The 2017 CFL season is in full swing: mini camps are done, the draft is around the corner and preseason is a month away. Numerous players have joined new teams and have opportunities for fresh starts and chances to make strong first impressions. There are a few cases where players have moved into complementary situations that could result in stellar seasons. Here are some CFL breakout candidates for 2017.
CFL Breakout Candidates in 2017
Kienan LaFrance, Running Back, Saskatchewan Roughriders
One of the biggest problems in Saskatchewan last year was their rushing game, as they ranked second last in both rushing yards and touchdowns. Yet the Roughriders poor ground attack wasn’t for a lack of personnel plugged in. Five different backs saw time at the position with Curtis Steele leading the team in the category with 314 yards in seven games. The lack of overall production forced head coach and general manager Chris Jones to retool the position and insert Kienan LaFrance.
The 25-year-old did not have an outstanding sophomore season. It wasn’t until the East Division Final in a snowstorm when LaFrance put the league on notice. He rumbled for 157 yards and a score to help the Redblacks advance to the Grey Cup and eventually capture it.
It’s a very small sample size to base his possible future success on, but it’s the teammates around him that give him an opportunity to succeed. On paper the Roughriders have one of, if not the best receiver crops with Naaman Roosevelt, Duron Carter, Rob Baggs, Ricky Collins Jr. plus the additions of Chad Owens and Bakari Grant. The high-power aerial attack forces defences to spread out and not stack the box. That alone opens things up for the running game.
The most important way for a back to be successful is the offensive line, which is exactly where the Roughriders improved this off-season. They signed former Calgary Stampeders and CFL’s Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman last year, Derrick Dennis. He played majority of last season at left tackle, but spent time at the guard positions. Dennis was a major reason why the Stamps allowed the fewest sacks and aided the league’s most powerful ground attack led by Jerome Messam. Saskatchewan is also getting a healthy Brendon LaBatte back on the line after just starting three games last season due to injury. And one cannot forget about the 2016 first overall pick, Josiah St. John, who looked comfortable towards the end of last season.
All these factors grant LaFrance more room to operate and a greater chance to succeed this season. He joins a fairly inexperienced tailback group, which could mean more touches than what he experienced in his first two CFL seasons. This fit screams CFL breakout candidate for LaFrance. With the CFL’s Canadian player requirements, it’s always a big positive to sign a skilled Canadian that can start and can make an impact.
Jeff Fuller, Wide Receiver, Toronto Argonauts
The new regime in Toronto, with general manager Jim Popp and head coach Marc Trestman means new faces looking to make an impact. The receiving group has completely changed from last year to this year, as the top five leading wideouts in 2016 are all gone. Of the 17 wide outs currently on the Argos roster, nine haven’t played a down in the CFL and four others are entering their sophomore season. This gives way for the two veterans in S.J. Green, and more specifically Jeff Fuller to be Ricky Ray’s go-to weapons.
If you don’t remember, 27-year-old Fuller played three seasons for the Stampeders, which included a Grey Cup in 2014. In that time frame he made big play after big play and more importantly statistically improved each year. He suited up for a total of 25 regular season games, snatching 91 balls for 1,251 yards and eight touchdowns.
His skill set is exactly what the Argonauts need to break out. The Stanford, California native is a big target standing at 6’4, is fast, and most importantly is physical. He attacks the balls at its highest point and can win those 50/50 battles against defensive backs. With Green on the other side of the field gravitating most of the attention, Fuller is in the perfect situation to make some noise.
Shamawd Chambers, Wide Receiver, Edmonton Eskimos
Shamawd Chambers learned the classic lesson that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. In his first year with the Saskatchewan Roughriders, the 28-year-old fought through numerous injuries and had career lows with 25 catches and 269 yards in 14 starts last year. The dip in Chambers’ production and signings of other receivers led to his release in February.
This off-season the Canadian returned to the team that originally drafted him sixth overall in 2012. He won the Grey Cup’s Most Valuable Canadian in 2015 with the Eskimos. Edmonton was the place where he continuously moved the chains and was Mike Reilly’s security blanket.
The Toronto native’s combination of size and speed that turned heads at the 2012 combine was on display more during the first three years of his career than the last two. A major reason why he succeeded in Edmonton was his position on the depth chart. Chambers was slotted as the third or fourth receiver. This means he didn’t deal with double coverage and usually lined up in the slot. The receiver is heading back to a similar situation with Adarius Bowman and newly-added Eskimo Vidal Hazelton. This is the ideal place for Chambers to rejuvenate his career.