March 21, 2022

Steinberg’s MMQB: Four tandems to keep an eye on in ’22

This week marks two months until the first preseason game of the 2022 season, which means football will be upon us in no time. With so much player movement in free agency, and with training camps right around the corner, I’ve got four quarterback/receiver tandems to keep an eye on heading into the season.

Zach Collaros and Greg Ellingson – Winnipeg Blue Bombers

Winnipeg said goodbye to Kenny Lawler, 2021’s leading receiver, and Darvin Adams in free agency, which opened up an opportunity (and cap space) for Ellingson to join the two-time defending Grey Cup champions. Ellingson joins the Bombers after two years in Edmonton where he remained one of the CFL’s most steady and consistent receivers. Now he gets an opportunity to work with one of the league’s elite quarterbacks.

Ellingson racked up 687 receiving yards and a touchdown in ten games as part of a tumultuous 2021 season for the Elks. Despite Edmonton’s struggles, though, Ellingson was still a top-ten receiver, which shouldn’t be a surprise. After all, he’d gone for over 1,000 yards in each of his five prior full seasons.

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I can’t wait to see how Ellingson fits with Collaros and Winnipeg’s offence knowing what they accomplished last year. Collaros was a runaway Most Outstanding Player winner completing more than 70% of his passes for 3,185 yards, 20 touchdowns, and just six interceptions. With Rasheed Bailey, Nic Demski, and Drew Wolitarsky all back for another year, Ellingson should be a great fit, and potential number one target, in an offence poised to pick up where it left off.

McLeod Bethel-Thompson and Brandon Banks – Toronto Argonauts

There’s been a lot of talk about the decline of Banks, but I’m not ready to go there. In a salary cap world, I understand why Hamilton and a 34-year-old Banks went in separate directions this off-season. But I still think there’s plenty left in Speedy B’s tank, and you can probably add a little nitro fuel to that knowing he’ll have something to prove in 2022.

Yes, Banks saw his numbers drop last year compared to his MOP campaign in 2019. He finished with 474 receiving yards and two touchdowns in ten games but started to look a whole lot more like himself down the stretch. Banks caught his two touchdowns late in the season and added two more in the playoffs. He also had four of his five most productive games in the latter stages of the year. From what I saw, Banks still has lots of big play ability in him.

I’m fascinated to see how a player like Banks vibes in an offence run by Bethel-Thompson. Projected over a full season, Bethel-Thompson was on pace for more than 3,000 passing yards in 2021, which would have made him one of three pivots to hit that mark. We’re talking about a guy who loves airing it out, which has the chance to be a match made in heaven for someone who stretches the field like Banks.

Nathan Rourke and Bryan Burnham – BC Lions

Bryan Burnham will be catching passes from Nathan Rourke this season in BC (Jimmy Jeong/

I’m not sure there’s a better receiver to have in the fold for a new starting quarterback than Burnham. In terms of reliability and consistency, it doesn’t get better than Burnham as he enters his eighth season with the Lions. For Rourke, who will start his second professional season on top of BC’s depth chart, I can’t think of a better safety valve.

Burnham, who signed back with the Lions in free agency, is coming off another outstanding campaign. He finished second overall with 965 receiving yards in 2021 to go along with five touchdown catches. When fellow superstar Lucky Whitehead was healthy, he and Burnham formed the most dynamic and dangerous one-two punch in the league.

If there is any sort of learning curve for Rourke early on, having the sure hands and the elite route running of Burnham from the “X” position could prove vital. Rourke has next level talent and an extremely high ceiling, but it’s not always smooth sailing for a first-time starter. Forming an early connection with Burnham should help to calm those waters.

Cody Fajardo and Duke Williams – Saskatchewan Roughriders

While not technically “new,” Williams and Fajardo only got to scratch the surface of their connection in Saskatchewan last season. Williams only joined the Riders in early October after two seasons with the Buffalo Bills, but it didn’t take him long to make an impact. After three solid games getting used to Saskatchewan’s offence, Williams exploded for 146 yards and a touchdown in his fourth appearance. A few weeks later, he went for 108 and a touchdown in the Western Final against Winnipeg.

What Williams brought the Riders was an explosive receiving option they were missing for most of the season, mainly due to Shaq Evans’s injury. Upon his return, Evans never quite got back on the pace, while Kyran Moore went down for the rest of the season shortly thereafter. What we saw was Williams develop into the number one target down the stretch, which is a role he’s very much used to.

It’s clear Fajardo, who pushed for a more aggressive game plan at times during 2021, likes having the option to take deep shots down the field. Williams clearly gives him that option, as should Evans despite his frustrating 2021 season driven by injury. With Moore’s strong work in the possession game, I’m looking forward to what the Riders can deliver through the air this season.

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