers still unsigned, many signed with new teams this time last year but have not yet been confirmed as returning to the team they committed to before the pandemic hit.

For now, DeVier Posey is Tiger-Cats’ property while Natey Adjei is the Argos to negotiate with and Julian Feoli-Gudino returned to Winnipeg after a Grey Cup appearance with Ottawa in 2018.

Plenty of new homes have been confirmed and more are possible as we reach the all-important Feb. 9 date of free agency officially opening. The dizzying dance is almost done, but not before one final flurry.

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