Every CFL season is full of potential, both positive and negative. There will be teams that disappoint and ones that surprise, and the same thing goes for players. This may be a little early, but here are the five players who could potentially break out and become stars, and five more who could fail to live up to expectations.
Devon Bailey, Edmonton Eskimos
Bailey is entering his third season with the Eskimos, and with Shamawd Chambers now out of the picture after signing in Saskatchewan, the time is now for Bailey to step up and show the league why he was a first round pick. He has incredible size and speed, and has all the tools necessary to become one of the league’s premier Canadian pass catchers. This year could be the year we finally see all that Bailey has to offer.
BC running backs
The tea leaves are a little tough to read here, but one of BC’s running backs will emerge as the No. 1 option and provide the Lions with a solid ground attack. Jeremiah Johnson and Anthony Allen both have great CFL pedigrees, but don’t be forget newcomer Mikel Leshoure. He was a second-round pick of the NFL’s Detroit Lions back in 2011 and could be one of those diamond-in-the-rough findings we don’t talk about now, but rave about in October. All three have the ability to be 1,000-yard rushers, but it is to early to tell which one it will be.
Garrett Waggoner, Winnipeg Blue Bombers
The Blue Bombers are without a first-round pick in the upcoming draft because of their selection of Waggoner in last year’s supplemental draft, and while he failed to live up to the hype last season, the future is still bright for the Dartmouth alum. With a year under his belt, and perhaps a larger role in the team’s defense, Waggoner could show why the Bombers were wise to select him.
William Powell, Ottawa Redblacks
The Redblacks cycled through more than their fair share of running backs in their two seasons of existence, but they may have finally found their stud in Powell. In limited action last season, Powell finished with an incredible 8.5 per carry average while looking shifty and elusive when running the ball. He was basically everything the team hoped Chevon Walker would be when they selected him in the expansion draft. Powell will see his per-carry average dip with a heavier work load, but do not be surprised if he is in the thick of things for the rushing title this season.
Dionte Spencer, Toronto Argonauts
With Chad Owens’ departure from Toronto Hamilton, the Argos will be looking for someone to fill the hole Owens left in the team’s receiving corps: enter Spencer. The diminutive McNeese St. product filled in at times for Owens last year and showed flashes of what he is capable of if given a larger role. That larger role should come this year, and with it should come a massive increase in production. Don’t be surprised if Spencer is the breakout player of 2016.
Honourable mentions: Lemar Durant (Calgary), Nic Demski (Saskatchewan), Terrence Toliver (Hamilton)
Jonathon Jennings, BC Lions
Jennings took the league by storm last year, but how well will he perform when teams have a chance to really look at the film and gameplan to stop him? There is a lot of hype going Jennings’ way, and he might not live up to some of the massive expectations being heaped on him by others. Jennings probably won’t be a bust, but those calling saying he is an early MOP candidate could be sorely disappointed come season’s end.
Euclid Cummings, Winnipeg Blue Bombers
Winnipeg went out and spent a ton of money in free agency, and unless they hit a home run on every signing, one guy is bound to disappoint. That guy is going to be Cummings, who came over from Toronto after a decent year playing alongside Cleyon Laing, Tristan Okpalaugo and Ricky Foley. Winnipeg’s defensive line isn’t as talented as Toronto’s was last year, so Cummings won’t see the same types of opportunities that he did with the Argos and his numbers will drop because of it.
Justin Hickman, Toronto Argonauts
Hickman just hasn’t looked like the player he was back in 2011 since he returned the league from the NFL midway through the 2014 season. He hasn’t been bad, but he also hasn’t been dominant. Hickman was part of the mass exodus of ex-Ticats to Toronto, and out of the those three, he is the most likely to disappoint. Hickman is still a good player, but he is no longer the type of player that teams around the league fear. If the Argos think they are getting 2010-11 Justin Hickman, they are in for a rude awakening.
Ottawa’s receiving quartet of Chris Williams, Ernest Jackson, Brad Sinopoli and Greg Ellingson were the league’s most dangerous unit last year and will likely be a top-flight unit again in 2016. However, unlike in 2015 when the foursome all went over 1,000 yards, one of two of these players will definitely fail to do so in 2016. Williams is likely to still be the go-to guy, so his numbers should hold steady, but the other three could all see their numbers dip significantly. Ellingson played a full season for the first time in his career and needed a monster game in the final week of the regular season to barely crack the 1,000-yard mark. Jackson started hot, but tailed off near the end of the season and failed to go over the 70-yard mark in any game during the season’s final seven weeks. Sinopoli was hot and cold all year and went 10 straight games in the middle of the season without scoring a touchdown. Ottawa will still have a very good set of receivers, but to expect them to all once again cross the 1,000-yard mark is simply unrealistic.
Henry Burris, Ottawa Redblacks
This one is sure to anger a lot of people, but the main reason why Ottawa’s receivers won’t post the same numbers as last year is because their quarterback won’t put up the same gaudy numbers he did last year. Burris had a career revival in 2015 after two down years in 2013 and 2014, as he was named MOP and got the second-year Redblacks to the Grey Cup. But Burris has a history of following up great seasons, with not-so-great seasons. It happened in Calgary in 2011 after an MOP season in 2010, and it happened again in Hamilton when his numbers fell in 2013 after a magnificent 2012 season. Add in the loss of offensive coordinator Jason Maas and the arrival of a true threat to Burris’ position in Trevor Harris, and there is just no way that Burris will reach the same heights he did last year.
Dishonourable mentions: Shawn Lemon (Saskatchewan), Chad Owens (Hamilton), Vaughn Martin (Montreal)