The Toronto Argonauts have one week left in training camp and one week to make some difficult roster decisions before the Boatmen can officially set sail towards their regular-season opener in Calgary on Saturday, August 7th.
New Season, New Roster Rules
Under the new CBA rules for the 2021 CFL season, the Toronto Argonauts have to cut down their roster to 45 players at the end of training camp. Rosters have been reduced from 46 players to a minimum of 43 and a maximum of 45. In years past, franchises were required to carry two global players, but it’s been reduced to one this year. In 2021, CFL teams will also be allowed to have five-player taxi squads (which all clubs can access) in addition to their 12-man practice rosters. (10+2 globals, minimum 2 CDNs)
So in total, to start the regular season, the Toronto Argonauts will have 44 players on their active roster, one reserve player, and 17 players combined on their taxi/practice squad. Bringing the overall total of players accessible for Toronto to 62.
However, there’s a potential loophole where CFL teams can store extra players on their suspended list. Because there are no limits to how many players can be stored with that designation.
As training camp commenced a couple of weeks ago, Argos coach Ryan Dinwiddie mentioned the possibility of leaving the door open for players currently on the suspended list to return. Two players singled out were linebackers Nelkas Kwemo and Nick Shorthill. Both national players informed Toronto that they had personal matters to deal with and wouldn’t show up for camp. But the Argos didn’t slam the door shut entirely and haven’t ruled out the possibility of them returning at some point during the year.
From an economic standpoint, using the suspended list to store players makes sense. After all, players on these lists are not paid until they join the team. And considering the war of attrition that takes place with injuries in football throughout a long season, coupled with the uncertainty of players potentially missing time due to COVID. The suspended list can be an added roster tool for CFL teams embarking upon what will be an unprecedented regular season.
The Numbers Game And The Argonauts Ratio Flexibility
The Toronto Argonauts currently have 93 players listed on their active roster. The Argos also have 12 players on their suspended list. Players on the list, like CFL veteran DL Odell Willis, are expected back before the season starts. (Willis is away with his wife, expecting the birth of their child.) The status of other players on the list, like Cody Speller, Martavis Bryant, and Kendall Wright, is uncertain.
The Double Blue pared down their roster last week to 75, excluding noncounters (draft picks/national rookies). However, when final roster cuts arrive, noncounter rules need not apply. Nevertheless, what always applies when projecting CFL team rosters is the league’s game ratio rule.
Of the 45 players on an active CFL regular-season roster. Here is the breakdown for the league’s game ratio rules;
- Maximum of 2 QBs (no designation)
- Maximum of 20 American players
- Minimum of 21 National players
- 1 Global player
- 1 Reserve player
Of the 24 starters on a team, a minimum of seven starters must be national players. When applied to a starting roster of a team, it breaks down as follows (when using the minimum number of Canadian players):
- 1 QB
- 16 American players
- 7 starting national players
Your Best 24 Starters
There is a strategy involved when it pertains to the CFL’s game ratio rules. Particularly when it comes to filling the Canadian quota. A CFL team fields their best possible starting lineup in a perfect world by fulfilling their national requirement at a particular position, thereby leaving the options open for the best players available everywhere else. For example, some Canadian teams love to have at least three or four national players starting on their offensive line. To help fill the ratio requirement.
The ratio rules also have teams making sure that they have top-quality Canadians backing up their national starters. The idea is to guard against the inevitable possibility of injury.
As a CFL team, the last thing you want is to fill a starter role by starting a player of lesser stature, simply because of their national status. Every team in the Canadian football league is guaranteed to have 21 National players on their active roster. The key is having those twenty-one spots filled based on merit.
Of the 93 players currently on the Argos roster. Thirty-two of them are national players, 21 are guaranteed to make the roster, but what gives Toronto so much flexibility is the premium quality of its Canadian players.
Linebackers Henoc Muamba, Cameron Judge, Offensive Linemen Philip Blake, Jamal Campbell, Peter Nicastro, and Dariusz Bladek. WR’s Juwan Brescasin, Llevi Noel and Dejon Brissett, Defensive lineman Robbie Smith, and DB’s Arjen Colquhoun and Matt Boateng are all legitimate starting options, regardless of their national designation.
The Boatmen could start all of these players or more based on merit. But they can, if they choose, only start seven based on the rules.
The key to successfully handling the ratio in the CFL is putting your team in a position to field its best 24 starters regardless of national designation. The Toronto Argonauts have several quality starting options on both the National and American sides.
Toronto Argonauts Offensive Roster Projection (22)
(*-denotes projected starter, A-American players, N-National, G-Global)
- Quarterbacks (2)- *Nick Arbuckle (A) & McLeod Bethel-Thompson (A)
Players who miss the cut: Antonio Pipkin (A) and Kelly Bryant (A)
The Argos offensive coaching staff will be tempted to carry three quarterbacks on their active roster but not at the expense of other positions. Pipkin is real close to snagging a spot on the roster, but if he doesn’t land the reserve roster spot. He could start the season on the practice squad, one heartbeat away from being called into action. Bryant has value as a taxi-squad player because of his dynamic running ability, but he is very much a project.
- Running Backs/Fullbacks (4)- *John White (A), AJ Ouellette (A) ,Dion Pellerin (N) & *Declan Cross (N) (4)
Players who miss the cut: Kenneth Dixon (A), Greg McCrae (A), DJ Foster (A), Sam Baker (N) & Asnnel Robo (G)
The Argonauts’ offensive backfield would have benefitted from preseason action. Especially young players like Dion Pellerin, who is a fullback by name but has power running skills, which he displayed in Canada at the University of Waterloo. The 2020 fifth-round pick has the size the team needs (225), particularly in the red zone, and rushed for 977 yards and 11 touchdowns in his senior season. It will shock most if he makes the roster, but his status as a national player and his versatility gives him a puncher’s chance.
Foster’s late arrival and the ratio could hurt his chances. A practice squad spot, which once upon a time, NFL veteran Bishop Sankey occupied with Toronto could be in the offing. The same goes for veteran Kenneth Dixon, who at his peak as a pro, had multi-purpose skills as a runner, blocker, and receiver, but injuries and time may have caught up to him.
John White is the guy in this running back stable, but the player behind him, AJ Oullette, could be a keeper. The former first-team All-MAC player at Ohio played in three games for the Argos in 2019, starting two. Oullette made his CFL debut on October 18 in Montreal. He finished the season with 114 yards on 23 carries, adding five catches for 39 yards and his first CFL TD vs. Ottawa on October 26. In that game, he had a 36-yard run, the longest of the season for the Argos. Oullette could be a factor subbing for White in 2021.
- Wide Receivers/Slotbacks (8)– *Eric Rogers (A), *Juwan Brescasin (N), *DaVaris Daniels (A), *Ricky Collins Jr.(A), *Llevi Noel (N), Dejon Brissett (N), Terrell Sinkfield (A), & Kurleigh Gittens Jr. (N)
Players who miss the cut: Chandler Worthy (A), Rodney Smith (A), Daniel Braverman (A), Damion Jeanpiere (A), Dres Anderson (A), Nyquan Murray (A), Tommy Nield (N), Craig Rucker (A), & Jaylen Smith (A)
The Argos have six or more legitimate starting options at the top end of their receiver depth chart. Llevi Noel and Dejon Brissett are two national players who have had good camps. Noel has stood out. Either one could start alongside Brescasin to get the team close to filling its seven Canadian starting spots.
The real question with this group is who will fill up the back end of the depth chart.
Because of their experience in Canada and their background as returners, Sinkfield or Worthy could be the team’s sole kick returner. Gittens could steal a spot from one of them based on his national status.
There are some young options at receiver on the outside looking in who could sneak into the fray. Daniel Braverman has a shot because of his brief experience in Calgary with Dinwiddie and his receiving/return skills but will most likely land on the practice squad for Toronto. The returning Rodney Smith might miss the cut, but his size at 6’5 235 and experience could provide value if he sneaks his way onto the roster.
Damion Jeanpiere is one of the fastest players on the team and could be a hidden gem on the teams’ practice squad.
- Offensive Linemen (8)– *Philip Blake (N), *Peter Nicastro (N), *Jamal Campbell (N), *Dariusz Bladek (N), *Isiah Cage (A), Shane Richards (N), Terry Poole (A), & Theren Churchill (N)
Players who miss the cut: Dylan Giffen (N), Maurice Simba (N), Quinn Smith (N), Eric Starczala (N), Dejon Allen (A), Jalen Burks (A), Ben Koczwara (N), OT Brandon Smith (A) & Mojtaba Mehry (N)
Toronto could start four nationals on their offensive line in Blake, Nicastro, Campbell, and Bladek in week one. The absence of Centre Cody Speller has shaken things up on the Argos line. Nicastro could be starting in his place right out the gate.
The last couple of spots for this group could come down to versatility. Can former first-round pick Theren Churchill play some on the inside if needed? Right now, he, Dylan Giffen, and others are battling for a final roster spot.
Terry Poole is a mystery. He came over in the Alden Darby trade and, based on his resume, projects as a potential starter at left tackle, but there are no guarantees that he can assume that role.
Position flexibility will be the name of the game for the Boatmen’s offensive line depth. So veteran players like Quinn Smith can’t be dismissed because of his ability to sub at centre, guard, and even play on the defensive line.
American Dejon Allen has a ton of talent and can play guard and tackle, but the numbers game and ratio could squeeze him out.
Toronto Argonauts Special Teams Projection (2)
- Long Snapper- Jake Reinhart (N)
- Kicker/Punter- Boris Bede (A)
The player who misses the cut: Kicker Toshiki Sato (G)
One of the great benefits to Boris Bede is how much he saves the team when it comes to roster management. Bede can kick off, punt, and kick field goals all at a high level. He’s a lifesaver for teams looking to maximize their game-day roster. You could make the argument for keeping Sato on as the team’s global player, and it would make for an excellent story, but a trip to the expanded practice squad would be a decent consolation.
Toronto Argonauts Defensive Projection (21)
- Defensive Linemen (7)- *Charleston Hughes (A), *Cordarro Law (A), *Drake Nevis (A), Odell Willis (A), *Shawn Oakman (A), Robbie Smith (N), & Shane Ray (A)
Players who miss the cut: Sam Acheampong (N), Kony Ealy (A), Jhaustin Thomas (A), Dewayne Hendrix (A), Eli Harold (A), Eli Howard (A), Julian McCleod (A), Rickey Neal (A), & Ronald Ollie (A)
Arguably the most challenging position for Glen Young and his staff to make decisions is on their defensive line. The Argonauts are incredibly deep with edge rushers.
Players like Eli Harold and Kony Ealy have starting potential in Canada, but they are hard-pressed because of the numbers to make this team. Even though most CFL teams are locked into their rosters when final cuts occur, it wouldn’t be surprising to see both players claimed off of waivers. Harold, in particular, was on opposing teams’ negotiation lists and radar before he landed with the Boatmen.
It would be shocking to see the Argos cut veteran Odell Willis , but many factors are working against him. His age (36) could be one of them. The youth in the room with players like Smith and Ray could also push him out. Ultimately Willis makes it on this projection, but I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of the Argos going in a different direction or perhaps trading him to fill another need.
The defensive tackle position next to Drake Nevis is something to monitor. Shawn Oakman has had a great camp and, at his size (6’9 287), projects well into the interior. He could push for that starting role opposite Nevis. Thomas would be a surprise cut, but the ratio and the emergence of new talent might lead to his exit off the active roster.
- Linebackers (5)- *Henoc Muamba (N), *Cameron Judge (N), *Dexter McCoil (A), Trevor Hoyte (N) & Jack Cassar (N)
Players who miss the cut: Bear Woods (A), Eric Mezzalira (N), Jordan Moore (A), Reshard Cliett (A), Travis Feeney (A) & Eli Mencer (A)
Megastars Henoc Muamba and Cameron Judge will be patrolling the Middle and Weakside linebacker positions, respectively. Dexter McCoil, a jack of all trades, projects as a starting Sam backer but could slide over to the weak side or even play the Mike, these are both positions, McCoil has spent time playing in practice. McCoil can also patrol the defense at safety.
Bear Woods, a fan favorite, has a ton of experience and can be a factor on special teams, but age (34) and the ratio might work against him. Cassar and Hoyte were recent Boatmen draft picks. And playing behind Muamba and Judge would be great for their development. Having two national backups for your Canadian starters is a sound ratio strategy. Mezzalira could start the year on the injured list and be a helpful sub-option down the road.
Technically, Chris Edwards is also a part of this group at strongside linebacker and the next.
- Defensive Backs (9)- *Shaquille Richardson (A), *Crezdon Butler (A), *Arjen Coulquhoun (N), * Chris Edwards (A), *Matt Boateng (N), *Jeff Richards (A), *Robertson Daniel (A), Shamar Busby (N), & Tigie Sankoh (G)
Players who miss the cut: Josh Hagerty (N), Jamal Peters (A), Treston DeCoud (A), Tarvarus McFadden (A), Davontae Merriweather (A), Cam Glenn (A), Kadeem Satchell (A), & Andrew Soroh (A).
Chris Edwards doubles as the team’s strongside backer but he could also play some safety. The Sam position is truly an extension of the secondary. So it can fall under this category.
It looks like Crezdon Butler (Free Safety), Shaq Richardson (Boundary), and Arjen Colquhoun/Matt Boateng (field side corners) project as potential starters. Richards, Daniel, and Busby all have experience and could factor in as well.
Tigie Sankoh is a logical choice to be Toronto’s sole global player. Sankoh, Toronto’s first-round pick in the 2021 Global Draft, has the size (215lbs) to play at safety or in the box at the Sam spot. He can also provide value on special teams.
The lack of a preseason prevented many players from showing their talents during games. There are players on the outside looking in that might have forced the coaching staff’s hands if they received a more comprehensive evaluation.
Players like Tarvarus McFadden, Eli Harold, or Kony Ealy come to mind. All three have traits that fit the CFL game. Ealy can play end and tackle, while McFadden, an all-XFL player, and former Jack Tatum award winner at FSU, can play multiple positions in the secondary on a CFL defense. Eli Harold is an elite athlete, who can play defensive end, linebacker, drop into coverage and play on special teams. He has pro experience in all those areas.
CFL teams should be paying close attention to the Argos cuts at receiver and on the defensive line. Toronto is loaded in these two areas and can’t keep everyone. On the flip side, don’t be surprised if the Argos keep an eye out for any cornerbacks with CFL experience who shake free on the market. Arjen Colquhoun has been banged up in camp, and the team could use more starting experience at DB.
As for the Argos taxi/practice squad, candidates like Antonio Pipkin, Dylan Giffen, Toshiki Sato, Josh Hagerty, Sam Acheampong, Jamal Peters, Jhaustin Thomas, and some of the team’s young receivers who miss the cut, like Braverman and Jeanpiere, because of their special teams value, seem like very logical choices to stick around in Toronto. CFL teams will want to protect themselves on their offensive lines, so stocking up at the position would be a wise strategy.
It’s going to be an unprecedented season. The two year-layoff coupled with no preseason and the potential pitfalls of dealing with a pandemic for the first time will require having players ready at a moment’s notice. The season is almost here. It’s going to be a hell of a ride.
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