We are in one of the best times of the year if you’re a CFL fan, as we are nearing the start of free agency!
With less than three weeks to go till the February 8 deadline, this time of year ranks just behind the start of the actual season and Grey Cup Week. Good thing for you is CFL.ca is your one stop shop for all player movement news, top 30 lists and instant analysis.
» CFL.ca’s Top 30 Pending Free Agent List
» Nye: One potential free agent I think each team should try to sign
» CFL releases 2022 potential free agent list
» The Great Debate: Who is the No. 1 pending FA?
Speaking of the top 30 list (check it out here), I would like to add my own list of under the radar players that you should keep an eye on. Think of it as the b-side to the top 30 list. These are not complete CFL hipster picks but rather they are, “Oh yeah, that guy” picks.
I have selected one player from each team all of which cannot be found in the above list. These are not the flashiest of names, but you can win with them.
OL | Ryker Mathews
2021 was a lost season for Mathews who was injured in the BC Lions season opener. Ryker is worth the risk for any team looking for help at the offensive tackle position. His play in 2019 was a big reason why the Hamilton Tiger-Cats led the CFL in points per game, total yardage and tied for yards per play. Mathews was named to the East All-Star team that year. At his size (six-foot-six and 320 pounds) and relatively young age (29) Mathews will not be a free agent for very long. My only concern is only one ‘t’ in his last name. It’s a little known fact that all people named “Matthew” have a healthy distrust for the one ‘t’ versions.
WR | Hergy Mayala
After a promising 2019 rookie season that saw Hergy average over 80 yards from Week 17-21, including two 100-yard games, Mayala took a step back in 2021. His production dipped from 562 yards to 284 and he did not find the end zone once after getting there five times in just 38 receptions in his first year with the Stamps. You’re getting a young receiver, who’s also a former first round pick with a high ceiling. The fact that he is a National player never hurts as well.
OL | Matthew O’Donnell
The man mountain (six-foot-11 and 350 pounds) may be 32 years old but he still has a bunch of years left in him. Matthew was part of an Edmonton offensive line that allowed the fewest sacks in 2019 and helped C.J. Gable run for over a 1,000 yards. Okay, it was a 1,001 yards but giving his exact total doesn’t sound as impressive as “over a 1,000 yards.” O’Donnell brings Grey Cup winning experience (2015) along with All-Star credentials. Finally, this Canadian born lineman is quite durable missing just six games in his last four seasons.
LB | Patrick Levels
I feel great about this pick because Jamie Nye agrees with me. Levels has been nothing put productive in his two years in Montreal putting up 128 tackles, eight sacks, one interception, two forced fumbles and scoring a touchdown in 30 games played. Also, the man is not lacking in confidence as he guaranteed a playoff win against Hamilton. Yes, the Alouettes may have lost 23-12 in the Eastern Semi-Final, but you always want players who believe in themselves.
RB | Don Jackson
Fun fact, the moment Don took over the rushing duties in Hamilton, the Tiger-Cats went 5-1 in contests that he started beginning with his 120-yard game in a 39-23 win over Edmonton. That streak would, of course, come to an end in that OT Grey Cup loss to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers but even in defeat, Jackson was productive with 107 total yards on 17 touches.
DB | Abdul Kanneh
Abdul was a one-man wrecking crew in Ottawa’s season opening 16-12 win over the Edmonton Elks. We in the media so often overuse the expression, “did it all himself” but in this case, Abdul came pretty damn close with two interceptions, one of which he returned 102 yards for a touchdown and six tackles, the last one being of the game-saving variety as he took down Elks fullback James Tuck at the one-yard line. A 2016 Grey Cup champion with two CFL East All-Star appearances on his resume, Kanneh can be a fit in any secondary.
LB | Deon Lacey
We’ve seen Lacey excel at both the weak side and at middle linebacker in his CFL career. He won a Grey Cup with Edmonton in 2015 and followed that up with a huge 2016 season that saw him finish the year sixth in total tackles (87) while picking off three passes. After a three-year run in the NFL, Lacey smoothly transitioned back into the Canadian game, totalling 54 tackles and four sacks in 2020 with Saskatchewan. Finally, as a fan of my football players being available on a regular basis, Lacey did not miss a game for the Buffalo Bills in 2017 and has appeared in 67 out of a possible 68 CFL games. When the game starts you always know where you can find Lacey.
DL | Drake Nevis
Drake won’t get as much attention as injuries caused him to miss the majority of the 2021 season but all good defensive lines need that one guy to clog up the middle and free up space for linebackers to make all the tackles. At six-foot-two and 300 pounds, Nevis can do just that. His numbers won’t blow you away, but I bet his teammates appreciate what he does for them.
Winnipeg Blue Bombers
RB | Brady Oliveira
I remember wondering in the 2021 season opener how Winnipeg would do without Andrew Harris handling the rushing duties. Yeah, that though did not last long as Oliveira gashed the Tabbies for 126 yards on 22 carries earning the Winnipeg born running back a CFL Top Performer of the Week nod. Brady responded well when called upon and what fanbase doesn’t want a productive National running back? It’s worked wonders for the Bombers over the years, why should they have all the fun? Finally at the tender age of 24, Brady has a bright future in front of him.