Fantasy Refresher: Breaking down the East

After our look at the West Division, we now focus on the four East Division teams seeking to dethrone the defending champion Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

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 along with who’s starting before setting their lineups for Week 1.

Here’s everything Fantasy players need to know.

New Faces: RB Don Jackson, WR DeVier Posey

Positional Battle: Who’s starting at quarterback? Will it be Jeremiah Masoli, who was on a 4,800-yard pace before being injured in 2019, or will it be Dane Evans, who fit right in after Masoli went down and guided the Ticats to the title game?

Will Dane Evans (right) or Jeremiah Masoli (left) be starting at QB for Hamilton on opening night? (Ticats.ca)

Quarterback: Regardless of who starts at pivot, the Ticats are set. Masoli gave the offence the added dimension with his running skills and sported a better average per attempt than Evans in 2019. Evans was, however, more efficient than Masoli when throwing the deep ball, and while he wasn’t the running threat that Masoli is, he did average a decent 4.7 yards per carry and scored three touchdowns on the ground.

Running Back: Having both Don Jackson and Sean Thomas Erlington assures the Ticats won’t have to resort to the revolving door it had in the backfield in 2019 once Thomas Erlington went down. The duo will play well off each other, as Jackson will play the role of workhorse between the tackles. At the same time, Thomas Erlington can line up in various positions and benefit from the open spaces left available by Hamilton’s receiving corps. Jackson Bennett, Maleek Irons, and Byron Marshall will compete to be the next man up should either Jackson and/or Thomas Erlington are injured.

Receivers: Brandon Banks. Enough said, right? All he did in 2019 was lead the league with 112 receptions for 1,550 yards and 13 majors to go along with recording eight 100-yard games en route to being named the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player. Running mate Bralon Addison is no slouch, either, as he pulled in 95 receptions for 1,236 yards and seven majors while earning East Division All-Star honours. There’s room for another receiver to take the pressure off Banks and Addison, with Jaelon Acklin set to build off an impressive season in 2019 (58-706-3). Posey brings his services to Hamilton and could make this unit scarier than it already is. Youngsters Marcus Davis, Tyler Ternowski, and David Ungerer III are waiting in the wings for their chance to shine.

Defence: Hamilton allowed a league-low 19.1 points per game in 2019, and while the unit was hit with the retirement of DB Delvin Breaux Sr. and the loss of DB Richard Leonard (Calgary), there’s more than enough talent for the Ticats to make another run at the Grey Cup. Simoni Lawrence will anchor the linebacking corps, with DBs Jumal Rolle, Cariel Brooks, Tunde Adeleke, and Frankie Williams comprising a solid secondary. Ja’Gared Davis and Ted Laurent will anchor the defensive front.

Fantasy Nugget: Evans attempted 21 of the league’s total 71 conversion pass attempts (29.5%). He also accounted for just more than a third of the 44 successful conversions, connecting 15 times. Keep this number in mind if Evans does indeed become the starter.

New Faces: K David Cote, K Joseph Zema

Positional Battle: Don’t underestimate the loss of K/P Boris Bede, who connected on nearly 89 percent of his field-goal attempts in 2019 while his punting helped the Als consistently win the field position game. After releasing veteran Tyler Crapigna, the race came down to the strong-legged rookie Cote, and Zema, a Global acquisition from Australia.

Quarterback: Vernon Adams Jr. comes off a thrilling 2019 that saw him lead the league with 28 passes of better than 30 yards while tossing 24 touchdowns and tying for the CFL lead with 12 rushing majors. His dual-threat skills makes him one of the game’s most exciting pivots. Adams knows how to find the end zone, evidenced by the league-best 43 touchdown drives he commanded in 2019. Veteran Matthew Shiltz isn’t as explosive as Adams, but he’s entrenched as the Als’ backup QB and has the arm strength to get the ball downfield.

Vernon Adams Jr. is looking to build on his successful 201 season this year in Montreal (MontrealAlouettes.com)

Running Back: Opposing defences will have to contend with Willam Stanback, who returns to Montreal after a brief flirtation with the NFL. Stanback helped define the Als’ big-play tendencies in 2019, finishing with 1,048 rushing yards while averaging a league-best 6.2 yards per carry. He also chipped in with 33 receptions and will go a long way toward improving the offence’s 24.9 points per game in 2019. Dominick Bragalone, NFL export Cameron Artis-Payne and nationals Colton Klassen and Jeshrun Antwi are all competing to be the immediate backup to Stanback.

Receivers: The Als’ receiving corps is sneaky good, led by Eugene Lewis, who broke out in 2019 with 72 catches for 1,133 yards and five majors while averaging nearly 16 yards per catch. The unit gets a massive boost with the return of B.J. Cunningham, but if Quan Bray and Jake Wieneke build upon their 2019 debuts, the Montreal passing game could go to another level. Kaion Julien-Grant and Chris Osei-Kusi, both 2019 draft picks, could become factors as the season goes on.

Defence: The Als gave up a CFL-high 316 passing yards per game in 2019, leading the team to add veteran Almondo Sewell to upgrade a pass rush that finished last with 27 sacks. Former NFLer Kentrell Brothers adds his skills to the linebacking corps, while Chris Ackie will rotate between linebacker and safety. How the revamped secondary develops will go a long way toward Montreal making a return to the post-season and becoming a more serious Grey Cup title threat.

Fantasy Nugget: No team dialed it up more than the Alouettes, as Adams led the league with 91 attempts of better than 20 yards in 2019, connecting on 46 with 13 leading to majors.

New Faces: RB/WR Anthony Coombs, RB Timothy Flanders, QB Matt Nichols

Positional Battle: RJ Harris is the only constant in Ottawa’s passing game, as he will fit well with Nichols. However, the rest of the receivers are a huge question mark. Obviously, someone will emerge as a reliable second option. Daniel Petermann, who is familiar with both Nichols and new head coach Paul LaPolice, served as Petermann’s offensive coordinator when the trio was in Winnipeg.

Timothy Flanders could be the lead running back in Ottawa in 2021 (OttawaREDBLACKS.com)

Quarterback: Nichols enters his ninth season and gives the REDBLACKS an accurate arm and a deep understanding of LaPolice’s offensive philosophy. The 4,442 yards and 28 TD pass version of Nichols in 2017 isn’t likely to make a return to Ottawa, but he will at least offer much more than the mere 11 passing majors the REDBLACKS managed in 2019.

Running Back: The Winnipeg connection will make itself known in the Ottawa backfield as Flanders joins his former OC in Ottawa. Flanders has averaged 5.6 yards per carry in his first three years in the league and is also a solid receiver out of the backfield. He will make the most of his first opportunity in the role of lead back. Coombs’ versatility will be valuable so long as Coombs can avoid the injury bug that has plagued him during his career. Holdover Brendan Gillanders is the only other running back on the roster.

Receivers: Dominique Rhymes is in BC, and the sure-handed Brad Sinopoli called it a career. That leaves Harris as the top option in Ottawa’s passing attack. DeVonte Dedmon and Jerminic Smith showed brief spurts of potential. Petermann will start, while Coombs will see his share of targets. Wesley Lewis and Kendall Rogers have upside and could force their way into the rotation.

Defence: The REDBLACKS finished last or next-to-last in most defensive categories in 2019. Change is in the air, as the team added LB Micah Awe, DB Don Unamba and DL Frank Beltre, Stefan Charles, Davon Coleman, and Cleyon Laing to turn the tide. First-round pick Deshawn Stevens will help at LB, and second-round selection DB Alonzo Addae will see time as a rookie.

Fantasy Nugget: The loss of Rhymes, Sinopoli, and Caleb Holley means the REDBLACKS will have to replace a combined 302 targets from 2019. That assures someone in the Ottawa receiving corps will become at least a low-end option.

New Faces: QB Nick Arbuckle, WR Juwan Brescacin, WR Martavis Bryant, WR Ricky Collins Jr., WR DaVaris Daniels, WR Eric Rogers, RB John White

Positional Battle: White recorded the first 1,000-yard season of his career in 2019 and came into camp as the projected starter. However, AJ Ouellette’s late-season effort in 2019 left a positive impression, so expect him to find the field frequently. A slow start from White will only make the desire to start Ouellette amplified.

Nick Arbuckle eyes his first season as an Argonaut (Adam Kreuger/Argonauts.ca)

Quarterback: Despite throwing a league-best 26 majors in 2019, McLeod Bethel-Thompson will give way to Nick Arbuckle, who spent 2019 guiding the Stampeders while Bo Levi Mitchell was sidelined. Arbuckle brings a running element to the position and will benefit from throwing to former Stamps teammates Daniels and Rogers. Bethel-Thompson makes for a great Plan B should Arbuckle struggle or is injured.

Running Back: White finished fourth in the league with 1,004 rushing yards in 2019. The layoff did wonders for White, but he missed the first part of camp due to pre-camp quarantine protocols. That meant that Ouellette got the opportunity to run with the first team and strengthen his chances of at least forcing a timeshare with White. Lurking behind both is former NFL-back Kenneth Dixon, whose ability to catch out of the backfield will merit some playing time at some point.

Receivers: Daniels has flirted with stardom, but injuries have kept him from playing in more than 13 games in his career. Rogers and Arbuckle established a rapport in Calgary while Mitchell was out in 2019, a season that saw Rogers catch 85 passes for 1,080 yards and 10 majors. Collins Jr. had a 1,000-yard season with Edmonton in 2019 and signed with the Argos after a brief retirement. Bryant may have the most talent of any of the 21 receivers the team opened camp with. Dejon Brissett, the team’s second-round pick in 2020, could be a difference-maker in what will be a deep unit that could explode into an elite group.

Defence: The Boatmen allowed 31.2 points per game in 2019 and were the worst against the run (118.6 yards per game in 2019). That ushered change, so Toronto added DL Charleston Hughes, Cordarro Law, and Odell Willis upfront along with DBs Robertson Daniel and former NFLer Chris Edwards to bolster the D. Henoc Muamba comes from Montreal to provide a veteran presence at linebacker.

Fantasy Nugget: Bryant, if he can get on the field, would bring a lethal presence. In his four years in the NFL with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Oakland Raiders, Bryant averaged 14.9 yards per catch and averaged a touchdown every nine times he touched the ball.

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