June 18th, 2024

Blue Bombers star running back Oliveira among CFL players to watch in 2024


By Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press on June 5, 2024.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers running back Brady Oliveira (20) celebrates after scoring a touchdown against the Montreal Alouettes during the first half of the 110th CFL Grey Cup in Hamilton, Ont., on Sunday, Nov. 19, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Brady Oliveira has a tough act to follow.

The five-foot-10, 222-pound Winnipeg native was the CFL’s top Canadian and outstanding player finalist last season after rushing for a league-high 1,534 yards – second-most ever by a Canadian after Calgary’s Jon Cornish ran for 1,813 yards in 2013. Oliveira also led the league in yards from scrimmage (2,016) and touchdowns (13).

Oliveira had a league-best seven 100-yard games rushing while recording career highs in catches (38) and receiving yards (482). That earned Oliveira a new two-year deal that will reportedly pay him $230,000 this season and $240,000 in 2025.

But Oliveira’s stellar campaign ended badly as the Montreal Alouettes defeated Winnipeg 28-24 in the Grey Cup. While the Bombers look to make a fifth straight championship appearance, they last won in 2021.

Here’s a look at other CFL players worth watching this season:

– William Stanback, B.C. Lions. The six-foot-three, 233-pound running back signed with B.C. after being released by Montreal following five seasons with the CFL club. Twice Stanback has rushed for 1,000 or more yards and last season ran for 800 yards on 147 carries despite missing four games due to injury but still helped the Alouettes win the Grey Cup. He was the East Division’s top player in 2021.

– A.J. Ouellette, Saskatchewan Roughriders. The five-foot-nine, 208-pound running back ran for a career-best 1,009 yards (5.7-yard average) with eight TDs last season with Toronto while adding 16 catches for 163 yards and two touchdowns. Now with Saskatchewan, Ouellette should help bolster a ground attack that last year was eighth in yards (84.4 per game) and last in average gain per rush (4.4 yards).

– James Butler, Hamilton Tiger-Cats. The five-foot-nine, 210-pound Butler chases a third straight 1,000-yard season. He ran for a career-best 1,116 yards last year to become the Ticats’ first 1,000-yard rusher since 2009. If he can duplicate the feat in ’24, Butler would become the first Hamilton player to post consecutive 1,000-yard seasons since DeAndra’ Cobb in 2009-10.

– Demerio Houston, Calgary Stampeders. The cornerback was the CFL’s top ballhawk last year, leading the league in interceptions (seven) and defensive take-aways (10) with Winnipeg. The five-foot-10, 173-pound defender signed this off-season as a free agent with Calgary. Over three seasons and 30 regular-season games with the Bombers, Houston had 84 tackles and nine interceptions (one returned for TD).

– Tim White, Hamilton Tiger-Cats. He led the CFL last season in receiving yards (1,269) and averaged a solid 16.9 yards per reception. The five-foot-10, 185-pound White has been a 1,000-yard receiver the past two seasons and has 224 catches for 3,308 yards (1,178 yards after catch) and 18 TDs in 47 career games with Hamilton.

– Eugene Lewis, Edmonton Elks. After registering 91 catches for 1,303 yards and 10 TDs in 2022 with Montreal, Lewis had 48 receptions, 844 yards and three TDs last year, his first with Edmonton. But new Elks quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson led the CFL in passing in 2022, which should bode well for the speedy Lewis.

– Adarius Pickett, Ottawa Redblacks. The linebacker was a CFL all-star last season with Toronto before signing with Ottawa as a free agent. The five-foot-11, 215-pound Pickett was the East Division’s top defensive player with 105 tackles (five for loss), 19 special-teams tackles, six sacks, two fumble recoveries and a forced fumble. He had 73 tackles, four sacks and an interception the season before with Montreal.

– Darnell Sankey, Montreal Alouettes. The six-foot-one, 245-pound linebacker had 31 tackles, a sack and an interception in six regular-season games with Montreal. But he was a force in the playoffs, recording 22 tackles, three sacks, two interceptions and a forced fumble in the Als’ Grey Cup march. Sankey led the CFL in tackles in 2021 (Calgary) and ’22 (Saskatchewan) before heading to the XFL.

– Cameron Judge, Calgary Stampeders. Calgary signed the Montreal native to an extension through 2025 and with good reason. The six-foot-two, 234-pound linebacker had a career-high 90 tackles last season with a team-best five interceptions. Over 64 career games with Saskatchewan, Toronto and the Stamps, Judge has 283 tackles (11 for loss), 14 sacks, six forced fumbles, six fumble recoveries and nine interceptions.

– Bryce Carter, Ottawa Redblacks. The Ottawa defensive lineman had 12 sacks last season, second-most in the CFL. The six-foot-one. 252-pound Carter also recorded 31 tackles and two forced fumbles. He combines with fellow defensive lineman Lorenzo Mauldin IV – the CFL’s top defensive player in 2022 – to give the Redblacks a formidable presence up front.

– Christian Covington, B.C. Lions. Nine years after being drafted by the B.C. Lions, the Vancouver native signed with the CFL team. The six-foot-two, 300-pound defensive lineman comes north after spending time in the NFL with the Houston Texans, Dallas Cowboys, Denver Broncos, Cincinnati Bengals, Los Angeles Chargers and Detroit Lions.

– Jake Ceresna, Toronto Argonauts. Toronto acquired the six-foot-five, 295-pound defensive lineman from Edmonton in the deal that sent Kurleigh Gittens Jr. to Alberta. Ceresna had career highs last season with 48 tackles and 12 sacks after earning ’22 CFL all-star honours. He should provide Toronto will a solid 1-2 pass rush with Folarin Orimolade (team-high 10 sacks).

– Javon Leake, Edmonton Elks. The speedy returner joined the Edmonton Elks in free agency after a stellar ’23 with Toronto. Leake was the CFL’s top special-teams player last season after registering a league-best four punt-return TDs. That’s one off the record set in 1991 by former Edmonton standout Henry (Gizmo) Williams and tied in 2012 by Hamilton’s Chris Williams.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 5, 2024.

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