CFL Offseason Review: Edmonton Eskimos


Welcome back to the Huddle!

The focus of today’s CFL offseason review are the Edmonton Eskimos, a team that finished one win away from a Grey Cup appearance in 2019 but had a relatively rocky-season overall, finishing with a 8-10 record and winning only 3 of 10 games against West-Division rivals. However, this team flashed potential at times with quarterback Trevor Harris at the helm, giving hope for Grey Cup contention in 2020.

In this review, we look at their offseason transactions before getting into how this line-up is shaping up for next season!

Re-signings/Extensions

Edmonton’s Greg Ellingson playing against the BC Lions in 2019
Credit: Esks.com

*Via CFL.ca/transactions

  • OL Tommie Draheim
  • DB Jordan Hoover*
  • RB Shaquille Cooper
  • OL David Beard*
  • RB Christian Jones
  • QB Logan Kilgore
  • DL Mike Moore
  • WR Anthony Parker*
  • OL Jacob Ruby*
  • LB Jovan Santos-Knox
  • RB James Tuck*
  • DB Brian Walker
  • WR Greg Ellingson
  • WR Ricky Collins
  • DL Jake Ceresna
  • QB Trevor Harris
  • FB Alexandre Dupuis*
  • WR Christion Jones
  • WR Kevin Elliott
  • WR Karl Hunter*
  • RB Jordan Robinson

Plenty of activity for Edmonton, who had a significant portion of their roster up for renewals this offseason.

To begin, the Eskimos brought back a trio of offensive-lineman that played a large number of snaps last season in Draheim, Beard and Ruby. Draheim can play tackle, starting on the left-side when he was in the line-up last year. He’ll likely be a back-up swing-tackle behind the returning SirVincent Rogers, but still a valuable player to have nonetheless. Meanwhile, Ruby and Beard represent two national starters for the Eskimos on the interior of the line. Beard was named the team’s Most Outstanding Offensive-Lineman for his work at center last season.

Moving to the receivers highlighted, Ellingson and Collins were easy decisions to bring back. Both were incredibly productive in 2019, and bringing them back should help them gel further. Ellingson was especially important to keep, given his long-established rapport with quarterback Trevor Harris.

Speaking of Harris, not that there was any doubt, but he’s back as Edmonton’s quarterback in 2020. With arguably the CFL’s best throwing-arm, Harris has been capable of catching-fire over his CFL career, which was best illustrated in the Eskimos’ playoff win over Montreal last year. In that East Semi-Final victory, he completed 36 of 39 passes for over 400 yards at a staggering 92.3% completion percentage.

Departures (2020 team)

Eskimos’ running-back CJ Gable takes the hand-off from quarterback Trevor Harris (#7)
Credit: TSN.ca The Canadian Press
  • DL Alex Bazzie* (TOR)
  • DB Arjen Colquhoun* (TOR)
  • WR DaVaris Daniels (TOR)
  • LB Larry Dean (HAM)
  • DB Tyquwan Glass (MTL)
  • DB Monshadrik Hunter (MTL)
  • DB Josh Johnson (WPG)
  • LB Christophe Mulumba-Tshimanga (OTT)
  • OL Josiah St. John (SSK)
  • DB/LB Don Unamba (OTT)
  • DE Andrew Marshall* (FA)
  • DL Tariq Lachance (FA)
  • WR Christian Gibbs (FA)
  • LB Kaulana Apelu
  • WR Jamill Smith (FA)
  • RB Calvin McCarty* (FA)
  • DL Jesse Joseph* (FA)
  • RB Martese Jackson (FA)
  • RB CJ Gable (FA)
  • OL Travis Bond* (FA)
  • DB Anthony Orange (FA)
  • WR Natey Adjei (TOR)
  • DL Andrew Marshall* (FA)

While the core re-signings were all about offense, many of the key departures for Edmonton come on defense, where the team finished 2nd in total-yards and 1st in pass-yards allowed in 2019.

Let’s begin with Dean, who returned to Hamilton after a great season as the Eskimos’ middle-linebacker, collecting 86 tackles. His loss could hurt, but probably not as much as in the secondary, which took several hits.

Glass, Hunter, Johnson and Unamba, were all starters at various points last season that brought good coverage-skills to the table.

Glass played in 14 games, mainly at corner, where he chipped in 3 interceptions and was often a disruptor in breaking-up passes. He heads to Montreal to help a needy-secondary.

Hunter emerged as one of the most versatile Eskimos in 2019, with 59 tackles, 2 interceptions and a sack. He brought plenty of swagger to this group that will be missed.

Johnson was perhaps the best of the bunch, capable of starting at multiple spots. It was rare to see him get beaten badly in coverage.

Unamba brought a unique skill-set to the table at strong-side linebacker, dropping into coverage while being an extremely effective blitzer.

Add it all up, and that is a TON of production for Edmonton to make up for in 2020 in a single position-grouping.

Finally, the status of Gable, the team’s starting running-back last season, is still up in the air as he remains a free agent. He had another good season in 2019, with over 1000 yards on the ground and another 400 in the receiving-game but, he’s getting up there in age (32).

Free Agent Signings (2019 team)

Williams (#38) playing for the Calgary Stampeders
Credit: Darryl Dyck / The Canadian Press
  • QB Antonio Pipkin (MTL)
  • WR Shakier Ryan (MTL)
  • RB Brandon Burks (TOR)
  • WR Alex Charette* (TOR)
  • WR Armanti Edwards (TOR)
  • DB Jermaine Gabriel* (TOR)
  • DB Jonathan Mincy (TOR)
  • WR Jimmy Ralph* (TOR)
  • DB Trumaine Washington (TOR)
  • LB Justin Tuggle (HAM)
  • LB Korey Jones (WPG)
  • RB Terry Williams (CAL)
  • OL Justin Renfrow (BC)
  • OL Jean-Simon Roy* (BC)
  • WR Joshua Stangby* (FA)
  • FB Alexandre Dupuis (FA)
  • WR Rodney Smith (TOR)
  • DB Anthony Covington (TOR)
  • DB Caleb Ham (TOR)
  • WR Kenny Shaw (FA)
  • DL Evan Machibroda*
  • WR Joshua Stangby

Edmonton was active in free agency, bringing in several established players.

Let’s start by highlighting Edwards, a savvy CFL veteran that slots in perfectly with Edmonton’s existing group of receivers. Since 2017, he has at least 69 receptions and 950 receiving yards in every season.

On the defensive-side, Gabriel and Mincy will be expected to fill some of the production that was lost with the departures in the secondary. Gabriel, a national, is a long-time CFL veteran coming over from Toronto and is projected to fill either the safety or one of the half-back positions for Edmonton. Mincy, meanwhile, will likely start at corner after coming off a season that was defined by injuries in Toronto, only playing a single game.

Linebacker Justin Tuggle will be Edmonton’s Larry Dean replacement in the middle of the defense. He was a high-level tackler in Hamilton last season, but has big shoes to fill.

Finally, Terry Williams is primarily a return-man, but a good one. He never got too much opportunity in Calgary to take over the running-back spot but in Edmonton, he appears to be in the mix. Regardless, look for him to excel in his usual punt-return duties.

New CFL Arrivals

Via SZHighlights on YouTube
  • DL Quincy Redmon
  • LB Justin Horton
  • WR Hunter Karl*
  • DB Eric Blake*
  • RB Korliss Marshall
  • DL Zachary Barnes
  • DL Victor Evans II
  • DB Dakari Monroe
  • RB Lexington Thomas
  • DB Kieron Williams
  • DB Chris Rayford
  • WR Angelo Foster
  • DB Albert Smalls
  • WR Christian Gibbs
  • DL Thomas Costigan
  • WR Janardreon Jones
  • WR Domonique Young
  • OL Kwabena Asare*
  • WR TJ Smith
  • LB Justin Horton

A couple of cluster signings in the newcomer department for the Eskimos, as they look to add competition to some of their most evident position-holes.

The first are the two running-backs, Marshall and Thomas. With CJ Gable not currently looking to be coming back, the team’s backfield depth is looking a bit shaky, with only Shaq Cooper and Terry Williams with relative CFL experience. Marshall played at Arkansas from 2013-2014 before being dismissed from the team at the program’s discretion, forcing him to finish his college career at Eastern Illinois. Thomas played collegiately for UNLV from 2015 to 2018, rushing for 3,381 yards for a 5.7 yards per carry average. He is a little undersized at five-foot-eight, but he has an officially-listed 4.42 40-yard -dash time, and was always a big-play threat in college. These are two names to remember going forward.

The other cluster is the amount of defensive-backs signed. When searching for players to highlight in this section, I look for positions in which I see a realistic chance for players to find their way to significant snaps. This is exactly the case for the five players I highlighted, as with all of the losses suffered by Edmonton in free agency could be the gain of players like Blake, Monroe, Williams, Rayford and Smalls.

2020 Eskimos’ Draft Class

Buffalo offensive-lineman Tomas Jack-Kurdyla (#65), lifts teammate into the air after scoring a touchdown
Credit: Buffalo Bulls Athletics
  • 1st: OL Tomas Jack-Kurdyla, Buffalo (#4)
  • 2nd: DL Alain Pae, Ottawa (#13)
  • 3rd: LB Malik Tyne, Towson (#24)
  • 4th: DB Oludoton Aketepe, Guelph (#32)
  • 5th: K Dante Brown, Fort Hays State (#41)
  • 6th: OL Chris Gangarossa, Wagner (#50)
  • 7th: OL Nicholas Summach, Saskatchewan (#57); DL Rossini Sandjong, York (#59)
  • 8th: RB Mitch Raper, Carleton (#68)

Edmonton had a heavy-focus on the trenches in the 2020 Draft, adding to their national rotation along both lines.

Jack-Kurdyla, the Eskimos’ 1st-rounder, was one of the most refined offensive-lineman in the class coming out of the University of Buffalo, and might even have the foot-speed to step-out and play tackle if the team needs him in the future. Expect him to find some playing time as a rookie on a rotational-basis.

Pae was one of the shocks of the draft, coming off the board in the 2nd-round after securing his Canadian citizenship in the months leading up to the event. He adds depth to an already-strong national group along the defensive-line.

Gangarossa, out of little-known Wagner, was rated high on TSN’s best-available draft board early in the draft, but lasted until round-6. It will be interesting looking back in a few years if anything comes of him as a CFL prospect.

NFL Watch-List

  • DL Nick Usher (Las Vegas Raiders)
  • DL Kendal Vickers (Las Vegas Raiders)

Two players to hit on here, and they both end up in Vegas with the Raiders.

Usher assisted a top-ranked Edmonton pass-rush in 2019, mustering 6 sacks but having an even larger impact with constant pressures.

Vickers, too, was a member of that strong defensive-line, featuring along the interior as part of the rotation.

Projected Starters

Offense

*Denotes Canadian starter

Edmonton’s offense should be among the best in the league on paper, with proven players all over the place.

It starts on the offensive-line, which some consider the best group in the CFL. SirVincent Rogers is slated to return after a triceps-injury ended his 2019 season before it even started. One of the true game-changing offensive-lineman in the CFL, he won the CFL Most Outstanding Offensive-Lineman Award in 2015 as a member of the Redblacks and was an All-Star in 2018 as well. He joins a unit that allowed the fewest sacks in the league (25) in his absence. The Canadian trio of Ruby, Beard and O’Donnell are all big, talented pass-blockers who often afforded Edmonton’s quarterbacks the comfort to step into their throws. At right-tackle, Colin Kelly is another above-average pass-blocker. My only concern for this group is that, though they have significant size, they aren’t the most athletic unit in the league, which hurts them when it comes to opening up big holes in the running-game. Overall though, pass-blocking is what should be valued higher, and you won’t find a better unit at doing just that.

At quarterback we obviously have Trevor Harris, who is one of the most talented throwers in the league. He is a relatively good processor, which also contributed to this team allowing the fewest sacks in 2020. Joining him in the backfield is Shaq Cooper, who the team re-signed this offseason. He only played in 5 games last season but showed potential, averaging 5 yards per carry. As mentioned before though, he will be pushed for carries by other offseason signings, such as Terry Williams.

At a glance, I would argue Edmonton has the best receiving core in the CFL. With a legit 1-2 combination of Ellingson and Collins, and armed with another consistent veteran presence in Edwards, it is hard to find a top-three better in the league. Behind him we have Tevaun Smith, a Canadian who took a while to come up to the CFL but paid massive dividends for the team with 55 receptions for 632 yards and 6 touchdowns as a rookie. He could have an even bigger role this season with all of the attention elsewhere. Rounding out the group is Rodney Smith, a free agent signing that comes over from Toronto and produced similar numbers to Tevaun Smith last season.

Overall, this starting offense looks poised to be one of the league’s scariest through the air. I worry about the team becoming one-dimensional, but in the pass-happy CFL, teams can at times get away with not having the ground-game as a main-focus.

Defense

*Denotes Canadian starter

On defense, the projected starting line-up is a mix of strengths and questions.

The defensive-line represents the biggest strength for this defense. Moore and Sewell, are quite simply, the best defensive-tackle duo in the CFL. Both are excellent pass-rushers, and are collectively great at making it difficult to run up the gut against the Eskimos. On the edges, we have the Canadian duo of Boateng and Betts. Boateng has established himself as one the best Canadian defensive players in the CFL over his three seasons, producing 21 total sacks. There will be high hopes for projected first-year starter Betts, following in Boateng’s footsteps as a national edge-player. Betts was the #2 overall pick in the 2019 CFL Draft, but didn’t really get the chance to be too involved last season, arriving to the team late after attending NFL training camp with the Chicago Bears. With Nick Usher off to the NFL this offseason, this gives Betts a chance to hit the ground running in his much-anticipated second-season.

The linebacking core isn’t as established, but it should be a solid group once they adjust. Knox returns to Edmonton after missing most of his first season with the club with injuries. With Winnipeg in 2018, he was productive in the tackle department while proving his worth as a blitzer, collecting 6 sacks. Tuggle, one of the team’s major offseason moves, slides in at middle-linebacker, the role he primarily played in Hamilton. Walker plugs in as Don Unamba’s replacement at strong-side linebacker, where he played some snaps in 2019 in Edmonton. He has some experience in this slot but the athletic demands for the position are intense, so we will see how he performs in 2020.

In the secondary are where the biggest concerns are.

The newcomer, Monroe, is pegged here in one of the corner spots, but he will have to earn it against all of the players that were brought in this offseason in the secondary. He played his college football at San Jose State University, and spent 2019 training camp with the Kansas City Chiefs. Scheduled to start beside him on that side of the field is Washington, who played decently for the Toronto Argonauts the past two seasons, though he was a component of the league’s worst secondary.

The most experienced player in this defensive-backfield is Gabriel, who is also one of the team’s Canadian starters. He had previously spent his entire seven-year career with Toronto before coming over to Edmonton this offseason. He’s never been the most productive player but might have to emerge as a leader for this group on the back-end.

On the other side, Hightower will be a likely starter at half-back. Now entering his fourth year with the Eskimos, he searches for full-season consistency that he has been unable to put together over his first five CFL seasons. The corner on this side is Mincy, who is another player who comes over from the Argos. He has largely been a part of bad pass-defenses over his three CFL seasons in Toronto and Montreal, so we will see what he brings to Edmonton’s group as the strong-side corner.

One argument football nerds ponder from time to time is the debate over what is more important to pass-defense, coverage or pass-rush? Edmonton will be a fascinating case-study in 2020, as they are armed with arguably the league’s best pass-rush while completely turning-over their well-performing secondary from last season.

Special Teams

O’Neil has largely been a solid CFL punter since entering the league in 2013, averaging 44.5 yards per boot over his career. He has also occasionally performed place-kicking duties.

One of the more accurate kickers in the CFL since entering the league in 2009, Whyte also has often doubled as a rock-solid punter at this level, including at times last season when O’Neil was injured.

Williams, who is also a running-back, was likely brought in this offseason, primarily, to improve the team’s performance in the return-game, where he has been very consistent over three seasons in Calgary.

Final Word

We’ve come to the end of this review, but let’s have a few final words about the 2020 Edmonton Eskimos.

I think the ceiling for this team is high, given that they have star power in some important positions throughout their line-up.

At quarterback, in pass protection, and at wide-receiver, this group should be able to perform at will against some of the weaker defenses in the league. On the other side of the ball, Edmonton possesses an at-times lethal pass-rush capable of destroying opposing offensive game-plans. There is potential for the linebacker room, as well.

But, there are warning signs elsewhere.

First, when the team fell behind in games last season, they often abandoned the running-game, which caused the team to become completely one dimensional. This isn’t the best running-attack in the world by any stretch, but doing it more consistently through the entirety of a game is important, just ask the two of the best rushing-teams from 2019, Winnipeg and Saskatchewan.

On defense, the major concerns have to be placed in the secondary, where an unproven group takes over from last year’s standout unit. Against teams with elite offensive personnel at both offensive-line and receiver, this could leave Edmonton vulnerable, as their pass-rush isn’t able to get home to impact the passing-game.

My final concern with Edmonton that I noticed when studying the 2019 team for this review was just how much they couldn’t get out of their own way. This team has obvious talent, but cannot afford to take the amount of costly penalties if they are to contend with the top teams in the West and the league in general. Under new Head Coach Scott Milanovich, this must be a point of emphasis.

So, in concluding this review, I’ll preface my prediction with this: I believe Edmonton has the largest range of outcomes of any team this CFL season. I can see this team getting hot and shredding opposing teams in the passing-game to build leads, which will allow their pass-rush to play a major-role late in games. At the same time, they have some huge potential holes that could render their strengths moot against top-tier competition. To this end, I can see this team emerging as a Grey Cup contender, but also one that could get beaten out for the playoffs.

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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