February 26, 2024

O’Leary: Why I like what I see with the Lions

Jamie Douglas/CFL.ca

The debate around the Way Too Early Power Rankings starts shortly after Free Agency’s biggest moves have been made. CFL.ca staffers huddle up to rank, debate and re-rank the league’s nine teams before getting as close as possible to a consensus. It’s a true reflection of democracy in action, where a majority rules and a number of compromises leaves everyone feeling squeamish on the rest of the results.

From there, the list goes out and people across the country feel their eyes go wide and hit their keyboards with opinions, revisions and re-rankings of their own. That’s what makes it fun.

CFL.ca’s Jamie Nye did just that for us last week as he pointed out everything that he thought was wrong with the Way Too Early Power Rankings.

In his revised list, he ranked the BC Lions at No. 4 and added that he could be convinced to put them even lower.

» Gas on the Fire: The way too early Power Rankings are here
» Nye: Everything that’s wrong with the Way Too Early Power Rankings
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Find out what the Lions have done in the off-season

That’s in the wake of the Lions’ loss of Mathieu Betts, who had a sensational season on the d-line, so much so that he’s now a member of the Detroit Lions. The Lions’ other notable loss was receiver Dominique Rhymes, who was released in January and subsequently returned to the Ottawa REDBLACKS, where he started his CFL career in 2017.

The following three points are my rebuttal to Nye’s rebuttal to our original rankings. I’ll leave the door open to him if he wants to re-rebut, or re-re-rebut in the future.

Change, but still strong at QB

The most important piece of the puzzle in BC isn’t going anywhere any time soon. The Lions announced last week that Vernon Adams Jr. has been extended through 2026. Adams allowed the Lions to motor ahead offensively, providing a near seamless transition from Nathan Rourke, who picked up a Most Outstanding Canadian win in his lone CFL season before venturing to the NFL.

You could argue that the Lions had the best quarterback duo in the league last season with Dane Evans backing up Adams. Evans retired and has shifted into coaching, working as a high school quarterbacks coach in his home state of Oklahoma.

Lions’ co-GMs Neil McEvoy and Rick Campbell have brought two new faces from West Division rivals in to work with Adams in 2024. Dakota Prukop comes in after spending the last two years in Winnipeg and Jake Dolegala comes over after spending the past two seasons in Saskatchewan. Prukop leaves a very successful Bombers’ environment, where he worked as their short-yardage specialist. Dolegala got some serious time last year after Trevor Harris went down with a season-ending leg injury. The six-foot-seven pivot threw for 2,641 yards, with the bulk of his work coming from Week 11 through Week 20.

What the Lions lost in Evans’ experience they gained in some intriguing youth. Dolegala and Prukop should learn a lot from Adams, who is in position to put up MOP-worthy-type numbers in 2024.

Some offensive balance


The Lions knew going into this off-season that they had a plethora of receiver talent, but also had a salary cap to navigate. Rhymes’ departure came after he was limited to 10 games in 2023, that saw him record 535 yards and six touchdowns.

Meanwhile, we saw Keon Hatcher break the 1,200 receiving yard mark, while Alexander Hollins had a breakout year, posting 1,173 yards and nine touchdowns. Add in that National receivers Justin McInnis (690 yards, five touchdowns) and Jevon Cottoy (807 yards, four touchdowns) had career seasons and the Lions knew that they could get productivity out of that quartet of players.

Rhymes could well get back to what we saw from him in 2022, when he broke the 1,400-yard mark, but the Lions know they have a strong receiving corps and players that are primed to get better as they all get another year under Jordan Maksymic’s offence with Adams.

The addition of William Stanback makes the Lions’ offence that much more intriguing. The run game lacked last year, with the Lions posting a league-worst 77.3 rushing yards per game. With some receiver injuries slowing them in the Western Final last year, the running back spot was a consistent post-game and end-of-season question for Campbell. Stanback is poised to provide the running punch that was missing. The 29-year-old helped the Montreal Alouettes to the 110th Grey Cup and had 800 yards on the ground, but is eager to get back to the form he showed earlier in his career with the Als.

A balanced offence, with a player that’s hungry to re-establish his own dominance on the ground could be a recipe for success for the Lions.

The d-line will be fine 

Pete Robertson steps into a great opportunity with the Lions, as they move forward without Mathieu Betts (Matt Smith/CFL.ca)

Betts is undoubtedly a big loss; it’s very difficult to replace a National player that gives your team an 18-sack season. When Betts inked his contract in the NFL, McEvoy and Campbell signed Pete Robertson, quickly pulling him off the Free Agent market.

Robertson may not give you a plug-and-play 18-sack replacement, but he’s a vet with three years of CFL experience in Saskatchewan. He had nine sacks and five forced fumbles in 2022 and had seven sacks and one forced fumble last year. Playing in Ryan Phillips‘ defence and with a CFL GOAT in John Bowman as the team’s d-line coach, the Lions should get a lot out of Robertson in his first season in Vancouver.

Keep in mind Sione Teuhema, who had seven sacks in 2023 is returning, as is National David Menard, who had 17 sacks over the 2021 and 2022 seasons. With Betts south of the border, we should see an increased production from those two.

Finally, it might feel like a long shot right now but Steven ‘Stove’ Richardson, is headed back to Lions’ training camp this year. He’s dealt with a pair of Achilles injuries that have kept him out of action since 2022. Just 27, Richardson will be eager to get back onto the field and pick up where he left off when he helped the Bombers to back-t0-back Grey Cup wins in 2019 and 2021. He had 38 tackles, six sacks and a forced fumble in his time there. He’d fall more in a need-to-see-it category before you could declare him a factor on the d-line, but if healthy, there’d be some opportunity for him with this team.

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