It’s sloppy, messy, and sometimes hard to watch, but CFL fans have never been more grateful to see preseason football.
While regular-season games are all about engaging storylines and final scores, the preseason is all about the players. Dozens of future CFL stars will be getting their first taste of the action this weekend but with so many new prospects on every roster, it can be difficult for fans to know who they should have their eyes on.
As always, 3DownNation has done the work for you. We’ll have a list of players to watch ahead of every preseason game in 2022, giving fans — whether in-stadium or watching on TV — an easy cheat sheet to enhance their viewing experience.
The schedule kicks off at 7:30 p.m. EST with a clash between the visiting Toronto Argonauts and the Ottawa Redblacks. The only Week One preseason game broadcast nationally, here are eight players you should pay attention to while watching the contest.
Chad Kelly, QB, Ole Miss
Big-name college quarterbacks are often a dangerous proposition in the CFL, but Kelly feels like the type of exception that could actually push starter McLeod Bethel-Thompson this season. With a style of play that fits well north of the border, the nephew of Pro Football Hall of Famer Jim Kelly is brash, big-armed and sometimes a little too willing to take big play risks. A mile-long list of off-the-field concerns killed his NFL draft stock and eventually his career, but there was something about Kelly’s game at Ole Miss that seemed to rally teammates. His first live exposure to the CFL game should be must-see TV.
Isaiah Wright, REC, Temple
A former college running back who turned into a versatile receiving threat, Wright caught 27 passes for 197 yards as an unheralded undrafted rookie with the Washington Football Team in 2020. The six-foot-two, 220-pound weapon is an offensive coordinator’s dream for his ability to move around the formation and burn you on the end-around, but could work his way onto the roster as a returner first thanks to the game-breaking ability he showed as AAC Special Teams Player of the Year back in 2018.
Alani Pututau, DE, Adams State
A quick-twitch tweener from the Division II level, Pututau feels tailor-made for the CFL game. At six-foot-one and 243 pounds, he’s an impressive athlete with a nose for the backfield, as evidenced by the 13.5 sacks and 24.5 tackles for loss that he posted in his only season at Adams State. For a team with a major pass-rush need off the edge, Pututau’s showing in the preseason will be hugely important.
Tarvarus McFadden, DB, Florida State
McFadden failed to make the Argos in camp last year but was brought back in November for another kick at the can. Fans have yet to see the former five-star recruit in action, but his physical man coverage style and ball skills once earned him the Jack Tatum Award as the NCAA’s top defensive back. How that will translate to the CFL remains to be seen, but few players enter the league with a resume of his calibre.
Justin Hardy, REC, East Carolina
A former fourth-round pick of the Atlanta Falcons, Hardy is keeping his pro football dream alive at the age of 30 by trying his hand at the CFL. A consistent depth receiver over five NFL seasons, he once went from college walk-on to the NCAA’s all-time leader in receptions. If he has the same level of commitment to the final phase of his football career as he did to the first, Hardy could be making an impact in Week 1 for Ottawa.
Bryce Carter, DL, James Madison
A dominant player at Towson University who became an All-American after transferring to FCS powerhouse James Madison, Carter’s game is all strength and get off. The five-foot-11, 250-pound lineman’s high motor earned him nine sacks at defensive end as a senior but his lack of bend was a concern for NFL teams. I think he possesses the type of inside versatility that could be lethal north of the border, allowing him to get after the quarterback from a variety of alignments.
Siaosi Mariner, REC, Utah State
A big-bodied target, Mariner made Jordan Love look good after transferring from Utah to Utah State as a senior. He amassed 987 yards through the air and ten touchdowns in a breakout campaign, showing an impressive ability to adjust to the football. His lack of high-end speed cost him in the NFL, but he’ll catch everything thrown his way with the waggle at his disposal.
Deshawn Stevens, DL, West Virginia
Ottawa’s 2021 first-round pick was a difference-making linebacker at the University of Maine and a force on special teams after transferring to West Virginia, but he’ll be transitioning into a full-time defensive lineman as a pro. How he adjusts to the new role in the preseason is a storyline to watch, one which will help determine the Redblacks’ roster make-up overall this upcoming season.