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December 21, 2021

Ferguson: Ranking the free agent RB class

Matt Smith/CFL.ca

On Monday we took a look at the pending 2022 free agency class of quarterbacks, a diversely talented group with more depth than top-end options, creating some real intrigue at the top of team priority boards.

Working alongside those high priced pivots is a group with an endless number of questions. Would Andrew Harris ever leave Winnipeg if not offered the deal he wants? Would Winnipeg ever gently tap him out the door for a younger, less expensive option in Brady Oliveira or Johnny Augustine, who also  happens to be a free agent? What does James Wilder Jr. want and where does he fit in the the CFL’s 2022 landscape?

To address these and many more theories, let’s dive into the 2022 running back free agency options with my Top-10 best available.

Outside looking in: Chris Rainey, Terry Williams, Charlie Power, Roc Thomas, William Langlais, Jamal Morrow, Maleek Irons, Kienan LaFrance, Joshua Caldwell, John White, Anthony Coombs.

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Opportunity has been somewhat elusive for Jackson Bennett, but the National running back could see his role expand in the right situation in 2022 (Peter Power/CFL.ca)

10) Hamilton Tiger-Cats | Jackson Bennett

In sparse action, the converted Ottawa Gee-Gee’s defender has shown a burst and understanding of the CFL run game beyond his limited reps. Buried behind Sean Thomas-Erlington and several American backs in Hamilton since joining the Ticats (Tyrel Sutton, Don Jackson etc.), I believe Bennett is ready for a larger role after earning his gamely uniform on special teams. I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see Bennett follow new REDBLACKS’ GM Shawn Burke to Ottawa as the team will begin re-thinking all Canadian parts of its roster.

9) Calgary Stampeders | Ante Milanovich-Litre

His style is at times unconventional and the body type certainly stands out in a room with Ka’Deem Carey and Don Jackson look-a-likes, but Ante has been a productive and useful part of the Stamps’ roster for a couple of years now. Enough so that I believe he will garner interest elsewhere (Edmonton?) from a player personnel decision maker that thinks there is more to be explored and cultivated from his unique game.

8) Montreal Alouettes | Jeshrun Antwi

William Stanback was far and away the best CFL running back in 2021, but watch closely and you’ll appreciate the role Calgary Dinos’ alum Jeshrun Antwi played in keeping Stanback fresh. Sporadically inserted into the action with little warning after Stanback would rip off a big run or take a hefty hit, Antwi looked at home in a CFL backfield and deserves some love from other teams that noticed the same.

7) Ottawa REDBLACKS| Timothy Flanders

Say what you will about Ottawa’s 2021 season, Flanders played little to no role in the REDBLACKS’ demise. His return to the lineup late in the season gave Ottawa’s run game a much needed jolt — albeit temporarily — and I could see a team taking him on as a top-flight No. 2 option as he fit so well in Winnipeg behind Andrew Harris before following Paul LaPolice to Ottawa. While not convinced he’s a true No. 1 ready to carry the ball dominantly all year, Flanders undoubtedly has upside.

6) Edmonton Elks | James Wilder Jr.

Perhaps the greatest question of all is what does James Wilder Jr. want in 2022? This past year began with a new year, new team, new me attitude and great production followed, but as the season slipped away from the Elks and frustration grew we heard Wilder Jr.’s name less and less. Who takes Wilder? Where does he fit? What room wants to lean on the run enough to maximize his value? Time will tell.

A massive effort against Calgary late in the 2021 regular-season showed CFL fans what Johnny Augustine is capable of (Photo: The Canadian Press)

5) Winnipeg Blue Bombers | Johnny Augustine

While Brady Oliveira was the first man to action when Andrew Harris went down, Augustine showed those who watched him with the Guelph Gryphons and anyone who has interviewed him just how smooth he can be with the ball in his hands. While it could be scheme and line play related, one has to think if Harris returns and Oliveira maintains the backup role, Augustine might consider finding more playing time elsewhere in 2022.

4) Hamilton Tiger-Cats | Sean Thomas-Erlington

When healthy, Thomas-Erlington is one of the most dynamic backs in the CFL regardless of nationality. With quick jump cuts and surprisingly fluid hands, Thomas-Erlington is a success story already, considering his late draft pickup by Hamilton. Could a new home and change of pace push his game even further into the CFL forefront?

3) Saskatchewan Roughriders | William Powell

It seems like every year I look to evaluate the CFL free agency class, and every year William Powell is both available and rated highly. That makes it all the more interesting that he’s only jumped ship once, from Ottawa to Saskatchewan. I don’t expect any movement here as another year with Jason Maas adapting his multiple run schemes will only help Powell maintain top end CFL running back status.

2) Winnipeg Blue Bombers | Andrew Harris

Will the Bombers move on? Would Harris look elsewhere if not given the respect he likely believes he is owed for playing an important role on back-to-back championships? Both fair questions where the likely answer is no, but few situations across the league are more ready made for a Canadian youth-infused transition than Harris to Oliveira in Winnipeg. If Harris leaves, the whole deck could get shaken on Feb. 8, with all the names on this list being affected by a team or two raising their hand in interest of his services.

1) Calgary Stampeders | Ka’Deem Carey

Watch all the CFL games in 2021 and one trend will jump out to you: A whole lot of Ka’Deem Carey smiling and winking at the camera as he receives plenty of facetime with the lens after a big drive or score. Dave Dickenson said in his preseason press conference that the Stampeders’ offence was at their best with one guy carrying the load and he wanted that to be Ka’Deem. Thankfully for Dickenson, that came to fruition in a way that helped Calgary through extended periods of time without Bo Levi Mitchell as Jake Maier worked in real time to sync his game up with Ka’Deem’s. I doubt he’s available, but if it were to happen there would be more teams interested than not in the prime of Carey’s CFL ball carrying career.

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