A look at CFL players to watch for during the 2024 season

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:

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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.

B.C. Lions quarterback Vernon Adams Jr., left, and William Stanback celebrate Stanback’s touchdown against the Edmonton Elks during the first half of a preseason CFL football game, in Vancouver, on Friday, May 31, 2024.


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).

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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.

Hamilton Tiger Cats quarterback Taylor Powell (7) hands off to running back James Butler (9) during the first day of training camp at Ron Joyce Stadium at McMaster University, in Hamilton, Ont., Sunday, May 12, 2024.


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).

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Calgary Stampeders defensive back Demerio Houston runs during opening day of training camp in Calgary, Alta., Sunday, May 12, 2024.


Tim White, Hamilton Tiger-Cats

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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.

Hamilton Tiger-Cats wide receiver Tim White (12) celebrates his touchdown against the B.C. Lions during first half CFL football game action in Hamilton, Ont. on Friday, October 13, 2023.


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.

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Click to play video: 'Edmonton Elks player Eugene Lewis says recent trip to Africa changed his life'

Edmonton Elks player Eugene Lewis says recent trip to Africa changed his life

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.

Ottawa Redblacks fullback Marco Dubois (89) is tackled by Toronto Argonauts defensive back Adarius Pickett (6) during first half CFL football action in Toronto, on Sunday, August 13, 2023.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Lahodynskyj

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.

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Click to play video: 'Grey Cup champions Montreal Alouettes'

Grey Cup champions Montreal Alouettes

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.

B.C. Lions’ Jevon Cottoy (86) is upended by Calgary Stampeders’ Cameron Judge (4) and Jonathan Moxey, back, after making a reception during the first half of a CFL football game, in Vancouver, on Friday, October 20, 2023.


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.

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Saskatchewan Roughriders quarterback Jake Dolegala (9) is sacked by Ottawa Redblacks defensive lineman Bryce Carter (58) during first half CFL football action in Ottawa on Friday, Sept. 22, 2023.


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.

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B.C. NFL players return home to help kids

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).

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Saskatchewan Roughriders quarterback Cody Fajardo (7) fumbles the ball under pressure from Edmonton Elks defensive lineman Jake Ceresna (94) during first half CFL action in Edmonton, Alta., on Saturday August 13, 2022.


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.

Toronto Argonauts running back Javon Leake (32) returns the ball during second half CFL action against the Ottawa Redblacks, in Toronto, Saturday, Oct. 14, 2023.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov

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