The Riders are ready to run it back.. but will need more than that.
When the Saskatchewan Roughriders finished their season in a frigid defeat to their bitter rival and eventual Grey Cup champion Winnipeg, I wondered how many 2021 Riders we’d see pull the ’S’ over their chest again in 2022.
With so many free agents possible, the CFL-wide trend continues to be returning your core and tweaking the fringes of the roster. Would general manager Jeremy O’Day and head coach Craig Dickenson follow suit or would they make a daring play of renewal and splashy replacement in a Grey Cup hosting year?
» CFL releases 2022 potential free agent list
» Riders release Brayden Lenius to pursue NFL opportunities
» Evans, Saskatchewan agree to contract extension
» Riders, Kyran Moore agree to extension
Both men are a complex study for me. Evans for the two diametrically opposite seasons of 2019 and 2021 and Moore for the style of play and how he finds success.
This past season Shaq Evans hauled in just 26 passes for 220 yards and didn’t score a touchdown. He also had only one reception, for a loss of four yards, in the playoffs. This, of course, was due in large part due the broken foot he sustained while blocking for QB Cody Fajardo on a touchdown run at the goal line. If you don’t play you can’t produce, but the inability to re-introduce Evans to the Riders attack when in uniform felt bizarre.
A player of his caliber unable to get touches, or make much of them in a playoff setting, would twist an eyebrow of any CFL lover. Seeing a receiver one year removed from a CFL All-Star nod catching 72 passes for a team-high 1,334 yards and five touchdowns made it feel like there was some sort of invincible forcefield around Evans that wouldn’t allow him to contribute. Here are his targets for the injury doomed season.
Shaq has the body type, explosive ability and hands to be a difference maker for the Riders in 2021, but he’ll need to produce much more on a per target basis to remind the Riders faithful what he’s capable of. As seen above, the only pending free agent receiver with a lower production grade per target in 2021 was Derel Walker in Edmonton, who inexplicably was fed the ball endlessly and stayed mostly healthy relative to Evans.
As for Kyran Moore, his game has grown on me much the same as QB Cody Fajardo. In 2019, ’Swerve’s’ second year with the Riders, he led the team in catches (78) and touchdown catches (six) while adding 996 receiving yards. How nobody on the Riders realized he was that close to 1k and didn’t force him a couple extra balls is beyond me!!
Despite his season-ending knee injury on October 30 in a game against Montreal last season, Moore led the Riders in catches again with 64 and receiving yards with 585 total.
His ability to play with speed through the break of his route is reminiscent of Brandon Banks 2019 MOP season, especially on deep, full-field crossing routes and corners but the Riders inability to connect on the deep passing attack nullified Moore having an even more outstanding statistical season.
Enter Duke Williams, who remains a pending free agent as I write this. A full season of Duke, Kian Schaffer-Baker, Moore and healthy Evans is what the Riders are banking on, but is it too much to ask?
With the Atlanta Falcons signing Brayden Lenius, Saskatchewan lost one of their most efficient receivers and will need more from everyone involved to take the Riders aerial assault from the volume intermediate ambush seen in 2021 to a well rounded and multifaceted offensive onslaught capable of winning the West, and possibly a home Grey Cup.
Is it possible? Absolutely, but Saskatchewan will need depth and an extra name or two you already know from other teams to make that dream become reality. What’s old is new again, the pressure is on in Riderville to secure names and succeed on-field. Even with a pre-season game still five months away, the nervous energy will hover above Mosaic with Riders fans wondering if this group is destined to etch their names in Saskatchewan history like the 2013 team.