Wednesday 24 December 2014

10 Overlooked Free Agents to Make Your Team Better (Plus One)

Their jerseys are not usually stocked in the team store. When you do see someone wearing one in the crowd, you can be pretty sure they are a family member or loved one.

But do not let that fool you or assign some sense of lesser value to their importance to the team. These players are often key to a team’s success.

In the NHL, they are your third and fourth liners. The grit guys who are often relied upon to jumpstart a sluggish team effort. In the NBA, they are your sixth and seventh men off the bench. The ones that are brought in to address a need and shift the momentum of a game. In MLB, they are your utility players. The guys who can play multiple positions and allow you to make the substitutions that evolves over the long course of an individual game and season.

In the CFL, they are often backups and depth players. They are counted upon to step up should a starter go down to injury. But unlike the other professional sports, they cannot just stand on the sidelines waiting for the coach to point their way and say, “You’re up 47! Get in there!”

They have to be able to contribute somewhere, somehow in the game on the field in order to hold down a valuable roster position. In the CFL, this usually means special teams or rotational duties.

Truth be told, this article originally was to be entitled; “Mark’s Ode to Long-Snappers and Wedge-Breakers”. But alas, due to suggestions from Josh and Eric, I decided to include some of the other players that are very valuable contributors and would be welcomed additions to your respective team… even if they lack the star quality of long snappers and wedge breakers!

So without any further ado, here are my Top 10 free agents (+1) that are not necessarily BIG names, but they will definitely make your team better.

Kendial Lawrence – Edmonton Eskimos

We may as well call the pending Eskimo free agent, “Mr. 400.” All the former Missouri Tiger star did in his first full CFL season was account for 1,790 total yards on 172 touches for an over 10 yards per touch average. Lawrence registered 400 yards in each discipline of rushing, receiving, punt returns and kickoff returns. If I were Eskimos general manager Ed Hervey, I would be inking the very versatile, dynamic and valuable back-up running back to an extension.

Jason Arakgi – BC Lions

The seven-year veteran, who has spent his whole career with BC, appears to want to test the free agency waters. As one of the top special teams tacklers each and every year, Jason provides that edge and nastiness that it takes to barrel downfield without abandon on kickoff and punt coverage. Whether the former McMaster star is just looking to cash in on his value or get a little closer to home, or both, the son of CFL Alumni Nick Arakgi would help any team with his, on average, 22 special teams take downs per season.

Winston Veneble – Montreal Alouettes

After spending time with the NFL’s Chicago Bears, Veneble’s arrival in Montreal has shown that he can be an impact player and big hitter in this league. Always around the football, with a real knack for both stripping and recovering it, the former Boise State standout can play both WILL and SAM Linebacker positions as well as contribute on special teams.

Brian Peters – Saskatchewan Roughriders

With over 80 defensive stops and another 36 takedowns on special teams in only one year as a starter, Peters has shown to have the skills and versatility to be of value in the Canadian game. The Northwestern product has stepped into most every position Saskatchewan head coach Corey Chamblin asked of him, whether it be middle or WILL Linebacker and even long snapper! The technically sound and smart football player would be an excellent depth addition for most every team across the league.

Glenn Love – Calgary Stampeders

The third-year reserve linebacker is very capable of stepping in on defense when needed, but his real value is in special teams coverage. The former UCLA Bruin recorded 20 tackles on the teams as well as another eight, including a sack, on defense. Whether he gets more opportunity to play weak-side linebacker with another team, he would definitely help any team looking to add depth and get better on special teams.

Don Oramasionwu – Edmonton Eskimos

Winnipeg native Donny O suited up for only two games during the 2014 season, yet looking back at his previous five seasons in Winnipeg and Edmonton, it can clearly be seen that the former Manitoba Bison would be very valuable in rotation at the defensive tackle position. Pairing him with other national defensive linemen would give teams a significant advantage when it comes to ratio flexibility.

Alex Krausnick-Groh – Ottawa RedBlacks

The versatile national interior lineman can play both guard and centre as well as contribute as a BIG TIME receiver in specific situations. The former Dino also performs long snapping duties, making him a very valuable depth player for most any team.

Sam Hurl – Saskatchewan Roughriders

The tough-nosed, sure tackling University of Calgary product can provide solid national depth at the linebacker position, as well as spearhead and be a leader on coverage teams. Long snapping abilities unknown.

Tristan Black – Saskatchewan Roughriders

The Central Tech and Wayne State product is solid backing up at both interior linebacker positions, as well as contributing on special teams. A tremendous overall athlete, Black is not only excellent in downfield coverage but can also step in to put foot to ball should your kicker or punter go down to injury.

Aaron Lavarias – Montreal Alouettes

The athletic Lavarias had a very unique 2014 season in Montreal. He suited up and started at both defensive end and middle linebacker. The former Idaho Vandal recorded 22 tackles including 3 sacks during his six games patrolling the middle, and 19 more while rushing from the edge. His versatility and 95 total takedowns in 30 career games would be of tremendous value and impact to many teams.

Marcellus Bowman – Hamilton Tiger-Cats

My plus one is perhaps an odd name to appear on this list since the former Bomber and current Ti-Cat was a household name and coveted free agent just a couple years ago. Yet, a prolonged microsurgery rehabilitation and then ratio issues destined the former Boston College Eagle to the non-active roster. Any team looking for that extra “Boom” and tenacity on defense would do well by acquiring the hard-hitting Bowman.

I realize there will be names on this list that some will not agree with, while there will be omissions that will greatly offend others. But that is the thing about setting a list. It is not meant to be all encompassing, but more of a starting point for discussion.

So while others will get the headlines and be atop the wish lists of many CFL fans, this would be as good a place to start to make your overall team better. They may not be big-name players or coveted free agents that garner media attention, but they most definitely will make the team you cheer for better should they find their way onto your roster.

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