It has been some time since the Riders were considered true contenders. However, their 2017 run that ended in Toronto has set high expectations for 2018. Chris Jones has stuck to his guns shaping the roster in his vision, even if that means cutting fan favourites such as Rob Bagg, Chad Owens and Bakari Grant. In this breakdown, the strengths and weaknesses of the 2018 Saskatchewan Roughriders will be analyzed as well as predictions for who the Most Valuable Player will be on both sides of the ball.
Wide Receivers & Slot Backs
The personnel the Riders have at their skill positions is their greatest asset going into the 2018 season. One would have to be living under a rock if they haven’t heard of Duron Carter by now, but it doesn’t stop there. Naaman Roosevelt is back to top the 2017 campaign that saw him reel in 75 receptions for 1035 yards and 8 touchdowns in 14 games. Behind him are the up-and-comers Jordan Williams-Lambert, Caleb Holley and Devon Bailey along with the game-breaking Christion Jones who can be used in a number of areas. Zach Collaros or Brandon Bridge should have no problem finding an open playmaker in 2018.
The next biggest strength the Riders have at their disposal is the Defensive Line. Willie Jefferson and Charleston Hughes are among the league’s upper echelon of pass-rushers. The tandem combined for 19 sacks last season for their respective teams, which is a good starting point. Behind them is Tobi Antigha who registered 30 tackles and five sacks in his rookie debut with the Riders. Anchoring the tackle spot is the local two-time Grey Cup Champion Zack Evans who returns after a four-year stint in Ottawa that saw him play at least 17-games each season.
The most glaring weakness that this team will have to address or mask throughout the season is the Offensive Line. The Left Tackle position belongs to first-year Terran Vaughn as per Jamie Nye’s mock depth chart. Brendon LaBatte and Dan Clark solidify the middle of the line, though much will depend on the collective health of the duo as Clark started just nine games last season. The bigger concern is how the tackle positions fare in action. If Terran Vaughn and Thaddeus Coleman can anchor the outside, Collaros or Bridge will have no problem finding their groove. However, depth is a huge issue as Dariusz Bladek appears to be the only current backup lineman on the roster. If injuries hit, that could spell trouble for the 2018 Saskatchewan Roughriders.
The next evident weakness is the Secondary. While Ed Gainey, Jovon Johnson and Crezdon Butler are quality starters, it’s the unproven depth that is cause for concern. Nick Marshall showed promise registering an interception his first pre-season matchup against Edmonton. Beyond that, there are a number of question marks in who will fill out the rest of the backup positions. The Riders will need to find a few more diamonds in the rough to ease any concern at this position.
Offence MVP: Naaman Roosevelt
This should come as no surprise to anyone across the league. Duron Carter is an enticing pick here, however, with the attention he garners, Roosevelt can fly under the radar and be the most productive member on this offence. Teams won’t have the opportunity to double-team Roosevelt due to the aforementioned strengths at the Riders receiver position. This sets the stage for Roosevelt to be the Most Valuable Player for the 2018 Saskatchewan Roughriders.
Defence MVP: Willie Jefferson
Similar to the offence MVP, this is a safe pick, but certain transactions have occurred over the offseason that will allow Jefferson to have a big 2018. The acquisitions of Charleston Hughes and Zack Evans will only help Jefferson’s production. It should also not be understated how important it is that he is entering his fifth-year in Jones’ defensive scheme. That kind of consistency goes a long way in aiding a player’s production, Duron Carter will tell you himself.
The Last Word
A lot has to happen for the Riders to return to the Grey Cup for the first time since 2013. The team Chris Jones and co. have assembled is not perfect, but it has the talent to withstand a difficult West Division. The Riders will need to bet on their strengths and hope depth steps up in other key areas if they want to be standing on the podium in Edmonton November 25th. Looking back at the 2018 Saskatchewan Roughriders at the end of the season, fans will be able to tell if the strengths outweighed the weaknesses or if the weaknesses led to unmet expectations of a Grey Cup victory.
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