The 2021 season was different. With 14 games, a delayed training camp, and a 21-month hiatus for most, last year was a big change for the majority of players. For numerous reasons, we saw several uncharacteristic performances from a lot of big-name players. This week’s column is identifying five of those big names poised for bounce back campaigns in 2022.
Bo Levi Mitchell, quarterback, Calgary Stampeders
The two-time Most Outstanding Player was not himself last year. The fact he finished with more interceptions (13) than touchdowns (10) for the first time in his CFL career speaks loudly to that. 2021 saw Mitchell miss three starts with a broken fibula and also saw him battling through a lingering shoulder ailment when he was dressed. It just wasn’t his year.
I’m looking for a far more typical season from Mitchell this season, though. He’s had another off-season to get his shoulder ready and he and the Stampeders’ medical staff have learned more about what it takes to play through any flare-ups. And don’t sleep on a motivated Mitchell; he was asked to restructure his contract this winter so Calgary could also retain Jake Maier. Mitchell is as proud as they come and he’ll have something to prove this year.
Derel Walker, receiver, Edmonton Elks
Last year wasn’t a great year in Edmonton, so a lot of returning players are going to get the benefit of the doubt. Walker leads the list in that regard because I just can’t see him going another campaign without hauling in a touchdown. What really underlined Walker’s frustrating 2021 was the fact he didn’t post a single 100-yard game in his 11 appearances. That’s just not him.
But things seem to be stabilizing with the Elks. Chris Jones is in as head coach and general manager, as is new offensive coordinator Stephen McAdoo. We’re not 100 per cent certain who’s going to be Edmonton’s starting quarterback, which is important, but I can’t see this new regime not actively trying to maximize a player with Walker’s ability. Adding Kenny Lawler to the fold should also benefit Walker, as it gives the Elks another explosive receiving talent.
Winston Rose, defensive back, Winnipeg Blue Bombers
Rose’s 2021 season was underwhelming mainly because, well, he didn’t play much. Rose didn’t return to Winnipeg from the Cincinnati Bengals until late October, which only allowed him to suit up in three regular season games. His timing was immaculate, however; Rose also started for the Bombers in their two playoff wins, including a four-tackle performance in the 108th Grey Cup. Overall, Rose recorded 12 tackles in five games with no interceptions.
Back in the fold to start 2022, however, I think we can expect a return to 2019 form for Rose. That year saw him named a CFL All-Star while leading the league with nine interceptions. Rose was also one of the league’s best lockdown defenders that year and was victimized for just one touchdown all season. It took Rose a little while to get back up to speed in his five appearances last year, but still just 28 years old, a full training camp in 2022 should do wonders.
Bralon Addison, receiver, Hamilton Tiger-Cats
Much like Rose, Addison’s main issue in 2021 was injury. The talented receiver only played three games last year thanks to a knee injury and then a hamstring issue. When he was dressed, however, Addison looked great. He caught 18 passes on 23 targets for 231 yards, including a five-for-five, 95-yard performance in Week 12 against Ottawa. When healthy, Addison remains one of the league’s best receivers.
He’s going to have plenty of opportunity to shine in 2022. Unlike last year, Hamilton can expect Addison to be healthy right from the get-go. On top of that, he’s going to be counted on to play a huge role with the Tiger-Cats. Brandon Banks and Jaelon Acklin have both departed, so you can expect Dane Evans to look Addison’s way frequently. Don’t be surprised if we’re talking about a monster season from the 28-year-old.
Cameron Judge, linebacker, Calgary Stampeders
Judge was one of many big names signed by Toronto heading into the 2021 season, but things didn’t really go according to plan. The National linebacker appeared in nine games, recording just 13 tackles, which was well back of the 61 tackles, five sacks, and two interceptions he posted in 2019 while with Saskatchewan. But at 27, and now a member of the Stampeders via trade, I just can’t see how Judge isn’t significantly better this year.
Judge will undoubtedly be motivated to prove last season was an aberration, which is important. Also important is the fit with Calgary, which could end up being outstanding. If the Stamps opt to move talented Jameer Thurman to middle linebacker, Judge’s natural WILL position will be wide open. Under coordinator Brent Monson, Calgary’s defence has perennially been near the top of the league, too, so I’m expecting this season to look a whole lot more like Judge’s time in green as opposed to double blue.