When we last did this exercise just under a year ago, the CFL was a much different place. They were coming off the lost 2020 season and it was nearly impossible to know who was going to maintain their 2019 level and who wouldn’t. It resulted in quite a jumbled list with Matt Nichols being in fifth, Trevor Harris being in third, and perhaps most shocking to fans was Dane Evans being in ninth.
This time around, there are some new faces and some familiar names dropping off the list entirely. Additionally, as we don’t know how things are going to go in Free Agency just yet, the list has expanded to 13 players in hopes of getting to everyone who could have a starting job at the start of the season.
Like last year, many things have been taken into consideration when determining the order. That includes recent success, historical success, availability, and situation among other things. All of the players on this list could be starting quarterbacks next season and a low ranking does not mean the player is bad or incapable.
We encourage you to put your list in the comments below!
13. Nick Arbuckle – Edmonton Elks
For the second consecutive year, Nick Arbuckle comes in at the bottom of our list. Last time, it was because of a general lack of experience having had just 238 pass attempts before being brought in by the Toronto Argonauts, and to some extent, that lack of experience still exists. The experience isn’t the only reason that Arbuckle is in this spot this time around, however. It has much more to do with his play on the field in 2021 where he was underwhelming with the Argos before being traded to the Edmonton Elks at the Trade Deadline.
In seven games with the Argonauts in 2021, Arbuckle completed just 96 passes for 1,158 yards, five touchdowns, and six interceptions. His first start of the season came in week three against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and it was undoubtedly his best game of the season. He completed 23 of his 32 passes for 310 yards and a touchdown while also adding another touchdown with his legs.
Arbuckle went on to lose his starting job to McLeod Bethel-Thompson and was traded to Edmonton where he sat on the sideline in street clothes for the remainder of the season. His 2019 season showed what he was capable of in this league, but 2021 was a massive letdown. At least for the time being, it looks like he’s going to be another player pegged “the next big thing” who won’t live up to the hype, but that’s also not guaranteed yet. It sounds like he will have the chance to compete for the starting job in Edmonton this spring, and if he gets back to the level he was at in 2019, there’s no question he can get the job done.
12. Taylor Cornelius – Edmonton Elks
Having Taylor Cornelius ahead of Arbuckle on this list might cause some controversy right off the bat, but there are some reasons to like some of the things he did in his rookie season. The experience factor is virtually non-existent for him right now, but he has spent time in the XFL before coming over to the CFL. Cornelius was thrown into the fire early in his rookie season, being forced into action in just his sixth game in the league. That fire, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers who had Cornelius seeing ghosts, throwing three interceptions and no touchdowns.
For as bad as the start of his CFL career was, things did get better quite quickly. After two more weeks of figuring things out that resulted in three touchdown passes and three more interceptions, he went on a respectable four-game run. In those four games that featured matchups against the Blue Bombers, Hamilton Tiger-Cats, and back-to-back games against the Saskatchewan Roughriders, Cornelius completed 77 of his 127 passes for 984 yards. He also threw six touchdown passes and just one interception in that time.
Related: Edmonton Elks Free Agency 2022
The season ended for him the same way it started, however. He was crushed against the Toronto Argonauts and BC Lions as the Elks were forced to play three games in under a week. The entire team was exhausted after travelling across the country a couple of times, and it would be unfair to evaluate anyone on the roster in those games.
The biggest reason that Cornelius is in this spot on this list, however, is how much progress he made in a season where he was quarterbacking a team that lost both times to the next worst team. In other words, the Elks were far and away the worst team in the CFL in 2021. He showed enough to make people think about him as a competent quarterback and even if he loses the starting battle to Arbuckle (or whoever else the Elks bring in), he should have a roster spot somewhere as a backup quarterback who can get the job done when thrust into the game.
11. Jake Maier – Calgary Stampeders
When Bo Levi Mitchell went down with an injury in week two, many people thought that Canadian Michael O’Connor would finally be getting a chance to start. Before their week three game against the Montreal Alouettes, the Stampeders announced that rookie Jake Maier would get the start, a shocking development to many fans around the league. Maier’s doubters looked to have plenty of ammunition in the first quarter after he threw a pair of interceptions, and the chatter of O’Conner getting into the game heated up once again. Dave Dickenson stuck with his young quarterback, and it paid off with Maier figuring things out and leading the team to a win.
In the following week, Maier nearly helped the Stampeders pull off an upset against the Blue Bombers, but his week five start against the Elks resulted in a 12 point loss. In terms of meaningful reps, that was about it for Maier the rest of the season. With his contract set to expire, he had a chance to test Free Agency this February, but he chose to re-sign with the Stampeders. He could have possibly had a starting job next season, but with only three games of starting experience, it’s not a bad choice to return to Calgary for another year of learning and preparing.
In the short bursts that we have seen Maier to this point, he’s shown the ability to make some tough throws and use his legs when need be, although he rarely looks to run. In 2021, he completed 95 of his 148 passes for 1,211 yards with five touchdowns and three interceptions. He also rushed for two more touchdowns, but both of those came in short-yardage situations. After the season, he was pegged as “the next big thing,” but as we have seen, that doesn’t guarantee much of anything. Players who get that tag have a spotty history, and only time will tell if Maier can break the curse.
10. Caleb Evans – Ottawa Redblacks
We have another rookie on the list, but Caleb Evans isn’t the last rookie you will see. People may have crowned Maier the next up-and-coming quarterback, but Evans has been overlooked to a certain extent in that regard. Like Cornelius listed before, he was cursed with a team around him that simply wasn’t up to snuff with Maier’s Stampeders. Time and time again, Evans was rushed to make a throw and never had a chance to do much of anything, especially in week 11 where he was sacked 10 times.
With both Matt Nichols and Dominique Davis unable to start the Redblacks’ week nine game against the Elks, Evans was forced to make a start having never suited up in a professional football game ever before in his life. He made good on the opportunity, throwing for 191 yards on 15 completions, throwing for three touchdowns, running for 59 yards on seven carries, and most importantly, didn’t throw an interception. He led the Redblacks to their second win of the season and he gave the fanbase something to be hopeful for.
Related: Ottawa Redblacks Free Agency 2022
At the season’s end, Evans had seen the field in seven games and finished with a 2-5 record. On the surface, that sounds pretty bad, but you have to account for the Redblacks being just 1-6 in their other seven games in 2021. He completed just under 60 percent of his passes for 1,279 yards with five touchdowns and nine interceptions. All things considered, he was impressive and did a lot with what he had. With his legs, he was equally as impressive, running for 345 yards and another three touchdowns. Another fun fact, Evans finished the season with the highest yards per rush in 2021 with 8.2 among everyone. That’s likely a little inflated due to a limited number of reps, but there was also a fair amount of quarterback sneaks in there.
With a solid team around him, Evans has a chance to become a star in this league. He’s only 23 years old and already is showing signs of what he can be in the future. Redblacks fans should have ear-to-ear smiles on their faces knowing Evans has the chance to become something.
9. McLeod Bethel-Thompson – Toronto Argonauts
The first veteran on this list is a man with a magnificent orange beard, McLeod Bethel-Thompson. One of the things that have always stuck out about him is that no matter how many times the Argonauts try to replace him, Bethel-Thompson comes back and earns his starting job back. He toes the line between being good enough to be a starter but not being quite good enough to take over and lead his team to the Grey Cup. He’s somewhere in the middle, but the right situation could help him elevate his game.
Bethel-Thompson comes in this low because he has some limitations that really hurt him. For one, we haven’t seen the winning pedigree with him yet that we have seen from others. There are also some questions about his arm and if he can make all the throws he will be asked to make. In 2021, Bethel-Thompson completed just one pass for more than 30 yards in the air of the 17 he attempted. That one completion did go for a touchdown, but not being able to connect on the deep ball occasionally allows defences to creep up and make life difficult for you in the course of a game.
Related: Toronto Argonauts Free Agency 2022
If Bethel-Thompson is a starting quarterback next season, he will want his numbers to look much more like they did in 2019. In that season, he threw for 4,024 yards with 26 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. He suffered some regression in 2021, but that could be partly due to a new offensive system being implemented. Bethel-Thompson is at his best when he is taking what is available to him and keeping his defence off the field. He needs to play within himself if he wants to keep his starting job whether that is in Toronto or elsewhere.
8. Trevor Harris – Free Agent
Trevor Harris isn’t the biggest faller on this list compared to last year (that would be Matt Nichols who isn’t here at all), but his fall in the 2021 season has people around the CFL looking at him quite differently. Before the 2021 season, he was one of the games elite quarterbacks that Edmonton thought could help bring them back to the Grey Cup this season, but now, there’s a chance that just seven months later, he could be brought in to be a backup. This change has been drastic, but not unwarranted after an incredibly disappointing tenure with the Elks.
One of the biggest knocks on Harris in his career has been his consistency. Every now and again, he will play a game for the ages and remind everyone exactly what he is capable of, exemplified by his week five game against the Stampeders where he threw for 398 yards and four touchdowns. Although these performances are great, Harris has his fair share of games where he can’t do much of anything and the offence stalls out. In 2021, there was much more of the latter happening, hence why he is down in this position and already a free agent.
Harris’ stats usually aren’t too bad even in games where he isn’t great, he finds ways to put up solid yardage most of the time, but scoring majors needs to be his priority. Throwing for 14 touchdowns and seven interceptions to go with 2,271 yards was far below expectations for Harris last season, but someone is likely going to see the upside and give him a chance to at least compete for a starting job in training camp. If he can earn that spot or not is another question.
7. Nathan Rourke – BC Lions
There are very few quarterbacks who can capture the hearts of CFL fans across the league, even fewer who can do it in their first season in the league. Before he even stepped on the field in Regina for his first professional game, Nathan Rourke had huge fanfare due in large part to his Canadian passport. The CFL hasn’t seen a Canadian star at the quarterback position since Russ Jackson retired from the Ottawa Rough Riders in 1969. Right off the bat, expectations of being the rare Canadian to star at the position were placed on his shoulder pads.
Those expectations weren’t placed on him for no reason. With the University of Ohio Bobcats, Rourke threw for 7,454 yards, 60 touchdowns, and just 20 interceptions in his three seasons. Even more impressive were his numbers on the ground in that time. He rushed for 2,639 yards with a staggering 49 touchdowns. Rourke came into the league a legitimate dual-threat who could throw the ball just about anywhere, but when things get hairy in the pocket, he can run like a running back and make something out of nothing.
Related: BC Lions Free Agency 2022
Sitting behind Michael Reilly for most of the season, Rourke never had a chance to put up those same massive numbers he did in college. In his small playing time that included two starts, Rourke passed for 754 yards with three touchdown passes and five interceptions. With his legs, he added another 111 yards and five touchdowns, mostly coming on quarterback sneaks. He had his moments where he showed exactly what made him one of the best quarterbacks in Bobcats’ history.
Why is he ahead of some veteran quarterbacks who have had half-decent careers? That’s because he’s ready to start now. He doesn’t need more seasoning. He has all of the talent you could ever ask for from a quarterback, and if he can put it all together he will become the biggest Canadian star in the CFL since Jackson in the 1960s.
6. Jeremiah Masoli – Hamilton Tiger-Cats
What a wild season it was with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats for Jeremiah Masoli. He missed the majority of the 2019 season with an injury but won his starting job back in training camp. He lost the job but earned it back again, leading the Cats to the playoffs with a second-place finish in the East Division. He would again lose the starting job after a pair of poor drives in the East Final in Toronto, but when the cards were on the table in the Grey Cup, he was called on once again. Dane Evans went down with an injury and Masoli was needed. He came very close to leading Hamilton to their first Grey Cup win since 1999, but he came up just short.
The start of the season was poor from Masoli and the Tiger-Cats as a whole, but when he returned from injury, things picked up for him. From week nine and on (including the playoffs), Masoli completed 189 of his 264 passes (71.5%) for 2,459 yards with 12 touchdowns and three interceptions. He was also effective with his legs when he needed to be, rushing the ball 29 times for 202 yards. If you only got to see the second half of the season from Masoli, you might think he was an all-star.
Related: Hamilton Tiger-Cats Free Agency 2022
All signs point to Masoli having a new team in Free Agency, but where he ends up still remains a mystery. General managers are still going to question what Masoli they are going to get. Is he the player who played all-star calibre football in the second half of the season or is he the guy who couldn’t move the ball in the East Final? Can he take a team over the hump and deliver the good when the game is on the line? They are fair questions, but someone will believe the answer is yes and give him another starting job.
5. Cody Fajardo – Saskatchewan Roughriders
When we did this last year, the entire province of Saskatchewan had us in their bad books for suggesting we needed to see Cody Fajardo another year before calling him one of the league’s elite quarterbacks. In 2019, people were saying that Fajardo not only could become the league’s top quarterback, but some were saying he was already there. In 2021, he came back down to earth a little bit and we have seen the exact same extreme fan reaction. Some have been calling for his job or saying that he can’t win. There’s been a stark difference. The reality is that he’s somewhere in the middle of that in all likelihood, and he moves up one position from where he was in when we last did this list (thanks to Michael Reilly announcing his retirement).
The 2021 season wasn’t great for Fajardo and the Roughriders who had Grey Cup aspirations, but it wasn’t terrible either. The Roughriders routinely were ranked inside the top three in our power rankings each week and they nearly beat the Blue Bombers in the West Final. The Roughriders are close to being able to win it all, especially considering they nearly made the Grey Cup despite Fajardo having a stat line that included two passing touchdowns and four interceptions in their two playoff games.
For the season, Fajardo took a step back from his 2019 numbers, throwing for 2,970 yards with 14 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. There’s no reason to panic with his just yet, however. He showed in 2019 that he can get things done in more than one way and that translated into the 2021 season where he ran for 468 yards and four more touchdowns. He might not be the league’s best quarterback like some had thought just a year ago, but there’s no reason to believe he can’t get the job done for the Roughriders, at least not yet.
4. Dane Evans – Hamilton Tiger-Cats
Dane Evans was really caught up in a weird situation in 2021, and it hasn’t since stopped. On the other side of Masoli last season was Evans who nearly led the Tiger-Cats to a Grey Cup win in 2019 but couldn’t deal with the pressure the Blue Bombers’ defensive line was putting on him all night long. He came into 2021 looking to keep his starting job, but head coach Orlondo Steinauer stuck with Masoli for the majority of the season. When Evans was given his chances, injuries took them away. What could have been for him if he could have stayed healthy.
Evans never really had the chance to showcase himself in 2021. He attempted just 107 passes in the regular season, completing 69 of them for 787 yards with six touchdowns and three interceptions. In the East Final, Evans was 16 of 16 passing the ball with 249 yards and a touchdown while leading the Cats to their home Grey Cup.
In recent months, the Tiger-Cats have had to decide who their quarterback of the future is. Between Evans and Masoli, they picked the former and rewarded him with a new contract that will keep him in the black and gold for at least another two seasons. The 2022 season will be the first time he goes into a training camp as the number one option, but he still needs to prove his worth as a starter again. The Tiger-Cats offence is riding on Evans and if he struggles, there likely won’t be anyone there to pick up the slack for him unless they find a gem of a youngster. This has the makings of a make-or-break season for Evans. He’s passed nearly every test thrown his way in this league so far, but this one is going to be like nothing he’s seen before. He was the right choice for Hamilton and it would be shocking to see this one not work out for them.
3. Vernon Adams Jr. – Montreal Alouettes
Vernon Adams Jr. was not a fan of our ranking when we did them a year ago. He came in at number eight largely due to his lack of experience as a starter, but in 2021, he proved himself to be one of the better quarterbacks in the CFL. His 2021 season was cut short due to an unfortunate injury and it derailed the Montreal Alouettes’ season. Before Adams went down, the Als were in contention for first place in the East Division and had a realistic path to the Grey Cup with great players up and down their roster, including their second-year starter at quarterback.
Adams said that he needed to take the next steps and prove his worth after our list came out last season, and that’s exactly what he did in 2021. He only got to play eight games before taking a big hit and being out for the rest of the season, but in those games, he completed just under 60 percent of his passes for 1,949 yards with 14 touchdowns and nine interceptions. It was a quiet season for him on the ground in the touchdown department, but he still rushed for nearly 300 yards. In the past on the ground, Adams has looked like a running back at times, scoring 12 touchdowns in 2019.
Related: Montreal Alouettes Free Agency 2022
Many of Adams’ interceptions in 2021 were a result of the Alouettes’ dependence on the deep ball. Early in the season while Adams was healthy, they took their shots down the field early and often and routinely asked their quarterback to make high-risk plays. It created an explosive offence and made them one of the most entertaining teams to watch, and if he can stay on the field in 2022, Adams is a guy that can lead the Alouettes to not only another playoff berth, but also a Grey Cup. He can do a little bit of everything and he has a personality that should have football fans in Montreal flocking to the team store to buy his jersey.
2. Bo Levi Mitchell – Calgary Stampeders
Oh, how the 2021 season changed the CFL world. Before, the conversation was always how Bo Levi Mitchell and Michael Reilly were the two best quarterbacks in the league. Mitchell struggled in 2021 and so did Reilly at times with the latter calling it a career earlier this week. It’s a shame that we won’t get to see their battles going forward, but things will go on. Mitchell is still one of the league’s top quarterbacks and we will have new battles for the ages.
There’s no hiding that the 2021 season wasn’t up to Mitchell’s lofty standard, much to the delight of fans of rival teams. Even with those struggles, the Stamps still found a way to become a threat towards the end of the season before falling to the Roughriders in the West Semi-Final. Mitchell threw for 2,594 yards with only 10 touchdowns and 13 interceptions, numbers that possibly cost his team a chance at hosting the West Semi-Final rather than heading to Regina.
Related: Calgary Stampeders Free Agency 2022
One season shouldn’t define what Mitchell is or has been in his career. He’s often thought about as a player whos starting to be a little bit over the hill and some think his best playing days are behind him, but he’s only going to be 32 years old when the 2022 season kicks off. By CFL quarterback standards, his career is still very young. There could still be another eight to 10 years left for the Stampeders legend yet, and no one should be shocked if he finds a way to bring the Stampeders back to the Grey Cup as early as this upcoming season.
1. Zach Collaros – Winnipeg Blue Bombers
It would be crazy to have anyone other than back-to-back Grey Cup champion, Zach Collaros in this spot. Since getting to Winnipeg at the 2019 Trade Deadline, Collaros has resurrected his career and re-established himself as one of the league’s best quarterbacks. On top of his two Grey Cups, he took home the honours of being the league’s Most Outstanding Player in 2021 and won the Grey Cup MOP award.
His detractors will be quick to point out the massive advantages he has in Winnipeg including his superior offensive line and great supporting cast, but the reality is that he routinely makes the right plays and limits his mistakes. It was no mistake that Collaros lead the league in passing touchdowns with 20 in 2021 offset by only six interceptions, the lowest mark among starters of at least seven games.
Callaros’ tenure with the Blue Bombers has been picture perfect. It’s almost like someone changed his overall to a 99 after he was traded from the Argonauts like it’s a video game. There are players in the league who run faster than Collaros, players who throw harder and deeper than Collaros, but his decision-making has been unmatched. Right now, he is hands down the best quarterback in the CFL.
|BC Lions||Free Agency 2022|
|Calgary Stampeders||Free Agency 2022|
|Edmonton Elks||Free Agency 2022|
|Hamilton Tiger-Cats||Free Agency 2022|
|Montreal Alouettes||Free Agency 2022|
|Ottawa Redblacks||Free Agency 2022|
|Saskatchewan Roughriders||Free Agency 2022|
|Toronto Argonauts||Free Agency 2022|
|Winnipeg Blue Bombers||Free Agency 2022|
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