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Sunday, March 18, 2018

MULLINDER'S OFF-SEASON CFL POWER RANKINGS

By: Luc Mullinder
620 CKRM Football Analyst

If you tuned into The Sportscage’s Football Friday show with Rod Pedersen on 620 CKRM, we unveiled my CFL Power Rankings, as it stands, prior to CFL Week in Winnipeg.  If you missed it, we’ll review it here for conversation's sake.

In order to come up with a 1 through 9 ranking, I figured that we’d have to look at things from a holistic point of view so to do that, we should first rank Coaching Staffs, Offensive and Defensive units (including Coordinator scheme) and Special Teams consideration.

What is very evident about this upcoming season is that this may very well be the most competitive year in the CFL in a very long LOOOONG time, and fans shouldn’t be discouraged by where a team lands in a ranking because it’s very close all the way through.

Always remember folks, NO CHAMPIONSHIPS WILL BE EVER WON ON PAPER.  Let’s take a look...

Coaching Staffs

1. Toronto Argonauts

Rumour has it that Corey Chamblin will not be on the staff in 2018, and that is a HUGE hit, but if that same rumour is true the Argos will elevate Mike Archer, who has quite an impressive resume, to the vacated spot.  I was thinking of dropping them from the #1 spot based on this but the leadership of Marc Trestman cannot EVER be discounted, and I think the experienced Archer will have all the support and resources to succeed.  Tommy Condell at OC means the Argos won’t miss a beat offensively, he’s one of the better coaches in the CFL.  The Defending Champs sit pretty here at the one spot.

2. Saskatchewan Roughriders

No Green Goggles here; the year 1 to year 2 improvement under the Chris Jones regime is everything that one would want in a team that had to break themselves down before building back up.  Jarious Jackson getting that OC spot in BC was a hit, but the Riders recovered nicely by filling the QB coach with former NFL QB Steve Walsh who’s had an interesting coaching journey since hanging up his cleats.  The Riders upgraded their receivers coach position by filling Markus Howell’s vacated spot with Travis Moore.  All T Mo has done is produce hard working 1000 yd receivers since moving into the coaching ranks.  At the end of the day, everything runs through Jones, but this close knit crew has a huge opportunity in front of them in 2018.

3. Hamilton TiCats

I’m not sure that any team wanted to play Hamilton in the back half of the 2017 season, and all the credit needs to be given to June Jones and his ability to get the most out of his players AND coaches.  TiCat nation’s probably really excited about 2018, and they should be.  Don’t be surprised if Hamilton takes the battle for the Eastern Division down to the wire this year.  One of the biggest moves in the off season was made by Hamilton when they convinced OrlondoSteinauer to come back from killing it as DC at Fresno State University.  Adding him to a staff that features Jerry Glanville was a huge boost.

4. Ottawa RedBlacks

To be honest, this staff is in a virtual tie with the TiCats, and is pretty dang close to the Riders one as well.  The addition of Noel Thorpe puts Ottawa in the upper echelon of this league when you consider Jamie Elizondo, and Bobby Dyce running the Offense and Special Teams units respectively.  The nations capital is in such good shape in their football ops department.

5. Calgary Stampeders

Stamps fans shouldn’t be mad at this at all.  It’s just not Dave Dickenson’s time to ascend this list when you look that the HEAD COACHES in front of him.  He’ll get there though.  As long as Hufnagel’s in this organization, they’ll be alright.  After that, Devon Claybrooks might have been one of the brightest spots of 2017.  Claybrooks flat out put it on opposing teams, and considering that it was his first year at the helm of the Stamps D, folks should be saluting the results.  Mark Killam is one of the most underrated coaches in the CFL in my opinion.

6. Winnipeg Blue Bombers

Again, not a bad spot to be in when you consider the HC’s in front of Mike O’shea and his crew.  It was a disappointing finish in Manitoba last year, and there doesn’t seem like much room for excuses heading into 2018.  Paul LaPolice will be expected to continue to find ways to get the ball into the end zone with a talented roster, and Richie Hall will probably have all eyes on his defensive scheme very early on.

7. Edmonton Eskimos

I feel bad for having Jason Maas’s crew down here because they did a fantastic job of navigating the Eskimos through an unbelievable string of bad luck in 2017.  Getting the Esks to the Western Final last year was nothing short of awesome considering the injuries they were hit with.  Unfortunately, Maas’s passion for the game seemed to take control of him at points in the year, and Mike Benevides’ defensive scheme left was one of the more predictable and basic game plans out there.  Plenty of improvement to be made here, but the Esks do not lack talent, and they’re in a good spot this year.

8. BC Lions

YES...I AM WELL AWARE THAT WALLY BUONO IS THE WINNINGEST COACH IN THE CFL...the reason the Lions are in at 8 is not on Wally.  The Lions have a first time coordinator in Jarious Jackson running their offensive attack, and Mark Washington hasn’t had much luck with his strategic offering.  Jeff Reinebold being brought over to run the Special Teams Unit is a move that should have been talked about a lot more.  He’ll have the return and coverage games roaring in British Columbia.

9. Montreal Alouettes

I’m a big fan of Mike Sherman being in the CFL but he’s got his work cut out for him.  His staff features Khari Jones who was let go in BC, a rookie DC in Kahlil Carter, and a Special Teams Coordinator in Mickey Donovan who comes from Usport and seems to have been a “Presidents Hire.”  It’s an uphill battle in La Belle Province.

Offensive Rankings (Players and Coordinator Scheme)

1. Edmonton Eskimos

It’s going to be very interesting to see how the absence of Carson Walsh affect this unit, but Jason Maas the OC, separates himself from Jason Maas the HC here.  The Esks finished in the top 3 in nearly every offensive catagory last year and despite some losses, there’s quite a bit of talent on this roster.  Oh yeah...they’ve also got the best player in the CFL running their O in Mike Reilly.  Keep an eye on the vacancy left by D’Anthony Batiste, but be confident that Coach Mike Gibson can get the best out of this unit at the end of the day.

2. Winnipeg Blue Bombers

Bold Prediction:  Matt Nichols makes a run at the Most Outstanding Player Award in 2018.
Adding NicDemski and Adarius Bowman to a crew that features one of the best all-around weapons in the CFL (Andrew Harris) and budding superstar Darvin Adams is trouble.  Throw in Weston Dressler and solid Oline work, it looks like Paul LaPolice has everything he needs to have this unit at the top of the league.

3. Saskatchewan Roughriders

The receiving corps in Saskatchewan is a beast, and with the addition of Zach Collaros, this crew may be in for some big things if the Oline holds up and Collaros gets back to where everyone knows he can be.  Watch for Caleb Holley this year folks.  88’s on the verge of a breakout.  The run game is solid with Cameron Marshall and Jerome Messam toting the rock, and it will need to be.  This is an Offense that needs success on the ground in order to flourish.

4. Toronto Argonauts

The Argos have their future franchise QB in James Franklin, and a first ballot Hall of Fame QB taking the lead, in Ricky Ray.  Marc Trestman and Tommy Condell have so many resources to work with, including James Wilder who they’ve committed to for the next couple of years.  TROUBLE.

5. Calgary

The reason why I’ve got Calgary here at 5 is because for the first time in about 14 years the Stampeders don’t head into camp with a lead POWER BACK.  Don’t kid yourself folks, as impressive as the Stamps attack is, they’re success has ALWAYS been rooted with dependable power guys like Joffrey Reynolds, Jon Cornish, and Jerome Messam.  That may be a concern heading into training camp.  Other than that, however, you have Bo Levi-Mitchell, a plethora of game changing pass catchers, and an always solid Offensive Line.  Yes, the retirement of RT Dan Federkeil raises some questions, but with John Hufnagels ability to find players, one should always be confident in any plan the Stampeders make moving forward.

6. Ottawa

Team’s ranked 6 through 9 all have QB questions in my opinion.  Luckily for Ottawa, the RedBlacks questions aren’t as concerning as the others. One does hear the questions starting to get louder about the ability (and mentality) of Trevor Harris to get his team back to the promised land.  Harris has the players around him to get it done, and OC Jamie Elizondo’s going to get the right calls in so all eyes turn to the Oline and Harris’ ability to maintain consistency throughout 2018.  I can’t wait to see the way Ottawa unrolls Dionte Spencer this year, and William Powell should keep his name in the discussion for one of the best back in the CFL.

7. Hamilton

It pains me to have the Ticats down at the 7 spot.  The main reason here is that I’m not completely sold on Jeremiah Masoli.  When June Jones took over the team, the Ticats O took off, and a large part of the reason why was due to Masoli’s play, however he also missed some crucial throws down the stretch that may have had the Ticats record being even better than what it ended up under Jones.  2018 may be the year that Masoli puts all the doubters like me in check, and I hope does because I’m on record as saying that the Tabbies have a legit shot at winning the East.

8. BC Lions

I’m excited to see how Jarious Jackson attacks defenses this year from a schematic standpoint, but it is his 1st year at the helm so we have to remain reserved.  The BC Lions need Jonathon Jennings to be who everyone think
s he is, but their biggest question is the Oline.  They have to play much better upfront in order to keep pace in a talented West Division

9. Montreal Alouettes

Far too many questions here.  Starting QB being one of them.
Defensive Rankings

1. Calgary Stampeders

The Stamps have a couple impact players in the secondary, but the rest of this unit remains a monster.  DC Devon Claybrooks heads into 2018 being able to lean on one of the best front sevens in the CFL.  Micah Johnson and Alex Singleton will set the pace, and Ja’Gared Davis may just push to lead the CFL in sacks.  2018 might see a changing of the guard in Calgary.  The Defense may be the featured aspect of the Stampeders, and I’m pretty sure they’re quite alright with that.

2. Saskatchewan Roughriders

The Green and White brought in Zack Evans and the leadership of Charleston Hughes this off season which adds to unit that is going to be expected to be continue to build on an impressive 2017.  They’ll need to find a boundary corner, and figure out which athlete they want playing middle LB but last season we saw Chris Jones pull back on his aggressive reputation a bit in order to for his scheme to fit the guys he had at his disposal.  This was refreshing to see, and may have been the main reason that the Riders bounced back after a rough start.  Plenty to be excited about with this group.

3. Toronto

If changes to the Defensive Coordinator spot are announced shortly, that won’t take away from the players that the Argos already have in house, but it may make me reconsider this spot.  Does anyone know what’s happening with the Victor Butler situation by the way???  Anyway, as it stands right now, I can’t let rumours affect the rankings.  On paper TODAY, the Argos are a premier Defense in the CFL lead by Marcus Ball and Bear Woods.

4. Hamilton Ticats

This unit doesn’t have the household names that other teams are able to feature but Hamilton has a solid secondary that’s only going to get better with more experience, and a couple studs upfront lead by Larry Dean.  Jerry Glanville is an interesting twist to this story, but again, with OrlondoSteinauer being back in Hamilton tis should be an exciting time for the fans of the Black and Gold.

5. Ottawa RedBlacks

The Defensive interior is going to be a big question in Ottawa comes training camp, but the addition of AC Leonard solidifies their End rotation.  The mitigating factor here is Noel Thorpe who has proven that he can create a Masterchef quality meal with any ingredients.

6. Winnipeg Blue Bombers

Last season I dubbed their secondary as the “Bermuda Triangle” of the CFL.  The were creating turnovers at an unbelievable clip.  Unfortunately the Bombers D had trouble keeping teams out of the end zone when it mattered.  The departure of Jamal Westerman didn’t help their cause by any means, but they did manage to sign Chandler Fenner who’s a monster.  Defensive Coordinator Richie Hall’s got his work cut out for him this year and seems to be under a considerable amount of pressure.  I’m pulling for him, and this unit because Winnipeg has all the tools to make the next step.

7. Edmonton Eskimos

All eyes on Mike Benevides and his ability to roll out a scheme that challenges the Offensive Coordinators in the CFL and pushes their creativity.  General Manager Brock Sunderland brought in some help upfront in Alex Bazzie, and made sure core guys like Johnny Adams stayed home in Free Agency.  The talent is there in Edmonton.  The scheme has to match it.

8. Montreal Alouettes

Let’s slot the Als in at the 8 spot because they have managed to revamp their secondary through Free Agency, as well as bring in Jamal Westerman to man a Defensive End spot.  Let’s hope that new Defensive Khalil Carter leans on Rich Stubler who is on the Als staff in an advisor/consultant position, because he should be an unbelievable resource for the first year DC.

9. BC Lions

One of the first things that Ed Hervey said when he took the reigns as GM in BC was that they needed to improve upfront on the O and D lines.  He was bang on, and that’s the first place that this unit will need to improve if they want to make an impact in 2018.  Mark Washington, much like Mike Benevides, will need to step up his scheme-game in order to help the Lions during Wally’s farewell tour.
AND FINALLY...The Overall Power Rankings

This is where Special Teams consideration impacted the positioning the most.  The previous 3 rankings above are what I used to compile my overall CFL Power Rankings heading into CFL Week in Winnipeg...

1. Toronto Argonauts

Marc Trestman is the main reason why the Argos are the squad to beat.  They’ve got a potent offense, with a Hall of Fame QB, and a talented Defense.  The Defending Grey Cup Champs are the number one squad until the bullets start to fly for real, and someone says otherwise.

2. Saskatchewan Roughriders

The most intriguing thing about this team in 2018 will be how they manage the expectations that are going to be heaped onto them by the rest of the CFL, not just Ridernation.  The majority of the 2017 core is still in house, they’ve got the QB they wanted, and Chris Jones’ staff seem to be primed to make the next step.

3. Calgary Stampeders

The only reason they fall below the Roughriders here is the because of the discussion around the absence of a lead POWER back.  The rest of the tools are here to win the West, and compete in the Grey Cup again.  Unlike the last two years however, things may be a lot closer at the top in 2018.

4. Edmonton Eskimos

It’s hard to imagine the injury bug hitting this team in the face again like it did last year, and one should expect growth from Head Coach Jason Maas.  Any team with Mike Reilly at the helm is a contender, that #Facts.

5. Winnipeg Blue Bombers

General Manager Kyle Walters has continued to make all the right moves in order to give Mike O’Shea and his staff the players needed to get to the Grey Cup.  The Winnipeg media is renowned for being a tough bunch, but it does seem to be entering “now or never” territory for the Bombers.

6. Ottawa RedBlacks

It’s the Special Teams Unit and Coach Bobby Dyce that give the nod in the 6 spot to the Redblacks over the Ticats.  The East is primed to be a dogfight, and Ottawa should be in it as much as anyone.

7. Hamilton Ticats

How is a team that I’m on record as saying that they’ll push to win the East, end up in 7th?  I think that Special Teams is going to be a question, and they don’t feature the roster talent that other teams do.  The coaching staff in Hamilton will be ALL THE DIFFERENCE.

8. BC Lions

Ed Hervey will have this team ready to make a title run.  2018 may not be the year, although anything is possible and there is talent on BCs roster.  They’ve got a lot of work to do in order to get there, but don’t count anyone out in the CFL.

9. Montreal Alouettes

This is the 2nd year in a row that Montreal has swung for the fences in Free Agency, and they caught some big fish.  Will it pay off with a coaching staff that seems to be randomly thrown together?  Mike Sherman seems to have walked into a tough situation.

#ProPerspective

(Follow Luc on Twitter at @lucmull95)