2022 CFL free agent rankings: defensive linemen

Photo courtesy: B.C. Lions/Paul Yates

The CFL negotiating window has officially opened, allowing pending free agents to talk with teams across the league. Players are unable to officially sign with a new team until Tuesday, Feb. 8, but that hasn’t prevented the rumour mill from spinning.

3DownNation recently unveiled its list of the top 30 pending free agents, the vast majority of whom are still set to hit the market. We remain in the process of releasing top free agent lists for each position; having already ranked the quarterbacksthe running backs, the receivers, and the offensive line.

For our defensive line rankings, we’ve split the players into two separate lists — defensive tackles and defensive ends. The re-signing of Ticats star Dylan Wynn on Thursday does take some of bluster out of the list, but in a league where pass rush is at premium, any of the remaining players could make a huge impact.

Editor’s Note: These rankings have been edited since publication to reflect which players remain uncommitted.

*indicates National

Defensive Tackles

1) Steven Richardson, Winnipeg Blue Bombers

The man they call ‘Stove’ was a one-man wrecking crew in 2021, recording 13 tackles, four sacks, and one forced fumble in just seven regular season games. He made two sacks in the Grey Cup and should be due for a massive payday should he reach free agency.

2) Ted Laurent, Hamilton Tiger-Cats*

The future Canadian Football Hall of Fame inductee had a quiet season in 2021, registering just 14 tackles. Statistics don’t always reflect the play of interior defensive linemen, though some teams may question how much tread remains on the 34-year-old’s tires.

3) Woody Baron, Montreal Alouettes

The six-foot-one, 270-pounder made 16 tackles, six sacks, and one forced fumble over 13 starts in 2021. He has quietly established himself as a solid starter along the interior and could be of use to a number of teams around the league.

Photo courtesy: Saskatchewan Roughriders

4) Makana Henry, Saskatchewan Roughriders*

The five-year veteran was primarily a rotational player in 2021 but still posted decent numbers, making 26 tackles and two sacks. He has a nasty habit of taking bad penalties, but Henry can push the pocket better than most interior defenders in the CFL.

5) Michael Wakefield, Montreal Alouettes

The four-year veteran posted strong numbers — 24 tackles and four sacks — despite not starting a single game in 2021. The six-foot-three, 268-pound defender is a strong rotational player who could easily start for a team, as he did with Ottawa in 2019.

6) Davon Coleman, Ottawa Redblacks

The five-year veteran was solid for Ottawa in 2021, making 32 tackles and four sacks over 14 starts along the interior. The Arizona State product can start but may flourish even more in a rotational pass-rushing role.

7) Drake Nevis, Toronto Argonauts

The 32-year-old has been a mainstay along CFL defensive lines since 2016, but he appeared in just one game in 2021 due to injury, registering two tackles. Nevis may still have some gas in the tank, but his age and durability issues will give teams pause.

8) Vincent Desjardins, Calgary Stampeders*

The former second-round pick has dressed for 20 games in a depth role with the Stamps, registering three tackles and one forced fumble. The pool of available Canadian defensive tackles is very thin, which works to Desjardins’ advantage.

Best of the rest: Junior Turner, Toronto Argonauts*; Stefan Charles, Ottawa Redblacks*; Jhaustin Thomas, Hamilton Tiger-Cats; Ezekiel Rose, Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

Defensive Ends

Photo courtesy: Bob Butrym

1) Ja’Gared Davis, Hamilton Tiger-Cats

The former East Division all-star came on strong late in the 2021 season, making 11 tackles, seven sacks, and one forced fumble over his final five games (playoffs included). Davis has qualified for the Grey Cup in all five of his CFL seasons and he’ll look to keep that trend going in 2022.

2) Shawn Lemon, Calgary Stampeders

There are three guarantees in life: death, taxes, and Shawn Lemon sacking the quarterback. The veteran has had six different stints with four different organizations since 2018 but continues to produce, making 16 sacks over his last 21 games.

Photo courtesy: Dominick Gravel/Alouettes de Montreal

3) David Menard, Montreal Alouettes*

The 31-year-old had a career-year in 2021, making 18 tackles, eight sacks, and two forced fumbles as a rotational defensive end. He’s reportedly received interest from the B.C. Lions after previously spending six years with the team (2014-19) in a similar role.

4) Avery Ellis, Ottawa Redblacks

The four-year veteran isn’t flashy, but has produced consistently in Ottawa with 129 tackles and 18 sacks in 57 career games. Ellis may not be viewed as an every-down player across the league, but he could certainly help a team as a rotational pass-rusher.

5) Mathieu Betts, Edmonton Elks*

The former first-round pick had a disappointing season in 2021, making 12 tackles and zero sacks in 13 games. At 26, Betts remains an elite athlete with plenty of upside who could flourish as a pass-rusher in the right system.

6) Thiadric Hansen, Winnipeg Blue Bombers

The German-born defender is by far the best player to come from the league’s global initiative, making 25 total tackles, four sacks, and three forced fumbles in 32 career games. He’s athletic, versatile, and one of the league’s hardest hitters.

7) Cordarro Law, Calgary Stampeders

The 33-year-old had an injury-riddled season in 2021, dressing for just five games and recording 11 tackles, three sacks, and one forced fumble. He doesn’t have a strong history of durability, but Law has proven that he can get after the passer when healthy.

Best of the rest: Charleston Hughes, Free Agent; J.R. Tavai, B.C. Lions; Lorenzo Mauldin IV, Hamilton Tiger-Cats; Frank Beltre, Ottawa Redblacks; Tobi Antigha, Winnipeg Blue Bombers; Alex Bazzie, B.C. Lions; Freddie Bishop III, Saskatchewan Roughriders; Jordan Reaves, Saskatchewan Roughriders*; Nate Anderson, Free Agent*.