- CFL GameZone
- Diversity is Strength
Over the past 20 months, since we last built a CFL Fantasy lineup, there has been a lot of player and coach movement. Some players have been on multiple rosters since they last played a game. With all that uncertainty in mind, we should anticipate some big surprises this season while relying on some of the lineup building blocks that CFL Fantasy players have come to rely on in previous seasons.
Each positional preview will include Building Blocks, Solid Plays, and Spot Starts. These include established and reliable players, players who have a strong track record but come with some question marks this season and players that have some real concerns connected to their roles in 2021.
Backup plans are players who may not have a starting role on their team to start the season, but if given regular playing time, they may turn into major CFL Fantasy contributors this year. Each tier is organized alphabetically by team, not by ranking.
Much of the decade of the 2010s was ruled by pocket passers that could consistently go for 350 yards and multiple touchdowns each game. While there are still some of the old guards with those abilities, the new generation of CFL Fantasy stars at quarterback are dual-threat options that can both pass for 300 yards per game and have a chance of rushing for large chunks of yards as well. Having a floor of 50 rushing yards to build off of from players in this tier is like getting an extra passing touchdown or 125 yards through the air.
Building Blocks like Masoli, Adams, Fajardo, and Arbuckle all possess those multi-faceted skill sets. All of Hamilton, Montreal, Saskatchewan and Toronto also have stacked receiving corps to make single and double stacks with these QBs that much easier to build lineups around.
There’s still a reasonable chance for any of Bo Levi Mitchell, Trevor Harris, or Michael Reilly to lead the league in fantasy scoring on any given week. Still, they will likely have to throw for 400-plus yards and multiple touchdowns to do so.
Reilly’s days as a dual-threat QB are likely behind him given his age and the beating he took behind a porous Lions offensive line in 2019. If those blocking woes are fixed in 2021, he could very well return to MOP form.
In Calgary, Mitchell will have to rely primarily on 2019 late-season additions to the receiving corps like Markeith Ambles, and Josh Huff to be leading receivers as Eric Rogers, Reggie Begelton and Juwan Brescacin have all moved on to other teams. The great unknown for Bo will be how close to all-star form Kamar Jorden will return to after more than two full years off.
On the lower end of the starting QB tiers are Matt Nichols and Zach Collaros. Nichols gets a fresh start in Ottawa, but the receiving corps there is awfully sparse following the departures of Dominique Rhymes and Brad Sinopoli. Nichols has never been a major downfield passing threat and it seems he will have a lot of work to do to become a fantasy factor in the nation’s capital.
On the other hand, Collaros won a Grey Cup in 2019, but Winnipeg’s offence tends to run through the ground game more than the air, as Collaros averaged just 212 yards and a touchdown per game as the Bombers’ starting pivot. He may well win games in Winnipeg, but those are not exciting fantasy numbers.
The Building Blocks at the running back position in CFL Fantasy need two things: Pass-catching ability and a lack of competition for touches in their team’s backfield. Shaq Cooper flashed huge potential as a ball carrier and receiver in his time in Edmonton, which led to BC offering him a starter-level contract in the off-season. Chris Rainey is primarily a kick returner at this point and shouldn’t hinder Cooper’s workload at all.
It’s a similar story in Edmonton, where Terry Williams should be mainly a special teams weapon that won’t take more than a handful of touches for James Wilder. Wilder has exceptional receiving skills and given a full workload, should excel for the Elks.
William Stanback, though may be the absolute cream of the crop at the RB position. He has flashed 200-yard games as a rusher and should see an uptick in targets without Jeremiah Johnson around to take the workload in passing situations.
The solid plays at the RB position may have similar upside to the building blocks but have questions to answer regarding workload and usage. Carey had some moments of brilliance, including his 143 rushing yard performance in September of 2019 versus Edmonton, but also struggled to stay on the field due to health and competition at the position.
William Powell similarly lost carries to Fajardo and others in the backfield as 2019 wore on and, at age 33, is unlikely to carry the load going into the future. He may have games with 20-plus touches but also some with single digits and will likely cede most of the goal line carries to his quarterback.
Dual-threat RB Jamal Morrow could become the future at RB in Saskatchewan at any time. Andrew Harris is one year older than Powell at 34 — and age 30 is generally when most RBs hit the wall. Harris didn’t really seem to have his dominant form through the second half of the 2019 season as he rushed for over 100 yards just twice in his final 11 games. The offence didn’t really seem to miss a step with Johnny Augustin as RB, either.
The spot starts tier at RB is filled with players with more questions than answers at this point. When Thomas-Erlington was healthy to start 2019, he got nearly all the snaps in the backfield as a rusher and receiver and seemed a contender for the rushing title. After his injury, the Ticats’ rushing attack often employed 5-6 different players a game, making any Hamilton RB a total gamble. If Thomas-Erlington or the newly arrived Don Jackson can get the bulk of the workload, they could be fantasy stars in the Tiger-Cats high-powered offence.
To start the season, though, it’s a total crapshoot. The story is similar in Ottawa, where Mossis Madu and John Crockett each seemed to be given a chance to succeed, but the REDBLACKS struggles on offence led to a two- and three-person committee by season’s end.
With the prospects not much better in Ottawa this year, there’s little reason for optimism in their backfield for fantasy players. It was also a little surprising to see the Argos sign John White, with as good as Ouellette looked late in 2019. If either one can wrestle a hold of the bulk of the workload, they could become a Building Block in Fantasy lineups. On the other hand, D.J. Foster could also steal the show.
Lamar Durant, Dominique Rhymes – BC
Kamar Jorden, Josh Huff, Markeith Ambles,– Calgary
Greg Ellingson, Armanti Edwards – Edmonton
Jaelon Acklin, DeVier Posey – Hamilton
Eugene Lewis, BJ Cunningham– Montreal
Kyran Moore – Saskatchewan
DaVaris Daniels, Eric Rogers – Toronto
Darvin Adams, Rasheed Bailey – Winnipeg
Lucky Whitehead – BC
Hergy Mayala – Calgary
Quan Bray, Jake Wieneke – Montreal
RJ Harris, DeVonte Dedmon, Jerminic Smith – Ottawa
Jordan Williams-Lambert – Saskatchewan
Martavis Bryant, Juwan Brescacin – Toronto
Nic Demski, Kenny Lawler – Winnipeg
Nick Holley (CGY), Jalin Marshall/Cam Phillips (HAM), Terrell Jana/Charone Peake/Carlos Henderson/Sammie Coates (SSK), Daniel Braverman/Kendall Wright/Keyarris Garrett (TOR), Cam Meredith (WPG)
When it comes to building blocks at the receiver position, it’s all about depth chart placement and target share: The top receivers generally get eight-plus targets per game and line up in one of the four closest receiver spots to the quarterback on the depth chart. Fieldside wide receivers rarely receive more than three targets per game and often line up 25-plus yards from the quarterback before the ball is even snapped – that’s a long way out there on the wide Canadian field.
Each of Burnham, Walker, Banks, Addison, and Evans have proven they can make the most of huge workloads and have the combination of great hands, deep-ball speed, and reliable roles in the red zone.
Receivers in the Solid Plays tier at WR may be less reliable due to offensive scheme, target shares, or other questions regarding their reliability. They may have similar upside to the Building Blocks but can’t be relied on in the same way to start the season.
Players like Kamar Jorden, Greg Ellingson, Eugene Lewis, BJ Cunningham, or Darvin Adams could easily become weekly plays if their targets become reliable, but Jorden’s health, Ellingson’s boom or bust tendencies, competition for targets in Montreal for Lewis and Cunningham, and the run-heavy offensive tendencies in Winnipeg leave these five with more question marks than the top options.
There are players in the spot starts tier that have also flashed high-upside scores like Whitehead, Mayala, Bray, Harris, Dedmon, Williams-Lambert, Brescacin and Lawler but those one or two-game flashes aren’t enough to make them reliable fantasy options. Bray and Williams-Lambert will have a lot of competition for touches, and if Williams-Lambert lines up at the field WR position again in 2021 like he did after his late-season 2019 return to the Green and White, it’s unlikely he’s a fantasy factor.
Whitehead and Brescacin will also have a lot of competition for touches and will have to earn those roles on new teams at the fourth or fifth option in the offence. R.J. Harris may get 8-10 targets a game early on, given the lack of proven options in the Ottawa receiving corps but given their expected struggles, it may be an exceedingly rare occasion when he has a chance to score.
When it comes to backup plans at receiver, one of Jana, Peake, Coates, or Henderson is likely to earn a starting role for the Riders early in 2021 and any of them have the big-play potential to be fantasy stars at a likely bargain salary. Cameron Meredith may also earn a starting role early in 2021 for the Bombers. He showed great hands and speed in his stint in the NFL. Keeping a close eye on depth charts is a must for success in CFL Fantasy contests.
Winnipeg Blue Bombers
Defence is the most volatile position in CFL fantasy from year to year and given the coaching and personnel changes that have taken place in the past 20 months, it’s pretty difficult to assess which teams may be solid options at the position. The Tiger-Cats seem to have the most stability on the defensive side of the ball as they return most of their starters from their Grey Cup 2019 appearance and they were one of the most reliable fantasy units around. They should excel at creating sacks and turnovers.
The Solid Plays saw a lot more player turnover and have a lot more concerns to address before being considered reliable fantasy units. The Lions have a solid secondary to create turnovers but have many questions in their front seven. Edmonton is solid up front and in the secondary but have less certainty at LB.
The Roughriders lost all of Judge, Elimimian, Moncrief, and Hughes to free agency and have already lost replacements like Dean and Lokombo to injury this year. Toronto has made improvements at DL and LB but still has a weak secondary, which led to them giving up a league-high 36 passing touchdowns in 2019 while allowing over 300 yards per game through the air. The Bombers rode their defence to a Grey Cup in 2019 and return a great front seven but also have a questionable secondary to account for.
When it comes to Spot Starts, we’ve got three defences full of uncertainty for vastly different reasons. The Stampeders have consistently had one of the best defences in the CFL over the past decade. However, they have lost all-star level players at every position over the past few seasons and have few known commodities remaining on that side of the ball. Their track record in recruiting shows they should be fine, but they have a lot to prove. On the other hand, Montreal has had one of the most generous pass defences in the CFL over the past few seasons and seems to have few reasons to believe those issues have been solved.
Ottawa has been similarly porous against the pass in recent years. They have added some help in the secondary, but their expected struggles on offence may regularly leave the defence on the field in bad spots throughout the season.