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Fantasy Refresher: Breaking down the West

While every season brings some level of unknowns with it, it’s essential for Fantasy players to get up to speed on the new faces in new places in the West before setting their lineups for Week 1.

Since the Grey Cup champions hail from the West, it’s only natural that we begin there.

New Faces: RB Shaq Cooper, RB Chris Rainey, WR Dominique Rhymes, WR Lucky Whitehead.

Positional Battle: WR Bryan Burnham will continue to be a Fantasy monster following his stellar 2019 campaign. The battle will be who becomes the WR2 in BC. Both Lemar Durant and Shaq Johnson were bright lights in a dismal season. Still, the addition of Rhymes from the REDBLACKS gives QB Michael Reilly another downfield option to help improve a passing attack that ranked a disappointing seventh in yards per game (254.2).

If Michael Reilly wants to get back to his productive and winning ways, he’ll need better protection in front of him this season (Photo: BCLions.com)

Quarterback: Reilly had a frustrating 2019 that saw him lead the league with 15 interceptions while throwing only 20 passing majors. He’s not the Reilly of 2017 to 2018 but will remain a steady Fantasy option who could have one more vintage season under his belt. Nathan Rourke earned the backup role and will be the first option should Reilly, who missed two games in 2019, be forced to the sidelines again.

Running back: Shaq Cooper has just seven CFL regular-season games under his belt but has shown he’s capable of becoming a legitimate threat to snap the three-year grip that Winnipeg’s Andrew Harris has had on the league’s rushing title. Cooper will immediately upgrade a Lions ground game that averaged just 98.2 yards per game in 2019 and will also bolster his Fantasy value as a reliable receiver out of the backfield (84 per cent catch rate).

Chris Rainey returns to the Lions after a year in Toronto that saw him lead the CFL in all-purpose yardage and will continue to be a low-end Fantasy option, so long as he’s reasonably involved in the offence. Both national Jamel Lyles and American James Butler have exciting upside.

Receivers: Burnham led the league with 1,492 receiving yards and finished second in both targets (148) and receiving majors (14). Burnham also shared the league lead with eight games of at least 100 receiving yards. Lemar Durant comes off his best professional season and will thrive as Reilly benefits from an upgraded offensive line.

The same goes for Shaq Johnson, who reeled in 16 of his 21 targets over the last six games of 2019. Newcomer Rhymes has the chance to become BC’s WR2, as he caught 65 passes for 1,056 yards and five touchdowns in 2019 for an Ottawa team that struggled all season at pivot. Whitehead gives the Lions a do-all receiver who will also see snaps in the backfield while also joining Rainey as another weapon on both punt and kickoff returns. Don’t discount Jevon Cottoy, who caught 38 passes for 386 yards and a touchdown while earning a nod as the team’s Most Outstanding Rookie in 2019.

Defence: The Lions were third in net defence (325.1) and passing yards allowed (229.9) in 2019. What hurt them was an inability to get tw0-and-outs (eighth overall) and takeaways (tied for eighth). The loss of DLs Shawn Lemon and Odell Willis creates a huge void for a defence that managed only 28 sacks in 2019.

Fantasy Nugget: Burham was devastating in the red zone in 2019, catching 12 passes for 99 yards and six touchdowns, as half of Reilly’s passing scores were inside the 20.

New Faces: QB Michael O’Connor, QB Jake Maier, WR Dan Williams III,

Positional Battle: Departed WRs Reggie Begelton and Eric Rogers took a combined 187 receptions, 2,524 yards, and 20 touchdowns with them. That means QB Bo Levi Mitchell needs a new go-to target, and third-year pro Markeith Ambles and second-year standout Hergy Mayala will compete to become the Stamps’ WR1. Veteran Kamar Jorden hasn’t played a down since a devastating knee injury in the 2018 Labour Day Classic against Edmonton but could be a factor as the season develops.

Quarterback: Mitchell missed seven games last season. His 3,464 passing yards and 19 touchdowns tosses were his lowest numbers since 2014. He’s healthy, yet there will be a learning curve while he strengthens his rapport with Ambles, Mayala, Jorden, and the rest of the Stamps’ receiving corps. He’s only 2,063 passing yards away from crossing the 30,000-yard mark for his career and even in this shortened season, Mitchell is a strong bet to achieve that milestone.

Ka’Deem Carey was off to a strong start in 2019, before injuries derailed him and the Stamps’ ground game (Photo: Stampeders.com)

Running back: Much of Calgary’s offensive struggles in 2019 stemmed from a running game that ranked dead last in the league with 71.3 yards per game. The hope is that Ka’Deem Carey can remain both healthy and productive to give the unit much-needed balance. Carey was on a 1,000-yard pace before an injury wiped out his season.

The Stamps could be in similar trouble if Carey goes down. Roc Thomas is unproven, which would leave Ante Milanovic-Litre back in the same role as unexpected lead back if the team runs into injury trouble.

Receivers: Not only did Begelton and Rogers leave, but the Stamps also lost the services of Juwan Brescacin, who went 14-168-3 in the four games he played in 2019. Mayala averaged 81.5 yards per game and scored five majors in his last five games in 2019, and looks ready to take a bigger step in the offence. Ambles had 35-407-0 in nine games before being sidelined. Josh Huff provides a speed element to the unit, while Colton Hunchak and Richie Sindani will look for their share of targets. This unit could go from good to great if Jorden returns and looks like the explosive playmaker he was before his injury.

Defence: Calgary topped the league in takeaways (47) in 2021 and also led the CFL with only 20 big plays allowed. The D took many hits but anchors SAM linebacker Jamar Wall, LB Corey Greenwood, and DL Derek Wiggan assure this unit will remain among the league’s premier defences.

Fantasy nugget: Mayala had an efficiency rate of 137.0, which would have been the league’s second-highest had he qualified for the category. The highest? That belongs to fellow teammate Huff, whose 158.3 efficiency rate would have topped the CFL.

New faces: WR Armanti Edwards, WR Mike Jones, WR Derel Walker, RB James Wilder Jr., RB Terry Williams, and a new team name.

Positional battle: The Elks’ offence is set and is scary enough to echo comparisons to the explosive Edmonton lineup that captured the 2003 Grey Cup. Perhaps the biggest battle will come from who pivot Trevor Harris chooses to throw to from a receiving group that features Greg Ellingson, a returning Walker, Edwards, Jones, and Tevaun Smith.

Quarterback: One of the game’s most accurate passers, Harris completed 71.8 percent of his attempts in 2019, although his modest total of 18 passing majors was a mild disappointment. With the embarrassment of riches, he has to throw behind a line that allowed him to be sacked a mere eight times in 2019. Harris is in a position to put up numbers that will make him fantasy-friendly and a strong Most Outstanding Player candidate.

Running back: The ultra-talented Wilder looks to shake off the disappointment of his final two seasons in Toronto and rediscover the game-altering back he was during his rookie season of 2017, when he helped the Argos hoist the Grey Cup. He’s also a dangerous receiver out of the backfield, having caught 154 passes in his first three seasons.

Williams comes from the rival Stamps and will inject life in a return unit that was flat for much of 2019. Fullback Tanner Green takes over the starting role after franchise icon Calvin McCarty retired, only to return to action as a member of the Stampeders.

Derel Walker joins an already stacked Edmonton receiving corps, which should have QB Trevor Harris feeling like he’s at a buffet table this year (Photo: GoElks.com)

Receivers: Ellingson and Walker ranked first and third, respectively, in receiving yardage since 2015. Walker returns to Edmonton after spending 2019 in Toronto and will cause nightmares for opposing secondaries.

The addition of the sure-handed Edwards and the rise of Smith only bolsters the firepower the unit possesses. At the same time, Jones, who averaged 17.2 yards per catch for the Ticats in 2018, gives Harris yet another downfield option. If this unit stays healthy, they can rival Hamilton for best receiving corps in CFL status.

Defence: Despite leading the league with 56 sacks and two-and-outs (102) in 2019, Edmonton managed only 32 takeaways. To solve that issue, the Elks added East All-Star Jonathan Rose, brought back Aaron Grymes and brought in Jermaine Gabriel to strengthen the secondary. The club also boasts a d-line led by potential breakout star Kwaku Boateng, who had a combined 17 sacks in 2018 and 2019.

Fantasy nugget: The only knock on Ellingson’s Fantasy value is his lack of majors. Ellingson scored four of his touchdowns in 2019 in Weeks 2 and 10, leaving with only one major in the 14 other games he appeared in.

New Faces: WR Sammie Coates, WR Ricardo Louis

Positional Battle: Outside of Shaq Evans and Kyran Moore, the rest of the Riders’ receiving group remains in question. Jordan Williams-Lambert never found his stride in 2019 after the 2018 West Division outstanding rookie nominee departed for a stint with the NFL’s Chicago Bears, but he has looked impressive in training camp.

New additions Coates and Louis will compete for catches. Yet, if Williams-Lambert is locked in from the outside, he’ll give CFL all-star pivot Cody Fajardo a third elite-level wideout on the league’s third-highest scoring offence from 2019.

After leading the league in passing in 2019, Cody Fajardo could go to another level under offensive coordinator Jason Maas (Photo: Riderville.com)

Quarterback: Fajardo went from short-yardage specialist to all-star status in 2019, becoming only the fourth QB in franchise history to lead the league in passing yards (4,302). While his 18 touchdown passes were a modest total, he supplemented that with 10 rushing majors while finishing as the seventh-leading rusher in the league (611 yards).

As good as he was in 2019, Fajardo could be even better this season, especially if the offence displays more of an explosive side than it did in 2019 (sixth in big plays).

Running back: William Powell continued to punish defenders in 2019, finishing second in the league with 1,093 rushing yards while leading the CFL with 12 rushing touchdowns. However, Powell is 33, saw his touches reduced late in the season and could see them cut further if the team gives the promising Jamal Morrow an opportunity to contribute.

Morrow is a shifty runner and a very productive receiver who could provide the Riders ground game the big play spark it lacks with Powell. New offensive coordinator/QBs coach Jason Maas does like dependable all-around backs, so if Powell remains productive, Morrow and fellow reserves Marcus Murphy and Ralph Webb will fight for touches.

Receivers: In Evans, the Riders have the league’s best deep threat (CFL-best 18.5 yards per catch and league-high 15 catches of better than 30 yards in 2019). Evans pairs well with Moore, who fell just two yards short of the 1,000-yard mark and led all (qualified) CFL pass-catchers with a 120.3 efficiency rate.

The departure of Naaman Roosevelt leaves 116 targets available for the likes of Williams-Lambert, Coates, and Moore to compete for. Do not underplay the potential of young nationals Brayden Lenius and Justin McInnis, both of whom are in a position to break out and become steady contributors.

Defence: Saskatchewan ranked in the top-three in most defensive categories in 2019, sharing the league lead (Edmonton) with 56 sacks and topping the CFL by allowing a mere 294.4 yards per game. The unit lost all-star LB Derrick Moncrief (NFL), DL Charleston Hughes and LB Cameron Judge (Argos), and future Hall of Fame LB Solomon Elimimian retired.

However, the presence of DBs Ed Gainey and Nick Marshall, along with DL Freddie Bishop, Micah Johnson, and A.C. Leonard assures the defence will remain Grey Cup-title worthy.

Fantasy nugget: Half of Fajardo’s touchdown passes came from attempts of more than 20 yards.

New Faces: K Tyler Crapinga, WR Cam Meredith

Positional battle: With most of the cast from the 2019 Grey Cup champs returning, the most interesting positional clash centered on who would be the backup to all-star RB Andrew Harris. Johnny Augustine has shown flashes of his potential, but the club is also high on 2019 draft pick Brady Oliveria, who shined in camp before a leg injury in the team’s 2019 home opener ended his season.

Quarterback: A full training camp will enhance the play of Zach Collaros, who tossed for 851 yards and four touchdowns in the three games he started in 2019, including both playoff victories. The extra snaps and familiarity with his receivers should go a long way toward improving a passing game that was last in the league in 2019 with a mere 212.2 yards per game. Only the REDBLACKS had fewer completions of 30-plus yards than the Bombers, who managed just 18 big plays from its passing game.

If the Bombers opt to lighten Andrew Harris’ workload this season, or if Harris is injured in Week 1, Johnny Augustine could factor into fantasy rosters across the country (Photo: Bluebombers.com)

Running back: As long as Harris continues defying Father Time, the Winnipeg ground game begins and ends with him, as he bids for a fourth-straight CFL rushing title. The Bombers led the league in rushing yards per game in 2019 and will remain focused on its ball control mindset.

However, this could be the season where the offence gives Augustine more responsibility to keep the 34-year-old Harris fresh for the shortened schedule. Oliveria could also be a factor and the team likes rookie Kyle Borsa‘s upside, whose versatility could help find his way onto the field.

Receivers: The unit survived a training camp scare when Darvin Adams suffered an arm injury. Adams will be ready for Week 1 and gives the Bombers their best playmaker in the passing game. He played in just 13 games in 2019 but returned in time to be a key contributor to the success of Collaros.

Nic Demski remains a reliable short-to-intermediate threat, yet the one receiver who could break out is Kenny Lawler, who averaged 14.8 yards per catch in 2019 despite getting only 63 targets. Keep a close eye on Meredith, who showed impressive speed and hands during his time in the NFL. Rasheed Bailey and Drew Wolitarasky will also contribute to the task of improving the Bombers’ ability to strike from the skies.

Defence: The front seven returns almost intact, which means the best-run defence in the CFL in 2019 (64.2 yards per game) will be just as brutal against opposing backs. DE Willie Jefferson won the league’s Most Outstanding Defensive Player in 2019 and will continue to team up with veteran DE Jackson Jeffcoat when it comes to harassing pivots. LB Adam Bighill helps control the middle of the field, while a healthy Brandon Alexander has the chance to become a leader in the secondary.

Fantasy nugget: The Bombers aren’t flashy, but they are money once they get inside the red zone. Winnipeg led the CFL in red zone touchdown percentage in 2019 with a 62 per cent rate. With the bulk of the offence returning, there’s little reason to think that rate falls off.

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