A new season is finally upon us as the Riders are set to open their 2018 season against the Toronto Argonauts at home on Friday night.
It’s become a tradition of sorts of mine since joining 3DownNation a couple of seasons ago to more or less forgo the traditional season preview piece breaking down where the team should be good this year, where they have some question marks and what they will probably struggle at.
Frankly, there’s enough of that in Saskatchewan. We all know what the narratives are surrounding this team as the new season dawns, I don’t need to spend more time talking about the quarterbacks, the offensive line or the Canadian depth. There’s no secrets there.
So here we go.
1. The Riders will host a home playoff game
To be completely honest, I’ve struggled with this one. I went on record in the main 3DownNation predictions piece saying they’ll finish 2nd in the west, so I guess I got to stick with it here.
There’s a whole lot that has to go right this year in order for this one to come true, but they have progressed as a team every year from out of the playoffs to where they are today. So, it feels like a natural next step.
Given the state of their offensive line and Canadian depth, the defence is probably going to have to drag this team there. I think they might be good enough to do it.
2. Willie Jefferson has his best year yet
This just in, freak of nature athlete predicted to be good by pundit, more at a 11.
Yes, hardly the hottest take ever but with Charleston Hughes riding shotgun and Zack Evans in the middle, everything adds up to Jefferson have a monster year. He was basically unstoppable last season with less support beside him. What will he be able to do with fewer double teams? Jefferson is my pick of Most Outstanding Defensive Player.
Could the NFL be in his future again? Wouldn’t be the first guy Hughes has sent to the NFL.
3. We see a fair bit of both quarterbacks
Even though he’s getting paid top dollars and will probably get the opportunity to start, Zach Collaros will have his rough patches this season and ultimately might not be worth what he’s getting paid.
I mused on the latest 3Down Green Cast that perhaps some of the salary we saw go out the door on cutdown day had to do with Chris Jones expecting to use both Collaros and Brandon Bridge a fair bit this year, perhaps leading to a higher payday than expected for Bridge? Maybe. I could also be out to lunch.
Any rough patches might not even be Collaros’ fault if the protection is awful. Bridge could be the better option at times because of his ability to escape.
4. Naaman Roosevelt quietly does his thing
I think I write about Roosevelt in this space every year as I always expect big things from the Buffalo receiver.
Plenty has been made over the last month or so about who’s this team’s best receiver, Roosevelt or Duron Carter. Carter may make more highlight-reel grabs, he may be more athletic, he may do a lot of things well, but Roosevelt is the steady, calming influence that is always there.
The knock on him? Well, he hasn’t been able to stay healthy for the most part. Roosevelt leads the Riders in receiving yards in 2018 if he plays 15-plus games.
5. Duron Carter loudly does his thing
I don’t really know what this season has in store for Carter, we’ve seen a lot of ups and downs throughout his career in the CFL.
I don’t think there’s any question he’ll put up some numbers offensively, but I do wonder about how the defence experiment is going to go. He took a couple of penalties, defensively, that led to touchdowns against Calgary in the pre-season. Carter is known to get flagged now and then on offence and it’s a lot easier to be flagged on the other side of the ball.
The defensive experiment eventually ends.
6. A Canadian steps up
I’m kind of covering my bases here, but for my first prediction to happen, then something dramatic probably has to happen in terms of Canadian content.
Right now, they have seven starters. You can argue how good they all are, but they’re there. Beyond that? Most positions are questionable at best when it comes to backups, while some don’t have any at all. So, the Riders are going to need as many starting quality guys as they can get.
There are four guys who could step and make a difference for this team. Two of them, Devon Bailey and Joshua Stanford, will certainly see time on the playing field after Rob Bagg’s release. Odds are they can match his numbers from last season. If they can do more and handle the extra duties asked of the “Z” receiver, the Riders are in good shape there.
Elsewhere, I’m looking at linebacker Cameron Judge and offensive lineman Dariusz Bladek. If either player can play well enough to force Jones’ hand, then that’s good for the team. Judge would move Sam Eguaveon to the middle and send Sam Hurl to special teams and a backup role. If Bladek performs well in practice and any game action he might get, it could add another Canadian to the offensive line.
Someone will do it, my guess is Bladek is the current clubhouse leader, though Judge will get his time on at least a rotational basis.