Monday, April 19, 2021

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Linebackers

Our ongoing preview of the 2021 Riders moves to by far the most interesting position for the team. In 2019, we had arguably the best linebacking ground in the league. Moncrief was a league all-star at cover LB. Elimiman was a division all-star in the middle. Judge was an impact Canadian starter. All are now gone. Moncrief to the NFL, Judge to Toronto, Elimimian to retirement.

That leaves a massive hole in what was a solid defensive front in 2019. Our ability to replace those 3 positions will have a big impact on how far the Riders go in 2021.

Projected Starters: Seun Idowu, Larry Dean, Lorenzo Jerome

In the mix: Gary Johnson, Justin/Jordan Herdman-Reed, Louchiez Purifoy, LJ McCray, Micah Teitz

The Rest: DeMarquis Gates, Jacob Janke, Nakas Oneyka, Matthew Thomas, Deshaun Davis, Blair Smith, AJ Allen, Kevin Francis, Nigel Harris

The arrival of Larry Dean was extremely important. All the top defenses have a steady rock manning the middle and we needed one more than ever with a complete change of all starters here. He’s the one sure thing. Beyond that there is nothing but options and questions. I have Idowu and Jerome pencilled in but that’s based on nothing more than gut and the fact they both have game experience.

I think there are 3 viable options at Cover LB. Jerome has starting experience at the position in Calgary. It’s limited but beggars can’t be choosers at this point. The other options would be move one of Purifoy or McCray up. Both play their DB spots so well that you’d hate to move them but the need for a solid cover LB is huge. Outside shot you play Edem here but that leaves a hole at safety we can’t really fill.

At outside LB, a lot depends on the ratio. I have a feeling we are going Canadian at wide-side corner (with G Oneyka/Bouka) which would allow us to plan an American here. But if keep McCray there then you need to go Canadian with some combination of the Herdman’s and Teitz. Teitz did get a start at the spot last year and didn’t look out of place. Still “didn’t look out of place” is a far cry from fulltime starter.  

Note: I get the anger over losing Judge but I’m pretty OK with how O’Day handled it. He was in a no win situation. When free agency opened we didn’t not know if Judge was coming back. So O’Day either had to wait and risk getting nothing (which you all would have vilified him for) or move on and use the money to get what he could for sure (which you are vilifying him for). Even if we had waited, I’m not convinced we would have kept Judge. Maybe, but if I’m a GM I take the sure thing (like using the money to get Micah, Dean and E Johnson) rather than risk having money and nothing to spend it on but another ivory back scratcher.

Of the Americans we got a mixture of prospects. Idowu played 15 games for us in 2019. Johnson spent the year on the PR and dressed in 3 games. Thomas and Harris both have a few games of NFL experience. Gates just seems like a guy looking to play football as he has played in the NFL, XFL and AAFL over the past couple years. Davis (who is confusingly is not the DeShawn Davis we had last season) was a 6th Rd NFL pick.

We do have a number of solid Canadian special teamers like Kevin Francis, Blair Smith and Nakas Oneyka. How/if they fit into the roster remains to be seen.  

Prophet’s Players to Watch: Gary Johnson. The Riders are very high on him. He dressed in 2 regular season games and the playoff game. He’s just 24 and will have a huge leg up this time having spent all of last year with the team. Look for him to push for a starting spot.

Wild Possibility (something that may not be likely to happen but is not outside the realm of possibility): I see this a group with bi-polar potential. Chances are equally good that the combo of a new weakside LB, Larry Dean and McCray/Jerome/Purifoy make this a rock solid group that remains among the best the division. There is honestly equal chances that outside of Dean, this group struggles and is the achilles heel of an otherwise solid defense.

Monday, April 12, 2021

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Defensive Line

We move now to the defensive side of the ball as we continue our preview of the 2021 Riders. I guess I could have written about the Global Draft that’s happening this Thursday (the Riders pick 5th incidentally) but it would have been the world’s shortest preview. Something like this: I know nothing of about the prospects nor who the Riders are targeting.

So I’ll stick to what I actually know.

Projected Starters: AC Leonard, Micah Johnson, Charbel Dabire, Freddie Bishop

In the mix: Chad Geter, Mak Henry

The Rest: Mathieu Breton, Sterling Shippy, Corey Thomas, Demetrius Harris, Jordan Reaves, Markus Jones, Keion Adams, Pete Robertson, Garrett Marino, Trenton Thompson, Tim Williams, Anthony Lanier, Chris Livings

Its been a bit of a roller coaster for the status of our front 4 since our last game in 2019. We lost Micah but he came back. We thought we were keeping Charleston but he left. And we mercifully decided that maybe Zach Evans’ best days are behind him. I do like the pairing of Leonard and Bishop. Leonard has 5 sacks or more in 4 straight seasons and Bishop had an 11 sack season before going to the NFL and 6 last season playing on a not very good Argo DL. But I was still worried about them until we added Micah back. He’s a game changer and should allow those 2 more space to work.  The stats may have been down in 2019 but the tape doesn’t lie, he was an impact player even if it didn’t translate into a ton of sacks. You’ll note that I have Dabire ahead of Mak Henry and I stand by that. Henry is a good rotation guy but is not a fulltime starter. Dabire should me enough is limited reps last season to make me believe he can play. Even if I’m wrong about his potential (I’m sure you’ll agree that’s doubtful) at worst he can be a Canadian who occupies the space beside Micah… and thus seamlessly take over for 2019 Zach Evans.

Chad Geter is a guy who does not get enough love. First and foremost, he is a key special teams player. Go back and look at how bad our coverage was at the start of 2019 and how it seemed to coincidentally improve around the time Geter returned to us from Montreal. But he also had 3 sacks in 6 games as a rotation guy. He needs to be in that D-line rotation. Henry will rotate with Dabire and Reaves will be in the mix primarily on special teams.

But what about the new recruits?

I would love for us to find a stud D-end. You pretty much have to go back to John Chick for the last time we did that. We have had good D-ends over the years but we find them on the free agent market (Jefferson, Hughes, Bishop). Mixture of guys here. Some straight from college (Harris, Livings), some who have bounced around NFL practice rosters (Jones, Adams, Robertson). Biggest name in the mix is Tim Williams, a 3rd Rd NFL pick in 2017 out of Alabama with 20 NFL games under his belt. 

The competition at D-tackle is important. Clearly Micah is the guy but it would be nice to find someone who could step in if he gets hurt or at least spell him off when he is nicked up (like he was for a chunk of 2019). Competition here in includes Thomas (the biggest of the bunch at 312), Lanier (who spent 5 seasons in the NFL), Thompson (who has time in the NFL, XFL and AAF), Marino (who I will just assume is Dan’s brother) and Shippy (who spent 2019 on our practice roster)

Prophet’s Players to Watch: At D- End I like Demetrius Harris undersized guy from a Div 2 college. We are the first pro team to let him show his stuff. At Tackle I like Sterling Shippy. He was on our neg list while he was with the Colts and spent last year learning the game.  Could be a guy who is worth the wait.

Wild Possibility (something that may not be likely to happen but is not outside the realm of possibility): Chad Geter has a breakout year and gets 8-9 sacks. Consider this, he’s just 26 and has been primarily a rotational d-end. He notched 3 sacks a rookie and 3 more in 6 games last year. While Bishop will primarily fill in for Charleston, Geter could see an increase in playing time. 

Monday, April 5, 2021

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Receivers

Not sure about you guys but I need a break from all the XFL talk. So let’s get back to talking Rider football. We’ve already previewed the O-line, QBs and RBs. So let’s finish off the offense by looking at the receivers.

Projected Starters: Shaq Evans, Kyran Moore, Jordan Williams-Lambert, Paul McRoberts, Justin McInnis.

In the mix: Carlos Henderson, Jake Harty, Brayden Lenius

The Rest: Rashad Greene, Xavier Ubosi, Randy Satterfield, Sammie Coates, Charone Peake, Demarcus Ayers, Kermit Whitfield, Kian Shaeffer-Baker, Mitch Picton, Max Zimmerman

The good news here is that we retained our top 2. Shaq Evans blossomed into a true #1 receiver/deep threat in 2019 with over 1300 yards and 5 TDs. It’s clear that Fajardo trusts him both on those short slants and on the deep bomb. Kyran Moore also took a huge step forward, coming up just 4 yards short of 1000 and notching 6 TDs. I still think there is another level to this guys’ game. Not saying he’s on par with Brandon Banks yet but the parallel’s are there.

Williams-Lambert will be the number 3 assuming he can regain anything close to the form he had in 2018 when he had 4 TDs and 700 yards. I don’t get the concern over him. He has a full year to prepare for the CFL game (instead of trying for the NFL like 2019). He’s a big bodied guy who will do well in the space created by Moore and Evans.

The 4 spot is wide open at this point and the spot to watch. I would give Paul McRoberts and Carlos Henderson (who actually suited up for one game in 2019) the edge given that they spent a year with the team. But the Riders have brought in a wide range of guys to compete. Big name guys like Sammie Coates. Literally big guys like Ubosi (6’3), Satterfield (6’3) and Peake (6’2). Speedsters like Whitfield. It will be interesting to see who wins out.

At Canadian, the biggest thing to watch is Jake Harty. We signed him in 2018 with much fanfare but his knees apparently did no share the enthusiasm for the move west as he never played a game do to injuries. He’s a guy that can have an impact on special teams and be a reliable receiver when called on… IF he’s healthy. We are still in good shape with McInnis and Lenius if not. I do feel for Mitch Picton who despite what seems like 10 years on the practice roster, seems doomed to once again not get his shot. The one thing that may be different about a Maas offense is that he’s not afraid to use Canadian WRs as just token 1 catch a game guys. Natey Adjei caught 58 passes despite competing for touches with Ellingson, Collins, Daniels and Tevaughn Smith (also a Canadian but on a different tier talent-wise than our Cdns).

Prophet’s Players to Watch: Two guys are on my radar. I normally shy away from big name NFL guys (because they tend to succeed about as often as Bart Andrus). But Sammie Coates is super intriguing to me. Pittsburgh has a pretty good history when it comes to WRs. He wasn't a big name guys there but certainly showed flashes. The other guy I’m watching is Whitfield. He was a prolific returner in college (7th all-time in NCAA history). At 5’8 he did not fit the NFL mould. The CFL has a history of being kind to undersized fast guys who do well in space.    

Wild Possibility (something that may not be likely to happen but is not outside the realm of possibility): I think there is a chance that Shaq Evans doesn’t lead the team in receiving yards and could finish as low as third. Its nothing to do with his skill. He’s still a true #1 in my opinion and our best receiver (something that 2018 me wouldn’t have fathomed being possible). But #1’s get game planned for as its no secret that slowing him down is key to slowing down our offense. Spread the ball around to Moore and JWL and Shaq’s numbers could drop.