Top Five Seahawks Primed to Breakout in 2018

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By now you’ve heard all about it. Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, Michael Bennett, Jimmy Graham, Cliff Avril, Paul Richardson, DeShawn Shead and potentially Earl Thomas (god please no) are all no longer Seahawks. That has left many analysts and pundits alike to predict the demise of the once great Seahawks. Records as low as 4-12 have been predicted for the Seahawks and Hawk fans were even blessed with this great take:

You’re welcome for the free promotion on my blog that nobody reads, Benjamin.

Anyways, there are five players in my mind that can prevent such a catastrophe of having the worst record in the NFL.

1. Tyler Lockett (WR)

It may seem odd to put a player here who’s been in the league for three years already. However, after an outstanding rookie season in 2015 that saw Lockett be named as a 1st Team All-Pro by the Associated Press, Lockett unfortunately broke his leg at the end of the 2016 season and that injury had lingering effects on his 2017 campaign.

Enter 2018. With Paul Richardson and Jimmy Graham gone and Doug Baldwin fully cemented as the team’s number one receiver, look for Lockett to have a big season. Oh, and he’s on a contract year.

2. Shaquill Griffin (CB)

Quill Griffin had a great rookie season, despite only registering one interception. Griffin was thrusted into a much larger role after Richard Sherman tore his achillies and by all accounts he handled it as well as he could. As Pro Football Focus Seahawks points out, Griffin ranked up well compared to his rookie counterparts in 2017:

Having a full off-season to prepare as the starter in Sherman’s old spot at left cornerback should do wonders for Griffin’s development. He’ll need to take a leadership role in that secondary that has seen the departures of Sherman, Chancellor and a rocky relationship with Earl Thomas. Griffin has made it very clear that he plans to carry the torch of the L.O.B.

3. Nazair Jones (DT)

2017 3rd-round pick Nazair Jones started in only two games last season and played in just 11. However, he managed to register 19 tackles, two sacks and an interception in that time. With the ill-fated Sheldon Richardson trade backfiring on Seattle after he signed a one-year deal with the Minnesota Vikings, Jones will have room to take a hold of the starting role right out of camp.

The Seahawks supplemented this with the signings of Defensive Tackles Tom Johnson and Shamar Stephen (both former Vikings). Nazair Jones will have his work cut out for him in camp with heavy competition at the position that also includes 2016 2nd-round pick, Jarran Reed. The Seahawks will need solid production from both Reed and Jones, but look for Jones to breakout if he is able to play all 16 this season.

4. Nick Vannett (TE)

As a 3rd-round pick in the 2016 draft, Vannett had high expectations to produce pretty quickly as many higher round picks tend to do. Unfortunately, Vannett has been buried in the depth chart over the last two seasons behind the Greatest Seahawks Tight-End of all-time Jimmy Graham (In three seasons, Graham set the Seahawks’ Tight End franchise record for receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns.) As well as everyone’s favorite Canadian now turned Detroit Lion Luke Willson.

The proverbial sea has parted at the Tight End position, leaving Vannett to compete against nine year veteran Ed Dickson and rookie Will Dissly. Now is Vannett’s best chance to take the starting role and start producing.

5. Michael Dickson (Punter)

#PuntersArePeopleToo

Also look at these punts, goddamn.

If these five (or four, sorry Michael) can put together a solid season it would pay huge dividends for the Seahawks in 2018. The NFC is looking more and more like the Western Conference in the NBA with the likes of the Eagles, Rams, Packers, Saints, Falcons & Vikings all looking like Super Bowl contenders. Couple that with teams like the Panthers, 49ers, Giants, Cowboys on the rise the Seahawks have their work cut out for them. Russell Wilson, Bobby Wagner, KJ Wright, Doug Baldwin and (for now) Earl Thomas are still the core of this team, but they can only carry this team so far. The aforementioned five four players and their peers will determine the course of this season.

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2018 CFL Predictions

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The CFL season kicks-off today and so do my hot takes. Here are my predictions for the 2018 season, a little mix of what I think will happen versus what I hope will happen.

Standings

EAST
Toronto Argonauts: 11-7
Hamilton Tiger-Cats: 9-9
Ottawa Redblacks: 7-11
Montreal Alouettes: 3-15

WEST
Edmonton Eskimos: 12-6
Calgary Stampeders: 11-7
Saskatchewan Roughriders: 11-7
Winnipeg Blue Bombers: 9-9
B.C. Lions: 8-10

Toronto never impresses in the regular season, I would be shocked if they posted a better record than 11-7 but they’ll get hot for the playoffs. Hamilton with a full season under June Jones should see improvements this season, though Masoli will be looking over his shoulder throughout the entire season. Ottawa has very shaky Canadian Depth and unless Harris can stay healthy the entire season, I don’t see this team going far in 2018. Montreal… well, I just… yeah.

Edmonton will be very good this year, they have the proper protection for Mike Reilly and though they incurred some losses at receiver, Walker and co. should supplement that. Every year I pick Calgary to fall off and it never happens, their system and Bo Levi are too good to not be at least top two in the division. The Riders and Bombers will duke it out for 3rd place in the division. Matt Nichols being out 4-6 weeks could give the Riders a much needed head start. The Lions season is on the shoulders of a Johnathon Jennings rebound.

CFL Playoffs

East Semi-Final:

Winnipeg 26 Hamilton 16

West Semi-Final:

Saskatchewan 32 Calgary 30

East Final

Winnipeg 28 Toronto 20

West Final

Saskatchewan 25 Edmonton 21

GREY CUP

Saskatchewan 19 Winnipeg 10

GREY CUP CHAMPIONS

Saskatchewan Roughriders

Grey Cup MVP: Ed Gainey

Most Valuable Canadian: Jerome Messam

Ok, so this is where my bias takes over. Obviously playoffs are a coin flip, I mean look at the last two Grey Cups. (Never forget Calgary choked in two Grey Cups in a row that they were heavily favoured in.) So who knows what will happen. If the Riders O-Line fails to protect Collaros, they might not even make it to the playoffs. That’s the fun of the CFL. If you have predictions of your own, DM @roughridersdaily on Instagram, I’ll share the best ones in my stories.

CFL 2018 QB Rankings

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Ranking CFL’s Quarterbacks

1. Mike Reilly (Edmonton)

Though unorthodox in his throwing motion and style of play, Mike Reilly continues to produce year in and year out. Despite shaky production from Adarius Bowman and not having Derel Walker for a portion of the season, Reilly would go on to throw for 30 touchdowns and 5,830 yards on his way to an MOP campaign. Whether it’s his heart or his skill, it has led Reilly to be the cream of the crop and worthy of being the CFL’s best quarterback.

2. Ricky Ray (Toronto)

This may not age well as the 2018 season progresses but when Ricky Ray is healthy, he can rarely be stopped. Last season saw Ray go for 28 touchdowns and 5,546 yards, hardly a guy who is “too old” or “lost a step”. Many are speculating the recently acquired James Franklin to supplant Ray this season. However, if Ray continues his 2017 production into 2018 he will not give Marc Trestmen any reason to give Franklin the keys.

3. Bo Levi Mitchell (Calgary)

Bo Levi has seen a dip in production since his MOP campaign in 2016. 2017 saw Mitchell throw for the least amount of touchdowns since his 2014 season where he only started 14 games. This past off-season has seen Mitchell delete his Twitter account after this happened in 2017. There is no doubt that Bo Levi has all the tools to be an all-time great Quarterback in the CFL and while he has two straight Grey Cup losses to overcome, Mitchell appears geared up to return to his MOP-form in 2018.

4. Trevor Harris (Ottawa)

This is where it becomes tricky, one could put Matt Nichols here and to be honest it could be subject to a coin flip. Harris put up a good set of numbers last season clocking in with 30 touchdowns to 11 interceptions and 4,679 yards passing. Despite an inconsistent season as a team, Harris, when healthy, kept this team in contention throughout the season. Not having to look over his shoulder for Henry Burris certainly helps his cause and while he will continue to put up great individual numbers, the wins now need to follow before he can be included with the upper echelon of CFL quarterbacks such as Reilly, Ray and Mitchell.

5. Matt Nichols (Winnipeg)

What is holding Nichols back from becoming an elite quarterback in the CFL is his inability to shake the “game-manager” tag that has followed him throughout his career. And while not necessarily a bad thing, his lack of success in the post season the last two seasons have done little to aid him in that process. Often referred to as the “CFL’s Alex Smith”, Nichols put up career numbers last season with 28 touchdowns, 8 interceptions and 4,472 yards passing. However, his season ended similar to 2016 with a West Semi-Final defeat. In any event, if Nichols puts up similar numbers and is able to will his team to the Grey Cup, look for him to move up the rankings.

6. Zach Collaros (Saskatchewan)

*Braces for impact

Collaros is coming off of his worst season as a professional quarterback. However, I am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt that the squad he was with in Hamilton had run its course. It appeared the Ti-Cats were still trying to stretch out the prime of a group that had been to two consecutive Grey Cups (13’&14′), three straight East-Finals (13′-15′) and four straight playoff appearances (13′-16′). The roster had gotten stale and not much was being done around Collaros that put him in a position to succeed. However, on pure optimism alone, it is my belief that a change of scenery, one of the most loaded skill position groups in the CFL and a solid coaching staff will see Collaros return to his 2015 form. Before his season-ending ACL injury, Collaros had put up 25 touchdowns and 7 interceptions in 12 games. First, he will have to beat out Bridge in a QB competition sure to dominate headlines. 

7. Jonathon Jennings (B.C.)

At one point he was hailed as the “Canadian Russell Wilson”, but after a tumultuous 2017 season, things have come crashing back down to earth for the young pivot. Similar to Collaros, his supporting cast did him no favours as the Lions boasted one of the worst O-Lines in football last season. However, poor decisions and injuries are also to blame for the poor season Jennings experienced last season throwing for more interceptions (19) than touchdowns (16) and losing his job to veteran Travis Lulay. If Jennings has anything going for him going into 2018 is that Lulay is still recovering from a brutal injury suffered last season, meaning that the keys belong to him for the beginning of the season anyways. There is no doubt the upside Jonathon Jennings has as a starting quarterback in this league, the true question is whether he is able to realize this potential or not.

8. Jeremiah Masoli (Hamilton)

Masoli has slowly built up his repertoire since entering the league in 2013. He has unreal athletic ability and led Hamilton to a strong finish after an 0-8 start led by Collaros. The reason for his low ranking in this list is simply that we have not seen enough of Masoli to put him above starters who have proven themselves over several seasons. Masoli put up an impressive stat line with 15 touchdowns and 5 interceptions in 12 games played. 2018 will be the true test for Masoli to see if he is a true #1 starter and if he is able to hold off Manziel and lead the Tiger-Cats back to the playoffs, look for him to jump up the list next season.

9. Brandon Bridge (Saskatchewan)

You do realize you’re reading this on RoughridersDaily right? While it’s tempting to put Travis Lulay, Kevin Glenn, Drew Willy or James Franklin, all of them either have topped out in their careers (Lulay, Glenn, Willy) or haven’t had the opportunity to show what they have yet (Franklin). Bridge would probably be lumped in with Franklin had it not been for Glenn’s poor first half play in a handful of games last season that spurred Bridge into action. An impressive 10 touchdowns 4 interceptions ratio last season and his ability to escape pressure with his legs puts Bridge amongst the Top 9 quarterbacks in the CFL. Bridge just simply needs to continue making plays from the pocket and while the improvisation is fun, it is not sustainable.

Honorable Mentions:

Travis Lulay (B.C.), James Franklin (Toronto), Kevin Glenn (Edmonton), Drew Willy (Montreal).

 

 

 

Training Camp Primer

Preview

With Training Camp is set to kick-off in a few days in Saskatoon, expectations are higher than previous years for the Riders. Coming off a 10-8 record and a 4th place finish in the West that saw them crossover to the East defeating the defending the then defending Grey Cup champion RedBlacks, the Riders are expected to pose a significant threat to the West this season. It feels like a lifetime ago when fans were calling for Chris Jones’ head after the release of Dressler, Chick and other fan favorites but numerous signings, trades and draft picks later the refreshed Riders roster is light years ahead of the dismal roster Jones inherited.

Shrinking Window

It’s odd to thinking about a closing championship window when it feels like the Riders are still trending upwards but this is football after all. And while the 2018 version of the Roughriders roster are primed to make a run, one has to remember that championship windows are short in football and though it’s been a slow build back to prominence, the Riders are in “win now” form. One can’t be certain how much longer Duron Carter will stick around in the CFL, he’s been singing 1-year deals at a time and is set to become a free agent once again in 2019. Messam, the 33 year-old workhorse running back along with his fellow former Stamp DE Charleston Hughes (34) probably won’t be dawning green and white for very long post-2018. Tack on Chad Owens (36), Jovon Johnson (34), Robb Bagg (33), Marc-Olivier Brouillette (32), Thaddeus Coleman (32), Marcus Thigpen (32), Brendon Labatte (31), Bakari Grant (30), Crezdon Butler (30) and Naaman Roosevelt (30) who are all either entering their prime or the twilight of their careers. This is not to say CFL players hit a brick wall at 30 years old, it’s different for every player but that is a large number of contributors who are north of 30 years old.

Jaimie Nye of the Green Zone put together a mock depth chart going into Training Camp and the Riders have massive depth at the skill positions.

Riders Depth ChartThe biggest weaknesses are at the offensive line and linebacker position. In my previous write-up outlining the QB competition between Bridge and Collaros, I mentioned that Bridge spent a majority of last season using his legs as his biggest weapon, often escaping pressure that Glenn was unable to. Common sense would dictate that the Riders want to avoid a similar scenario this season and took steps to change that with the addition of Offensive Guard Travis Bond.

What To Expect

The cliché saying “you’re only as strong as your weakest link” is often used in the sporting landscape however it may have never been more true than what to expect from the 2018 Roughriders. Being loaded at Running Back and the Receiver positions bode well for whoever resides under center for the season, but that may not mean anything if the line can’t protect and buy Bridge or Collaros the time they need in the pocket. No matter how open Carter, Grant, Roosevelt, Bagg or Holley get, if the Quarterback is running for his life (see the 2017 Seahawks), this team won’t go very far. On the defensive side, there is lots of talent to be had at multiple positions but depth is a cause for concern for this squad behind Johnson, Gainey, Jefferson or Hughes is a lot of unproven talent.

Strong as our weakest link.

Either way Rider fans should be optimistic going into 2018’s Training Camp, despite aforementioned points, there always seems to be a surprise stand-out contributor or a “diamond in the rough” that helps alleviate depth issues. Also, one really has no choice but to trust in Jones who has taken this team from 3-15 the year before he took over to 5-13 in 2016 to a game away from the Grey Cup and a 10-8 record. Expectations should be high, but they must capitalize because just as fast as they’ve rose to prominence, they could fall back down.

Thank You, Doubles

It’s hard to find a common consensus to sum up Durant’s tenure in Saskatchewan, ask 5 fans on the street on how they felt about Durant as a starting quarterback you may get 5 different answers.

Recap

Buried in the depth chart during the 2006 and 2007 seasons Durant finally burst on to the scene in 2008 after the Riders traded Grey Cup Champion from the year prior, Kerry Joseph, to the Toronto Argonauts. Durant made the most of his opportunities in a crowded QB room among the likes of Marcus Crandell, Steven Jyles and Michael Bishop, throwing for 7 touchdowns and rushing for 1 more before a rib injury sidelined him for the rest of the season. 2009 saw Durant beat out Steven Jyles for the starting QB job throwing for 24 Touchdowns and 21 Interceptions, leading the Riders to a Grey Cup appearance (we won’t talk about that ending though). The following year saw much of the same in Durant surpassing his TD total from the year prior with 25 touchdowns, along with 22 Interceptions to boot. However the 2010 Season saw him throw for a career high 5,542 yards and led the Riders to yet another Grey Cup appearance.

The 2011 and 2012 campaigns Durant’s production took a dip as the team around him began to age and coaching changes were taking place at a rapid clip as the Riders went from Ken Miller to Greg Marshall, back to Miller to finally hiring Corey Chamblin before the 2012 season. After missing the playoffs (2011) and yet another heartbreaking playoff loss for the 3rd time in 4 years (WSF 36-30 loss to Calgary), questions began to loom if Durant would ever be able to win “the big one”.

Our Finest Moment

In 2013, Rider fans saw what might have been the greatest Rider team ever assembled along with some of the best quarterback play we have ever witnessed. In knowing that Saskatchewan was going to be hosting the Grey Cup that season and seeing the Lions and Argos hoist the trophy on home soil each of the last two seasons, GM Brendan Taman went all in bringing aboard Geroy Simon, Dwight Anderson, John Chick, Ricky Foley and Weldon Brown. This on top of Korey Sheets, Dressler, Craig Butler, Chris Getzlaf and Robb Bagg. Durant would put up career numbers in touchdowns (31) and passer rating (95.7) capped off with 4,154 yards passing. But perhaps his finest moment came in the Western Semi-Final when facing a 25-16 deficit, Durant literally put the team on his legs, rushing 6 times for 97 yards, killing the clock and marching the Riders into scoring position. The end of the 2013 playoff run capped with Grey Cup victory on home field saw Durant post 8 touchdowns, 0 interceptions, 795 yards passing while rushing for 141 yards in three games, absolute domination.

While Rider fans will be left wondering what could’ve been in 2014 and beyond as injuries grinded Durant’s run to a halt before being traded shortly after the 2016 season, we should take solace in the fact that Durant helped build something special in Riderville (including a new stadium). I shudder to think what this last decade could’ve looked like if we gave the keys to Michael Bishop or Steven Jyles all those years ago. Summing it up, Durant led the Riders to 3 Grey Cup appearances, 1 win and only missed the playoffs once as a full time starter (2011). What could’ve been another 18 year Grey Cup drought, was much less and regardless if you feel that the team surrounding Durant that Grey Cup season was the main reason for it, without Durant’s brilliant playoff performances, 2013’s magical run would not have happened.

When It’s All Said and Done

Despite the rollercoaster of a ride, the inconsistent play during the regular season and some disappointing playoff endings, Durant helped keep this team relevant after their 2007 Grey Cup win, when the wheel realistically could’ve came off after trading Kerry Joseph. I hope all Rider fans take today to thank Darian and his contributions and let this be a day of remembering what he brought to the team, city and the community.

Thank you, Darian.