The Canadian Press
The Argonauts surprised the league by capturing the Grey Cup in 2022, but a tumultuous off-season around the CFL leaves the Double Blue with a revamped East Division locked in on denying them the opportunity to defend the Cup come November 19 in Hamilton.
2022 Record: 8-10-0, Lost in Eastern Semi-Final
New Faces: QB Bo Levi Mitchell, WR Duke Williams, RB James Butler, DE Kwaku Boateng, WR Richie Sindani, RB Trey Ragas
Quarterback: The addition of Mitchell, who signed with the Ticats after Hamilton traded for the iconic Stampeders pivot, breathes new life into the franchise’s bid to snap their 23-year Grey Cup drought, especially with this year’s title game being played at Tim Hortons Field. Mitchell brings a 90-25-2 career record along with a pair of Grey Cup titles to the position but also comes off two less-than-stellar seasons that led Calgary to bench him last year in favour of Jake Maier. Backup Matthew Shiltz started four games in 2022, completing 71.4% of his passes with four majors and a rushing score.
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Running Back: After struggling to find a lead back, the Ticats went out and grabbed Butler from the Lions after he rushed for a career-high 1,060 yards and seven majors on a league-best 210 carries. Only Ottawa had a lower yards per carry average (4.5) than Hamilton (4.8), which should change with the addition of Butler, who averaged 5.0 yards per tote. With veteran Sean Thomas Erlington opening the season on the six-game injured list, Ragas, who starred at Louisiana-Lafayette, will likely serve as the backup to Butler, although National Keon Edwards will make a bid for touches.
Receivers: Tim White earned East All-Star honours a second straight year after leading the league with 94 receptions on a CFL-best 145 targets despite the challenges the Ticats faced at pivot. He gets a huge boost with the addition of former CFL All-Star Williams, who was limited to just eight games in an injury-plagued 2022 with the Roughriders. A healthy Williams gives Hamilton a potential game-altering presence deep downfield. The sure-handed Sindani arrives from Calgary to give Mitchell a familiar target, while holdover Tyler Ternowski adds quality options to the position. Former Elk Chris Osei-Kusi could emerge as a factor.
Defence: DE Ja’Gared Davis returns to Hamilton after spending last season with the Grey Cup winning Argos and is joined by former Stampeders LB Jameer Thurman. DE Malik Carney comes off a season where he had seven sacks, while DB Tunde Adeleke (68 tackles) anchors the secondary.
Fantasy Nugget: The additions of Butler, Mitchell, Sindani and Williams will go a long way toward bringing some big play spark to an offence that managed just 32 ‘Big Plays’ last season, ranking them sixth in the CFL.
2022 Record: 9-9-0, lost in East Final
New Faces: QB Cody Fajardo, WR Greg Ellingson, QB Caleb Evans, WR Jake Harty, FB James Tuck
Quarterback: Out goes Trevor Harris (Saskatchewan). In comes Fajardo, who is reunited with former Riders offensive coordinator Jason Maas, who is now the head coach in Montreal. Fajardo looks to revive his career following a 2022 season where a porous offensive line and a spate of injuries resulted in him being sacked a league-high 61 times. The Als are hoping his strong arm can stretch defences and open the door for a running attack that Fajardo (22 rushing majors the past three seasons) will also contribute to. Backup Evans had flashes of brilliance in his two seasons in Ottawa and could be an exciting element to the offence if needed.
Running Back: The Als’ season was altered sharply when William Stanback was injured in the regular season opener, leading to him missing 14 games. He’s healthy, which means there’s not a back in the CFL who can rival his combination of speed and power. Stanback, who sports a career 6.0 yards per carry, could flirt with a 1,500-yard season if he’s atop the depth chart each week. Backup Walter Fletcher averaged 12 yards per catch and will see considerable action. Jeshrun Antwi adds quality depth behind Stanback and Fletcher.
Receivers: Ouch. The Als lost All-Star Eugene Lewis to the Elks and Jake Wieneke to the Roughriders, costing them 136 receptions and 1,892 yards. Although the addition of Ellingson (38-598-3 with the Blue Bombers) brings some relief, the offence will turn to Nationals Kaion Julien-Grant and Tyson Philpot to become the focus of the passing attack. Julien-Grant had five receptions of better than 30 yards last season while Philpot amassed 285 yards after the catch. Cole Spieker showed promise, and while Chandler Worthy offers experience, the Alouettes are counting on him more as a return specialist, where he tallied all but 38 of his 1,862 combined yards from.
Defence: Montreal fell from a league-best 49 sacks in 2021 to just 37 last season. That allowed opposing pivots to connect on a CFL-high 30 completions of better than 30 yards on the Als. However, DB Marc-Antoine Dequoy returns after leading the team with four interceptions, and LB Tyrice Beverette shared the league lead with three fumble returns.
Fantasy Nugget: “Give me 18 games…I might run for 2,000,” Stanback said at the start of training camp. For him to do so, he’d have to average 111.1 yards per game.
2022 Record: 4-14-0, missed playoffs
New Faces: LB Jovan Santos-Knox, OL Dontae Bull, OL Drew Desjarlais, RB Ante Litre
Quarterback: Jeremiah Masoli is healthy after a broken leg in Week 4 ended his (and, realistically, the REDBLACKS) season. Masoli was averaging 8.4 yards per attempt before the injury and should be able to resume a downfield attack orchestrated by new offensive coordinator Khari Jones. He may no longer be the runner he was earlier in his career, but Masoli can still generate yardage with his legs when needed. Nick Arbuckle led the league with 14 interceptions but also had a CFL-best 65.3% completion rate on pass attempts of 20+ yards. Second-year pivot Tyrie Adams has had a solid preseason and shows potential.
Running Back: The William Powell Era is over, leaving Devonte Williams and Jackson Bennett to share the touches out of the backfield. Williams ran for 454 yards in eight games before injuries ended his season, while Bennett came over from Hamilton and ran for 234 yards on 50 carries. Litre will also factor into the ground game after rushing for 241 yards and a major on 54 carries with the Elks last season.
Receivers: This is a sneaky-good receiving corps that will thrive if Masoli remains upright. Jaelon Acklin became an East Division All-Star on the strength of 75 receptions for 1,169 yards and two majors, and could see bigger numbers if Justin Hardy (39 catches in his last five games) stays healthy. The ever underrated Nate Behar (59-727-2) is a reliable intermediate target, and while Darvin Adams has departed, veterans Quan Bray and Tevaun Smith will compete to be the team’s top downfield target. The REDBLACKS will also look to find ways to get DeVonte Dedmon more involved with the offence after opposing kickers found their senses and stopped the dangerous return specialist from getting opportunities to hurt them on special teams.
Defence: Pivots beware: Lorenzo Mauldin IV is back after leading the league with 17 sacks. Fellow DL Kene Onyeka added seven sacks while DL Cleyton Laing (three sacks) chipped in to the REDBLACKS aggressive mindset. Ottawa performed attention by subtraction by adding Santos-Knox (105 defensive tackles) away from division rival Hamilton. He will join a unit that includes hard-hitting Adam Auclair. In the secondary, Monshadrik Hunter comes off a 2022 that saw him record a team-best four interceptions.
Fantasy Nugget: If you prorate Hardy’s late-season receiving binge over the course of a full season, you would be looking at a receiver with 144 receptions.
2022 Record: 11-7-0, won Grey Cup
New Faces: WR David Ungerer III, QB Cameron Dukes, QB Bryan Scott
Quarterback: With McLeod Bethel-Thompson heading to the United States Football League, the starting job falls on second-year pivot Chad Kelly, he of the 45 career pass attempts and one career start. Despite the lack of experience, Kelly checks all the boxes when it comes to succeeding in the league which includes impressive mobility (137 yards and six majors on 25 rushes). Perhaps the only concern is what happens if Kelly is lost for an extended period as neither Dukes nor Scott has ever thrown a pass in regular season action.
Running Back: This is the farewell season of Andrew Harris before he awaits his call to the Hall of Fame. Harris failed to score a touchdown and averaged a career-low 4.3 yards per carry in an injury-riddled regular season but was able to answer the bell come playoff time. The Argos have the depth to be able to pace Harris during the season as A.J. Ouellette developed into a dependable runner and an even more reliable asset as a receiver. Look for him to get his share of starts over the regular season. Javon Leake and Daniel Adeboboye will compete for the remainder of touches, although Adeboboye’s presence as a special teams ace might give Leake the slight edge.
Receivers: Kurleigh Gittens Jr. capped off a remarkable season by being named to the CFL All-Star team for the first time along with being named East Division’s Most Outstanding Canadian. He’s only scratched the surface of his potential and is clearly the Argos’ top receiving option. Markeith Ambles reeled in 72 receptions in his first season with the franchise while the steady hands of veteran DaVaris Daniels (61 catches) will make Kelly’s growth curve more smooth. Damonte Coxie averaged 14 yards per catch on his 15 receptions. Tommy Nield and Cam Phillips will also see their share of targets along with Ungerer, who caught 16 passes last season with the Tiger-Cats.
Defence: The key to Toronto’s title run was a defence that allowed just 33 offensive majors and forcing a league-high 48 turnovers. The Argos also gave up a league-low 84.1 QBR despite recording just 37 sacks. All-Star DL Shawn Oakman led the team with six sacks and plenty of help from the likes of LB Wynton McManis (team-high 88 tackles), DB DaShaun Amos (49 tackles) and DB Tarvarus McFadden(seven pass knockdowns).
Fantasy Nugget: No receiver makes things happen after the catch like Gittens, who led the CFL with 483 YAC in 2022.