Monday, May 31, 2021

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Dreaming of the Stands

Since the whole pandemic thing started last year, I have been actively refusing to let myself get excited about the prospects of CFL football. In 2020 those instincts served me well as anyone who was waiting on CFL football to return was like a kid waiting on their dead beat dad to return from the convenience store with cigarettes. And throughout most of this year I have kept a pretty even keel and refused to let myself get excited. Don’t get me wrong I fully expect CFL football in 2021 but for now I have ben refusing to let myself get excited until it was officially official. I realize that years of devotion to the Riders have adequately prepared me for all kinds of heartbreak but I just prefer to not go actively looking for it.

But on Saturday I allowed myself a moment of hope…

You see I’m a Canadiens fan. So in addition to faithfully watching to see if my team could add another chapter in the Maple Leafs history of failure (spoiler alert, they did), I was riveted by a sight we hadn’t witnessed in 15 months… fan at a sports game in Canada. And whether you are a Canadiens fan or have terrible choices in hockey teams (I’m kidding, at this point if you cheer for any hockey team in Canada you make terrible choices, they all have their own unique ways of disappointing you), I think we can all agree that was a sight to behold. It was only 2500 and it was loud! Cheers, jeers, excitement, disappointed Leafs fans, it had everything.

Since then I’m sure you have been connecting the dots like me. If they can have 2500 fans at an indoor game in May… then surely the odds of fans being allowed at outdoor CFL games in August have to be high. Like so high that those odds will soon be developing the munchies and trying to bum a ride to 7-11 for Doritos.

So Mosaic Stadium (which has sat deathly silent since a Fajardo pass doinked off the uprights in November of 2019) could soon be rocking once again. And I don’t think it will matter how many fans are allowed in: 10000, 5000, 2500. It will be loud. It didn’t take a sold out crowd for old Mosaic to shake with noise during the Thunder Bowl… and we have way more pent up energy than we did then.

It’s been too long since my rye fueled vocal chords screamed until I lost my voice. Too long since I blamed a section of Mosaic for a bad play on the field because they didn’t know how to shut up on offense. Too long since uttered curses towards Al Bradbury (or curse words to those cursing Andre Proulx… the man is a national treasure!). It’s suddenly not just a pipe dream… but entirely plausible. That fills me with the kind of excitement usually reserved for my wife and some questionable sections of internet (too much info, I know).

With each passing day the CFL becomes more and more likely… and I’ve missed it so much that would happily watch two bottom feeding East division teams play each other in a contest of who is more futile just to get my fix again.

Monday, May 24, 2021

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Defensive Backs

Today we conclude our positional previews for the 2021 Riders with a look at the secondary. Admittedly it has been a long a winding road to get here as I started this preview in March and the last one of these was a month ago. Words like consistency and punctuality tend to be replaced with eventually and procrastination around here. To show how serious am about this matter and my desire to resolve it I am imposing a 20% pay reduction on the writing staff here at Rider Prophet. Pay decreases will increase 10% until the matter is resolved.

On to the matter at hand.

The defensive backfield could either be the most boring or exciting battle to watch come training camp. On one hand we have all 5 starters back. Given the advantages of continuity at a position that relies heavily on them playing as a unit, the starters spots could be locked down and the only thing left to sort out is the back-ups and practice roster.

On the other hand, we currently have more DBs on the roster than any other position so we will be taking a look at a lot of guys. Add in the potential to adjust the ratio by starting a Canadian at corner and the chance that some of these DBs will likely be auditioned at the vacant Cover LB spot and there could suddenly be a lot of change. 

Projected Starters: Nick Marshall, Ed Gainey, Mike Edem, Louchiez Purifoy, LJ McCray

In the Mix: Godfrey Oneyka, Elie Bouka, Blace Brown, Nelson Lokombo

The Rest: Tony Lippett, Jacob Dearborn (cdn), Zack Sanchez, AJ Hendy, Jeremy Clark, Hamp Cheevers, Deiondre Hall, DQ Thomas, Christian Campbell, Vincent Dethier (cdn), Kenneth Ackers, Damon Webb, Kentrell Brice

Lots to love about this group. Marshall and Purifoy are studs. I honestly don’t think people appreciate how good Purifoy is. I think he’s our best DB even before you factor in how good he is on returns. Edem is a solid starting Canadian. McCray emerged as an impact player in 2019. Need I remind you that we started 2019 with Solomon Means out there just wandering around aimlessly while allowing opponents to pass at will? McCray solidified that unit. Gainey is no longer the guy who put up 10 INTs in 2017 but he still routinely covers the opponents best WRs and can still hold his own… for now (this is called foreshadowing).

As mentioned, there is a chance we go Canadian at wide side CB with either Oneyka or Bouka (would require one of McCray or Purifoy bumping up to LB) but its looking more like we go with 2 Cdn WRs so I think we opt for continuity. Depth wise I think that leaves us in good shape as Bouka and Oneyka both have starting experience and Lokombo can back up multiple positions. I’m also a fan of Blace Brown. He got one start in 2019 and looked pretty good. He’s still super young too.

Prophet’s Players to Watch: Already spoke about Blace Brown who I really like. Of the new recruits, a couple I will be keeping an eye on are Tony Lippett (at 6’3 I’m just curious if he can move quick enough to cover because that kind of height would be a boost to any secondary) and Damon Webb (stellar career at Ohio St, still just 25 yrs old after a cup of coffee in the NFL).

Wild Possibility (something that may not be likely to happen but is not outside the realm of possibility): Whether it happens in training camp or during the season, it's not a certainty that Ed Gainey holds onto his starter spot. We were clearly ready to move from him this offseason and I think the only reason he’s back is that he dropped his asking price so low we couldn’t say no. There’s no denying how important Gainey has been to this defense since arriving in 2016 but DB’s tend to have a short shelf life and like Lance Frazier before him, Gainey’s stellar career could be headed for an abrupt end.

Monday, May 10, 2021

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Assessing the 2021 Draft Class

CFL Draft went down on Thursday. Its sad that our only tastes of CFL football since 2019 have been the CFL Drafts. But we are so desperate that we will certainly take it. It was certainly nice to be talking CFL football again. Many people are declaring the Riders the winners of the draft… which is kinda like declaring it the world’s greatest love making session before your pants are even off. Let’s maybe hold off on that talk until someone at least touches the field. History is littered with 1st round picks who never lived up to their hype and late round picks that unexpectedly become impact players.

I overall like what the Riders did with their picks. There wasn’t one pick that made the TSN panel give that awkward pause while they frantically think of some positive way to spin it (see Edmonton taking Nelson Cole at pick 6) so that’s generally a good sign as well.

Let’s take a look at each pick.

Round 1 – DB Nelson Lokombo

This was the logical pick. In a perfect world we wanted a D-lineman. But there were no top end DL that would be available right away. In terms of defensive players who were available right away, what’s not to love about Lokombo? He was the best defensive player in U Sports in 2019 for a reason… he’s a playmaker. He’s a guy that can immediately contribute on teams and provide depth at every position in the secondary plus SAM linebacker. And I also think he has the talent to develop into a starter in the near future. Feels a need, available day 1, talent to start at some point. Ticks all the boxes for a second overall pick.

Round 2 – WR Terrell Jana

I’m very torn on this pick and it was truthfully the one pick that I disagreed with. For me, the pick here should have been DL Mohammed Diallo (who went 2 picks later to the Ti-Cats). We had a chance to use a futures pick on a potential impact player at a position of need and passed. But while I disagree, I get it and don’t think Jana was a bad pick. He slipped further in the draft than most were expecting so using a late second round pick on the top receiver in the draft (excluding Josh Palmer obviously) is not a bad use of a pick. Jana is a talented player and as of right now we don’t have any proven Cdn receivers (just a lot of potential).

My one concern with this pick is that we don’t make it unless there is concern amongst management over 1 or more of McInnis, Lenius and Harty. Granted 2 are unproven and one is hasn’t played since 2017 due to injury but you would like to think that when you use 2 top 15 picks on WRs just 2 years ago that it’s not a position of need so soon. The upside it that this potentially allows us to start 2 Canadian WRs (the ratio flexibility O’Day has created across the board is impressive) and as a prospect there is a lot to like about Jana (not just his physical attributes but his character comes highly regarded from his college career). So I would have preferred going in a different direction but there isn’t much to criticize about this pick all things considered.

Round 3 – TE Bruno Labelle

It was later than I had expected but I do like that the Riders made a futures pick. Labelle signed an undrafted free agent deal with Arizona so we will be waiting on him for a bit. My comparison for him Patrick Lavoie (and not just because both their last names happen to start with La). Great blocker but also has decent enough hands and speed to contribute in the pass game.

Round 4 – DL Alain Cimankinda

This is the pick that intrigues me the most. I have repeatedly said we have a need at DL. Cimankinda was one of the top pass rushers in U Sports with 16.5 sacks over 3 seasons in Guelf. I’m not ready to anoint him as the next Kwaku Boateng (who in hindsight seems ridiculous to have dropped to round 5) but this is a good use of a 4th round pick. He’s athletic and showed a knack for finding the QB in college. With some time to develop as a pro he could be a contributor down the line.

Round 5 – OL Logan Bandy

Lots being made about this pick as Bandy was “a projected first”. Let me drop some truth on you, each year GMs will say that “I can’t believe they dropped this low in the draft” this of course ignores the fact that they themselves had to repeatedly pass on that player for them to drop that low. No team (Riders included) thought Bandy was worth a 4th round pick or higher so that tells you something about his perceived value. Now I’m not saying I don’t like the pick. I think this was a great use of a 5th rounder. OL depth is always important and Bandy certainly has high potential. But I just don’t buy into the notion that the Riders are the winners of the draft because they got a player in the 5th round that obviously was not viewed by anyone as among the top 37 players in the draft.

Now as a 2 time second team all-star at left tackle, I am happy to have Bandy coming into to camp. But I’m treating him like any other late round pick and not placing unfounded 1st round pick expectations on him. He has some things to work on if he wants to make the jump to the pros and hope he can.

Round 6 – DB Matt Watson

Watson is a physical DB and I wish him all the best but in a normal year a 6th round DB is in tough to make a team. With a double draft class and a potentially shortened training/preseason… I wouldn’t put great odds on his tenure being long.

Monday, May 3, 2021

Monday Morning Sentimonies: CFL Draft 2021

The CFL Draft goes down tomorrow. After watching the spectacle that is the NFL draft, it will seem like a sketchy Asian massage parlour as compered to a swanky Vegas strip joint (or so I’m told) but who cares. Anything that gets us talking about tangible football things makes me happy.

What also makes me happy is how many other people are also talking about the draft. I started this blog in 2007 and at that time I legitimately may have been the second leading media person on the CFL Draft outside of Duane Ford (which was the equivalent of being the 3rd best Manning brother at football). But these days there are a variety of podcasts and mock drafts out there. It really takes the pressure off me. I’m still convinced that no one outside Duane Forde knows anything (including most GMs) but at least others are taking interest.

The format of the draft this year is a bit different. Just 6 rounds and a snake draft format. We could also see a very different approach to the draft. Teams will essentially have a double draft class this year as the 2020 class will be coming to training camp as rookies in addition to the 2021. If I were a GM that would make me way more willing to take a risky high pick on a guy who may be in the NFL for a bit or someone who may be going back to school than in other years. It would actually be a detriment to have too many top end rookies because unless they can be day 1 starters, finding roster spots to keep all of them may be difficult. Thus guys like Chuba Hubbard, Alaric Johnson and Amen Ogbongbemiga may go higher than they otherwise would have.  

Picks: 6 picks, first selection is 2nd Overall

Potential Pipeline: DL David Oneymata (New Orleans), TE Anthony Auclair (Houston), DL Neville Gallimore (Dallas)

Current Strengths:

Heading into the season I would have put money on us taking an OL at number 2. But the free agent addition of Evan Johnson and Brett Boyko suddenly gives us solid OL depth to go with Clark, Labatte, Schram and 2020 top pick Mattland Riley. At WR we have 2019 top picks Justin McInnis and Brayden Lenius. We may have a healthy Jake Harty with Mitch Picton and Kian Schaefer-Baker for depth. We also have Awachie and LeFrance as Cdn role players. Offensively I think we are in good shape.

Defensively we have loads of potential and options. In the secondary we have Edem, Bouka, and G Oneyka (all who have CFL starts), at LB we have Tietz and the Herdman brothers. At D-line we have Dabire (who you know I am very high on) with Mak Henry who is a solid depth/rotation guy. That’s 9 guys to cover 3 Canadian spots on defense and isn’t a complete list of all our Canadians.

One thing we also have is a wealth of solid special teamers: Kevin Francis, Blair Smith, Teitz, Reaves, LeFrance, the Herdmans and the Oneykas (which sounds like the football equivalent of the Hatfields and McCoys).

Current Needs:

Defense we have quantity but not necessarily quality. Edem is an established starter who can make an impact. But with the loss of Judge we really don’t have any other players who fit that mold. Guys like Dabire, G Oneyka, Bouka and the Herdmans have potential but if I’m being honest, are more likely to be solid rather than impact starters (think reliable Mike McCullough vs. playmaker Cam Judge). So we should certainly be looking to boost our talent pool at all defensive positions focusing mostly on DL (where we are the thinnest) and LB.

The other thing I would be looking at is a Canadian RB. I know the league is largely biased against them but when you look at the success guys like Sean-Thomas Erlington, Alex Milanovic-Litre and Johnny Augustine have had when given a chance, a 4th or 5th round pick on an RB when ours is the wrong side of 30 and you have no established back-up might be worth it on the off chance you land the next Erlington.


With a #2 overall pick and a late second rounder, the goal should be to land one player who can contribute this year and one player we may need to wait a year on. Which order you do that in becomes the question. Logic says you use your #2 pick to land an impact player now and use the second rounder on a futures pick. But with so many of the top prospects heading back to school (OL Liam Dobson and Sage Doxater, DL Mohamed Diallo, Daniel Joseph, Deshawn Stevens, DB Alonzo Addae) you could make a case for securing the rights to a top end player you need to wait on at 2 and then finding a player for this year in the second round (given that we don’t have massive needs). Also with our second pick coming late I expect a run on futures players so the top ones might not be left by #17.

I tend to lean toward getting a sure thing at #2 and taking a risk in round 2. Ideally I think we target a D-lineman but with the top options all heading back to school I think any of the immediately available options (Olivier Charles-Pierre, Alain Cimankinda) would be a reach at #2. Nelson Lokombo (a familiar name in this province) would be an option if you go DB. Though they are saying this is a pretty deep draft for DBs unlike some other positions. Or Ben Hladik if you go LB. You could also just play it safe and take an OL like Logan Bandy or Pier-Oliver Lestage. When in doubt draft an OL is not a bad strategy.

In the second round I’m swinging for the fences on a defensive prospect that is either NFL bound or going back to school. If LB Amen Ogbonbemiga drops that low I think you have to take him. Other options would be DL Mohamed Diallo, DL Daniel Joseph, LB Deshawn Stevens or even OL Alaric Johnson.