The Argonauts shocked the league by capturing the Gray Cup in 2022, but a tumultuous offseason surrounding the CFL leaves Double Blue with a revamped East Division denying them the chance to defend the Cup on November 19 in Hamilton.
2022 record: 8-10-0, lost in East semifinal
new faces: QB Bo Levi Mitchell, WR Duke Williams, RB James Butler, DE Kwaku Boateng, WR Richie Sindani, RB Trey Ragas
Attack player: The addition of Mitchell, who signed with the Ticats after Hamilton traded for the iconic Stampeders center, breathes new life into the franchise’s bid to end its 23-year Gray Cup drought, especially with the game by this year’s title at Tim Hortons Field. Mitchell brings a 90-25-2 career record along with a pair of Gray Cup titles to the position, but he’s also coming off two less-than-stellar seasons that led Calgary to bench him last year in favor of Jake Maier. Backup Matthew Shiltz started four games in 2022, completing 71.4% of his passes with four majors and a rushing touchdown.
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Running backwards: After struggling to find a lead rusher, the Ticats came out and grabbed Butler from the Lions after he rushed for a career-high 1,060 yards and a league-best seven majors on 210 carries. Only Ottawa had a lower average yards per carry (4.5) than Hamilton (4.8), which should change with the addition of Butler, who averaged 5.0 yards per carry. With veteran Sean Thomas Erlington opening the season on the six-game disabled list, Ragas, who excelled at Louisiana-Lafayette, will likely serve as Butler’s backup, though National Keon Edwards will make a bunt offer.
Receivers: Tim White earned East All-Star honors for the second straight year after leading the league with a CFL-best 94 receptions on 145 targets despite challenges the Ticats faced as a center. He gets a big 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 at the back of the field. Insurance Sindani arrives from Calgary to give Mitchell a familiar target, while holdover Tyler Ternowski adds quality options to the role. Former Elk Chris Osei-Kusi could emerge as a factor.
Defending: DE Ja’Gared Davis returns to Hamilton after spending last season with the Gray Cup-winning Argos and is joined by former Stampeders LB Jameer Thurman. DE Malik Carney is coming off a season in which 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 in bringing a big spark to an offense 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
Attack player: Trevor Harris (Saskatchewan) comes out. Fajardo arrives, reuniting with former Riders offensive coordinator Jason Maas, who is now the head coach in Montreal. Fajardo is looking to revive his career after a 2022 season in which a porous offensive line and a series of injuries led to him being sacked a league-high 61 times. The Als are hoping his strong arm can stretch out defenses and open the door for a running attack to which Fajardo (22 rushing majors in the past three seasons) will also contribute. Evans’ backup had flashes of brilliance in his two seasons in Ottawa and could be an exciting addition to the offense if needed.
Running backwards: The Als’ season was drastically altered when William Stanback was injured in the regular season opener, causing him to miss 14 games. He’s healthy, which means there isn’t a running back in the CFL who can compete with his combination of speed and power. Stanback, who sports a rushing 6.0 yards per carry, could flirt with a 1,500-yard season if he’s at the top of the depth chart every week. Backup Walter Fletcher averaged 12 yards per catch and will see plenty of action. Jeshrun Antwi adds quality depth behind Stanback and Fletcher.
Receivers: Oh. 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) provides some relief, the offense will turn to Nationals Kaion Julien-Grant and Tyson Philpot to become the focus of the passing attack. Julien-Grant had five receptions of 30+ yards last season, while Philpot had 285 receiving yards. Cole Spieker showed promise, and while Chandler Worthy offers experience, the Alouettes rely more on him as a return specialist, where he tallied all but 38 of his 1,862 combined yards.
Defending: 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 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 could run for 2,000,” Stanback said at the start of training camp. For him to do that, he would have to average 111.1 yards per game.
OTTAWA BLACKS REDS
2022 record: 4-14-0, lost playoffs
new faces: LB Jovan Santos-Knox, OL Dontae Bull, OL Drew Desjarlais, RB Ante Litro
Attack player: Jeremiah Masoli is healthy after a broken leg in Week 4 ended his season (and, realistically, the BLACK REDs). 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 not be the running back he was at the beginning of his career, but Masoli can still generate yardage with his legs when necessary. 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 power forward Tyrie Adams has had a solid preseason and shows potential.
Running backwards: The William Powell Era is over, leaving Devonte Williams and Jackson Bennett to share touches from the backfield. Williams rushed for 454 yards in eight games before injuries ended his season, while Bennett came over from Hamilton and rushed for 234 yards on 50 carries. Liter will also be a factor in the running game after rushing for 241 yards and a major on 54 carries with the Elks last season.
Receivers: This is a shrewd receiving corps that will thrive if Masoli stays on his feet. Jaelon Acklin became an Eastern Division All-Star thanks to 75 receptions for 1,169 yards and two big ones, and he could see bigger numbers if Justin Hardy (39 receptions in his last five games) stays healthy. The always underrated Nate Behar (59-727-2) is a reliable middle target, and while Darvin Adams is gone, veterans Quan Bray and Tevaun Smith will compete to be the team’s top target. The REDBLACKS will also be looking for ways to get DeVonte Dedmon more involved with the offense after opposing kickers came to their senses and prevented the dangerous return specialist from having opportunities to hurt them on special teams.
Defending: Pivots beware: Lorenzo Mauldin IV is back after leading the league with 17 sacks. His DL teammate Kene Onyeka added seven sacks, while DL Cleyton Laing (three sacks) added to the REDBLACKS’ aggressive mentality. Ottawa made the steal attention by adding Santos-Knox (105 defensive tackles) away from division rival Hamilton. He will join a unit that includes the hard-hitting Adam Auclair. In the secondary, Monshadrik Hunter is coming off a 2022 that saw him record a team-high four interceptions.
Fantasy Nugget: If you prorate Hardy’s late-season receiving binge over the course of a full season, you’d be looking at a receiver with 144 receptions.
2022 record: 117-0, won Gray Cup
new faces: WR David Ungerer III, QB Cameron Dukes, QB Bryan Scott
Attack player: With McLeod Bethel-Thompson heading to the United States Soccer League, the starting job falls to second-year center Chad Kelly, the one with 45 pass attempts and one career start. Despite a lack of experience, Kelly ticks all the boxes when it comes to being successful in the league, including impressive mobility (137 yards and a big six in 25 rushes). Perhaps the only concern is what happens if Kelly is missing for an extended period, since neither the Dukes nor Scott have thrown a pass in regular season action.
Running backwards: This is Andrew Harris’ farewell season before he awaits his Hall of Fame induction. Harris failed to score a touchdown and averaged a career-low 4.3 yards per carry in an injury-plagued regular season, but was able to answer the bell come playoff time. The Argos have the depth to keep up with Harris throughout the season, as AJ Ouellette developed into a reliable running back and an even more reliable asset at receiver. Look it up to get your share of starts during the regular season. Javon Leake and Daniel Adeboboye will compete for the rest of the touches, although Adeboboye’s presence as a special teams ace could give Leake a slight advantage.
Receivers: Kurleigh Gittens Jr. capped off a remarkable season by being named to the CFL All-Star team for the first time, as well as being named the Most Outstanding Canadian in the Eastern Division. He has only scratched the surface of his potential and is clearly the best receiving option for the Argos. Markeith Ambles had 72 receptions in his first season with the franchise, while the steady hands of veteran DaVaris Daniels (61 receptions) will smooth out Kelly’s growth curve. 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.
Defending: The key to Toronto’s title run was a defense that allowed just 33 offensive majors and forced 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.