Tuesday Takes - January 9, 2018 - Saskatchewan Roughriders D-Line
by Alex Dormuth (@RealAlexD)
Last week I started my look at the Saskatchewan Roughriders ahead of free agency opening up on February 13th with a look at the Running Backs. This week, we will look at an area of the team that I think does need some work and some ugrading in. The Defensive Line has some pieces, but wasn't nearly consistent enough to get the kind of pressure we would like on opposing QBs.
Chris Jones runs a defense that doesn't get many sacks on the QB, instead dropping more players into coverage to try and confuse the QB into making mistakes. At times, it works. At times, it doesn't. Unfortunately, more often than not last year, it didn't work. Going into 2018, we can't rely on Willie Jefferson to do it alone again. As of now, he remains unsigned (officially), so we don't even know for sure that he will be back.
My hopes is that the 2018 Saskatchewan Roughriders D-Line is much improved, but I don't think it will take a full overhaul to take it to the next level. Let's take a look at who the Riders have going into the 2018 season.
Willie Jefferson – The Riders best defensive lineman is a pending free agent, though reports are out that he has re-signed with the Riders, but nothing official has been announced. The Riders NEED Willie Jefferson back. Jefferson only had 8 QB sacks last year, but could have had about 20 with all the pressure that he caused.
Tobi Antigha – Antigha had a very impressive rookie season in 2017 in a rotation at defensive end with AC Leonard. Antigha finished with 5 sacks, but has the talent to be that other full time book-end that this team needs on a consistent basis.
Raxim Cox – Cox joined the team in the final half of the season and rotated in at defensive tackle. We didn't get a major look at what he can do, so 2018 will be a good test to see him in Training Camp against some new recruits.
Makana Henry – Henry will be back for another season and will likely see time in a rotation. For being a relatively small guy, he gets quite the push up the middle and unless the team adds a few more Canadians on the D-Line, Henry will be back for his rotational role.
Nick James – Aside from Jefferson, James is the most important piece of the D-Line puzzle. He only played a few games before getting injured and missing the rest of the season, but in those games, he completely dominated. James can take on the double teams and collapse the pocket and will be an integral part of the team once again. To me, he's the X-Factor of the defense and I can't wait to see him back for a full season.
AC Leonard – A pending free agent and converted receiver, Leonard has some great athletic ability. He's a Chris Jones type of guy, but I wouldn't be surprised if he went to free agency and lands somewhere else. I wouldn't mind him back, but I don't think he's essential.
Antonio Longino – Another player that joined the Riders in the middle of season, Longino worked in a rotation. Assuming he makes it to the roster for next season, we will likely see more of the same.
Ese Mrabure – Arguably the most underrated player on the Riders D-Line, Mrabure is a pending free agents and should be made a top priority for the team, especially because he is Canadian. Mrabure played most of the season with a broken hand, so he'll look to improve his stat line in 2018. I have no doubts that he will be back, hopefully Jones and company feel the same way.
Eddie Steele – One of last season's biggest free agent signings, Steele is once again a free agent. If Chris Jones wants to keep one of the defensive tackle spots a Canadian spot, signing Steele is a must. He won't put up huge stats, but he can take on double teams and plug the middle. Steele beside James would be a great tandem in the middle of the line and I sure hope we see that full time in 2018.
Overall, I think the talent is there for this team to have a very good D-Line, in fact I predict them to have the most QB sacks in the league this season. But, it all hinges on the health of Nick James. Assuming he is back and starting in the middle of the D-Line and Willie Jefferson is back, I fully expect the entire defense to be dominant and tops in the league.
Next week, I'll flip over to the other side of the trenches and look at the Saskatchewan Roughriders O-Line situation.