2023-05-28 · 9 min read · CFL/Football
McLeod Bethel-Thompson of the Toronto Argonauts and Zach Collaros of the Blue Bombers

Winnipeg Press | John E. Sokolowski/Getty Images

Another season of Canadian football is just around the corner as clubs out west look to reclaim the title of the best team in the country, bragging rights that they held from 2018 until last year.
In 2022 we saw a slight power shift when it comes to regional supremacy, not just because of the Toronto Argonauts Grey Cup triumph but also the fact that it was the first regular season since 2015 where there was no fourth-place team in the West Division that made the playoffs in the crossover scenario.
We saw some familiarity from years past as the Winnipeg Blue Bombers won the division for a second successive campaign while the Calgary Stampeders were third yet again.
The most significant shift was the BC Lions, who saw a seven-win improvement from 2021, while the Saskatchewan Roughriders went from being a two-time west finalist to missing the postseason, accumulating three fewer victories.
As is always the case heading into a CFL campaign, there were vital additions and subtractions for each team that could help or hinder these respective clubs in 2023.
Here is a breakdown of all five teams and my predictions on where they will finish as we inch closer to the regular season kickoff June 8.
Edmonton Elks
Key Additions
  • Eugene Lewis- Wide Receiver (Montreal Alouettes)
  • Steven Dunbar- Wide Receiver (Hamilton Tiger-Cats)
  • A.C. Leonard- Defensive End (Saskatchewan Roughriders)
Key Subtractions
  • Kenny Lawler- Wide Receiver (Winnipeg Blue Bombers)
  • Derel Walker (Saskatchewan Roughriders)
  • Sergio Castillo- Kicker (Winnipeg Blue Bombers)
Biggest Strength
In 2022 the Elks were dead last in passing yards (4171), completion percentage (58.9), and pass efficiency rating (75.2), but adding Lewis should be a massive boost for young Taylor Cornelius as the ex-Alouette receiver was third in the regular season last year for receiving yards.
Steven Dunbar, meanwhile, was a CFL East All-Star in Steeltown last season and could provide some excellent secondary help.
When you add to the mix Kyran Moore and a veteran in Emmanuel Arceneaux, who had a solid 2022 with 39 receptions for 513 yards and a touchdown, one would think that should alleviate the loss of Kenny Lawler much more than it did last year when his injury seemed to make the Elks one-dimensional offensively.
Kevin Brown was the most significant positive for Edmonton offensively last season, and with these new pass catchers, it could take a lot of pressure off his shoulders in 2023.
Biggest Weakness
The Elks were dead last at stopping the run last season, allowing an average of 119.1 per game, and I’m not sure the current personnel that Chris Jones possesses can be better than they were in 2022.
A.C. Leonard should provide more pressure to opposing quarterbacks, but the Elks play in a division with some great running backs like Brady Oliveira and Ka’Deem Carey, and I’m not so sure the likes of Adam Konar and Enock Makonzo will be able to plug those holes.
Edmonton conceded, on average, 5.3 rushing yards to their opponents last season, including a league-high 31 touchdowns on the ground, which is simply not good enough.
Chris Jones has a knack for making a big jump in a sophomore campaign, but as it stands on paper, I don’t see them improving enough against the run.
Projection- Fourth in West Division
I like the look of the Elks’ offense right now, and I don’t doubt they’ll put points on the board, but I wonder if their defense will be able to make enough stops to help them sneak into the playoffs.
There’s also the Elks’ terrible home record in recent seasons that has to improve, but overall, I see them contending for a crossover spot, but I don’t think they’ll be able to win run-and-gun games consistently against the rest of the CFL west.
Saskatchewan Roughriders
Key Additions
  • Trevor Harris- Quarterback (Montreal Alouettes)
  • Philip Blake- Offensive Lineman (Toronto Argonauts)
  • Micah Johnson (Hamilton Tiger-Cats)
Key Subtractions
  • Cody Fajardo- Quarterback (Montreal Alouettes)
  • Shaq Evans- Wide Receiver (Ottawa Redblacks)
  • Kyran Moore- wide receiver (Edmonton Elks)
Biggest Strength
Saskatchewan has lots of strength in the linebacking corps led by Derrick Moncrief, while Larry Dean could see significant improvement by adding a two-time Grey Cup champion and multiple All-Star in Micah Johnson.
They were the second-best team against the run last season, and there’s no reason why they couldn’t be even better in that department in 2023.
Biggest Weakness
This offensive unit will supposedly be a scoring machine, but Trevor Harris makes too many poor decisions and will need ample pass protection for me to be effective.
Harris should put up some big numbers, but for every big play he makes, he seems to toss a pick or two, which must be concerning.
Projection- Fifth in West Division
I was shocked when Craig Dickenson was retained after their collapse in 2022 but falling down the west standings should be the last straw for the Riders to clean house and start rebuilding.
Calgary Stampeders
Key Additions
  • Jamal Campbell- Offensive lineman (Saskatchewan Roughriders)
  • Julian Howsare- Defensive lineman (Hamilton Tiger-Cats)
  • Micah Awe- linebacker (Montreal Alouettes)
Key Subtractions
  • Bo Levi Mitchell- Quarterback (Hamilton Tiger-Cats)
  • Shawn Lemon- Defensive lineman (BC Lions)
  • Folarin Orimolada- Defensive lineman (Toronto Argonauts)
Biggest Strength
Ka’Deem Carey is their prized running back, but the Stamps are probably the deepest team at that position heading into this season.
Carey led the league in rushing last year (1,088), but they can test opposing teams by handing the ball off to Peyton Logan and Dedrick Mills as well, with the two averaging 6.3 and 6.8 yards per carry, respectively.
Add to that their battering ram of a backup quarterback in Tommy Stevens, who’s outstanding in short yardage, and this is a team who could efficiently eat up some clock with long drives.
Biggest Weakness
Jake Maier will be at the commands in 2023, and he had a solid campaign behind center, but I’m not sure he has many big play receivers to throw to, and I worry they may be a little one-dimensional offensively.
Jalen Philpot and Malik Henry give them a pair of solid pass-catchers, but I think Maier will struggle to make big plays through the air.
Projection- Second in the West Division
Dave Dickenson and John Hufnagel always put together a solid roster and can turn ordinary athletes into stars, but development takes time, which is why I project them to make the playoffs and compete hard, but there’s still work to be done when it comes to being the team to catch out west.
BC Lions
Key Additions
  • Justin McInnis- Wide receiver (Saskatchewan Roughriders)
  • Antonio Williams- Running back (New York Giants)
Key Subtractions
  • Nathan Rourke- Quarterback (Jacksonville Jaguars)
  • James Butler- Running back (Hamilton Tiger-Cats)
Biggest Strength
Vernon Adams will have a nice luxury of outstanding receivers to throw to in 2023, with three 1,000-yard players in Lucky Whitehead, Keon Hatcher and Dominique Rhymes all returning.
The Lions receiving corps is reliable, with plenty of breakaway speed and lots of big play ability, which could change the complexion of their games.
Biggest Weakness
We’re all wondering who is going to step up and fill the void left by James Butler’s departure, and Antonio Williams is undoubtedly capable, but how well can he adjust to the Canadian game?
There’s also Gregory Howell and Nate Chavious, who have potential, so it will be interesting to see if head coach Rick Campbell chooses to employ several running backs or go with one.
Projection- Third in West Division
There’s plenty of offensive excitement, but I’m not sure Adams can keep this juggernaut unit rolling and be one of the elite teams again.
I think losing the Moxy of Rourke could impact their progress, even though Adams has experience and a solid group of receivers.
Winnipeg Blue Bombers
Key Additions
  • Kenny Lawler- Wide receiver (Edmonton Elks)
  • Sergio Castillo- Kicker (Edmonton Elks)
  • Tre Turner- Wide receiver (Las Vegas Raiders)
Key Subtractions
  • Greg Ellingson- Wide receiver (Montreal Alouettes)
  • Casey Sayles- Defensive tackle (Hamilton Tiger-Cats)
  • Michael Couture- Offensive lineman (BC Lions)
Biggest Strength
Given that most of the key players on this Bombers’ group is back for another season, this was a difficult one to choose as this team is elite in almost every department, but their receiving unit, which lost another outstanding member in Greg Ellingson, also brought back another great one in Kenny Lawler.
You put him together with Dalton Schoen, Rasheed Bailey, Drew Wolitarsky, Nic Demski and Brendan O’Leary-Orange, and there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be able to terrorize opposing secondaries again in 2023.
Zach Collaros is back and seeking to become only the second player in CFL history to three-peat in the Most Outstanding Player Award category, with the only one to do it so far, the legendary Doug Flutie.
With the receiving corps the Bombers currently possess, there’s no reason to believe Winnipeg’s #8 won’t claim that trophy this season.
Biggest Weakness
The kicking game could be an issue again in 2023; however, I’m going to go with their defensive line here instead
Willie Jefferson and Jackson Jeffcoat have built up a reputation as outstanding players, but the Bombers’ D-line seemed to regress a little last season, tied with Edmonton for the fewest sacks during the regular season (34).
Perhaps father time has caught up with those greats mentioned above, but that could be one of the few holes in their game this season.
Projection- First in West Division
When you bring back, in essence, your same personnel from last season, logic would say that your opponents should be able to figure you out, but somehow, I don’t think that will be the case for Winnipeg, at least during the regular season.
Mike O’Shea is a resourceful guy and always seems to get the best out of this group, and there’s no reason to suggest they will regress too much in 2023.
There are weapons galore for Collaros to throw to, the O-line is stellar, Brady Oliveira is coming off a 1,000-plus yard campaign on the ground, and I don’t think there’s a kick returner as deadly as Janarion Grant.
Sports Tree Profile

By: Joel Lefevre


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