Chris Edwards Signing Provides Clarity
On Wednesday, the Toronto Argonauts added DB Chris Edwards to an already crowded secondary. With 21 defensive backs already under contract, one might assume the Edwards signing would add to Toronto’s depth chart confusion, but the opposite is true. The difficulty in drawing up a preseason depth chart for the Argos defensive backfield stemmed from the fact that so few of their veterans had established themselves at one single position to this point in their CFL careers. This isn’t the case with Edwards.
Like many American CFL players, Edwards spent his rookie season in 2017 adjusting to the Canadian game. Edmonton had him backing up at field half for the first 11 games of his career before an injury to current Toronto DB Arjen Colquhoun triggered a shuffling of the deck. This led to Edwards starting three consecutive games at field corner before his own injury derailed the remainder of his rookie campaign. In 2018, Edwards started all 18 games as Edmonton’s SAM backer, a natural fit for him after spending a third of his senior season at Idaho lined up in the box as a cover backer in the pass-happy Big Sky. He signed with BC in 2019, and once again started all 18 games at SAM. His stat line didn’t change much, but he clearly had a better feel for the Canadian game as both his coverage and run game instincts improved significantly. Edwards is a proven SAM and there can be little doubt the Argonauts brought him in to start at this position.
Prior to this signing, there was no clarity at all at SAM, and that muddled the picture everywhere else. Robertson Daniel and Shaq Richardson both had experience at SAM, Chris Humes profiled well there, as did CFL newcomers James Sample, Mike Tyson, and Treston Decoud, but no one seemed a perfect fit. With Chris Edwards now locked in at SAM, the rest of the defensive secondary becomes much easier to sort out.
When I spoke with Toronto’s new defensive backs coach Joshua Bell last week, he explained the key for him in assembling a depth chart was to stack players who play well together at free safety, boundary half, and field half, creating a triangle of communication within the unit. He also expressed his admiration for Alden Darby and Shaq Richardson, commenting specifically on their ability to communicate and their football IQ. It’s a fair guess at this point that he envisions Darby starting at free, where he finished the season in 2019, and Richardson, the man he calls his favourite player on this roster, starting at boundary half where he saw some time in Calgary. Darby and Richardson are both great corners, but given the emphasis Coach Bell is putting on this triangle, there seems little chance these two players won’t be part of that trio.
There are a number of potential candidates to complete the triangle at field half, including Robertson Daniel, who Bell coached in Calgary, and Jeff Richards, who has played in two Grey Cups, but the smart money is on Chris Humes. Humes looked fantastic in two starts at field half for the Blue Bombers in 2019 before suffering a season ending injury. While he doesn’t have a ton of CFL experience, he was presumably signed based on the recommendation of Toronto’s new defensive coordinator, Glen Young, who got to see Humes up close over two seasons in Winnipeg.
That leaves us with the two starting cornerback positions to fill. I have watched hours and hours of film on this positional group and there are so many ways this could go. If we’re just talking about talent alone, I think Treston Decoud has the highest ceiling as a CFL boundary corner of the 18 defensive backs remaining, but I don’t see this staff starting a CFL rookie in the secondary in a shortened season with no preseason games and so many solid veterans on board.
Robertson Daniel hasn’t seen many snaps on the outside in his short career in Canada, but he was a shutdown travelling corner at BYU. In the NFL, he put some great preseason play on tape at corner in Oakland, Green Bay, and Baltimore before the Ravens moved him to safety in 2018. It’s also fair to assume Coach Dinwiddie fought for him based on their time together in Calgary, so if he’s going to trust anyone to shut down the boundary, it’s Robertson Daniel.
Field corner is a bit more of a mystery because it’s not clear if the Argonauts plan to start a Canadian in the secondary. If they do, then the battle is between Arjen Colquhoun, Rob Woodson, and Matt Boateng. Colquhoun would probably get the nod in that case, however, I’m less convinced than I was before that the Argos plan to start a Canadian in the secondary. The fact that they passed on some good Canadian corners in this year’s draft suggests to me it’s not what they’re thinking. The Argonauts will almost certainly start four Canadian offensive linemen, at least one Canadian receiver, and two Canadian linebackers, giving them the option to field an entirely American defensive backfield. Then, if a ratio situation arose due to injury, they could easily insert any of these three capable Canadians at field corner without much loss in production. Enter Crezdon Butler.
Yes, Butler just turned 34, but as with the other older players on this roster, he’s well rested, plus he hasn’t logged the mileage typical of a 34-year-old corner. Butler didn’t see a lot of game action over his 7-year NFL career, and when he did, it was generally in spot duty, tallying a few snaps here and there. In his first year in the CFL in 2017, he played quite a bit at SAM for the Roughriders, then moved to field half and field corner for most of his snaps in 2018. He signed with the BC Lions on July 23rd of 2019 and started for them at field corner three days later. Butler would continue to hold down that position for 10 straight weeks before finishing the last two games of the season at field half. Argonauts offensive coordinator Jarious Jackson spent 2019 with Butler in BC, so he probably gave the Argonauts valuable intel on the veteran DB and vouched for how his game looked before they signed him. Butler might not finish the 2021 season as the Argonauts’ starting field corner, but if Toronto wants the stability of a veteran lineup, Butler might be the answer.
The defensive backs room in Toronto features an abundance of young talent, but with a sudden start to a shortened season, no team can afford to tinker in the early stages. Every other team in the CFL has more roster continuity and a more veteran coaching staff than the Argos, exacerbating the issues connected to playing a season with unusual timelines in a pandemic. In speaking with members of this Toronto coaching staff, the process of getting inexperienced players up to speed has already begun, and there will be a concerted effort to find them reps once camp begins. Young players with huge upsides like Mike Tyson, Treston Decoud, James Sample, and Cameron Glenn are unlikely to see much playing time in the early stages of the season, but don’t be surprised if more than one of them appears at the top of the depth chart by the time the playoffs come around.