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  • Writer's pictureBen Grant

Toronto's Plan at WR

In the 16 months since the Toronto Argonauts last played a football game, the roster has undergone a complete overhaul. The defensive line is unrecognizable and every face in the quarterback Zoom meeting is entirely new, but no positional group is as intriguing, perhaps, as the 2021 receiving corps.

Creating a depth chart from outside the organization this early in the year is always difficult, but with this group, which features 13 players who have never taken a CFL snap, it’s a lot of guesswork at best.

It’s interesting to note that this group wasn’t “Plan A” for Michael Clemons and John Murphy. A year ago, the organization seemed to have an entirely different vision for their receiver composition. After signing GTA products Juwan Brescacin and Natey Adjei, and working towards bringing in Winnipeg-born T.J. Jones, the team took Mississauga’s WR Dejon Brissett in the first round of the CFL draft. Was the plan to start three or four Canadian receivers? This would have allowed them to field Americans at traditionally-Canadian spots. Had they found a market inefficiency? Were they picturing a lineup of DaVaris Daniels at X, Jones beside him in the slot, Adjei and Brescacin 2 and 3 to the field where they’ve both experienced success with Llevi Noel or Brissett at Z? It might not have been an intimidating group on paper, but with the efficient Matt Nichols at the helm, they wouldn’t have looked out of place either. It would also have allowed them to hoard American linebackers, or field an entirely American crew of defensive backs. But it wasn’t to be.

The T.J. Jones deal inexplicably fell through and the 2020 season was cancelled, so the Argonauts decided to weigh anchor and plot a more southerly course. The only remaining Canadian receivers on the roster are veterans Juwan Brescacin and Llevi Noel, 2020 draft selections Dejon Brissett (1st Round) and Sam Baker (6th Round), and 2019 pick Kurleigh Gittens Jr. (3rd Round). It certainly seems as though Toronto’s “Plan B” is the more traditional approach of starting just one or two Canadian receivers.

X (Boundary 1)

Though not by any means a rule, this is generally where you’ll find a team’s best outside receiver. It may seem counter-intuitive as there’s less room to work in the boundary, but they typically get far more targets as it’s a shorter throw for the quarterback, plus in-breaking routes lead them into space. DaVaris Daniels is the betting favourite to start the season at X, but there’s a wild card in the deck.

Newly acquired NFL star Martavis Bryant fits the profile for X perfectly. Bryant has played just over 87% of his NFL snaps on the outside, and his 4.3 speed combined with a 6’4” frame is a problem. Daniels is a better route-runner and the more physical of the two receivers, but Bryant is significantly better as an outside receiver than a slot receiver, so there isn’t anywhere else to put him assuming the staff want a Canadian at Z. If Bryant doesn’t win the job at X, there’s a good chance he’s not on the Toronto roster by the time the regular season comes around.

Daniels remains a safe bet at X because he played this same position throughout the first three years of Coach Dinwiddie’s tenure in Calgary and lined up there again in 2019 for Edmonton. He was brought in to play X. Daniels was on pace to surpass 1000 yards in each of his four CFL seasons, but injuries continuously derailed his efforts. The fact that he hasn’t yet logged more than 13 games in a single season is a concern, and perhaps the reason Bryant was brought to Toronto in the first place.

W (Boundary 2)

Eric Rogers seems the most logical choice for the boundary slot. He played at W in Calgary where he saw tremendous success, something Coach Dinwiddie is surely hoping he can duplicate in Toronto. In each of his two complete seasons as a Stampeder, Rogers caught 10 touchdowns and tallied over 1000 yards, including a stunning 1448 yards in 2015, when he was named a CFL All-Star. Somewhat interestingly, while Nick Arbuckle’s passing numbers in 2019 were arguably better than Bo Levi Mitchell’s, his connection with Rogers wasn’t as strong. There are many possible explanations for this, but it’s worth noting, all the same.

Of all the talented slot receivers on this roster, Terrell Sinkfield might be in the best position to compete with Rogers for time at boundary slot. Sinkfield has a reputation around the league as a return man, and in his most recent outings he was on the field side, but in 2015 he had an outstanding season at W, ahead of Brandon Banks on the Hamilton depth chart. That year he brought in 69 catches on 94 targets for 1030 yards and 6 TDs. Yes, he’s 30 now, but he still had enough speed to make it to final cutdown day with the New York Giants in 2019.

R (Field 3)

The construction of this receiving corps seems to have been build on the foundation of Calgary’s model, so it’s fair to assume Coach Dinwiddie is looking for a Reggie Begelton clone to play R. Sadly there’s no such thing as a Reggie Begelton clone, but candidates with similar skillsets are Kendall Wright and Nyqwan Murray.

Used heavily by the Tennessee Titans over four seasons, Wright has the best resume of the receivers on the team, but he hasn’t taken a snap since 2017 when he led the Chicago Bears in both catches and yards. He was cut by Minnesota in 2018 after a terrible camp where, according to Vikings beat reporters, he lost a lot of 1-on-1s, missed some time with an injury, had some uncharacteristic drops, and generally looked unpolished. He has positional flexibility, but since his rookie season, just over 67% of his NFL snaps were from the slot. If he looks anything like his former self in 2021, his explosiveness and versatile route-running suit the R position well, but at 5’10” 185, he might not be physical enough for what Coach Dinwiddie has in mind. Like a lot of CFL teams, Calgary’s R receiver was frequently called upon to kickout the backside contain in the run game, something that doesn’t play into Wright’s strengths.

Nyqwan Murray doesn’t have a big frame, but his style of play is more physical than Wright’s and there’s a lot to suggest he’d be a perfect inside slot man. He’s fearless in traffic, has tremendous hands, great acceleration and the elusiveness to turn short passes into long gains. Murray is definitely a dark horse in a race that features so many big names, but at 23, he has the talent to play in this league for a long time.

Y (Field 2)

For the past few seasons, Calgary has fielded Canadians at Y and Z, so that’s probably what Coach Dinwiddie has in mind, but he may have some flexibility given the Canadians he’s got elsewhere on the roster. If only one Canadian receiver starts, it will almost certainly be Juwan Brescacin at Y, though this assumption isn’t based strictly on numbers. If you haven’t watched a lot of Calgary games, his statistics might surprise you. They’re solid, but given the number of Brescacin highlights you’ve seen over the past five years, you may have been expecting something different. Compare his best season with fellow Canadian Llevi Noel’s best year.

Noel played all over the field in 2018 and didn’t start as many games as Brescacin, so his catch totals and targets are impressive even if the rest of his stat line falls short. The difference is that Brescacin was hand-picked by Coach Dinwiddie to play Y. He knows him and he trusts him, and for good reason too. Brescacin makes big plays. He dominates 1-on-1 matchups pinning the free safety to the middle of the field, which opens up the potential for big plays on the boundary side. If the Argonauts decide to go in a different direction at Y, it will be with smaller, quicker receivers like Daniel Braverman, Craig Rucker, or Chandler Worthy. This move would be out of character for a coach coming from the Calgary system, but other teams around the league have had success with this model, like Hamilton with Brandon Banks and Saskatchewan with Kyran Moore.

Z (Field 1)

If the Argonauts plan to start two Canadian receivers, this will be a battle between Dejon Brissett and Llevi Noel. Noel has the experience, but Brissett was the first draft pick made in the Ryan Dinwiddie era, so it would be surprising if he’s not in the plans somewhere. Brissett has only really been asked to play on the outside and he’s great at it. He has good acceleration, elusiveness, and top end speed. He excels against man coverage and can be an exciting playmaker with the ball in his hands.

Going with an American at Z on the other hand, while probably less likely, introduces some interesting possibilities. Geremy Davis doesn’t have great speed and won’t get a lot of YAC, but he’s a huge target and he simply doesn’t drop the ball. For an inexperienced quarterback like Nick Arbuckle, it would be comforting to have a dependable target on the outside he can throw to even when covered.

Jawill Davis and Damion Jeanpiere are also interesting options that have flown under the radar. Both have elite speed and are dangerous in space. Davis was used more in the slot with the Giants, but he looked promising as an outside receiver in college. Jeanpiere is only 24 and has a legitimate shot to get back into the NFL after two short stints with the Carolina Panthers recently. He’ll be as motivated as anyone to earn playing time.

With so much talent on the roster at this position there are so many variables and possible combinations. It’s entirely possible that someone like Dres Anderson or Brandon Sheperd will make themselves invaluable in whatever form camp takes this year. Of course, there will also be another draft class in play by that time and almost certainly more transactions. Whatever the result, there’s little question this will be an exciting unit to watch when the 2021 season finally kicks off.

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