June 5, 2023

Fantasy Refresher: Breaking down the West Division

How the West Division is won will be determined by whether the experienced Blue Bombers have a fourth straight trip to the Grey Cup in them or if a loaded Lions passing attack is enough to finally dethrone Zach Collaros and Friends from the West throne. At the same time, the always tough Stampeders will have a say, and there’s always a chance either the Elks or Roughriders could surprise.


2022 Record: 12-6-0, Lost in West Final

New Faces: QB Dominique Davis, QB Dane Evans, WR Justin McInnis, OL Michael Couture, DL Francis Bemiy

Quarterback: Visions of Nathan Rourke restoring the roar at BC Place were erased when the star pivot chose the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars over the winter. Weep not for the Lions since Vernon Adams Jr. and his rocket arm are ready to throw to perhaps the best receiving corps in the league. Adams Jr. threw for six majors while going 4-2 as the Lions starter after Rourke was lost in midseason and has had a full offseason to further digest the offence. The team added former Ticat Dane Evans to provide quality depth and also brought in goal line specialist Dominique Davis, who finished second in the league with 13 rushing touchdowns.

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Running Back: As much as losing Rourke hurt, the loss of 1,000-yard rusher James Butler also left a dent in a ground game that finished fourth in the league with 99.7 yards per game. The team is banking on Taquan Mizzell, who is the only back on the Week 1 roster. Mizzell, who has NFL experience, spent last season on the practice squad and beat out Antonio Williams (practice squad) for the starting job.

Receivers: Even with the retirement of All-Star Bryan Burnham, this unit is still potent, led by 2022 breakout star Dominique Rhymes, who finished second in the CFL with 1,401 receiving yards to go along with 11 majors and 11 receptions of better than 30 yards. A full season with Adams could lead to even bigger numbers for Rhymes. Elusive slot Lucky Whitehead crossed the 1,000-yard mark despite missing three games and remains one of the most dangerous after the catch threats in the league. Keon Hatcher emerged as a steady intermediate threat and recorded his first 1,000-yard season in 2022. The departure of Burnham opens the door for Jevon Cottoy (50-551-3) to become more involved, while Alexander Hollins and former Roughrider McInnis give the corps even more firepower.

Defence: The Lions allowed the third fewest points per game (22.5) last season due in part to a unit that yielded a league-low 253.6 passing yards per game. DL David Menard recorded a team-best nine sacks with DL Mathieu Betts chipped in seven sacks. The line is further bolstered by Beimy, the ninth overall pick of the 2023 CFL Draft. Veteran DB Marcus Sayles (68 tackles) and LB Ben Hladik (59 tackles) are among the returning members.

Fantasy Nugget: A healthy Adams could allow the Lions to become the fifth team in league history to have four 1,000-yard receivers in one season. The 2016 REDBLACKS (Greg Ellingson, Chris Williams, Ernest Jackson, Brad Sinopoli) were the last to achieve the feat.


2022 Record: 12-6-0, lost in West Semi-Final

New Faces: LB Micah Awe, DL Julian Howsare, DL Mike Moore, QB Chris Reynolds

Quarterback: All eyes are on Jake Maier, who is now the clear starter in the wake of Bo Levi Mitchell’s departure. Maier completed 74.7% of his passes with 14 majors and sported a solid 106.6 efficiency rating last season but almost every mistake he makes will have Stamps fans longing for the presence of #19. The team plans to be run-oriented, so Maier’s numbers may not look as lofty as Mitchell’s at his apex. Tommy Stevens — who had a CFL-best 163-yard rushing effort last season — returns as the short yardage specialist after scoring nine times and averaging 5.3 yards per carry. Reynolds, a rookie from UNC-Charlotte, is the third pivot.

Running Back: The perfectly named Ka’Deem Carey put the offence on his back and was the driving force behind the team’s late season spurt to the postseason. Carey led the league with 1,088 rushing yards with 10 touchdowns and added 28 receptions for 248 yards. He had just 192 touches from scrimmage last season and is primed to put up even bigger numbers with the expected increase in workload. Dedrick Mills, who could start for several CFL teams, shined as Carey’s understudy by adding 459 yards on the ground and recorded three 100-yard games. Although Peyton Logan’s focus was on the return game, he was also a productive runner with 365 yards and three majors with a stellar 6.3 yards per carry.

WR Malik Henry finished the season with 1,023 receiving yards (stampeders.com)

Receivers: Malik Henry seized the Stamps’ WR1 status last season, earning West Division All-Star honours with 1,023 yards and eight majors. Veteran Reggie Begelton will also remain a factor in the passing attack, especially if Maier turns him more into a downfield threat and improves his 11.3 yards per catch total. Jalen Philpot has tremendous upside but will be sidelined at the beginning of the season with a hamstring injury. Tre Odoms-Dukes showed promise in limited action, and the team still has hopes the talented Luther Hakunavanhu (26-330-3) will finally tap into his skills. Keep an eye on 2020 third round pick Rysen John, a 6’7, 246-pound rookie from Simon Fraser who joined the Stamps after a flirtation with the NFL.

Defence: Losing longtime DB Jameer Thurman and DL Folarin Orimolade definitely hurts, yet the Stampeders still have one of the league’s best units. Calgary forced 46 turnovers last season while allowing just 39 offensive majors. The Stamps, who also led the CFL with a league-low 5.9 yards allowed per play, have the likes of star LB Cameron Judge (78 tackles) and budding superstar DB Titus Wall (three interceptions) anchoring a D that will keep Calgary in most games.
Fantasy Nugget: Henry ranked among league leaders with 1.12 RACR (receiving yards/air yards), a formula that determines how well a player converts air yards into receiving yards. He is set to become one of the game’s premier deep threats.


2022 Record: 4-14-0, Missed Playoffs

New Faces: WR Eugene Lewis, WR Steven Dunbar, Jr., RB Shannon Brooks, WR Kyran Moore, LB Michael Brodrique

Quarterback: Taylor Cornelius is brimming with talent, and this could be the season he puts it all together. Cornelius completed just 57.4% of his passes in 2022 with a modest 11-9 TD-INT margin, but the influx of star power at receiver should turn him into a possible fantasy darling. He’s already established himself as a dangerous runner, leading the league with a 7.1 yards per carry average while adding seven majors on the ground. The ever-gifted Tre Ford offered flashes of excitement before being injured in his rookie season and will await his opportunity to play. Kai Locksley’s athleticism resulted in him catching 17 passes for 247 yards, while Jarret Doege adds to the Elks’ wealth of young talent at pivot.

Running Back: The Elks finished third with 102.4 rushing yards per game as the arrival of Kevin Brown gave the ground attack an unexpected jolt. The newcomer from Incarnate Word finished tenth in the CFL with 486 yards on just 74 carries (6.6 yards per carry) while adding 24 receptions for 173 yards on 26 targets. Edmonton added the hard-running Brooks, who impressed throughout training camp and the preseason, to give the backfield a strong 1-2 punch.

Receivers: Don’t count on Edmonton having the league’s lowest-scoring offence again, not after the team opened the checkbook and added All-Star Lewis (CFL-best 94 catches, 1,303 yards, 10 touchdowns), East Division All-Star Dunbar (72-1,000-6) and longtime Riders wideout Moore (36-295-0) to a group that includes the explosive Dillon Mitchell, who averaged 18.2 yards per catch in just nine games. Emmanuel Arceneaux returned to the league after a two-year layoff and caught 39 passes for 513 yards. Vincent Forbes-Mombleau and Gavin Cobb will play supporting roles in the revamped receiving corps.

Defence: The Elks were lit up frequently last season, allowing a staggering 33.3 points per game, while the 68 offensive majors allowed were 18 more than eighth-place Ottawa. DL Jake Ceresna was the bright spot, putting up 10 sacks. Edmonton addressed the issue by drafting Montreal’s Brodrique with the second overall pick of the May Draft, where he will a veteran core that includes DBs Ed Gainey, Scott Hutter and Aaron Grymes along with DL A.C. Leonard.

Fantasy Nugget: Keep in mind that Mitchell had six consecutive games of at least one reception of better than 40 yards.


2021 Record: 6-12-0, lost in Grey Cup Final

New Faces: QB Trevor Harris, QB Shea Patterson, WR Derel Walker, WR Jake Wieneke

Quarterback: The Riders played Pivot Swap with the Als as Trevor Harris arrived in Saskatchewan to replace Cody Fajardo, who signed with Montreal. Harris finished third with 4,157 passing yards last season to go along with 20 passing majors and still has plenty left in the tank at age 37. He had four 300-yard games and should thrive behind a revamped offensive line that allowed a whopping 77 sacks in 2022. Both Jake Dolegala and Mason Fine saw time last season, but newcomer Patterson will likely open the season as the backup behind Harris.

Running Back: Jamal Morrow lived up to his preseason hype in the early going, but after he suffered a wrist injury that cost him eight games, the fortunes of the Roughriders were altered. He still finished with 666 yards on 125 carries (fourth in the league) and caught 43 passes for 366 yards. A 1,000-yard season is definitely in the offing if Morrow stays healthy. Frankie Hickson was named the team’s Most Outstanding Rookie by finishing sixth with 533 yards with a 6.3 yard average while also handing some return duties. Thomas Bertrand-Hudson showed enough to where the Riders parted ways with veteran Kienan LaFrance.

Tevin Jones is part of a deep group at receiver for the Riders (riderville.com)

Receivers: Kyran Moore and Duke Williams were replaced by Walker and Wieneke. The veteran showed he can still be productive last season with 874 yards and a touchdown on 65 receptions with the Elks, while Wieneke, the 2021 Most Outstanding Rookie, comes over from Montreal after enduring a sophomore slump. Kian Schaffer-Baker fell short of a 1,000-yard season but will be sidelined to start the season with an injured hip. His return will be essential toward bringing life to an offence that finished eighth in passing yards per game. Brayden Lenius is in position to have a career year. Juwan Brescacin, Tevin Jones, and Mitchell Picton offer depth, while Mario Alford put up 1,689 return yards while scoring on kickoff, punt and missed field goal returns.

Defence: A strong start was quickly diminished by the team’s late season woes. The defence gave up 26.4 points per game and allowed opposing pivots to complete 67.7% of their pass attempts. DL Charleston Hughes departed but the unit welcomes back DL Micah Johnson, who earned East Division All-Star status with the Tiger-Cats last season. The presence of LB Larry Dean and DB Nic Marshall offers hope that the D can get their act together for the team to contend for a postseason berth.

Fantasy Nugget: The Riders will have one of the league’s best deep throwers in Harris, who completed 34 of his 70 attempts (48.6%) on attempts of better than 20 yards downfield.


2022 Record: 15-3-0, Lost Grey Cup Final

New Faces: WR Kenny Lawler

Quarterback: Zach Collaros enters the season with the chance to become the first player since Doug Flutie to win three straight Most Outstanding Player awards. Still at the apex of his career, Collaros tossed a league-high 37 touchdown passes and finished second with 4,183 yards. Protected by the league’s best offensive line, there’s no reason not to think Collaros will put up fantasy-friendly numbers on a weekly basis. Backup Dakota Prukop left for the United States Football League, leaving Dru Brown and newcomer Tyrell Pigrome as the backups.

Running Back: There was no letdown after Andrew Harris left Winnipeg as Brady Oliveria settled into the role and rushed for 1,001 yards on 202 carries. His durability makes him the ideal back for the Bombers’ style of play. Johnny Augustine remains a solid complimentary backup who can start if given an opportunity to fulfill larger responsibilities.

Dalton Schoen enters his second season in the league after winning the Most Outstanding Rookie award (Christian Bender/CFL.ca)

Receivers: Lawler begins the season on the Suspended List, but Collaros still has Dalton Schoen, the 2022 Most Outstanding Rookie, as his featured target. Defences had no solution for Schoen, who led the league in receiving yards, touchdowns, yards per catch and receptions of more than 30 yards. Nic Demski comes off a West Division All-Star campaign that saw him pull 10 touchdown catches. Rasheed Bailey should see a bigger role with Greg Ellingson gone to Montreal, while the ever-reliable Drew Wolitarsky remains a factor in the passing game. Janarion Grant finished fifth in the league with 1,817 combined yards. The Bombers see upside in 6 ‘6 Carlton Agudosi and 6′ 4, 230-pounder Brendan O’Leary-Orange.

Defence: Most of the band that has stalked opposing offences the past three seasons is back, including DL Jackson Jeffcoat and Willie Jefferson, LB Adam Bighill and DB Winston Rose. The Blue Bombers topped the league in fewest points allowed per game while also limiting foes to just 327.3 yards per game.

Fantasy Nugget: Bailey quietly had a strong end to his 2022 season, catching six of his nine majors after Week 14. He’s a fantasy value play with defences focusing on stopping Schoen.

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