There are three tiers in the CFL going into the season: the team that won the Grey Cup that has the target on its back, the five teams that made the playoffs looking to finish the job next year and the three teams out of the playoffs that are doing everything to get in the dance this season.
Here’s a look at the three teams and the three reasons to believe they can make the jump in 2023.
» Free Agency moves: Edmonton Elks
» Free Agency moves: Saskatchewan Roughriders
» Free Agency moves: Ottawa REDBLACKS
1 – Chris Jones in Year 2. I’m going to say this over and over and over until everyone understands what 2022 was for Chris Jones. It was a fact finding mission. He used the year to assess the organization and the roster inside and out and use that information to take a jump in Year 2. He established his system. He established the expectation. He established a core. Now he’s complimented the roster with players to take another jump. I watched it up close in Saskatchewan. In Year 2, he was a play away from getting his team to a Grey Cup.
2 – New weapons on offence. Eugene Lewis, Steven Dunbar Jr. and Kyran Moore are coming in to fill out the playmakers in Edmonton that Jones loves. Lewis is my top receiver in the league. Dunbar was someone I pegged for a breakout year last year and I’ve had an eye on Moore to be consistent 1,000-yard calibre receiver, however, a knee injury in 2021 derailed that for him. Taylor Cornelius‘ ability to extend plays will only give these dynamic players time to find open field.
3 – A refreshed defensive line. After losing a few defensive linemen the last few years in Kwaku Boateng, Mathieu Betts and Almondo Sewell, Jones has added A.C. Leonard, re-signed Jake Ceresna and he brought in Avery Ellis mid-season last year. If Leonard is fully healthy, he is lined up for a big return to All-Star status. Avery Ellis has been a consistent rusher but had his best year split between Montreal and Edmonton last year. Then there is Jake Ceresna, who is one of my most under-rated defensive linemen in the CFL.
1 – Trevor Harris. That’s it. That’s the tweet. Harris fits with what the Riders need. A veteran who is ready to handle the heat in Saskatchewan. He’s already been open about taking on the pressure in the fishbowl in Saskatchewan. But, Harris is consistent, he’s accurate and with his quick release can really do wonders for an offensive line that struggled to protect the quarterback. With Harris’ ability to get rid of the ball quickly, he’ll improve the offensive line all by himself.
2 – Digging the trenches. General manager Jeremy O’Day’s priority was in the trenches and he was able to solidify the group with Peter Godber and Philip Blake. He and his assistants have also loaded up on American tackles to have an intense training camp battle to win the starting jobs to lock down the edges along the offensive line. On the defensive line, I have pegged Stefen Banks as a breakout candidate in 2023 off the edge. Micah Johnson will free up Anthony Lanier II to create havoc, while Pete Robertson was phenomenal last year until an injury stalled his production.
3 – New offence, new ideas. I’m fascinated with Kelly Jeffrey as the new offensive coordinator in Riderville. He has an extensive coaching background and his group of running backs consistently were the bright spot of the Riders’ offence last year. With the promotion, Jeffrey comes in with a reputation of being a great teacher and communicator. There was definitely no star power by promoting Jeffrey but it’s not like hiring the big name coordinator in Jason Maas worked out well for head coach Craig Dickenson.
1 – The new boss. Bob Dyce as head coach is similar to Jeffrey in Saskatchewan. The reputation and respect will go a long way to allow Dyce to continue to implement the type of team he wants. I also liked his hires this off-season with Khari Jones and Barron Miles. While Dyce has been around the league a long time, it is his first full season to be the man in charge or running the whole show. Having two extremely experienced coordinators will go a long way.
2 – Motivated Masoli. Yes, Ottawa didn’t win a game with Masoli behind centre before his injury but the REDBLACKS clearly took to their new franchise guy last season as showcased on the team’s Behind the R series. Masoli is still one of only three quarterbacks currently in the CFL who can say they’ve thrown for over 5,000 yards and last year was on pace for over 4,500 yards if you average out his production for a full 18-games. Masoli is my long shot choice to potential have a M.O.P. season.
3 – Capital defence. Lorenzo Mauldin, Patrick Levels, Money Hunter return and the team adds Cariel Brooks and Jovan Santos-Knox to the mix. Add to that Barron Miles as coordinator and I think Ottawa will have a much better time getting their offence back on the field than they did last year.