The Canadian Football League has and always will be a passing league, which is part of the reason why the three-down brand of football has been entertaining for decades.
Teams need a quarterback who can consistently play at a high level to contend for, and win, the Grey Cup. For example, McLeod Bethel-Thompson threw for a CFL-best 4,731 passing yards in 2022 while playing a major role in the Toronto Argonauts winning the 109th Grey Cup in Regina.
Bethel-Thompson had 117 more pass attempts and 56 more completions than the next closest QB in those categories. Nathan Rourke had the highest efficiency rating (123.6) and best average yards per completion (10.3) but only started 10 games due to injury.
Zach Collaros, who won the league’s Most Outstanding Player award for the second consecutive year, played 17 games and produced elite numbers while posting the most touchdown passes league-wide with 37.
Two of the aforementioned quarterbacks are not currently in the CFL as Bethel-Thompson signed with the New Orleans Breakers of the USFL in the offseason and Rourke inked a deal with the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars. DraftKings has given Collaros +200 odds to win the passing title and, despite a talented receiving group around him, there’s not enough pay off for your money.
There are two passers in the league who have 5,000-yard passing seasons on their resumes: Bo Levi Mitchell (2016, 2018) and Trevor Harris (2018). Mitchell is at +400 to pace the league through the air, which a solid return with upside considering the weapons Mitchell has around him, but still not huge bang for your buck.
Harris has to be the best value on the board and it’s not all that close. The 37-year-old has gone over 4,000 yards in five of his eight seasons as a starting QB in the CFL, two of which were injury-shortened. He’s got the experience, know-how and playmakers to get it done and, for what it’s worth, he looked confident and in rhythm during his one preseason drive.
Jake Wieneke and Derel Walker give Harris familiar targets that he’s thrown to in the past. Samuel Emilus and Brayden Lenius have intriguing potential as Canadians, while Shawn Bane Jr. appears set for a breakout season. Kian Schaffer-Baker, who flashed No. 1 ability last year, continues to rehab from offseason surgery and is expected to return around the middle of the season. Saskatchewan has the makings for a stellar passing attack led by Harris.
Vernon Adams Jr. and Chad Kelly enter similar situations as they are taking over from departed star quarterbacks but with different resumes. The Lions’ QB1 has been in the CFL for six years with 35 career CFL starts compared to Kelly’s one season with a single start. Each man has +1000 odds to top the three-down league’s passing yardage chart.
The dynamic Dominique Rhymes, who finished second league-wide in receiving yards and touchdown grabs last year, leads a trio of 1,000-yard targets alongside Keon Hatcher and Lucky Whitehead. The Leos like Alex Hollins as a breakout candidate, while Jevon Cottoy brings a physical presence to the group. Combine those playmakers with offensive coordinator Jordan Maksymic tailoring the offence to Adams Jr.’s skillset and it’s a great bet.
B.C. led the CFL in passing yards per game as a team in 2022 and Toronto was second. That stat alone makes Kelly a smart choice along with the high-end possibilities with his talents. If he stays on the straight and narrow, personnel people believe the nephew of Jim Kelly can be a star in the league. Although it’s far from a certainty, the value on No. 12 makes it worth a bet.
Editor’s note: please note that you must be at least 19 years of age to legally wager on sports in Ontario.