February 27, 2024

Cauz: 7 defensive backs to watch in 2024

Jimmy Jeong/CFL.ca

As a position group, the free agent defensive backs are filled with so much intrigue this time of year.

We’ve seen the Toronto Argonauts and Hamilton Tiger-Cats pick each other off, the CFL leader in interceptions has switched teams and the defender with zero interceptions in 2023 is most likely to have the greatest impact in 2024.

I know I can be guilty of being quarterback obsessed, a common affliction for both football fans and media, so let’s shine a light and give some love to the players the quarterback is trying best to avoid. Here are seven defensive backs to watch in 2024.

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The under the radar story

Kerfalla Exumé, a Montreal born National, has appeared in 64 out of a possible 68 CFL games in his career, mostly on the strength of his special teams prowess. Exumé was fifth in special teams tackles last season and has amassed 63 such takedowns in his career. In a league with so much parity you win in the margins, you win with depth where a couple of positive plays from your special teams can win you a division or a playoff team.

Side note: I understand that Twitter (I’m not calling it X) is often a cesspool of negativity, narcissism, and nameless bots, but it also is a wonderful resource when used correctly. For example, I typed “Kerfalla Exumé” and this was the first Tweet that popped up.

Now that is how a rookie can find his way to play all 18 games on his new team in Toronto.

The defensive back exchange

On February 6 word got out that Jamal Peters had agreed to the always controversial QEW crossover by signing saying goodbye to BMO and hello to Barton Street.

A week later, Toronto returned fire by signing Tunde Adeleke. That’s three All-Star nods, 16 interceptions and over 120 total CFL games on the move.

These two transactions will feel personal for the respective fan bases as Peters has only played for the Argonauts in his three-year career while Adeleke has spent the past four seasons in Hamilton. In the swap, the Argonauts get a versatile safety with a Canadian passport while Hamilton gets one of the games better playmakers with 10 interceptions in his last 28 games.

The double whammy signing


The signing of Demerio Houston by the Calgary Stampeders makes complete sense considering the Stamps defence was middle of the pack with 17 interceptions.

If you get a chance to bring in an All-Star who led the league in interceptions, you find a way to get it done. But the advantages don’t end there!

Not only does Dave Dickenson strengthen his own secondary, he weakens a division opponent as well. On top of that, three of Houston’s nine career picks have come at the expense of a Calgary quarterback including twice by Jake Maier last season.

The rich getting richer signing

The 2023 BC Lions secondary produced three Division All-Stars in Emmanuel Rugamba (I know you can view him as a coverage linebacker as well), Garry Peters and T.J. Lee, who are all under contract for the coming year.

So, what does the team do? They go out and bring in multi–All-Star Ciante Evans.

Evans may not be the force he was during his peak Stampeder years, but he did finish last season with three interceptions and 25 tackles in 11 games. Maybe we shouldn’t be shocked by this acquisition as their defensive coordinator just happens to be former star defensive back, Ryan Phillips.

Wait, why hasn’t he signed somewhere yet player

At 32 years of age, I understand why teams may be hesitant to sign Robertson Daniel, but he is coming off his most productive season last year with the Toronto Argonauts.

Roberston played in more games in 2023 (11) than he did in his other two seasons combined, finishing with 55 tackles, two sacks, four interceptions and one touchdown. As an added bonus to any West Division team, Daniel did pick off the CFL leader in passing yardage Vernon Adams Jr. three times in one game.

The perfect match

After earning a nomination for the league’s Most Outstanding Defensive Player in 2023 as a Toronto Argonaut, Adarius Pickett is now a member of the Ottawa REDBLACKS (Walter Tychnowicz/CFL.ca)

No one player can turn around a team’s defensive shortcomings, but if you had to select one that could have the greatest singular impact Adarius Pickett would be on the short list of defenders.

The Ottawa REDBLACKS allowed the most passing yards, the second most passing touchdowns and allowed the highest yards per pass in 2023.

Pickett is not the sort of defensive back you leave out on an island to go step-for-step against the speediest receivers in the game. Instead, he is that “just add water” type of player that will always find a way to make any pass defence better.

I can’t wait to see what former six-time CFL All-Star defensive back now Ottawa defensive coordinator Barron Miles has planned for Pickett.

A hearty farewell

I would be remiss writing an entire piece on defensive backs without wishing Cariel Brooks all the best in the next chapter of his life. The two-time All-Star recently announced his retirement after finishing his sixth season with the Ottawa REDBLACKS but will be remembered for his five distinguished years with Hamilton.

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