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  • Ben Grant

Projecting Toronto's Final Roster

With training camp about to get underway, the Toronto Argonauts management and coaching staff can finally shift their focus from Zoom meeting evaluation to on-field evaluation. As difficult as positional talent assessment is, the ratio juggling unique to the CFL is what makes constructing a final roster such a difficult endeavour.

The 46-player roster must be comprised of:

2 Quarterbacks (no designation)

21 National Players (or more)

20 American Players (or fewer)

2 Global Players (or more)

1 Reserve Player

Also at least seven starting players between the offense and defense must be Nationals.

Putting together a depth chart and final roster is an impossible exercise without seeing what camp attendance is like, observing the shape players are in, and what the coaching staff has in mind, but it’s highly entertaining.

With so many strong Canadian players, the starting roster featured on the depth chart above includes 10 National starters, which is unusual. This would allow the coaching staff to avoid stacking National players at specific positions. If a National starting corner were to suffer an injury, for example, the staff would have the flexibility to replace him with an American player.

Here is what the Toronto Argonauts final roster could look like a month from now.

Quarterback (2) – Prediction: Nick Arbuckle (A), McLeod Bethel Thompson (A)

The battle for the starting quarterback spot, if there is one, is between Nick Arbuckle and McLeod Bethel-Thompson. It would be absolutely stunning if Arbuckle isn’t named the starter when the Argonauts take the field a month from now. There’s no guarantee he’ll finish the season in the captain’s chair, but he’s being paid more, he’s more familiar with this system, he has a higher ceiling, and he’s the guy to whom Coach Dinwiddie has tied his wagon, so it would take a miracle for Bethel-Thompson to unseat him.

It remains to be seen how many quarterbacks Coach Dinwiddie wants to have on his roster. Calgary has generally dressed only two in recent years, if that’s any indication, but three is the league norm. If they dress three, Antonio Pipkin will be third man since he’s game-ready, should something happen to either Arbuckle or Bethel-Thompson. Nick Tiano isn’t going anywhere, but he’s also the least ready of all the QBs, so he’s probably destined for the practice squad. That leaves Kenji Bahar as the biggest longshot to make the roster.

Running Back (2) – Prediction: John White (A), Bishop Sankey (A)

Toronto has gone light in the backfield in recent years, but that’s not the Calgary way, so Coach Dinwiddie could be looking to keep as many as three running backs and two fullbacks or vice versa, with non-starters contributing heavily on special teams.

The running back job is John White’s to lose, but it’s difficult to say who will provide the biggest challenge without knowing what specific skill this offensive coaching staff covets most. As a former QB, it will be difficult for Coach Dinwiddie to ignore Bishop Sankey’s pass protection and receiving ability, but Sankey is unlikely to offer the special teams contributions AJ Ouellette and Matt Colburn II can provide. Kenneth Dixon and Greg McCrae will probably need one or two of the other backs to falter in order to make the roster, but they’re both talented enough as pure runners for other teams to take an interest, so the Toronto staff will need to be sure before any decisions are made.

Fullback (3) – Prediction: Declan Cross (N), Dion Pellerin (N), Asnnel Robo (G)

This has very quietly become one of the most interesting positional group battles on the roster. There aren’t any big name stars, but they’re all players the scouting department and coaching staff would love to keep. As the only fullback with meaningful CFL experience, Declan Cross will top the depth chart to start the season. Asnnel Robo is not really a fullback, but he’s currently listed as one. His Global status might give him an edge, but he’d be a good bet to make the team regardless of his passport or position. He’s a gifted special teams contributor and Coach Dinwiddie was the one who reached out to bring him to Toronto after their time together in Calgary. Sam Baker and Liam O’Brien were both available when the Argonauts selected Dion Pellerin with their fifth round pick in the 2020 CFL Draft, so he’s the obvious choice as the third fullback on the roster. O’Brien and Baker will probably be left to fight for a spot on the practice roster, but the edge definitely goes to Baker. O’Brien is an incredible athlete and a more punishing blocker, but Baker is younger, he was drafted by this staff, he is an outstanding receiver, and he can long snap if needed.

Wide Receiver (7) – Prediction: DaVaris Daniels (A), Eric Rogers (A), Juwan Brescacin (N), Dejon Brissett (N), Terrell Sinkfield (A), Ricky Collins Jr. (A), Llevi Noel (N)

The Argonauts could decide to carry as many as eight receivers given the special teams options that exist in this positional group, but it’s more likely they’ll go with seven. DaVaris Daniels, Eric Rogers, Juwan Brescacin, and Dejon Brissett are locks with Terrell Sinkfield and Ricky Collins Jr not far behind. That leaves just one spot for the remaining group of 15 which includes former NFL draft picks Martavis Bryant, Kendall Wright, Geremy Davis, and Daniel Braverman, Toronto draft picks Kurleigh Gittens Jr, Llevi Noel, and Tommy Nield, and return specialists Chandler Worthy and Craig Rucker. If everyone arrives in great shape, Bryant and Wright have the most talent, but Wright didn’t look great at his last stop in Minnesota, and neither can offer much in the way of special teams. It’s hard to imagine Bryant not making the team if he’s committed to doing so, but that’s often the big question with former NFL stars. If Worthy, Rucker, and Braverman don’t make the team, Sinkfield and Brissett could be counted on as returners.

Offensive Line (8) – Prediction: Philip Blake (N), Jamal Campbell (N), Dariusz Bladek (N), Cody Speller (N), Isiah Cage (A), Shane Richards (N), Peter Nicastro (N), Theren Churchill (N)

All signs point to the Argonauts being very comfortable with who they have under contract on the offensive line, so there may not be any surprises here. It’s not unusual to see teams keep only six offensive linemen, but both Coach Dinwiddie and Coach McAdoo have lived through disasters in recent years with multiple injuries on the offensive line, so dressing seven or eight seems more likely. Philip Blake, Dariusz Bladek, and Cody Speller are locks to start on the inside. Jamal Campbell and Isiah Cage will probably start at tackle, but they’ll both get a serious push from Shane Richards, Blake Camper, and Theren Churchill, at least one of whom will certainly dress. Expect rookie Peter Nicastro to dress as the first man in if there’s an injury at center or guard.

With so many talented Canadian prospects, the Argonauts will probably look to keep as many as three offensive linemen on the practice roster, depending on who they dress. It will be interesting to see in camp which Canadians, if any, take reps at left tackle. Campbell, Richards, and Churchill are incredibly talented, but they’ve all played almost exclusively on the right side throughout their career. If one of them has been working on converting to the left side, the Argonauts could find themselves in an amazing position.

Defensive Line (8) – Prediction: Charleston Hughes (A), Drake Nevis (A), Cordarro Law (A), Jhaustin Thomas (A), Fabion Foote (N), Odell Willis (A), Sam Acheampong (N), Eli Howard (A)

With so few projected special teams contributors on the defensive line, it’s hard to imagine the Argonauts can find a way to keep more than eight, but they would certainly like to. Even eight is unusually high. The coaching staff is probably hoping to go two deep at each spot allowing them to operate with a true rotation.

Charleston Hughes, Drake Nevis, Cordarro Law, Jhaustin Thomas and Fabion Foote are locks to make the roster, but beyond that it’s anyone’s guess. Shane Ray is one of the more intriguing players on this unit, but he’s also the only player limited to a single position. The Argonauts are expected to show a number of different looks in terms of moving their personnel around, but Ray’s history of left wrist injuries could keep him stapled to the right defensive end spot. Odell Willis has to be considered a favourite to win a roster spot, but don’t sleep on Eli Howard, the 24-year-old out of Texas Tech. 2020 draft pick Sam Acheampong could also surprise some people at camp. It’s not uncommon to see young Canadian players assigned to the practice squad, but Acheampong has a rare combination of size and speed, plus he can contribute immediately on special teams. If they’re at the top of their game, any one of Eli Harold, Kony Ealy, and Shawn Oakman could certainly topple the apple cart.

This is the strongest unit on the team. The pressure on the coaching staff to get it right at this positional group doubles when considering that some of these players, if cut, could find themselves lining up against the Argonauts on other teams.

Linebacker (6) – Prediction: Henoc Muamba (N), Cameron Judge (N), Nick Shortill (N), Jack Cassar (N), Jordan Moore (A), Eric Mezzalira (N)

Henoc Muamba will start at MAC and Cameron Judge will start at WILL. This is written in stone. The most interesting camp cut could be beloved veteran Bear Woods, though it’s likely he’d transition to the coaching staff. With so many promising young ‘backers on the roster, keeping Woods doesn’t make sense if Muamba and Judge make it out of camp in one piece. 2020 draft pick, Jack Cassar should be ready to back up Muamba in the middle while contributing on special teams. There have been rumours about Nick Shortill contemplating retirement, but if he’s committed to playing, he’ll also be a special teams regular behind Judge at WILL. Jordan Moore is the most fascinating player in this group. He has such a rare combination of physical attributes he could find himself playing any of the three linebacker spots. Eric Mezzalira will not see any playing time at linebacker, but he’s got a great chance of making the roster as one of the most gifted special teams players on the team.

Defensive Back (7+1) – Prediction: Shaq Richardson (A), Alden Darby (A), Robertson Daniel (A), Dexter McCoil (A), Crezdon Butler (A), Jeff Richards (A), Arjen Colquhoun (N), [Tigie Sankoh (G) Reserve]

The way the defensive backfield unfolds largely depends on what Coach Bell wants to do with his Canadians. If the plan is for the Canadians to battle it out for the field corner position, the best two will probably make the roster. However, given the way the rest of the team is put together, the Argonauts don’t need to start a Canadian in the secondary, which would give this unit a very different look.

Shaq Richardson, Alden Darby, Robertson Daniel, and Dexter McCoil are locks to make the team, but it’s anyone’s guess as to where exactly they’ll line up. McCoil is listed as a linebacker on the roster, so he’ll probably take the SAM spot, but he has the versatility to play halfback or safety if needed. Jeff Richards and Crezdon Butler could find themselves in an awesome competition for the field halfback position, but one of them could slide over to field corner if the Argonauts decide not to go with a Canadian there. If they do want a Canadian corner, Arjen Colquhoun has the experience to hold off Matt Boateng, Robert Woodson, and Shamar Busby. The coaching staff will want to find a way to keep Treston Decoud, James Sample, and Chris Edwards, but it wont be possible unless there are injuries.

It will be interesting to see how far along in his development Global player Tigie Sankoh is. If the Argonauts feel they need him on the active roster, there could be a big shakeup involving multiple position groups, but he’s likely to start the season as the reserve roster player.

Specialist (2) – Prediction: Jake Reinhart (N), Toshiki Sato (G)

Jake Reinhart will be the long snapper, and in one of the biggest upsets of camp, Toshiki Sato will start the season as the kicker and punter over Boris Bede. There’s another way this could work if DB Tigie Sankoh is ready to hit the field. In that case, with two Global players already on the active roster, the Argonauts could have Bede perform all kicking and punting duties with Sato listed as the team’s reserve roster player. The Argos did something similar in 2019 with Tyler Crapigna and Zack Medeiros, which worked out well for them in a late October game against Ottawa. Crapigna suffered an injury during pregame warmup, so Medeiros was able to serve as the kicker for the game.

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