CFL Offseason Review: Saskatchewan Roughriders

Welcome back football fans to another post here at Hussey’s Huddle!

Today, we kick-off an ambitious new project: evaluating each CFL team’s entire 2020 offseason! All of the CFL’s nine member clubs will be covered over the next few weeks or so, in a random release order.

These articles will cover everything from 2019 departures, to 2020 free agent signings, to each individual team’s recent CFL Draft class, and more! At the end of each, I will give my closing thoughts about what can be drawn from each respective team’s direction going into the 2020 season.

Now that the introductory dialogue is over, we can turn our attention to our first review: the Saskatchewan Roughriders!

The Riders are coming off a 2019 season that saw first-year starting-quarterback Cody Fajardo burst onto the scene, leading the team to a West-Division best 13-5 record. The team would lose a heartbreaker to the eventual-champion Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the West Final, but it was a strong year for the club to build-off, armed with a talented young quarterback and plenty of returning players.


Evans (#1) makes extraordinary catch versus BC Lions
  • LB Solomon Elimimian
  • WR Albert Awachie*
  • DB Elie Bouka*
  • OL Dan Clark*
  • OL Takoby Cofield
  • WR Shaq Evans
  • DB Ed Gainey
  • LB Chad Geter
  • DL Makana Henry*
  • LS Jorgen Hus*
  • LB Cameron Judge*
  • RB Kian LaFrance*
  • DL A.C Leonard
  • DB Nick Marshall
  • DB Jordan Reeves*
  • P Jon Ryan*
  • DL Charleston Hughes

*Denotes National Player

Saskatchewan, more than any team during the 2020 offseason, focused on retaining their own core free agents.

Near the top of the list is Elimimian. Head of the CFL Players Association in addition to being a former CFL Most Outstanding Player, he is still a higher-level middle-linebacker, always possessing elite instincts that are valued in the Canadian game where players need to be good in space. He returns for a second season in Saskatchewan and his tenth overall.

Along the offensive-line, Clark, a national, earned his first All-Star appearance last season at center, paving the way for a dynamic rushing-attack. Keeping continuity between himself and quarterback Cody Fajardo could prove valuable in such a strange offseason.

Evans, meanwhile, is arguably Saskatchewan’s top offensive-weapon. In 2019, he was a spark-plug, as illustrated by his 6 games of over 100 receiving-yards.

Gainey and Marshall, two pieces of Saskatchewan’s CFL-leading total-defense last year, return for another season. Both typically line-up on the same side of the field, comprising one of the league’s best half-corner tandems.

Judge, the team’s Most Outstanding Canadian nominee in 2019, was a no-brainer to re-sign. Rarely do you see a Canadian front-seven player be so productive, but that is just what the playmaker has been over the past two seasons.

Hughes, our final highlighted player, is destined for the CFL Hall of Fame with 130 sacks and 457 tackles on his resume, while still going strong at the age of 36. He is one of the most dominant and consistent players in the CFL at any position, and is still the probably the biggest difference-maker on Saskatchewan’s roster.

Departures (2020 team)

Gagne (Center, Green), takes on Calgary Stampeders RB Charlie Power (#46)


  • OL Phillip Blake* (TOR)
  • OL Dariusz Bladek* (TOR)
  • DL Micah Johnson (BC)
  • LB Alexandre Gagne* (MTL)
  • DB Denzel Radford (TOR)
  • WR Namaan Roosevelt (MTL)
  • LB Dyshaun Davis (BC)
  • RB Marcus Thigpen (TOR)
  • WR Emmanuel Arceneaux (FA)
  • LB Brandyn Bartlett* (FA)
  • OL Thaddeus Coleman (FA)
  • QB Bryan Bennett (FA)
  • WR Cory Watson* (FA)
  • LB Sam Hurl* (FA)
  • DL Lavar Edwards (FA)
  • OL Jeremy Zver* (Retired)
  • DB Tristan Jackson (Retired)
  • CB Victor Harris (Retired)

There are some other big names listed above, but few of them were actually crucial to the Riders’ 2019 success aside from the ones we have chosen to highlight.

The list of significant departures has to start with Johnson, who left for BC after a single season in Regina. He wasn’t as productive in the sack column as he was during his years with the Stampeders, but the impact was there, with the defensive-tackle absorbing double-teams, allowing more opportunities for teammates.

Gagne is a guy I probably talk about more than most observers, but its because he is one of the league’s best special-teams performers in kick-coverage, an important aspect of the 3-down sport. He is one of the more unsung Canadian players in the CFL and the Riders surely knew what he brought to the table. He will be missed.

One of the big questions going forward for Saskatchewan is their depth behind Shaq Evans at receiver, and that starts with the departure of Roosevelt, a player that had become so dependable. Acting as a key-cog in a mainly three-headed receiving-game last season, Roosevelt caught 77 passes for just a hair under 950 yards. Overall, he has produced over 4100 yards in five seasons in green and white. The team will need to find another target to replace his production.

Free Agent Signings (2019 team)

Lacey playing for the Edmonton Eskimos
Credit: DolphinsWire.USAToday

Per CFL Official Free Agent Tracker

  • WR Kenny Stafford (EDM)
  • QB James Franklin (TOR)
  • OL Josiah St. John (EDM)
  • DB Otha Foster (BC)
  • LB Deon Lacey (FA)
  • LB Nakas Onyeka* (TOR)

Just two names highlighted here, with the Riders largely staying out of this year’s free agent market.

Stafford, a veteran-receiver that had moments with the Eskimos in 2019, is an option to help replace Roosevelt, should the team opt for a more experienced option. He is only a season removed from his career-best year in 2018, when he caught 55 passes for nearly 800 yards.

Lacy was signed recently, but is a familiar name to CFL fans from his days with the Edmonton Eskimos. He has been in the NFL since 2017 with the Buffalo Bills (2017-2018) and Miami Dolphins (2019), where he mostly played a reserve-role. From 2014-2016 in Edmonton, though, he was a star on both defense and special-teams, racking up rare tackle totals due to his range and instincts. He surely figures in as a starter for Saskatchewan, probably as a strong-side linebacker hybrid.

New CFL Arrivals

OL Cyrus Kouandjio with the NFL’s Buffalo Bills


  • RB Jeremy Langford
  • DL Trenton Thompson
  • DB Damon Webb
  • LB Matthew Thomas
  • OL Cyrus Kouandjio
  • RB Terry Swanson
  • DB Christian Campbell
  • DB Tevin Mitchell
  • DB Zack Sanchez
  • RB Xavier Turner
  • LB Pete Robertson
  • WR Damarcus Ayers
  • OL Devon Johnson
  • WR Rashad Greene
  • OL Lanard Bonner
  • DB Hamp Cheevers
  • RB David Savard*
  • DL Chris Livings
  • DB Tony Lippett
  • DB AJ Hendy

Saskatchewan has one of the most interesting newcomer-classes this year, with a few notable NFL cast-offs.

Let’s start with Langford, a running-back that was taken by the Chicago Bears in the 4th-round of the 2015 NFL Draft. He saw some significant run in his opening couple years, when he ironically was competing for touches with now-Stampeders’ running-back Ka’Deem Carey. He won’t be the starter in Saskatchewan as long as William Powell stays healthy, but he could provide good back-up touches as he begins to make his mark in the CFL.

I’m quite familiar with Kouandjio being a Buffalo Bills fan, as he was selected by the team in the 2nd-round in 2014. Once thought of as an elite offensive-line prospect out of Alabama, he struggled with injuries during his time with the Bills and in my opinion, suffered from not being quick enough to play tackle at the NFL-level, the position the Bills had envisioned for him. Two seasons removed from playing his last NFL games with the Denver Broncos in 2017, Kouandjio heads to Saskatchewan looking to crack the line-up of one of the league’s most experienced offensive-lines. If he can channel some of the talent he possessed in the past, he might be able to grab some playing time in 2020.

Ayers is a guy that comes over from the now-folded XFL, where he played for the New York Guardians. I have already talked about the questions surrounding the depth of this receiving core after the loss of Namaan Roosevelt, so the Roughriders might be depending on players like Ayers to make up it.

Greene is another player with a relatively big-profile. He played his college football at Florida State, where he teamed-up with quarterback Jameis Winston to lead the Seminoles to a National Championship Victory in 2013. He was drafted in the NFL’s 5th-round in 2015, but never made much of a mark with the Jacksoville Jaguars, despite being on the roster for 4 seasons. He now heads to Riderville where his NFL pedigree might cause some eye-balls to turn in his directions for production in the back-half of this receiving-core.

2020 Roughriders’ Draft Class

Schaffer-Baker playing for the University of Guelph.
Credit: @ItsKianSB on Twitter
  • 1st: OL Mattland Riley, Saskatchewan (#7)
  • 2nd: None
  • 3rd: None
  • 4th: WR Kian Schaffer-Baker, Guelph (#30); LB Junior Allen, Guelph (#35)
  • 5th: DB Vincent Dethier, McGill (#44)
  • 6th: RB Jonathan Femi-Cole, Western (#53)
  • 7th: DL Jesse Lawson, Carleton (#62)
  • 8th: DL Neville Gallimore, Oklahoma (#71)

The Roughriders entered the draft with few pressing needs after retaining many of the key components on the national side of their roster from 2019.

One place that needed a little patching up after the losses of Phillip Blake and Dariusz Bladek was the offensive-line, and Saskatchewan addressed this by selecting Riley, a local product, in the 1st-round. From everything I’ve read from around the league, this seems like a great fit for both player and team.

The team didn’t have another selection until the 4th-round, when they selected Schaffer-Baker, a big-framed receiver out of Guelph. A steady producer during his USports’ career, Schaffer-Baker averaged over 16 yards per catch over 95 career receptions. He could be a dark-horse for snaps early in his career, as his size could give him opportunities to get on the field, perhaps as a weapon on deep-passes.

The biggest name here though, is the Riders’ 8th-round dart-throw selection of Gallimore. Selected high in the 3rd-round of April’s NFL Draft, it was beginning to look like he would go undrafted in the CFL Draft due to fear of him never coming North, but the Roughriders swooped in, picking him among the final selections. Honestly, with how quickly football organizations give up on young players today, it was well worth the risk this late in the draft.

NFL Watch-List

  • LB Derrick Moncrief (Las Vegas Raiders)–UPDATE: has been released by Raiders

The Roughriders initially only lost a single 2019 contributor to the NFL in Moncrief, but he was recently released by the Las Vegas Raiders unexpectedly, before even making it to training-camp. Unfortunately for Moncrief, who was a versatile-stud last season in the CFL, he likely won’t be able to fall back into the position he had last season in Saskatchewan with the team signing Deon Lacy. Still, expect him back with another CFL club if he doesn’t get signed again down South.

Projected Starters

Just a little clarification before we begin. 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.


*Denotes Canadian starter

Saskatchewan is poised to return 11 offensive-starters for the 2020 season.

This is led by their talented group upfront, where they start three Canadians in Labatte, Clark and Shepley, on the interior. Shepley had an excellent rookie season in 2019, exhibiting the rare traits for a blocker that made him the Riders’ 2018 1st-round pick, especially in the run-game. At tackle, they start a pair of Americans in Vaughan and Cofield, who are capable every-day CFLers.

Under-center, the team returns their dynamic QB-RB duo of Fajardo and Powell, who hope to build-off an excellent first-season together. In particular, Powell I feel is the engine for Saskatchewan on offense, contributing as both a powerful and elusive runner.

The receiving-core is where things could potentially be a mixed-bag.

Evans and Moore, are one of the best 1-2 punches in the CFL going into next season. In my mind, Evans might just be the best receiver from last season that is returning in 2020, while Moore is a speedster who is a great #2.

The rest of the group, as I was alluding to before, has questions. The other three starters at receiver include a Canadian in McCinnis, and two Americans in Stafford and Williams-Lambert. One of these players, or the combination of them, will need to fill the production void created from Namaan Roosevelt leaving the team in free agency.

Williams-Lambert is the most obvious candidate. In 2018 with the Riders, he had a standout year with 62 catches for over 764 yards and 4 touchdowns, which earned him an NFL training-camp invite with the Chicago Bears. He would be released by Chicago in the team’s final cuts and almost immediately, he signed back in Saskatchewan, where he returned for three games. A season removed from high-level CFL production and now catching passes from a different quarterback, we will see if he steps up as the team’s #3.

Stafford, meanwhile, is a guy that has been in the league since 2013 but has rarely had the opportunity to play a featured role. He’s more likely a #4 or #5 depth-receiver, but he might become an important secondary-target for Fajardo.

Finally, McCinnis makes the initial starting-12 for the offense, a year after being chosen in the 1st-round by the team in the 2019 CFL Draft out of Arkansas State. It has become rare in recent years for CFL teams to succeed without a legitimate Canadian starter at receiver, and McCinnis looks to step into the shoes of departing National Cory Watson this season.

Altogether, the offense has the look of a unit that should stack up extremely well with the rest of the league, assuming they get solid secondary receiving production in some sort of fashion.


*Denotes Canadian starter

Saskatchewan has the chance to be the CFL’s best defense in 2019, given how well we already know this unit can play, and that they also keep significant continuity.

Let’s start by looking at the starters along the d-line.

Leonard and Hughes comprise, all things considered, the best edge tandem in the entire CFL. They combined for 25 sacks last season, while also racking up 94 total-tackles. Tackle numbers can be misleading at times, but when it comes from players along the defensive-line it is a great sign.

Henry, one of Saskatchewan’s national starters, is four-year defensive-tackle who isn’t flashy but is good against the run while also producing a career-high 3 sacks in 2019. His partner on the inside looks to be Faulk, who played minimal snaps last season in the shadow of 2019 starter Micah Johnson. If he can step up, this defense has essentially no clear weaknesses.

In the linebacking core, there is so much potential.

Judge has grown into one of the top Canadian players in the CFL over the past two years, dominating at the weak-side linebacker position as a tackling-machine who is also useful in blitz-packages and as a coverage-player. Beside him is Elimimian, who as we mentioned earlier, is still among the top-performers at middle-linebacker as a player who has always possessed elite instincts. The question is really at strong-side linebacker, where I assume the recently-signed Deon Lacy will plug-in. If he can return to the level he played at when he was last in the CFL, this is certainly the best linebacking-unit in the league.

Likewise, the Roughriders’ defensive-backfield should be one of the league’s standout units. While other teams that had elite secondaries in 2019 taking significant losses, Saskatchewan returns all-five starters.

Moving from left-to-right, we have Marshall, who has developed into a high-level player at corner. He has proven to be quite the playmaker, intercepting 8 passes over his first two seasons and returning 3 of them for touchdowns. Beside him at half-back is the wise veteran Gainey, one of the players on this team that just jumps off the screen because he always seems to be around the ball. He is the most experienced member of this secondary at eight-years of experience.

Manning the middle is the Canadian safety Edem, who in his seventh CFL season made his first All-Star team in 2019. He isn’t the type of guy to produce a ton of takeaways, but is extremely physical, often being disguised in blitz-packages.

On the right-side we have Purifoy, who in 2019 was without question one of the best players in the entire league. He is the definition of versatile, being a playmaker in coverage while being capable of chipping in production on the blitz. However, one area where he shined last season was on kick-returns, where he lead the league in yards and had among the highest averages. His partner on that side of the field is McCray, who is the most inexperienced player in this backfield. Playing 13 games in his first CFL season, he put up great statistics, with 47 tackles and 3 interceptions.

Special Teams

Saskatchewan also returns most of their key components on special-teams, including all those listed above.

Lauther’s efficiency dipped slightly from his excellent 2018 season but he still hit nearly 80% of his attempts.

Ryan, a long-time NFL punter that is from Regina, played last season with the Riders and returns for 2020. He averaged the most yards per punt in the CFL in his first season back in the league.

Final Words

At last, we have arrived at our closing thoughts about the outlook of the 2020 Saskatchewan Roughriders.

The offseason for the team was defined by continuity, with the team bringing back the vast majority of their starters. Whether it be on offense or on defense, expect to see many of the same contributors from last season, which could bode well in a COVID-19 affected offseason.

It is hard to pin down strengths and weaknesses for this group because they are so well rounded.

If pushed, I would say the chief strength of this team, on paper, is their dynamic linebacker-core, which, with the addition of Lacey, looks like the league’s best on paper.

The biggest weakness of this roster and where this team may run into trouble could be in their receiving-depth beyond stars Shaq Evans and Keiran Moore. In the CFL, typically you need a Canadian receiver to play a sizeable-role, and I fear it may be too early for second-year receiver Justin McCinnis. Regardless, if this is your team’s biggest flaw, you should be delighted.

All things considered, I would consider the Roughriders a slight Grey Cup-favourite over all other contenders going into 2020 given how their existing team-chemistry should allow them to hit the ground-running in a likely-shortened season.

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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