Canadian content: Toronto Argonauts

Canadian content is an off-season series I’ve created to look at how each club deployed its starting nationals in 2019 and project how they may do so in 2020. This information can give us an idea of how teams will approach the draft in May.

We’ve already looked at the B.C. Lions, Calgary Stampeders, Edmonton Eskimos, Saskatchewan Roughriders, Winnipeg Blue Bombers, and Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Today we will be covering the Toronto Argonauts.

Toronto’s national players accounted for 137 starts in 2019, eleven more than the required 126. 2019 second-round pick Robbie Smith took over at defensive end for five games following the trade of Shawn Lemon, while fourth-year man Jamal Campbell won the starting job at right tackle in August.

Photo Scott Grant / CFLPhotoArchive.com

Below is a breakdown of how the Boatmen fielded their national starters last season. Players who appear at more than one position are marked with an asterisk.

Slotback

Llevi Noel (4)

Wide receiver

Jimmy Ralph (18)
Kurleigh Gittens Jr. (1)

Tackle

Jamal Campbell (11)

Guard

Tyler Holmes (18)
Ryan Bomben (14)
Shane Richards (1)

Centre

Sean McEwen (18)

Defensive end

Robbie Smith (5)

Defensive tackle

Cleyon Laing (15)
Linden Gaydosh (1)

Weak-side linebacker

Justin Herdman-Reed (1)*

Middle linebacker

Justin Herdman-Reed (5)*

Strong-side linebacker

Jermaine Gabriel (1)*

Cornerback

Robert Woodson (5)*
Matthew Boateng (3)

Halfback

Robert Woodson (4)*

Safety

Jermaine Gabriel (6)*
Matt Webster (5)
Robert Woodson (1)*

Outside of centre, guard, and wide receiver, Toronto moved their Canadians around at an almost unprecedented level in 2019. Robert Woodson started in four different positions — field-side cornerback, field-side halfback, safety, and boundary halfback — with others playing intermittent stints at defensive end, strong-side linebacker, middle linebacker, and cornerback.

The Argos need to focus their national talent more in 2020 and, following a whirlwind free agent period, are well on their way to doing so.

Though the signing of T.J. Jones is not yet official, his addition should give Toronto the best group of national receivers in the CFL. Mississauga native Juwan Brescacin — signed away from the Calgary Stampeders in February — is a difference-maker at slotback, while Natey Adjei and Llevi Noel bring possession skills and blocking ability.

Photo Scott Grant / CFLPhotoArchive.com

Philip Blake and Dariusz Bladek were signed away from the Saskatchewan Roughriders and should serve as the team’s starting guards this season. Jamal Campbell returns at right tackle after signing a lucrative three-year extension with the club, while three 2019 draft picks serve as the club’s backup blockers. Toronto is expected to go American at centre in 2020 given their national depth elsewhere on the roster.

Canadian quarterback Michael O’Connor saw some action late in 2019, completing 15-of-25 passing for 173 yards and one touchdown. He’ll continue developing behind Matt Nichols and McLeod Bethel-Thompson as the team’s third-string pivot this season.

Toronto is thin along the defensive line following the departure of perennial all-star Cleyon Laing, but the club appears intent on starting an all-American front. Robbie Smith is a legitimate rotational pass rusher, while Fabion Foote should rotate on the interior.

Photo Scott Grant / CFLPhotoArchive.com

Linebackers Chris Ackie and Nick Shortill joined the team in free agency, while Boseko Lokombo was acquired via trade with the Montreal Alouettes. All three players have starting experience, while veterans Nelkas Kwemo and Nakas Oyneka may receive expanded roles with the team in 2020. Though American veterans Bear Woods and Jeff Knox Jr. remain on the roster, it’s possible we’ll see Toronto start nationals at weak-side and middle linebacker in 2020.

Arjen Colquhoun was a sneaky-good signing in the secondary where he and Matthew Boateng can combine to start at strong-side cornerback. Robert Woodson is a versatile veteran with starting experience at a number of spots, while Dondre Wright brings the boom on special teams.

Summary

Toronto’s national depth is exceptional at receiver and linebacker, though it needs to be enhanced elsewhere on the roster. The Argos have six selections in the first three rounds of May’s draft, which means they’ll have ample opportunity to add young national talent.

Expect the team to draft at least one blue chip offensive lineman along with reinforcements along the defensive line.

Receiver — Natey Adjei, Juwan Brescacin, T.J. Jones (3)
Tackle — Jamal Campbell (1)
Guard — Philip Blake, Dariusz Bladek (2)
Weak-side linebacker — Chris Ackie (1)
Cornerback — Arjen Colquhoun (1)

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