Monday, May 18, 2020

Monday Morning Sentimonies: The Greatest 30-39

We are back with the newest installment of the Greatest Riders by numbers. We are into the 30s this team. This is a weird set of numbers. It contains some of the greatest Riders ever and some guys I was forced to include because they were somewhat noteworthy at a number that not many were noteworthy at.
30 – Sentimentally I wanted to give this one to Jamie “The Juggernaut” Boreham. But as much as I love punters who hit like safeties, that doesn’t exactly qualify as greatness.  Have to go with DB Bruce Bennett. He sits third all-time in interceptions for the Riders and until they start counting rotations that kick returners make after getting hit by punters as an official stat, that’s good enough to lock down 30.

31 – Sean Lucas is certainly a candidate here. He played solid for a number of years at that cover LB spot. But there are a number of reasons why people would object to that. I don’t care to count those reasons but trust me. Besides, 31 more deservedly goes to WR Hugh Campbell anyway. In 1966 he hauled in 17 receiving TDs, a franchise mark that remains unchallenged to this day.

32 – Guys like Milson Jones and Terry Irvin come to mind but this one was decidedly between two very deserving RBs: Neal Hughes and Mike Saunders. Saunders sits 3rd in rushing. Hughes doesn’t have the lofty stats but was a key special team/depth guy and an important part of 2 Grey Cup championships. I’m giving the edge to RB Neal Hughes, he is part of a very select group in franchise history… he’s one of just 3 Rider players to win 2 Grey Cup rings as a player.

33 – If I don’t give this to the Canuck Truck I’ll have to endure a barrage of fans chastising me for him not being a big enough part of my blog content. So yes this goes to FB Chris Szarka. He scored 12 TDs in 2003. In his prime he could carry a pile like few others. I personally loved his 2009 season. He was running for city council and each TD he scored that season was more effective than any campaigning or door knocking.  

34 – Possibly the easiest choice in this entire series. George Reed is the definition of greatness both on and off the field. He is the #2 all-time rusher in CFL history (with 309 less than Mike Pringle). Now consider that all of Reed’s stats were amassed before the introduction of the 18 games season.

35 – The recency bias has me thinking Weldon Brown here. He was a talented defender with a Grey Cup ring though his tenure was not very long. Gotta turn back the pages of the history books for this one. DL Bill Clarke played 15 seasons for the Green and White. He was a 2 time all-star and 2 time team nominee for Most Outstanding Canadian.

36 – Another no-brainer. Clearly its Robokicker. K Dave Ridgeway is the best kicker in franchise history. While many have since been broken, in his day he set many of the CFL records in the kicking department. He also may have had a quasi-important role in the ’89 Grey Cup.

37 – Look I apologize in advance for this one. The thing is 37 is not a number that people want. It is a crappy number given to training camp guys and practice roster players who hope one day to be good enough to merit an upgrade to an actual good number. So it wasn’t just slim pickings at this number, it was next to no pickings. The best I could honestly find was DL Terrence Melton.

38 – I am partial to Tristan Jackson who was a solid DB and even better kick returner. Lamar McGriggs also came up in my research. This one has to go to LB George White.

39 – I waffled on this one for a while. Names like Chris McKenzie and Dave Albright are options. But I think I have to go to DL Charleston Hughes. I realize that his best years were as a Stampeder and he has only been here 2 years but he is one of the best pass rushers in league history. Also ask yourself when the last time a Rider lead the league in sacks in consecutive years?

Monday, May 11, 2020

Monday Morning Sentimonies: The Greatest 20-29

After a brief pause to talk about the draft, we return to our look at the best Roughriders by numbers. It’s certainly a more uplifting talk than the increasingly unlikely CFL season and the financial woes of the CFL (I keep telling you, run a telethon, they work).

The 20’s were a set of numbers that were very bipolar. It contained some of the easiest choices possible and some choices that made me die a little inside.

20 – Ken McEachern would be worthy candidate here but I’m going with a more recent player. If you look in the Rider rushing records you will find one name consistently after George Reed. RB Wes Cates. In 2007 we needed a replacement for Kenton Keith and Cates stepped in and solidified the spot. He was one of those prototypical 3 way players: solid runner, receiver and blocker. We shouldn’t also forget that in the 2007 Grey Cup he played on a broken foot that he had frozen.  

21 – There’s obviously some sentimental love for hometown product Paul Woldu. On a personal note I liked Rontarius Robinson, though it’s tough to classify him as a great. As much as I don’t want to do this this one does have to go to RB Al Ford. Say what you want about Al Ford the GM (and I’m sure many of us have) but as a player Ford was a swiss army knife. He could play multiple positions and fill multiple roles.

22 – This number was surprisingly depressing to look into. The first player that came to mind was Stu Foord but I was sure there would be someone better as I looked back further. After uncovering names like Bart Hull (as in the brother of Brett Hull), Dylan Ching and Sedrick Shaw, I came to the unfortunate conclusion that RB Stu Foord is the guy. I have nothing against Foord. His jump from the Thunder to the Riders is a great story. But for a guy with less than 500 career yards to be the best is a bit sad. My favourite Stu Foord story is how a big reason he made the team in 2008 was because Quentin Griffin pulled himself in the final preseason game and refused to play. Griffin was cut at the airport. Foord went on to evidently be the greatest 22 to date.

23 – Clearly the easiest decision on the list. I’m pretty sure that even suggesting anyone but the Little General is the best 23 is a capital offense in Saskatchewan punishable by revoking of your season tickets and a lifetime ban from Wisers, Watermelons and the Coop. QB Ron Lancaster is Rider royalty. He is the greatest QB in franchise history and along with George Reed, the best player in the history of the franchise and a huge reason that the Riders are the team they are today. His career stats are made even more amazing by the fact that he did them all in an era where smoking on the sidelines and in the locker room was common practice.

24 – Some good options here. Recent fans will remember Tad Kornegay throwing up the X as he ran out of the tunnel. Older fans may point to Ventson Donelson. I’m going with another memorable defender: LB Jackie Mitchell. Always like him as an LB and I think every Rider will remember that time he almost killed Dave Dickenson.

25 – This is a player before my time but I think it’s telling that he’s on my radar in spite of that. When you think of rushing in the 60s obviously you think of George Reed. But from 63-67 he shared the backfield with another talented back: RB Ed Buchanan. What sold me on this one was that I recently read George Reed’s autobiography and he spoke glowingly of Buchanan’s talent and impact on the Rider offense. When one of the greatest to ever do it gives praise that carries a lot of weight for me.

26 – This was another surprisingly depressing number to research. Scott Gordon was the first name that popped into my head but I was adamant that there had to be someone one better. I mean Gordon was an adequate at best safety who could deliver a big hit from time to time but there may not have been a less effective safety blitzer than him. So I scoured and I scoured but nothing better came up. That was until DB Larry Dumelie. Statistically he’s actually about on par with Gordon but I’m giving him the edge a) as a local product and b) as I refuse to give it to Scott Gordon.

27 – I can already hear you grumbling but there is no debate that this has to go to DB Glen Suitor. He’s the franchise leader in interceptions (and up there on the all-time CFL list). I know some people don’t care for him as a broadcaster but that doesn’t diminish his impact on the field. The only thing I find weird is that despite being one of the best DBs in franchise history there are only 2 things that people will remember of him off the top of their head. The fact that he held for “the kick”. And that one time he took a stupid penalty that cost us a game. Seriously, name another Suitor moment off the top of your head.

28 – I was tempted to give this Craig Butler purely for the time he almost decapitated Buck Pierce (between that and the Mitchell hit, I had a fun time researching this post). I know not everyone will agree with this but for me, the best 28 has to be RB Kenton Keith. I know he is a controversial figure (mainly for off field stuff) but on the field this franchise have not had many players with his ability to change a game on any given play. He was electric. Go back and watch any west-semi final during the Danny Barrett era if you to be reminded how good Keith was. Just don’t subject yourself to the West Finals that followed. Barret era playoff football was a maddening repetition of KK dominating the semi and then in the final teams would game plan around him and we had no ability to adjust and quite frankly always seemed shocked that they did.

29 – Ending the 20s with another super easy selection. Hands down the best halfback to suit up for the Riders was DB Eddie Davis. His job day in day out was to cover the best receiver on the field and he routinely did his job so well that his name was rarely mentioned in the game. His arrival from Calgary was integral in the development of the defense of the early 2000’s that became so dominant. What is most amazing about Davis was his longevity. DBs tend to have a very short lifespan. Davis played at the highest level in the most difficult position for 14 years. Bonus points for having spent one year as a Birmingham Barracuda. 

Monday, May 4, 2020

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Assessing The CFL Draft

Thursday we got our first (and possibly only) taste of the CFL in the form of the Canadian draft. As a sign of just how starved we are for sports that are not just re-runs, TSN set record numbers for people tuning into the draft… despite the fact that the large majority of viewers couldn’t tell you the first thing about any of the prospects (and were no less outraged when their team didn’t pick that other guy they knew nothing about but recognized his name). So let’s take a look at who the Riders picked and how their fared in the draft.

A couple things, first given that the Riders only had 1 pick in the top 30 you really can’t say they had a great draft. They got one solid prospect and a bunch of maybes. Anyone at this point who is raving about our draft class is looking through the world through heavily green tinted glasses. I think O’Day did alright given the picks we had but in absolute terms the lack of top end picks makes this a weaker draft class for us. Also, in fairness, when assessing this draft class you need to include OL Jake Bennett as part of the assessment. He is essentially our 3rd round pick after we selected him last year in the supplemental draft.

OK to the picks

Round 1 – Pick 7 – OL Mattland Riley
The Riders went with a hometown hoggie to open the draft, grabbing Riley who is from Melfort and played at the U of S. I like this pick. I don’t think Riley has the highest ceiling of the OL that were available but I think this is a solid, safe pick. If we had a re-do of 2016 do you think we’d draft for potential or someone who is a safer bet to become a regular contributor? We’ve also had pretty good success with O-linemen from Saskatchewan universities.  He’s probably not a guy destined to win Lineman of the Year but I could see him becoming a solid starter and solid Canadian OL Depth is the lifeblood of a successful team.

What I also like is the overall youth movement in the OL. Last year our line was old: Blake (34), Labatte (33), Clark (31), Coleman (34). Clark and Labatte remain but young guys like Shepley, and Cofield are stepping in and our depth guys like Schram, Bennett and now Riley (and to a far lesser extent St John) are all the right side of 30.  

Round 4 – Pick 30 – WR Kian Schaffer-Baker
This is the pick that surprised me. After taking both McInnis and Lenius last year with depth guys like Picton and Lavoie I didn’t see receiver as a big enough need as compared to other positions.  

At 6’4 he’s got size (he also has a 40 inch vertical to go with his size) and Duane Forde did a quite glowing pre-draft profile on him. I think this might be a case of a guy the Riders liked but assumed would be gone by the 4th round. I know the “I can’t believe he was still available” cliché is stupid and overused by GMs but I think that might actually be the case here given that we had no pick between 7 and 30. So certainly not a position of need but if Duane Forde likes him then I’m intrigued enough to give this pick a chance.

Round 4 – Pick 35 – LB Junior Allen
This pick was on point for me. The offseason departure of Alexander Gagne leaves a big hole on special teams. Sam Hurl is also not back and for all his criticisms he was decent on special teams. So Allen will be competing with guys like Jacob Janke (drafted in the 4th round last year) to be that next wave of Canadian special teamers

Round 5, Pick 44 – DB Vincent Dethier
Similar to Allen, Dethier is all about the search for new special teamers. I mean, yes, we do also need to build depth behind Edem at safety but this pick is much more about what Dethier can do on teams. If he shows promise in the secondary as well that is a bonus.

Round 6, Pick 53 – RB Jonathan Femi-Cole
The late rounds of the CFL draft is where you load up on your grit players. Those guys that fill unheralded but important roles in things like blocking and special teams. Femi-Cole is very much in the mold of a Kienan LaFrance, can run the ball if needed but his other skills are more of interest. O’Day noted that they liked his pass blocking which gives him a chance to compete as a fullback.

Round 7, Pick 62 – OL Jesse Lawson
O-linemen that drop this far in the draft tend to be projects that have some flaw. Either they are undersized, or slow or have poor technique. Lawson falls in to the latter category. At 6’6 he’s got size. He played tackle at Carleton but likely moves inside at the pro level. But he will need to develop a fair bit in his technique. Odds are, a lineman drafted this late never pans out but there have been instances of it happening. A guy with Lawson’s size is worth taking a chance on.

Round 8, Pick 71 – DL Neville Gallimore
Odds are we never see Gallimore north of the border. He was just draft by the Dallas Cowboys in the 3rd round. Had it not been for that Gallimore would have gone 1st overall. He’s one of the best d-linemen Canada has produced in a long time. Now some will criticize this pick saying we should have instead used it on someone who will actually come in to camp. I disagree for the following reasons:

Christopher Judge, Christopher Smith and Marc Glaude

These are the last 3 players the Riders drafted in the 8th round. What has their impact been on the Riders? Zero. So yeah using the pick on someone else might get us a body in camp, but its unlikely to ultimately add any value to the team. So we essential gave up nothing to secure the playing rights of a game changing player forever. Most likely he never plays in Canada and then we are out an 8th round pick (no different of an ending then drafting a guy we end up cutting) but in the off chance he ever comes north its huge. Think of it as a lottery ticket. It’s a way better pick then when Chris Jones used a 4th rounder on David Oneymata, you can still find value in the 4th that just isn’t there in the 8th.

For the picks they had, I thought O’Day did a good job on paper. You can’t actually assess the success of a draft class in the days following the draft (despite many people’s attempts to). We will have to see if any of these picks pan out but on paper, O’Day addressed areas of need and avoided making a pick that people can already tell is stupid.

I hope you enjoyed this brief reprieve from our CFL-less existence. It’s now back to a nothingness that I expect to last until 2021. You’re welcome for this uplifting way to start a Monday.