2023 CFL free agent rankings: running backs & fullbacks

Photo: Paul Yates/B.C. Lions

There are still well over 100 pending CFL free agents set to hit the open market on, so 3DownNation has taken the liberty of ranking each pending free agent by position in order to illustrate who the most sought-after players will be.

The CFL has always been passing league but having a solid running game is important, particularly in the postseason. Below we’ve ranked the league’s pending free agent running backs and fullbacks. Check back tomorrow for our ranking of receivers.

The league’s negotiating window is currently open. Pending free agents can speak with teams around the league during this period, though the window closes on Sunday, Feb. 12 ahead of the official start of free agency on Tuesday, Feb. 14.

Please note that “N” denotes National players (ie. Canadians) and “A” denotes American players.

Running backs

1. James Butler, B.C. Lions (A)

The five-foot-nine, 210-pound ball carrier had a breakout year in 2022, rushing for 1,060 yards and seven touchdowns and making 53 receptions for 384 yards and four touchdowns over 17 starts. The soon-to-be 28-year-old wasted no time having his best game of the season this past year, recording 141 yards from scrimmage and four touchdowns in a Week 1 win over Edmonton.

2. Walter Fletcher, Montreal Alouettes (A)

The 26-year-old was effective along the ground and through the air this past season, rushing 85 times for 486 yards and one touchdown and catching 29 passes for 353 yards and one touchdown over 14 games. William Stanback is considered a star in La Belle Province but Fletcher was the more productive rusher in 2022, averaging 5.7 yards per carry to Stanback’s 4.5.

3. A.J. Ouellette, Toronto Argonauts (A)

The Ohio product started nine games last year after Andrew Harris suffered a pectoral injury and became a household name for his solid play and eye-catching hairstyle. He made 98 carries for 516 yards and two touchdowns along with 38 receptions for 350 yards and one touchdown over 13 regular season games and remained a factor in the postseason, scoring three touchdowns en route to a Grey Cup title.

4. Wes Hills, Hamilton Tiger-Cats (A)

The second-year CFL ball carrier has only dressed for seven career games but has made the most of his opportunities as they’ve come, rushing for 384 yards and one touchdown and making 11 catches for 105 yards last season. The native of Wildwood, N.J. has the most size of all the running backs on this list, measuring in at six-foot-one and 218 pounds.

Photo: Michael Scraper/3DownNation. All rights reserved.

5. Andrew Harris, Toronto Argonauts (N)

The 12-year veteran is a shoo-in to make the Canadian Football Hall of Fame but has struggled with injuries since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, dressing for only 15 regular season games over the past two seasons. Though he showed flashes of his old brilliance at times, the soon-to-be 36-year-old averaged a career-low 4.3 yards per carry in 2022.

6. Shaq Cooper, Saskatchewan Roughriders (A)

The 29-year-old signed with Saskatchewan late this past season after Jamal Morrow and Frankie Hickson were placed on the six-game injured list. He only had five carries but has been productive at times over his four-year CFL career, rushing for 645 yards and three touchdowns and catching 35 passes for 246 yards and one touchdown over 17 games.

7. William Powell, Ottawa Redblacks (A)

The two-time East Division all-star’s return to the nation’s capital was marred by injuries this past as he played only seven games, rushing for 306 yards and one touchdown and catching nine passes for 55 yards. Powell will turn 35 next month and one has to wonder whether or not he has any gas left in the tank at this point in his career.


Photo: Bob Butrym/3DownNation. All rights reserved.

1. James Tuck, Saskatchewan Roughriders (N)

The seven-year veteran has dressed for 87 career games with five different CFL teams, recording seven catches for 83 yards, one carry for five yards, and 53 special teams tackles. The six-foot, 230-pound native of Aurora, Ont. will turn 33 in June.

2. Charlie Power, Calgary Stampeders (N)

The 31-year-old has dressed for 100 games as a member of the Stampeders since being selected in the third round of the 2013 CFL Draft out of the University of Saskatchewan. He has made seven receptions for 37 yards, one carry for three yards, 80 special teams tackles, and three forced fumbles over the course of his career.

3. Mario Villamizar, B.C. Lions (N)

The former sixth-round pick has dressed for 40 career games since breaking into the league in 2019, recording two receptions for 13 yards and four special teams tackles. The native of St. Catharines, Ont. missed most of the 2021 CFL season due to a torn Achilles but has remained otherwise healthy through his career.