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.
Saturday’s action kicks off at 4:00 p.m. ET when a paired down B.C. Lions team heads to Alberta to take on the Calgary Stampeders. If you are taking in the game at McMahon Stadium, here are the players you need to be looking for.
Alexander Hollins, REC, Eastern Illinois
The Lions are looking for another weapon in the receiving corps and Hollins could be just the ticket. The FCS All-American looked like a man amongst boys as a senior at Eastern Illinois, racking up 80 catches for 1,102 yards and 16 touchdowns, then became something of a cult hero as an undrafted free agent with the Minnesota Vikings. Hollins has blazing 4.49-speed and will shake defenders out of their socks when he has to, a perfect complement to B.C.’s existing arsenal.
Josh Pearson, REC, Jacksonville State
Another eye-popping name on the list of potential weapons, Pearson already has a Super Bowl ring from his time with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He’s just as fast as Hollins in a foot race but stands six-foot-three and 205 pounds – three inches taller and 40 pounds heavier – with a 41-inch vertical. Also an All-American, Pearson’s final two college seasons were simply absurd, ripping apart opposing defences to the tune of 2,066 yards and 30 touchdowns.
Miles Fox, DT, Wake Forest
A late add to training camp who is already drawing the preseason start, Fox is a bull-strong defensive tackle who creates opportunities for his teammates by handling the dirty work, but gets after the quarterback himself. The ACC Comeback Player of the Year in 2020 after recovering from a torn Achilles, he posted 7.5 sacks in his final two college seasons and racked up 87 career pressures in his time with Old Dominion and Wake Forest.
Kevin Thomson, QB, Sacramento State
The story of the offseason — at least from a roster-building standpoint — was unquestionably the Lions’ decision to roll with Nathan Rourke as their starting quarterback and bring in Michael O’Connor to create the first all-Canadian quarterback tandem in modern CFL history. While he won’t threaten the starting job, Thomson is the only one who can disrupt that narrative and don’t be shocked if he does. The Lions’ practice roster QB to end last year was the Big Sky Offensive Player of the Year for Sacramento State, an award synonymous with CFL stardom thanks to the likes of Bo Levi Mitchell, Vernon Adams Jr., Matt Nichols, and Jake Maier.
Dionté Ruffin, DB, Western Kentucky
The star of Calgary’s annual Red and White game scrimmage with two interceptions — including one against Bo Levi Mitchell — Ruffin has impressed enough to be in contention for one of the team’s open starting spots in the secondary. His career interception total for the Hilltoppers was the same as his scrimmage result, but he has a history of getting his hands on the football with 25 pass breakups. Sometimes outmatched at the catch point, he should benefit from the wider CFL game and less physical coverage style.
Hugh Thornton, OL, Illinois
A former third-round draft pick of the Indianapolis Colts, Thornton started 32 of the 37 NFL games he played before retiring due to injury in 2017. The Stampeders are the latest stop on the 30-year-old guard’s comeback tour, which began in 2019 with the AAF’s Arizona Hotshots and he’ll bring both physicality and versatility to the lineup. Thornton’s listed as a tackle on the depth chart but given his pedigree, I don’t think it is outside the realm of possibility that he starts at guard if a lack of Canadian depth pushes the team to go American inside.
Tommy Stevens, QB, Penn State
Calgary doesn’t need to add a quarterback with Bo Levi Mitchell and Jake Maier already in the building, but Stevens is a different animal. The six-foot-four, 237-pound dual-threat pivot was a seventh-round pick of the New Orleans Saints and drew the heralded Taysom Hill comparison for his unique athletic ability. He toyed with a position switch to tight end in the NFL but could be the second coming of Chris Streveler if the Stamps decide to keep him around.
Reece Horn, REC, Indianapolis
If you have a soft spot for the underdog, 29-year-old Reece Horn is the guy for you. After an incredible college career which saw him rack up 272 catches for 3,562 yards and 31 touchdowns at the Division II level, Horn kept his football dream alive by playing in Italy and Austria until a shot with the defunct AAF got him back on the pro radar. He became the rare former European import player to sign in the NFL and did it again after a successful stint in the XFL. Horn is looking to settle down with the Stampeders and has all the tools to be a dependable CFL slotback if Calgary will look past his age.