Welcome everyone to another edition of our 2020 CFL Offseason Reviews! This article will shine the spotlight on the Toronto Argonauts, a team who has struggled to find their groove over the past couple of seasons.
The 2019 Argos suffered from various problems, including inconsistent quarterback play, blown-coverages and an overall lack of dynamic athletes, en route to their second-consecutive 4-14 finish.
Given the struggles last year, it was safely assumed that there would be sweeping changes during this offseason, but where did the team allocate their resources? We analyze their offseason moves and what they mean for 2020’s team in this article!
- OL Randy Richards
- FB Declan Cross*
- LS Jake Reinhart*
- DB Alden Darby
- WR Llevi Noel*
- WR Kolton Nelson*
- QB McLeod Bethel-Thompson
- OL Jamal Campbell*
- DB Shaquille Richardson
*Denotes National Player
Not many players highlighted here, as Toronto opted to turnover the roster more than some other CFL teams this offseason.
One of the few key pieces returning in 2020 for Toronto is defensive-back Alden Darby, who snagged a team-high 5 interceptions to go along with 56 tackles last season. He got torched a good bit in coverage but defensive playmakers are at a premium in the pass-happy CFL, so good on the Argos for retaining him.
The team also brings back incumbent starting quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson. He was productive at times last season and threw for a ton of yards, but many would argue that was the result of “garbage time” that Toronto often found themselves in. Still, he will be in the mix for the position again in 2020, and might have a leg-up in this strange offseason that will likely have a limited training camp.
Campbell, a national lineman, has been with Toronto since 2016 and is still just 26. He started several games at right-tackle down the stretch last season, but consistently struggled against the league’s edge-players. Still, Toronto saw enough to invest a multi-year contract in the former 3rd-rounder.
Departures (2020 team)
- DL Cleyon Laing* (OTT)
- LB Juwan Foggie
- DL Hassan Barry*
- LB Nakas Onyeka (SSK)
- LB Sean Harrington*
- DB Matt Black*
- K Ronnie Pfeffer (CAL)
- LB Ian Wild (FA)
- WR Derel Walker (FA)
- LB Eric Striker
- WR Rodney Smith (EDM)
- DB Abdul Kanneh (OTT)
- LB Justin Herdman-Reed* (HAM)
- DB Jermaine Gabriel* (FA)
- WR Armanti Edwards (EDM)
- DL Devon Coleman (FA)
- DL Freddie Bishop III (FA)
- DL Frank Beltre (FA)
- LB Micah Awe (WPG)
- DL Tobi Antigha (WPG)
- DB Trumaine Washington (EDM)
- WR Jimmy Ralph (EDM)
- RB Chris Rainey (BC)
- QB Dakota Prukop (CAL)
- DB Jonathan Mincy (EDM)
- K Zack Medeiros (FA)
- OL Sean McEwen* (CAL)
- OL Tyler Holmes* (FA)
- DL Linden Gaydosh* (FA)
- QB James Franklin (SSK)
- DB Kevin Fogg (MTL)
- WR S.J Green (FA)
- WR Alex Charette* (EDM)
- DB Jonathan Dowling (FA)
- DB Qudarius Ford (HAM)
- RB Branden Burks (EDM)
- OL Ryan Bomben* (FA)
The Argonauts, as mentioned in the previous blurb, opted for plenty of change this offseason, and this included letting some familiar faces walk out the door.
In my opinion, the most immediately felt loss will be defensive-lineman Cleyon Laing, who is one of the most impactful Canadian defenders in the CFL. Acting as more than just a plugger at defensive-tackle, Laing has the rare ability to make quarterbacks uncomfortable from the inside, producing 33 career sacks, including 7 last season.
Along the offensive-line, the team lost two Canadian starters in guard Ryan Bomben and more importantly, center Sean McEwen. Bomben regressed last season but has had a great career, earning four Division All-Star nods. McEwen, meanwhile, has become one of the best interior lineman in the CFL. He heads to Calgary still very much in his prime at 26 years-old. Tough loss for Toronto.
Then, we have Toronto’s two big losses at the receiver position.
Derel Walker, a veteran CFL receiver that had over 1000 yards and 6 touchdowns last season with the Argos, strangely remains unsigned, but there are very few signs that point him back to Toronto when he does. He’s been one of the best players in the CFL at times throughout his career.
Meanwhile, SJ Green, a 13-year veteran, opted to go join the XFL’s Tampa Bay Vipers following the expiration of his contract with Toronto. He stated after the folding of the XFL in April that he intends on coming back up North, but ideally he would want to go back to the Montreal Alouettes, whom he spent the bulk of his professional career. Even at 34, he is a huge loss for Toronto’s receiving core, producing over 1000 yards in each of his three seasons with the Argos.
Free Agent Signings (2019 team)
- QB Matt Nichols (WPG)
- DL Craig Roh (WPG)
- DL Drake Nevis (WPG)
- WR Juwan Brescacin* (CAL)
- LB Chris Ackie (MTL)
- DL Rickey Neal (CAL)
- DB Crezdon Butler (BC)
- LB Paul Kozachuk* (MTL)
- DB Arjen Colquhoun (EDM)
- K Boris Bede (MTL)
- DB Denzel Radford (SSK)
- LB Jordan Moore (HAM)
- DB Abu Conteh* (CAL)
- DL Fabion Foote* (MTL)
- DL Alex Bazzie (EDM)
- WR DaVaris Daniels (EDM)
- OL Dariusz Bladek* (SSK)
- OL Phillip Blake* (SSK)
- LB Nick Shortill (HAM)
- RB Marcus Thigpen (SSK)
- DB Tommie Campbell (MTL)
- LB Jeff Knox Jr. (SSK)
- DB Bo Lokombo* (MTL) –TRADE
- DB Jeff Richards (FA)
- WR Natey Adjei (EDM)
Toronto was one of the most busy teams in the league’s free agent market this offseason, filing multiple holes that were exposed in 2019.
Let’s start first with Nichols, an experienced CFL passer that comes over from Winnipeg. He started out fast last year, sporting a sharp 15-5 TD-INT ratio over 9 games, before seeing his season end in injury. When healthy, though he has a ceiling, he is a terrific decision-maker that knows how to facilitate a winning-CFL offense. He will compete with Bethel-Thompson for starting duties.
Joining Nichols are his former Winnipeg teammates Roh and Nevis, two defensive-lineman that had a significant impact on the Blue Bombers’ top-ranked run defense in 2019. Additionally, Roh has provided consistent pass-rushing ability since entering the league in 2015.
Brescacin and Daniels will be expected to play major roles in Toronto’s receiving core from the get-go, replacing Walker and Green. Brescacin, as a Canadian, should be interesting to watch as he was looking sharp last year in Calgary, before seeing his season cut short after just four games due to an injury. When he was healthy in 2018, he managed 35 receptions and 567 yards in a crowded Stamps receiving core, so we shall see what he does with more opportunity. Daniels, on the other hand, has been as shown remarkable consistency, with four straight seasons of over 700 receiving yards.
We’ve also highlighted Thigpen, a return-specialist that has spent time both North and South of the border. This is in addition to providing good back-up production as a runner and receiver.
Finally, the last addition we touch on here is Lokombo, a hard-hitting safety that comes over from Montreal in a trade. Known for his physical-style, Lokombo adds a much-needed Canadian presence to the defensive-side of this roster. It also helps that he is a consistent producer on special-teams.
New CFL Arrivals
- RB Karlos Williams
- DB Tyler Sigler
- DL Julian McCleod
- LB Travis Feeney
- OL Norman Price
- OL Ty Allen
- DB Jordan Powell
- WR Jawill Davis
- DL Obinna Iheoma
- WR Keyarris Garrett
- WR Vince Mayle
- DB James Sample
- DB Stanley Jean-Baptiste
- LS Joe Spaziani*
- DB Kadeem Satchell
- DL Whitney Richardson
- LB Jason Beck
- DL Ronald Ollie
- WR Kent Shelby
- WR Dres Anderson
As we have seen so far, the Argonauts’ roster is one in flux, providing plenty of opportunities for many of the team’s additions, including CFL newcomers.
Williams is an interesting case as he has some NFL experience, but it was back in 2015 when he last played an active game. With the Buffalo Bills as a rookie out of Florida State, he rushed onto the scene, scoring 7 touchdowns in his first 6 games. Unfortunately, that would be the height of his success, as he would go through troubles ranging from being out of shape, to violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy. Talent has never been the question with Williams, and if he has left his problems behind him, he could be an impact player for Toronto.
Allen, an interior offensive-lineman, most recently played with the Memphis Express of the AAF in 2019. He played his college football at Tennessee State, where he was also a part of the track and field team. He has the ability to play center, and was reflected as starter in CFL.ca’s recently-released projected depth-chart.
Powell, a linebacker that played his college football at Division-III Widener University, spent parts of 2019 with the Chicago Bears of the NFL. While at Widener, he produced one of the craziest season stat-lines you will ever see from a defensive-player, recording 53 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, 4 fumble recoveries, 2 forced fumbles, 6 interceptions and a record-setting 6 touchdowns. It remains to be seen whether he can become an elite playmaker at the CFL level, but you just don’t see that kind of production, regardless of the competition. I would think the Argos would consider him in the mix at the strong-side linebacker position due to this skill-set.
Davis is another guy that had a cup of tea in the NFL, actually seeing legitimate action in seven games for the New York Giants in 2018, being used mostly in a return capacity. Most recently, he was on the roster of the XFL’s Tampa Bay Vipers, where he was again mainly valued for his kick-return ability. We’ve seen similar players in recent years who excelled as kick-returners down South arrive in the CFL and truly take-off as a result of the Canadian game’s wide-field. The Argos need more explosive athletes like Davis, making it likely he makes this roster.
Sample, who attended Louisville, was selected by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the 4th-round of the 2015 NFL Draft. He spent two seasons with the team before falling out of the NFL in 2018 after an offseason stint with the Washington Redskins. The cast-off now joins Toronto, who could use some American depth behind import half-backs Alden Darby and Jeff Richards. You can never have enough cover guys in the CFL, and it gives Sample a final-chance to rebuild his career.
The name that some of you might recognize is Ollie, who was a star on the Netflix hit-show “Last Chance U”. At defensive-tackle, Ollie played for Nichols State University where he showcased quickness and athleticism. He was signed by the Oakland Raiders in 2019 as an undrafted free agent but it was short-lived. He looks to make an impact on a Argos defensive-line that lost star Cleyon Liang this offseason, but added Drake Nevis.
2020 Argonauts’ Draft Class
- 1st: WR Dejon Brissett, Virginia (#2); OL Theren Churchill, Regina (#9)
- 2nd: LB Jack Cassar, Carleton (#11); DL Samuel Acheampong, Laurier (#20)
- 3rd: OL Dylan Giffen, Western (#28)
- 4th: None
- 5th: RB Dion Pellerin, Waterloo (#42)
- 6th: WR Samuel Baker, Saskatchewan (#48)
- 7th: None
- 8th: None
Along with the Tiger-Cats, the Argonauts were the only other team to possess two 1st-rounders in the 2020 Draft, which they used on Brissett and Churchill.
In our CFL Draft coverage, I was skeptical about Brissett, a receiver out of Virginia, due to his recent lack of production and multiple injuries. Still, I can’t deny his CFL potential as both a receiver and more immediately, as a kick-return option.
Churchill, meanwhile, was seen as a bit of a reach by some CFL observers, but from watching some of his action from his time at the University of Saskatchewan, he seems like one of the more technically-sound lineman in the draft.
2nd-round pick Jack Cassar is an intriguing selection as well, with a quick first-step as a blitzing, hard-hitting linebacker.
I thought Toronto’s 3rd-round pick of Dylan Giffen was one of the best in the entire draft, representing tremendous value at #28 overall. He isn’t the most fleet of foot for an offensive lineman, but once he gets his hands on you, he displays elite play strength. He’s an ideal fit at guard in the CFL as a potential replacement for Ryan Bomben down the road.
Not much to say about recent players battling for positions down South due to the simple fact that there aren’t any 2019 Argos currently on NFL rosters. This could be a blessing for Toronto, who keeps complete continuity with any players that are still around from last year’s team.
Much of Toronto’s starting line-up will likely be fought for in training-camp, but for now, we are using CFL.ca’s recently-released offseason depth-charts for most spots.
The Argonauts struggled to get off the ground in 2019, and one large reason for this was the poor performance of the offensive-line. Going into 2020, there were predictably going to be some line-up changes.
Cage, returns as a starter at left-tackle, but he is coming off an injury riddled season where he only played seven games and didn’t perform particularly well when he was present.
Blake, is an offseason signing that comes over from Saskatchewan who started last season strong at his usual left-guard position but missed 10 games due to injury. He gets beat badly on occasion in pass-protection but is a talented run-blocker. He’ll give a boost to this line if he stays healthy.
In the middle at center is Allen, a CFL newcomer, pegged to fill the role that Sean McEwen performed last season in Toronto. I’m not too aware of his game, but as we mentioned earlier, he previously ran track when he was in college, so it is clear he has some athletic upside.
At right-guard, I defer from CFL.ca by choosing Richards to fit into this spot. The #1 overall selection in the 2019 CFL Draft out of Oklahoma State should be able to rebound from a troubling rookie season that saw him start the season-opener versus Hamilton, only to get injured and miss the next 10 games. He would only go on to play rotational snaps when he got back but with a fresh start of a second season, I think the Argos intend to get him back into the starting line-up.
At right-tackle, Campbell, another national, will again be Toronto’s primary starter. He struggled last season but perhaps with better players around him or if placed in a better scheme, he could improve.
One of the true quarterback competitions this year in the CFL resides in Toronto, where veteran Matt Nichols attempts to supplant incumbent McLeod Bethel-Thompson. Nichols, in my opinion, is the superior player, and might be the guy this team needs to create some semblance of stability on offense.
Running-back is another spot that should be up for grabs, but Williams gets the nod in this projection. A powerful runner with not too much wiggle, he could be the force to get the Argonauts’ ground-game going while running behind a good run-blocker in Blake.
Meanwhile, Toronto’s group at receiver has a few breakout candidates.
Daniels and Brescacin, two players that have proven levels of CFL production but have never had the chance to play in featured roles, should have the opportunity with the Boatmen.
Adjei, a Canadian, has been in the league since 2014 but finally found significant opportunity last season in Edmonton, where he caught 54 passes. He should, at the very least, be someone to set an example for some of their younger guys.
Anderson, a newcomer, spent 2019 with the AFF’s Salt Lake Stallions before the league dissolved, and has spent time on various NFL practice squads. I would expect the competition for Toronto’s third starting slot-back position to be fierce.
Finally, Worthy is a player who returns from last year’s team, when he displayed some potential. He is short at five-foot-eight, but in the CFL, these types of receivers can thrive where they otherwise wouldn’t. He’s a guy to look out for, especially if Bethel-Thompson ends up as the starter, given the chemistry they briefly appeared to have last season.
I think Toronto has the talent to improve offensively from a rough 2019, but will need some of these potential breakout players to step-up and reach their full-potential.
Turning our attention to the defensive-side, where Toronto hopes a reworked group marks a sharp-improvement over 2019.
The defensive-line should be one area where Argos fans should have hope.
Moving from left to right we have Bazzie, who brings with him six years of CFL experience. He struggled to stay healthy last season, but in 2018, produced 8 sacks and a not-too-shabby 39 tackles from the defensive-end spot.
Nevis, who was brought in from Winnipeg, will likely be Toronto’s most impactful signing due to his skills as a run-defender, something 2019’s squad struggled tremendously with.
His partner on the inside in this projection is Thomas, who appeared in 11 games with the team a year ago. We haven’t seen him play all that much, so it isn’t fair to analyze until we get a semblance of a sample size.
Finally, Roh also signed with Toronto after winning a 2019 Grey Cup with the Blue Bombers, and will get an opportunity to be a full-time starter on the edge. In a mostly rotational role last season, he was still able to collect 6 sacks. His five seasons with 6 or more sacks also signal that he is likely to be among the better game-to-game performers for this group.
In the linebacking-core, the team has two new projected starters.
Ackie, one of Toronto’s assumed national starters, has played most of his career in Montreal to this point and is a consistent player. Don’t expect him to be a game-changing tackle-machine or coverage-magnet, but he’s a solid weak-side-backer’.
Woods, is the senior-member of this defense and has had a productive CFL career. He has not aged well though, as evidenced by his 7 games played over the past two seasons combined. He is a major injury question at this point of his career, and Toronto should wisely groom someone else capable of taking over the reigns.
Richardson, is a three-year CFL vet that spent last season in Toronto but didn’t receive much playing time in three games, though he did produce an interception. The team is hoping he recaptures his 2017 form from when he was a member of the Stampeders, a season in which he racked up 4 interceptions, and 55 total tackles. For this defense to take a step this season, this component of the unit will have to play a big role.
Moving back into the secondary, this is a group I feel has potential but we will have to see on the results.
Bringing in Campbell to man the weak-side corner was a solid decision, as he has been consistently healthy over his four-year CFL journey and has also been good to pick off a pass or two every season. He isn’t the most complete cover-player ever, but he will bring much-needed stability on the perimeter.
Darby is the most accomplished player from last year’s secondary, when he picked off a team-high 5 passes. That playmaking is valuable in the CFL, but so is actually being a consistent coverage-player, which Darby wasn’t last season. He shows flashes, but will need to weed-out his penchant for getting beat vertically if this secondary is going to improve.
Lokombo is a Canadian safety that had a good 2019 season with Montreal, and provides some physicality to this unit. He has also only missed 3 games over the past four years.
Richards is a player that returns to the CFL for the first time since 2016, when he was a member of the Redblacks. He’s spent the past few years trying to forge a path in the NFL, but instead finds himself as the projected starter at half-back for the Argos. We will see what he is made of, as he hasn’t appeared in an actual game since his days in Ottawa.
Completing the unit is Colquhoun, who is the rare Canadian cornerback. A veteran of three years, he has typically played a spot-starting role for Edmonton. He gets a chance for full-time role in this defense, where he’ll be tasked with shutting-down the perimeter.
Overall, there are things to like about how the team approached rebuilding this defense this offseason, especially the front-four.
Perhaps the most underrated pick-up of Toronto’s offseason, Bede should help the team’s kicking-situation extensively. With the assistance of his powerful leg, he punched through 88.6% of his field-goal attempts last season, while pulling double-duty by handling punts. He might just be the best kicker/punter in the entire CFL when you take his versatility and range into account.
Thigpen was another free agent signing, and has long been an excellent punt and kick-returner in this league. He is on the older-side at 34, but was still effective last season in this role.
As we conclude this CFL Offseason Review, our final thoughts on the 2020 Argonauts.
Toronto faced quite the challenge in the last several months of assembling a roster capable of contending and winning games at the CFL level, and taking everything into account, I think this team is vastly improved. This team should be able to compete with Montreal and Ottawa in the playoff-mix out East, but there are some major hurdles to get over for this group.
One has to be the team’s quarterback situation, which I believe will be best stabilized by the proven veteran Matt Nichols. Neither he or Bethel-Thompson is going to set the field on fire, but Nichols has always been capable of playing a low-risk style that is conducive to winning.
The offensive-line should get a bit of help with Phillip Blake representing a massive improvement over 2019 starter Tyler Holmes, but ultimately the tackle-combo of Isiah Cage and Jamal Campbell must clean up some of their issues from last season.
The defense should at least be passable in 2020, which would represent major growth from last season. Most areas were patched up with stable, solid veterans, but if the team can unearth one newcomer gem from this year’s signings, it would make a world of difference as the thing from this defense that is missing is mainly star-power.
But where to project this team for 2020? Playoffs aren’t out of question, given the relatively weak East Division. Neither, is finishing last, due to a lack of experience in some spots. Yet, I’m going to lean to the former and say this offense takes a major step in the right direction under new Head Coach Ryan Dinwiddie, and Nichols has a resurgent, steady season in navigating the Argos to a few key upsets. There’s a surprise team nearly every season in the CFL, so I’ll throw a dart and say this year it’s Toronto.
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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