- CFL GameZone
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It’s been nearly 20 months since I last got to write a piece like this. Dusting off the old spreadsheets and getting up to speed on two years’ worth of player and coach movement transactions takes more than a little bit of time.
The Week 1 CFL Fantasy player projections will have a bit more guesswork involved in them than any other week I’ve ever worked on, as many teams have made significant changes that aren’t easily accounted for with 2019 stats.
That guesswork, though, really is what makes CFL Fantasy football the joy that it is. So do your homework, watch for the new daily injury reports, keep your eyes open for depth charts, fire up your hot takes, and get ready for Week 1.
Nick Arbuckle, TOR – $8,082
There was talk in Hamilton that the starting quarterback position would be an open competition between Dane Evans and Jeremiah Masoli – and maybe it was to some extent – but it seemed like a foregone conclusion that a healthy Masoli would be the starter. Through five games in 2019, he was averaging 303 passing yards and 1.8 passing TDs a game while adding another three scores on the ground.
If not for his injury, he was the early favourite for CFL MOP. His Week 1 matchup with Winnipeg may not seem like a clear place to attack, but this isn’t the same Bombers team that won the 2019 Grey Cup. There have been significant losses in their defensive secondary and the offence is without spark plugs like Streveler, Harris, and Adams to keep Masoli off the field. A healthy Brandon Banks only makes Masoli more appealing.
In Week 1 of 2019, Cody Fajardo was just the journeyman backup quarterback that very few of us were calling for after most of the Riders fanbase was disappointed the team didn’t sign Jonathan Jennings. An early injury to Collaros followed by a Week 2 explosion versus Ottawa for Fajardo won those doubters over early and now Fajardo is the most expensive QB in CFL Fantasy to start the 2021 season.
The Lions’ defence was a middling unit in 2019, allowing the third-fewest snaps to opposing offences but having the third-fewest sacks (28) and a league-low in forced turnovers (32). They’ve got a decent secondary, but questions abound in their front seven. Fajardo should find increased creativity opportunities with new OC Jason Maas and is a fine but expensive option to start the season.
The Edmonton Elks have seen some great receivers come and go in the past decade, but the return of Derel Walker to the fold is great news for Trevor Harris. Harris is also reunited with his old OC, now new HC from Ottawa – Jaime Elizondo. That duo took the REDBLACKS to a Grey Cup appearance and should get the most from this potent Elks offence.
Walker, Ellingson, and Armanti Edwards are a dangerous trio of receivers to throw to, while newly acquired James Wilder Jr. more than makes up for the loss of Shaq Cooper with his dual-threat abilities. The matchup with an Ottawa defence that hasn’t made any notable changes since it created the second-fewest sacks (28) and fewest interceptions (12) while allowing the second-most passing yards per game (314.6) and second-most passing TDs (31) makes Harris a near-lock to start 2021.
You’d never guess that the Argos led the CFL in pass attempts (661) and passing TDs (33) in 2019 by the way their quarterbacks are priced to start the 2021 season. There are some health concerns around Nick Arbuckle for Week 1, but even if he can’t play, McLeod Bethel-Thompson ($8082) is the man mainly responsible for those 2019 successes. The receiving corps has only improved with the additions of Eric Rogers, DaVaris Daniels, Juwan Brescacin, and a slew of rookies that may not see the field for a while. In many ways, the high-flying Stampeders passing attack of the past decade has just moved east to Toronto.
Meanwhile in Calgary, almost nothing remains of their 2018 championship defence. They have a history of refilling the coffers quickly, but there are ample reasons to believe they aren’t nearly as daunting a Fantasy matchup as they have been in years past.
There’s a lot to like about Powell to start 2021. The Riders led the league in rushing TDs (26) in 2019 and he seems to have very little competition for playing time in the backfield. A matchup versus a Lions’ defence with a questionable front seven that was just average against the run in 2019 is no reason to back off him.
The biggest issue he’ll face all season is his opportunities to score TDs in the red zone, as Fajardo and Marshall will likely handle all carries inside the five-yard line. A salary in the $6,000 range is very reasonable for the top projected ‘back on the slate. On the downside, at age 33, he’s playing a position generally for the young. His yards per carry have gone down every season since 2015.
Elks’ management may well have operated with the old mantra “if you can’t beat him, sign him” when they added James Wilder Jr. in the offseason. Two of Wilder’s best career games came versus Edmonton, and the departure of Shaq Cooper in the off-season left the door open to sign veteran talent.
Wilder is an excellent receiver and should fit right into the Elks’ quick passing attack, which is a boon in PPR scoring systems like CFL Fantasy. The aforementioned matchup with a weak REDBLACKS’ defence that allowed the second-most rush yards (2,104) and most rush TDs (27) in the league in 2019 only increases Wilder’s appeal. He’s likely the top RB play on the slate.
Shaq Cooper, previously of Edmonton hype and fame, was the Lions’ top free-agent signing in this extended off-season and should get the Lions’ share of the backfield work in BC. Chris Rainey may come in for a change of pace occasionally, but he’ll be primarily kept fresh for return duties at age 33. The Lions’ offence struggled mightily in 2019 due to poor line play, but they hope to have fixed that problem and have as potent a set of Fantasy options as any offence in the league.
The Riders’ defence is down all of Cam Judge, Solomon Elimimian, Derrick Moncrief and Charleston Hughes from their staunch 2019 rush defence and already lost replacements Larry Dean and Nelson Lokombo to injuries in training camp. Mosaic Stadium will be a wild place to debut for the Lions on Friday night, but Cooper has the talent and opportunity to quiet the crowd and produce big numbers given his opportunity to shine.
The cheaper value options at RB this week each come with similar caveats. Andrew Harris hasn’t practiced all week and is out for Week 1 versus the Ticats. In 2019, Johnny Augustine was an admirable fill-in for Harris, but he missed most of training camp due to injury, opening the door for Brady Oliveira to get all the first-team reps in camp. Oliveira is listed as the starter for Week 1 but will certainly share the workload with a now healthy Augustine. With the offence missing all of Harris, Darvin Adams, Lucky Whitehead, and Chris Streveler from the championship squad, they may also struggle to produce versus likely the top defence in the CFL.
It’s a similar story in Ottawa, where there are many reasons to doubt the REDBLACKS’ offence will be able to sustain drives with a largely untested receiving corps and a lead RB that hasn’t played significantly since 2017. Timothy Flanders should get the bulk of the work versus Edmonton, but he’ll also likely cede some snaps to Brendan Gillanders in a game where a blowout looms. Cheap RBs on underdog offences have a higher risk to bust than most players in Fantasy football.
Brandon Banks, HAM – $14,000
Bryan Burnham, BC – $10,265
Kamar Jorden, CGY – $9,418
Greg Ellingson, EDM – $7,488
Shaq Evans, SSK – $6,809
Derel Walker, EDM – $7,985
Armanti Edwards, EDM – $7,262
Eric Rogers, TOR – $8,294
Kyran Moore, SSK – $7,100
When last the Ticats faced the Bombers, Brandon Banks and Bralon Addison were both banged up and Jeremiah Masoli was out with injury. This year’s Hamilton offence may be the most potent in the league, and Banks has had 20 months to heal up and get ready for payback.
Banks may get double-digit targets against a questionable and injured Winnipeg secondary with Addison out. Hamilton led the league in passing yards (5,639), was second in passing TDs (30) in 2019 and should only be better in 2021. Banks is nearly impossible to fit into a full lineup at $14,000 though, unfortunately. With Tucker and Marshall filling in for the injured Posey and Addison, both are great cheap options.
It’s been nearly three years since we last saw a healthy Kamar Jorden. Healthy Kamar Jorden was the most dominant receiver in the CFL, and his salary to start 2021 has that priced in. The departure of Rogers, Daniels, Brescacin, and Begelton from Calgary leaves Jorden as the most experienced receiver on the roster and a clear top target for Mitchell.
There has been talk that the Stamps intend to spread the ball around quite evenly this season, but at even moderate projections for rates and targets, Jorden has a top-five projection at the position. The 2019 Argos’ defence was likely the weakest unit versus in the past in the league, but they have made significant improvements to their front seven and secondary that makes them a much less appealing target to start 2021. Spending $9,000-plus for a player coming off injury is a steep price to pay, but it comes with immense upside.
The Lions’ offence struggled significantly in 2019 despite the addition of Michael Reilly at quarterback as their line play struggled to keep him upright. Despite those struggles, Burnham had the second-most targets (146), yards (1492), and receiving TDs (11) in the 2019 season. He may have the largest catch radius and best hands in the CFL and he will get to face a Riders defence that is left scrambling to fill multiple holes in its vaunted 2019 defensive unit. A better line, a healthy Reilly and the addition of Cooper in the backfield may be exactly what Burnham needs to explode out of the gates in 2021.
The Riders’ offence scored points in bunches in 2019, and their new quarterback became an instant CFL Fantasy star, but what often is lost in the conversation is that most of those scores came on the ground and not through the air, as the Riders scored the second-fewest receiving TDs (18) in 2019. Both Evans and Moore have big-play potential but also risk finicky workloads, as both receivers saw anywhere from two to 12 targets a game.
The Lions’ defence is a middling target for opposing receivers as well. If players are looking for a stacking option with Fajardo, Jordan Williams-Lambert may be a more appealing option at only $3,978 if he indeed moves inside to a slot position from his field WR spot in late 2019.
Ottawa’s defence could be one to pick on for Fantasy purposes all season and the Elks’ potent passing game is in a prime position to start off 2021 with a bang. All three of Greg Ellingson, Derel Walker and Armanti Edwards are in the top-10 for projections at the receiver position. The issue is trying to figure which one is most likely to pay off their $7,o00-plus price tag as it’s nearly impossible that they all can.
Ellingson has the most experience with Harris and Elizondo, but he also had a fairly boom or bust game log in 2019. If depth charts reveal a particular weakness in the REDBLACKS’ secondary, that will be the place to attack.
As was the story for the Elks’ receiving corps, so it goes that there are a wealth of options for their quarterback to throw to. Rogers leads the team in the projections, but his $8,000-plus tag is tough to swallow. Like Daniels, Brescacin, and Collins, the rest of the group are all much more affordable in the $4-5,000 range and could make very affordable double stack options with their QB, whether it is Arbuckle or McBeth. It’s difficult to decipher what the target shares may look like for this totally revamped offence, but there are questions everywhere this season. As has been mentioned, there are a lot of new faces on the Calgary defence and it may be worth attacking early on.
The Bombers’ receiving corps will be without Darvin Adams for Week 1 and his role will be filled in Kenny Lawler, who flips to the outside while Charles Nelson fills in at the slot. The Bombers’ offence tends to focus on the running backs and they face what is likely the most consistent and strongest defence in the league to start the season. Nelson and Bailey come in cheaply, but expectations should be tempered accordingly.
Edmonton Elks – $3,746
Hamilton Tiger-Cats – $3,668
At the defence position, the most popular Fantasy defence each week will likely be whichever one faces the REDBLACKS’ likely underpowered offence until they prove otherwise. The Elks led the league in sacks (56) and forced two and outs (102) in 2019 and should again be a solid unit even with the changes they’ve made to personnel.
There may not be as many misgivings about the Bombers’ offence, but they’re down Harris and Adams this week versus a Ticats’ defence that was second in sacks (54) and third in forced turnovers (44) in 2019 while returning nearly all their stars from their Grey Cup appearance. Whether it’s due to matchup or talent, both of these units are solid plays in Week 1.
Jeremiah Masoli > Tucker/Acklin/Marshall
With Bralon Addison out for Week 1, Banks’s role is clearly solidified, but there will be a lot of extra targets to distribute to Tucker, Acklin, and Marshall. While Acklin has shown the most production in the past, Marshall may be the most talented pure athlete. A Masoli/Banks double stack with one of the cheaper three options may be in order. If Banks is too expensive, a simple double-stack with two of the cheaper options is great leverage.
Trevor Harris > two of Walker/Ellingson/Edwards/Wilder Jr.
While any of Walker, Ellingson, and Edwards could all have big games versus Ottawa, they’re priced too high as a group to expect more than two of them to pay off their tags simultaneously. Given Wilder’s talents as a receiver, he makes an interesting option as the second receiver in a double stack that would cover off exposure to all facets of the Elks touchdowns in a potential blowout versus Ottawa.
WEEK 1 PROJECTIONS
|Name||Position||Salary||Team||Opp||Projection||Points Per Dollar||Pass Attempts||Rush Carries||Receiving Targets||Punt Returns||Kick Returns|
|Bo Levi MITCHELL||QB||$9,566.00||CGY||TOR||20.24||2.12||36.6||0.9|
|James WILDER JR||RB||$5,722.00||EDM||OTT||17.45||6.98||14.1||4.8|
|Sean THOMAS ERLINGTON||RB||$4,747.00||HAM||WPG||12.51||5||8.3||3.5|