CFL Offseason Review: BC Lions


Hey everybody, I hope everyone is doing well during these strange times!

Welcome back to another CFL offseason review! Today, we take a look at the BC Lions and evaluate where they stand going into the 2020 season.

Canada’s westernmost team had high expectations going into the 2019 season after acquiring former MOP Mike Reilly, only to falter through a tough year, going 5-13. This included going 0-10 against the West, foreshadowing that the team needed significant improvements in the 2020 offseason.

In this article, we start by sifting through the team’s offseason transactions, before examining what the team will potentially look like on the field in 2020. At the end, I give my final thoughts on how I perceive this team after their offseason changes, while giving a general forecast for this coming season.

Re-signings/Extensions

Brett Boyko (orange), at practice with the BC Lions
Credit: TheProvince.com/Richard Lam

*Per CFL.ca/transactions

  • DB Gary Peters
  • K Sergio Castillo
  • FB David Mackie*
  • LB Noah Robinson*
  • OL Brett Boyko*
  • OL Peter Godber*
  • OL Hunter Steward*
  • DB Aaron Grymes
  • DB TJ Lee
  • DL Jonathan Newsome

*Denotes National Player

There are several other players we could have highlighted in this section, but we will touch on many of them later on.

The Lions brought back a trio of starting defensive-backs from 2019 in Peters, Grymes and Lee.

Peters, a four-year CFL vet, is a leader in BC’s secondary, setting the tone with 4 interceptions last season.

Grymes has been a mainstay in the CFL since 2013, and started 16 games at half-back last year. He is the type of guy that just seems to always be around the ball.

Lee is the longest-tenured Lion in this group, being with the team since 2014 and playing in 80 career games. He was again productive last season, recording 66 tackles and 4 interceptions.

The other player we highlighted is Boyko, a veteran CFL offensive-lineman. We like to stay positive here at Hussey’s Huddle, but there is no hiding the fact that Boyko was one of the worst starting-tackles in the CFL last season, consistently becoming a turnstile in pass-protection. The Lions brought him back, but he’ll need to improve to hold onto significant playing-time, let alone his starting job.

Departures (2020 team)

Shawn Lemon (#9) sacks Montreal Alouettes quarterback
Credit: The Canadian Press/Darryl Dick
  • DB Branden Dozier (CAL)
  • LB Khadim Cheichkh Mbaye* (FA)
  • DB Josh Woodman* (FA)
  • DL Odell Willis (FA)
  • DB Anthony Thompson* (FA)
  • WR Rashaun Simonise* (FA)
  • OL Justin Renfrow (EDM)
  • DL David Menard* (MTL)
  • DL Junior Luke* (MTL)
  • DL Shawn Lemon (FA)
  • WR Ryan Lankford (FA)
  • OL Antonio Johnson (FA)
  • LB Maleki Harris (FA)
  • DL Edward Godin* (FA)
  • OL David Foucault* (FA)
  • LB Frederic Chagnon* (MTL)
  • DB Crezdon Butler (TOR)
  • QB Brandon Bridge* (FA)
  • K Josh Bartel* (FA)
  • QB Danny O’Brien (FA)
  • LB Terrell Davis* (FA)
  • DL Brad Lyons* (FA)

A defensive-focus here in the departure category, with BC’s offensive-side remaining relatively stable.

The pair of defensive-backs highlighted, Dozier and Butler, have each at times been very solid CFL players. Dozier, in particular, had a strong 2019, racking up an impressive 70 tackles while adding another 7 on special-teams. Both players could be missed, but due to BC re-signing several other key defensive-backs discussed above, they should be able to weather the storm.

Turning our attention to the defensive-line, Willis and Lemon could prove difficult for BC to replace. Starting at both defensive-end positions, the pair made up a significant portion of the Lions pass-rush activity last season with a combined 13 sacks. As we will see, the Lions were aware of this issue and pooled plenty of their resources to replace Lemon and Willis this offseason.

Free Agent Signings (2019 team)

Per CFL.ca/transactions

  • OL Ryker Matthews (HAM)
  • RB Chris Rainey (TOR)
  • DL Cameron Walker* (OTT)
  • DL J.R Tavai (OTT)
  • WR Dominique Rhymes (OTT)
  • WR Caleb Holley (OTT)
  • DL Micah Johnson (SSK)
  • LB Dyshaun Davis (SSK)
  • WR Devon Bailey (SSK)
  • DB Derek Jones* (WPG)
  • DL Ryan Brown (MTL)
  • DL Chris Casher (CAL)
  • DB Kenny Ladler (FA)
  • OL E.J Price (FA)
  • QB Will Arndt (OTT)
  • LB Adrian Clarke (FA)
  • OL Chauncey Briggs (FA)
  • DB Keon Lyn (FA)

BC, in my opinion, had the strongest free agency period of any CFL team. There were more players we could have highlighted here but these are just the premiere-signings.

After consistently getting abused last season, BC needed to do something to protect quarterback Mike Reilly, and their main solution was to sign Matthews. In Hamilton last season, Matthews played left-tackle and anchored a pass-heavy offense that was arguably the league’s most productive. He’ll likely slide in with BC in the same role.

The defensive-line was another priority for the Lions, as evidenced by the splashy-signings of Tavai, Johnson and Casher.

Tavai made our list of most impactful free agency signings after displaying a high-motor and versatile play-style in Ottawa last year. He will be tasked with filling the spot of Lemon or Willis.

Johnson, one of the most impactful defenders in the CFL over the past half-decade, comes to BC after a lone-season in Saskatchewan. His statistics took a bit of a hit last season (only 4 sacks in 2019) but his presence was still there with Saskatchewan after the team finished 1st in total-defense and 2nd against the run.

Casher, who made his CFL debut last season at the age of 25, racked up an impressive 34 tackles and 7 sacks with Calgary. He will play a huge role in the team’s edge-rushing situation and with his ability to stuff the run, makes him a shoe-in for starts at defensive-end.

At last, I want to talk about one of the best moves of the offseason in the signing of receiver Dominique Rhymes from the Redblacks. The Lions didn’t necessarily need to add to their receiver group this offseason, but they doubled-down on one of their strengths, giving them two legit-starting pass-targets on either side of Mike Reilly in Rhymes, Brian Burnham on the left and Lamar Durant and Shaq Johnson on the right. At six-foot-four coming off a career-best season, Rhymes should compliment leading receiver Burnham extremely well, giving them some size along the boundary.

New CFL Arrivals

Via Andrew Williams on YouTube

*Per CFL.ca/transactions

  • WR Tyler Turner*
  • LB Quinlen Dean
  • RB Ryan Fulse
  • DL Andrew Williams
  • WR Nih-Jer Jackson
  • DL Ulric Jones
  • WR Romell Guerrier
  • LB Robert Simmons
  • DB Kurron Ramsey
  • QB Vinny Testaverde Jr.
  • DB Ben Minaker*
  • DL Nordly Capi
  • WR Jesse Walker*
  • DB A.J Westbrook
  • DB Taylor Hawkins
  • K Stefan Flintoft

Several newcomers on BC’s 2020 roster, but unfortunately there aren’t many I see that could fill troubled positions for the club. Regardless, I’ve highlighted a few that stood-out when conducting research.

Williams is interesting, if for nothing else, his college pedigree, as he attended Auburn. The defensive-lineman that usually lined up at defensive-tackle could be a worthwhile development project and eventual rotational piece up the middle for BC.

Testaverde Jr. is fascinating for the fact that his dad was a long-time NFL quarterback himself, which gives the young passer instant name-recognition value. He will compete among other Lions’ signal-callers for a spot on the team as a back-up.

Westbrook played his college football at once-elite ACC program Florida State from 2015-2018. One highlight from his time with the Seminoles was an 8 tackle performance in the team’s Orange Bowl victory over the Michigan Wolverines. He attended NFL training-camp in 2019 with the Atlanta Falcons and now finds himself with a chance to learn behind a veteran defensive-back group in BC.

2020 Lions’ Draft Class

Credit: CFL.ca Ohio Bobcats Athletics
  • 1st: LB Jordan Williams, Eastern Carolina (#1)
  • 2nd: QB Nathan Rourke, Ohio (#15)
  • 3rd: DL Courtney Hammond, Western Oregon (#23)
  • 4th: None
  • 5th: OL Matt Guevremont, Indiana of PA (#40); WR Cordell Hastings, Acadia (#43)
  • 6th: None
  • 7th: RB Kayden Johnson, York (#58)
  • 8th: LB Damian Jamieson, York (#67)

BC kicked off the 2020 CFL Draft with a bang, trading up with Calgary to select East Carolina linebacker Jordan Williams, who might be a day-one starter for the club.

In the 2nd-round the team took a chance on Rourke, one of Canada’s best quarterback prospects in years. In BC, he will be able to sit behind a complete pro in Mike Reilly while adjusting to the pro-level, and might get his chance to start down the road.

One late-round prospect that stood out to me is BC’s 7th-round pick, Kayden Johnson. Standing a rare six-foot-three for a running-back, Johnson is also a great hurdler, winning a gold medal at the USports 60-metre competition in 2018. His athleticism should allow him every opportunity to make BC’s opening-day roster, as he could be an incredible special-teams contributor as a youngster.

NFL Watch-List

  • DB Chris Edwards (San Francisco 49ers)

Edwards is the lone focus of our NFL watch-list this time. Playing with BC in a strong-side linebacker role last season, he is a capable player in coverage and can be used as a chess-piece all over the defense. He heads to San Francisco and attempts to make the roster of the defending NFC Champions.

Projected Starters

Just a little clarification before we begin. CFL.ca recently released their annual series of Offseason Depth-Charts for every team, and unless I felt strongly otherwise, those were the selections I used for each team. This is simply because it is the most accurate projection we have as of yet.

Offense

*Denotes Canadian starter

The Lions project to have at least two new starters on offense in 2020, with the additions of Mathews at right-tackle and Rhymes outside at receiver. Its a unique offense with several Canadians scheduled to play big-roles.

The offensive-line was BC’s obvious deficiency in 2019, and much of the same unit remains for 2020, with four returning-starters. The veteran Figueroa mans his usual post at left-tackle, where he had a down-season in 2019 defending opposing-rushers. Given his career history, he’s earned a shot for a bounce-back, but last year was concerning given the fact that he has now turned 30. The left-guard Steward, BC’s 1st-round pick back in 2013, had his share of struggles last season, which was primarily played at center. He looks to prove the Lions were right to award him with a two-year extension this offseason. At center slides Norman, who also played guard for the Lions in 2019.

On the right-side, Chung has at times been among the best Canadian guards in the CFL during his career, but was inconsistent at best last season. Then, at right-tackle we have Matthews, the key-offseason addition. In this projection he is scheduled to play on the right-side after playing the left in Hamilton last season. It may not seem like a huge difference on paper, but in reality all the blocking-angles and footwork are unique at every spot, which causes some players to struggle when playing out of their natural position. Matthews or Figueroa will have to adjust to this, regardless of who the Lions put over at that position.

In the backfield, nothing changes with the experienced group of Reilly at quarterback and White at running-back holding down the fort. Reilly is an elite-caliber passer, but simply didn’t get into a rhythm in 2019, largely due to protection issues.

The receiving group is where this offense really stands-out. The addition of Rhymes, as previously explained, will give legitimate size to an otherwise smaller, finesse-unit. Burnham, the Lions best player last year, should reap some benefits from the attention defenses are sure to direct at Rhymes.

On the opposite-side, it is all about the Canadian content. Durant is one of the top Canadian receivers in the sport, and really established himself as that last season with over 800 receiving-yards. Johnson is an excellent #4 option in this attack, while giving the team ratio-flexibility. Cottoy also had great production for a depth-receiver in 2019, chipping in 38 receptions. He still figures in as the starter in this initial projection but keep in mind this might be a spot that BC toys with starting another American.

Ultimately, this offense will all depend on the chemistry developing between Reilly and his offensive-line, as this is about as good as a CFL receiving group gets.

Defense

*Denotes Canadian starter

The 2019 Lions were a mixed-bag on defense, but they are banking on some of their additions along the defensive-line to provide a spark in 2020.

Speaking of those additions, three of them will likely be starting in BC’s front-four. Casher and Tavai should compliment each other at opposite defensive-end positions, with the former being more physically-talented, while the latter is the type of player that will find his way into this line-up every week because of his high-motor. They are joined on the inside by Johnson–the team’s prized free agent signing–and Louis, a veteran that returns from last season. Johnson will have to be the biggest difference-maker for this unit, as the Lions were often bullied up the middle last season, surrendering 5.2 yards per carry overall while surrendering the 3rd-most ground-yards.

The team’s linebacker core is young but talented, including two potential Canadian starters. Guzylak-Messam is a player that emerged in his second CFL season, playing in all 18 games. At middle-linebacker, the team has an interesting combination. Herdman-Reed is entering his fourth CFL season and has been a consistent player, but the team recently traded up to the #1 overall pick in the 2020 CFL Draft to select Jordan Williams. I would expect the two to play in some sort of rotation for this season once the Lions feel that Williams is ready.

BC’s strong-side linebacker Ladler wasn’t mentioned during the section about the team’s free agent signings, but that was merely because the team had plenty of other headliners. Though he has been in the NFL since 2018, he has significant CFL experience dating back to his time with the Edmonton Eskimos (2016-2017). If he can produce at his previous levels he displayed in Edmonton, he will make a huge difference to BC’s versatility on the defensive-side of the ball.

In the secondary, BC has one of the most experienced groups in the CFL. This wasn’t a bad unit last season against the pass, where they ranked 3rd in the league.

Grymes, Peters, and Lee have all played multiple seasons with the club, and always seem to be among the most energized players on game-day. They are all solid starters that sometimes can suffer from gambling on the ball a bit too much, but at the same time, they specialize in producing interceptions.

Gamboa, who is projected at corner, looks to take a gigantic-leap in his playing-time in 2020. He produced 1 interception in limited action across 7 games last season.

Jones, at safety, is the true newcomer of this group, coming over from Winnipeg. He has played in the CFL for six seasons, but has rarely got much playing-time in a starting-role on defense. This is a true chance for the national to breakthrough.

Overall, this is a defense that has some talented players, but will it all come together as one of the league’s better units? We will have to wait and see on that front.

Special Teams

On special-teams, the Lions bring back a few familiar-faces.

Castillo made the All-Star team last season with the Lions but also proceeded to play for the Houston Roughnecks of the XFL once free agency hit this offseason. Once the XFL suspended operations, he opted to return to BC. Good for all sides involved.

Rainey returns to BC after spending one season in Toronto. He has always been a good return-man, but appeared to lack the burst that some other returners exhibited last season. Now at the age of 32, let’s see if he can once again star in the role for BC.

Final Word

Before we say goodbye today, it is time for our closing statements on BC’s offseason and what their outlook is on paper in 2020.

The Lions have plenty of potential to rebound from last season’s disappointing campaign, but it will be up to a few factors that I have been alluding to throughout this analysis.

On offense, will the addition of Ryker Matthews be enough to solve their protection issues? The team opted for more continuity rather than a full-scale undertaking of the unit this offseason, so its clear they have faith in their other four starters.

Defensively, is BC better prepared to defend the run? The team basically swapped out their entire defensive-line while adding a few talented linebackers, via the draft and free agency. Many will rightfully look to Micah Johnson, who has largely been a dominant inside-force during his CFL career, to make the biggest difference for this year’s unit.

Ultimately, the Lions are a reminder that football is a very physical game. Why? Because, though they have excellent perimeter players on both-sides of the ball–like they largely did last season as well–they will only be as good as their play in the trenches allows them to be.

With this in mind, playoffs are a realistic expectation for this group, but I would be shocked if this team ends up in the Grey Cup contender conversation. They are a year-away.

Did we miss any offseason additions? Do you agree with our analysis? Be sure to let it all out in the comments below!

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