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Riders Positional Breakdown – Defensive Backs

Published: Monday, Apr 3rd 2023, 3:04pm

by Alex Dormuth (@RealAlexD)


Leading up to the CFL Draft, I’ll be looking at the roster put together so far by Saskatchewan Roughriders General Manager Jeremy O’Day. I’ll share my thoughts on each player and how I see that particular unit showing in 2023.


Let’s take a look at the Defensive Backs (listed in alphabetical order).


Jordan Beaulieu – One of the candidates for the starting safety spot, I fully expect Beaulieu to be on the roster and part of the rotation in the secondary. He got a lot of work behind Mike Edem last year, so he’s primed to see even more now that Edem is gone.


Jeremy Clark – Clark will return to his starting spot in the secondary either at cornerback or halfback and what a find he has been. Clark will be looked to to make that next step in his career and become one of the leaders of the defence. He was a guy that O’Day needed to keep around heading into free agency and I’m glad they put a priority on signing him. He’s an important part of this team going forward, especially when he has started in different spots in that secondary.


Rodney Clemons – Clemons has spent the last couple of seasons in the NFL on practice rosters and is making the jump to the CFL, entering his first season with the Riders. I don’t expect him to win a starting position, but a practice roster spot is not out of the question.


Jayden Dalke – The safety spot is going to be a wide open competition this year as it appears the Riders have moved on from Mike Edem. One of the leading candidates for that spot (which I think will just end up being a rotation) is Dalke. He’s shown enough to get a chance to fight for the job and I fully expect him to be atop the depth chart come game 1.


Julius Faulk – Has good size at 6’1 and 205 lbs and appears to be a ball hawk from his collegiate days. Was with the Cleveland Browns in 2022 for their rookie camp and will fight with all the other newcomers for a spot on this year’s roster in Riderville.


Amari Henderson – Henderson returns and brings in some starting experience at corner. I don’t know if he’ll get another starting spot this season, but he does know the system and will get every chance to win the cornerback spot opposite of Nick Marshall. Could also be a candidate to be cut if one of the newcomers performs well in training camp, or if the team prefers to go with Clark at corner and Reavis at halfback. I’m neither here nor there on Henderson, but keeping him around on an injured list or practice roster wouldn’t be a bad thing.


Devin Jones – Jones was brought in late last year and spent the last few weeks on the practice roster. A PR spot isn’t out of the question, but if he doesn’t wow the team, he won’t last long.


Austin Joyner – He started 5 games for the BC Lions in 2021 at SAM linebacker, so he brings some experience to the team. He’s a guy that can push for a backup spot or at the very least, be a phone call away if something happens. If I’m betting, I don’t think he makes the roster to start the year, but O’Day tells him to keep his phone close to him at all times. 


Nelson Lokombo – I really hope Lokombo can stay healthy. He should be given every chance to start at safety this year, but there’s also the potential that he could be in for a starting corner spot in the secondary. Regardless of what position he plays more of this year, he needs to stay healthy or else I’d seriously consider walking away from him after his contract is up. I know you don’t want to give up on a young Canadian player that quickly, but you can’t make the club in the tub. Hopefully those injuries are behind him because the kid is talented. 


Nick Marshall – The boom or bust cornerback is back for one more year in Riderville and I’m still undecided on it. On one hand, the guy can make some big time plays, we’ve seen the pick-sixes and interceptions over the years and for a brief period, was the best legit shut down corner in the CFL. But for every big play for, there’s a big play (or two) against. For a guy who is VERY vocal in game, he sure gets beat deep a lot by speed receivers… and he looks foolish in the process. I think this is his last season in Saskatchewan.


Rolan Milligan – Milligan came out of nowhere to make a name for himself in 2022 and I’m really excited to see him grow and become one of the premier defenders in the CFL in ‘23. This guy can ball out and I expect him to have an excellent season this year. It will be interesting to see if they drop him into a Linebacker spot and have him move around a bit on the defence. Either way, he’s going to be a key part to the Riders D this year.


Leon O’Neal Jr. – A new addition to the Riders this year, O’Neal Jr. will likely be fighting for a PR spot with the other newcomers.


Kosi Onyeka – Onyeka spent some time on the PR and on the active roster for the green and white last year and should be in the mix for some playing time at safety. I think he’ll be on the roster, but more so as a depth piece and special teams player than a guy who will get a lot of playing time.


C.J. Reavis – Reavis is an interesting one to me. He played some games at halfback in 2022 and also played at the SAM Linebacker spot. He’s shown that he’s versatile enough that he’s pretty much a lock to be on the roster, I just don’t know where he ends up. If the team goes with Clark at corner, Reavis at halfback makes the most sense. I think this is what we will see to start the season and if injuries occur, things will get juggled, but I do think he’ll be an underrated piece of the puzzle.


Rashard Robinson – Comes to the Riders with some NFL experience. Had some suspension issues at LSU and in the NFL, so there is a small cause for concern. If he shows well in Training Camp, I think they’ll find a way to keep him around in some capacity.


La’Andre Thomas – Much like O’Neal Jr., Thomas will be fighting for a PR spot, but is most likely a camp body.


Kendarius Webster – See Thomas, La’Andre & O’Neal Jr., Leon.


Deontai Williams – See above. Another guy in a fight for a PR spot.


I actually really like the secondary that Jeremy O’Day has put together. They have a good mix of young Canadians who already have a bunch of experience and the Americans that have been brought in have been good finds. Like any group, the more they play together, the better they’ll be and I think they’ll have a better year in 2023 since they shouldn’t be on the field as much as they were in 2022. Think back to the defence that started the season last year, that’s what I expect much of 2023. 


A starting group of Marshall-Milligan-Dalke-Reavis-Clark doesn’t look too bad to me. Even if it’s Marshall-Milligan-Dalke-Clark-Henderson, I don’t mind it. I think they have some good pieces and enough versatile players that we will get plenty of different looks, which is what Defensive Coordinator Jason Shivers likes. What will be interesting is to see which of these guys get some looks at Linebacker positions like WIL and SAM. The ones that can show the most versatility will be the guys that stick around. Shivers should be loving what he has available to him.


There will be growing pains in the secondary as they learn to play together and gel, but I like the promise this group shows. DBs should be an area of strength for the Riders going forward.


Previous Positional Groups:

Offensive Line  – https://pifflespodcast.com/blog/riders-positional-breakdown-offensive-line/ 

Defensive Line  – https://pifflespodcast.com/blog/riders-positional-breakdown-defensive-line/ 

Running Backs  – https://pifflespodcast.com/blog/riders-positional-breakdown-running-backs-fullbacks/

Linebackers  – https://pifflespodcast.com/blog/riders-positional-breakdown-linebackers/

Quarterbacks  – https://pifflespodcast.com/blog/riders-positional-breakdown-quarterbacks/


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