We are less than three weeks away from the start of the 2021 season. Training camps across the league are more than a week old and are into full swing. My friends, football is very much back in this country and the countdown to kickoff is on.
One of our annual Monday Morning Quarterback traditions is to pinpoint one player to watch from each team entering a new year. There’s no definitive criteria at all. We’re just picking nine players with great stories with lots of reasons to pay attention to them in 2021. The big five in the West Division are up first.
Saskatchewan Roughriders: Cody Fajardo, quarterback
The reigning West Division Most Outstanding Player finally had his breakout campaign in 2019. It had been a long time coming for Fajardo, too. The University of Nevada standout had shown plenty of flashes in more muted roles with Toronto and BC before landing with the Riders last season. When Fajardo got his first shot to truly carry the ball, he made the most of it: 18 passing touchdowns, 10 more on the ground and 4,302 passing yards.
Now it’s all about the follow-up. There are some who are still not totally sold on Fajardo as a high-end starter. Personally, I’m not one of them. Now 29, Fajardo has been patiently working towards this opportunity to be a number one. During that time, Fajardo has improved greatly as a pocket passer without sacrificing the athletic gifts that make him so dynamic. With added time to prepare, an offence coming back almost fully in tact and a ton of motivation from how last season ended, Fajardo is poised to build on what was an outstanding coming out party.
Calgary Stampeders: Kamar Jorden receiver
The last time Jorden was playing regular, full-time football in 2018, he had started to emerge as perhaps the league’s most dangerous receiver. Unfortunately, just a week after a 249-yard performance against Winnipeg, Jorden sustained a devastating knee injury in a week 12 game against Edmonton. That was in early September, so almost three full years ago. Since that time, Jorden has played just once, and sparingly, when he got into Calgary’s Western Semi-Final loss to Winnipeg last season.
But now Jorden is fully recovered, rested and ready to return to being one of the CFL’s most exciting playmakers. With one of the youngest Stamps receiving groups we’ve seen in ages, the 32-year-old Jorden is also being looked at as a leader and a tone-setter in 2021. We know how much talent is there and we also know how anxious Jorden must be to get on the field. When you add in a fully healthy Bo Levi Mitchell at quarterback, this year has all the makings of a huge one for Jorden.
Winnipeg Blue Bombers: Andrew Harris, running back
Here we go again for Harris. 2021 will be another year where questions will be asked whether we’re finally going to see one of the greatest running backs in CFL history start to slow down. Every year those questions get tabled and every year Harris shoots them down emphatically with his work on the field. Last year was no different.
Harris’s 2019, at the age of 32, was perhaps his best ever: 1,380 rushing yards, 529 receiving yards, and eight total touchdowns. And, when it mattered most, Harris saved his best for last. He was the Most Valuable Player and Most Valuable Canadian in Winnipeg’s win over Hamilton at the 107th Grey Cup. Look, I understand Harris is now 34 , but I’ve never bought into the decline angle before. With a full year off to prepare for this season, why would I start now?
Edmonton Elks: Derel Walker, receiver
The Elks would have entered 2021 with one of the CFL’s most potent aerial attacks on paper even before Walker signed on. With Trevor Harris at quarterback and the likes of Greg Ellingson, Kenny Stafford, and newcomer Armanti Edwards in the fold, Edmonton looked dangerous already. But when Walker stunned the CFL world by signing with his old team, it pushed things over the top.
After one season with Toronto in 2019, Walker didn’t sign anywhere in 2020 free agency and his future seemed uncertain. With things looking more optimistic for this season, however, Walker decided to sign back where it all started in 2015. Despite limited action at times, either due to injury or time in the NFL, Walker has been nothing but productive over four seasons in green and gold. Even with no quarterback stability with the Argos last season, Walker racked up more than 1,000 receiving yards and six touchdown passes. With Harris throwing to him this year, his totals should be huge.
BC Lions: Marcus Sayles, defensive back
Optimism is in the air in Vancouver with a new management regime and a brand new coaching staff led by Rick Campbell. Since closing out a disappointing 2019 season, the Lions have been hard at work building for a much better follow-up campaign. BC has brought back plenty of important players on both sides of the ball and also made a few key additions. Most notably, the Lions have welcomed Shaq Cooper and Dominique Rhymes on offence. Then there’s Sayles, who is a massive addition on defence.
Sayles comes to the Lions after a pair of standout seasons in Winnipeg and a West Division All-Star selection last season. 2019 saw Sayles record 64 tackles, three interceptions, two touchdowns, a forced fumble, and a sack. While he may not be the largest guy on the field, Sayles has outstanding speed, reads the field at an elite level, and is a very effective tackler. Still just 26, Sayles joins BC with a chance to help anchor a defensive backfield that also features T.J. Lee and Kenny Ladler.