Preseason preview: eight rookies to watch in Redblacks vs. Argos

Photo courtesy: Bob Butrym/RFB Sport Photography

The CFL preseason is almost over and cutdown day is looming. With dozens of desperate newcomers battling it out for a handful of open jobs, some decisions will come down to how prospects perform in their final exhibition outing.

With all preseason games now available to stream live, determining which unfamiliar names actually merit close attention is a daunting task for fans. As always, 3DownNation will have you covered with a cheat sheet of first-time CFL players to watch ahead of each exhibition contest.

On Thursday, the Redblacks will travel to Toronto to wrap up their preseason slate. Ottawa will be fielding an inexperienced lineup with something to prove, while the Argonauts are expected to give their starters another tune-up. Here are eight rookies I’ll have my eye on amidst the action.

*denotes National player

Ottawa Redblacks

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/

#18 Dustin Crum, QB, Kent State University

With Jeremiah Masoli’s status for Week 1 up in the air, Ottawa’s quarterback depth has come under increased scrutiny. Nobody is unseating Nick Arbuckle as the backup, but Tyrie Adams’ position as third-stringer is not guaranteed and Crum could steal a job with a strong showing despite not getting any snaps last week. The former Mid-American Conference MVP is known for his good decision-making and deceptive ability as a runner, while also being the largest passer on the Redblacks’ roster at six-foot-three and 207 pounds.

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/

#34 Joshua Valentine-Turner, DB, Florida International University

The long-term injury to Money Hunter has opened up opportunities in the Redblacks’ secondary and Valentine-Turner appears to be the rookie with the most to gain. A transfer from Iowa who didn’t blossom until late in his college career with FIU, the six-foot, 188-pound cornerback has the intelligence, physicality and fluidity to contribute early in his CFL career as a designated import.

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/

#45 Chizi Umunakwe, LB, Central Connecticut State University

Last week’s player to watch Ryan Saddler appears to have the edge among rookie American linebackers, but Umunakwe can’t be counted out. The six-foot-one, 215-pound defender was a finalist for the Buck Buchanan Award as the top defensive player in the FCS in his senior year with the Blue Devils, averaging 9.4 tackles per game from the middle of the defence. A transfer from Towson who also excelled in javelin, he has a CFL build with the range to compete on the larger Canadian field.

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/

#24 De’Montre Tuggle, RB, Ohio University

A powerful north-south slasher, Tuggle made the most of limited opportunities in Ottawa’s first preseason game by carrying seven times for 33 yards in the fourth quarter and adding a 17-yard catch. The five-foot-10, 198-pound back may have already done enough to place himself in the starting conversation and if he out-performs incumbent DeVonte Williams again, it will be hard not to keep him on the roster.

Toronto Argonauts

Photo courtesy: Kelly Barrett/Morehead State Athletics

#87 B.J. Byrd, REC, Morehead State University

An All-American and a finalist for the Walter Payton Award as the most valuable player in the FCS, Byrd put up 90 receptions for 1,313 yards and 13 touchdowns in 11 games as a senior in 2021. He was also the Argos’ most productive receiver in their preseason opener, notching five catches for 44 yards and two impressive majors. The six-foot, 190-pound target has speed to burn and tremendous change of direction ability in space, making him a real threat to make the roster.

Photo courtesy: Bob Butrym/RFB Sport Photography

#49 Daniel Kwamou, LB, University of British Columbia*

Toronto’s fifth-round pick in the 2022 CFL Draft got sent back to school for seasoning last year and if his performance last week is any indication, it worked. Kwamou led all Argos with six tackles and added a strip-sack in a statement outing. Nevertheless, the backlog of talented Canadian linebackers wearing double blue right now will make winning a roster spot challenging and he’ll need a strong follow-up to really secure a job.

Photo courtesy: Lindsey Wilson College

#3 Cameron Dukes, QB, Lindsey Wilson College

In simple terms, Dukes’ CFL debut last week could be described as “chaotic good.” He completed nine-of-15 passes for 91 yards and a touchdown while playing wild, backyard football. A prolific passer in the NAIA, where he was a three-time All-American, there is clearly something intriguing in the six-foot-one, 205-pound passer’s skillset but he needs to make things easier on himself. He’ll get limited reps this week to prove he is a developmental project worth keeping around, and not just a preseason curiosity.

Photo: AP/Sam Craft

#98 Tyree Johnson, DE, Texas A&M University

A classic CFL tweener at six-foot-four and 240 pounds, Johnson was a second-team All-SEC selection in 2021 after racking up 8.5 sacks in college football’s toughest conference. He has all the first-step explosiveness and bend to be an elite pass rusher at the next level, but struggled to defend the run against NFL-sized linemen. That won’t be a problem in the CFL, but he’ll have to flash against Ottawa to stick around.

J.C. Abbott is a University of British Columbia graduate and high school football coach. He covers the CFL, B.C. Lions, CFL Draft and the three-down league's Global initiative.