Free agency and the draft are now in the rear-view mirror. Over the next few weeks Argonaut.ca’s Mike Hogan will examine the roster by positional groups though the eyes of the coaches. This week, a look at the receiving corps.
A lot of things went wrong for the Toronto Argonauts in 2019, leading to a 4-14 record. On the surface, perhaps the most impressive group was the receiving corps. Derel Walker, S.J. Green, and Armanti Edwards all hit the 1,000-yard mark, the first time that feat had been accomplished by a trio of Argos since Tony Miles, Arland Bruce III, and Robert Baker in 2005.
Despite that success, none of the three will be returning in 2020, should a season be played.
“Having the opportunity to install the new offence, we wanted to start over,” first-year head coach Ryan Dinwiddie told Argonauts.ca. “Armanti and S.J. are Hall-of-Fame type players, definitely S.J., I had a bond with him when we were in Montreal. This was a chance to start anew and build from the ground up and that’s the way we approached it.”
Among the group of new receivers, the focus will be on DaVaris Daniels and Juwan Brescacin, both of whom signed on the first day of free agency, and both of whom are familiar with Dinwiddie from their days together with the Calgary Stampeders, where he served as the quarterbacks coach.
While the all-new coaching staff has taken the last few months to learn the offence as a group, those two receivers should be good to go, essentially from day one.
“Those guys can walk right in,” said the coach. “There’s a few changes to it, but they’ve been in that system in Calgary so they’ll be able to help out our newer receivers who have no clue what the CFL game is about, so I’m looking for a big leadership role from those two.”
Brescacin is one of six Canadian receivers on the roster, joining CFL veterans Natey Adjei, Kurleigh Gittens Jr., and Llevi Noel, along with draft picks Dejon Brissett and Samuel Baker. There are options as to how many starting Canadian pass catchers to start, which may depend on the status of another Canadian-born receiver, but more on that later.
“The great thing about it now is that we’ve got flexibility,” said Dinwiddie, without tipping his hand. “I think that we’ll actually start eight Canadians (one more than the required seven). That way if one goes down, we’re still going to have the seven, because injuries are going to happen throughout the course of the season.”
The one receiver not listed on the roster is T.J. Jones.
Jones recorded 111 NFL catches after a stellar career at Notre Dame. He was born in Winnipeg while his father Andre played for the Blue Bombers. T.J. was prepared to sign a multi-year deal with the Argos as free agency opened, but the proposed contract could not be approved or registered by the league.
The hold-up? The Argos signed him for considerably more money than what a Canadian CFL rookie is allowed to make, but despite his NFL experience, the CBA language classifies Jones as a rookie, limiting how much he can be paid in his first season. The irony is that he spent six years in the NFL, therefore making him ineligible for the CFL’s top rookie honour.
It’s a point of frustration for Dinwiddie.
“If he can’t be the Canadian Football League’s Rookie of the Year, then why is he considered a rookie? He’s a Canadian talent that was ready to sign a three-year deal and commit to this league while other people were going to the XFL. Any time you can bring Canadian talent into our league, regardless of where they live now, I definitely think we should look into doing that. We’ve got to build our brand and put Canada first.”
The league and CFLPA have been discussing the situation, but no decision has been made. Obviously, there are other priorities at this stage.
While the status of Jones is uncertain, Dinwiddie knows he’ll have Dejon Brissett at his disposal. Selected second overall in this year’s CFL draft, the Mississauga native will be on the roster, if not immediately in the starting lineup.
“One thing he adds for us is that he can be a punt and kick returner. If he doesn’t make it right away in our starting five, he’s going to get plenty of touches. We’ll find a way to get him on the field and get him involved. You could line him up as the number one receiver to the boundary. I’m very intrigued by him, he’s got a lot of upside with his skill set.”
Receivers coach Markus Howell is in his first year with the Argos. The former CFL receiver has been coaching in the league since retiring after the 2010 season, with stops in Winnipeg, Saskatchewan, and most recently B.C. He has a new, and incredibly large group of pass catchers to learn about, then teach. There are an eye-popping 19 players under his watch, with only Chandler Worthy, Llevi Noel and Kurleigh Gittens Jr. returning – though all three are new to Howell.
To most fans, at this stage most members of the receiving corps are simply names on a page. Howell helped Argonauts.ca out by speaking about each receiver and what skill set they bring to the organization.
The notes provided after each players name are provided by Argonauts.ca, all the quotes are those of Howell.
Natey Adjei: A Mississauga product who is entering his seventh CFL season. He set career highs with 58 catches and 534 yards last year with Edmonton. “A Canadian kid who helps our ratio. In Edmonton he played every single position to the field, from the widest guy, to No. 2 in the slot, then became more indoctrinated around the box, blocking defensive ends, free safeties and linebackers. His skill set is what we need here. He could help us early at the ‘Z’ spot, but I think his biggest value is around the box. He also brings a veteran presence.”
Dres Anderson: The son of former NFL receiver “Flipper” Anderson spent time with six NFL teams in four seasons. He played in the AAF but was injured early in the season. “He’s explosive. He’s an intriguing prospect. He set the world on fire at Utah. I think he’s a guy who can help us both as a static receiver with a stationary start, and with a pre-snap motion. He’s got a vertical presence who can make plays over the top. He’s a hand catch guy. With the ball in the air he can really track it. He has the potential to be a big guy in the league in the slot.”
Samuel Baker: The 6’3” receiver was the Argos sixth-round pick in this year’s draft. He missed most of two years after breaking his collarbone, then breaking it again the next year in training camp. He can also long snap. “He’s tough as nails. He’s a high character guy who is loved by teammates in the locker room, one of those glue guys that keeps the team together both with his speech and his play. Last year he stayed healthy and had a productive season. He makes big catches over the middle and is not shy of contact.”
Joel Blumenthal: A speedster. He played QB in college before moving to receiver in his senior season. “An ex quarterback at Southwestern Oklahoma State. Really intriguing. He thinks the game as a quarterback. A meticulous note taker who asks intelligent questions. He’s always in the playbook, texting me at night. He’s a fast kid. He adds to a wildcat package.”
Dejon Brissett: The Argos first-round pick, second overall. “We want to ease him into the CFL game and during the camp determine where he fits best. We’re not going to slot him into a starting position day one. With his skill set we want to grow his confidence a little bit and we wouldn’t be surprised if he’s playing mid-year. His best route is a slant. I think he wins on slant routes and can take them the distance. If I had a third-and-six with the game on the line and I had to call his number, I’d call the slant route. He ran among the best slant routes that I’ve seen in college football the last couple of years. He also has the ability to get behind people and get over the top.”
Juwan Brescacin: Another Mississauga product who spent the last four seasons in Calgary. He missed all but four games last year with an injury after a 567-yard season in 2018. “Big smooth! Long strider, big plays. He uses the waggle extremely well. Plays basketball downfield where you throw the ball up and he boxes DBs out, goes up for the rebound and high points it.”
DaVaris Daniels: Spent last season in Edmonton after three years in Calgary. Has averaged just under 800 yards per season in his career. “Explosive. He’s a game breaker. He had success in this system in Calgary. That‘s a big reason why we went after both him and Brescacin, because they know the system and reads. They have a leg up in terms of the teaching and knowledge of what we’re trying to do in the pass game. He had great success as an outside ‘X’ receiver, a stationary guy. He’s made great strides, he’s gone from a 600, 700-yard guy to an 800-yards guy and it’s my job to help get him over the 1,000-yard mark.”
Jawill Davis: Ran a 4.37 at his pro day. Spent one season with the New York Giants as a receiver and returner. “Speedster. Went to a small school, Bethune-Cookman. He can really go. He’s another one of those 6’1, 190-pound guys who can run. He’s a 4.4 guy who makes plays in space, in the bubble screen game, and can also go over the top on deep post and go balls.”
Keyarris Garrett: A big body who was with the Carolina Panthers for a season. Drafted by L.A. in the XFL. “6’4”, long, long body. I’ve had success with those Tulsa guys. Bryan Burnham, (the CFL All-Star who Howell coached the last two seasons in B.C.) he’s from Tulsa, as soon as we signed Keyarris I got a call from Burnham who said, ‘You got you one. Do what you did with me, challenge him and he’ll shine.’ He’s a long, surprisingly fast guy for his frame. An NFL prototype; 6’4”, huge wingspan. He can frame the ball. He has to learn the motion in this league, because he’s used to playing outside. We’re going to try to move him around a little bit, especially to create competition in training camp.”
Kurleigh Gittens Jr.: An Argos third-round pick a year ago. “He’s a twitchy receiver, he’s a sudden change receiver. Where a lot of guys, when they’re running full speed, they have to slam their foot in the dirt and change direction, it’s tough for some receivers. Some guys need two steps to be able to make their cut, not Kurleigh. Kurleigh is a sudden change, acceleration type guy who had great success at Laurier. We’re challenging him to take the next step and push Natey, push Brissett and fight for a job on the roster.”
Kyle Lewis: A big-play receiver in university, recording three TDs of 50 or more yards in his junior year. “A jack of all trades. He’s from Cal-Poly and we have some solid ties to the coaching staff down there through Coach Dinwiddie. This kid comes highly recommended. He’s a running back, receiver, kick returner, punt returner. He can be a Swiss army knife in the offence, speed sweeps, bubble screens, wide receiver screens, as well as being able to get downfield, he’s a guy that adds some versatility to the offence.”
Vince Mayle: An All-Pac-12 player at Washington State where he had 106 catches and 1,483 yards in 12 games as a senior. Spent four years in the NFL. He’s 6’2”, 220 pounds. “A big guy. He’s a receiver slash tight end. He’s one of our bigger receivers in terms of thickness. He has a great build, a great frame, he’s a very physical receiver. At Washington State he was able to get downfield and make plays in that offence. His skill set will fit our game in the CFL. In the NFL, because of his frame, they made him bulk up a little bit and put his hand in the dirt and play tight end. He’s now transitioning back to the receiver position.”
Nyquan Murray: Another burner. Recorded the longest TD catch in Orange Bowl history, a 92 yarder while at Florida State. “Fast. Power Five conference guy. He’ll take the top off for you, he can go deep. We’ve got some bigger frames, we want to stick them outside. Our quick and nimble guys, we’re going to give them ultra-speed with the waggle. We want him to play a little bit in the slot to the field, and see him win those deep diagonals, or deep corner routes. He’s an ultimate burner type.”
Llevi Noel: Entering his fifth season with the Argos. Had a career high 47 catches in 2018. “Physical. He’s come a long way. His first season he was very raw. You could tell he had the physical tools and some great attributes, but he had to refine them. Now, after a few years, he’s a physical, physical receiver who is not afraid of contact. He frames the ball well. He’s still got to polish his routes, but he’s definitely light years ahead of where he was. He’s a special teams demon. With that combination you hope he takes the next step forward.”
Kent Shelby: A 6’3” receiver who caught 11 touchdown passes playing arena league ball last year. A two-time All-Conference player at McNeese State. “Another big body. A pure route runner. Not extremely fast, but a very technical guy. We’re going to move him around a little bit. He had an NFL grade coming out, but just didn’t stick. He played some arena ball so he’s seen the waggle before, so that should help him in camp.”
Brandon Sheperd: Had 31 TD catches in two years playing arena football. An Oklahoma State product. “He had a great arena career. He’s excited to come up. I see him around the box. He reminds me of Marquay McDaniel. He’s big and physical enough to block defensive ends and linebackers if that’s what it takes. I see him having great success around the box in our league.”
Kwadarrius Smith: As a junior at Akron he averaged 21.9 yards a catch, ninth best in the NCAA that year. He’s 5’9”, 170 pounds. “He was one of the fastest kids in his conference. He can get behind you in the secondary. In his highlight package I couldn’t tell you how many explosions the kid had. Every other catch was an explosive play. He can pick ‘em up and put ‘em down, no question.”
Chandler Worthy: The shortest receiver on the roster at 5’8”, but exceptionally fast. Had a nine-catch, 93-yard performance in his first CFL start at Montreal. “I watched his pre-season film from Houston (2015) a couple of weeks back. He was highly productive in that camp and I’m surprised he didn’t stick with the Texans. That’s another guy that we can move around. He’s a 4.37 guy, so he can really go. He made plays outside, he ran by Tommie Campbell last year when he was isolated, was able to give him a little stick at the top and go, that’s intriguing. We can also use his versatility in the gimmick stuff of screens and jet sweeps and that sort of thing. He’s more than capable of making plays outside.”
Isaac Zico: Had a 743-yard season as a senior at Purdue. Among the Arizona Cardinals final cuts last year. “I played with Brian Brohm in Winnipeg who is now the OC and quarterbacks coach at Purdue. They recruited Isaac while at Western Kentucky. When they changed staffs (and hired Brohm along with his brother Jeff, Purdue’s head coach) he was the first kid they went after. They got him to de-commit to Western Kentucky and go to Purdue. He’s not elite at one thing, but he’s very proficient at a bunch of things. He can separate at the line of scrimmage, he’s not the fastest guy, but he can get behind you. He doesn’t have the greatest ball skills, but he catches the ball efficiently. He’s not the best blocker, but if you put him at the right point of attack, he gets the job done. He’s not a 4.4 guy, he’s a 4.5-high guy. Brian said you’re going to be really happy with his work ethic. He makes plays, you don’t know how he does it sometimes, but he finds a way to get it done.”
It’s a huge group at this stage, filled with players who possess different skill sets and body types. It will be fascinating to keep an eye on this group if/when training camp begins.