TORONTO -- Many big headlines dominated what turned out to be a storybook 2012 season in the CFL, but one of the biggest stories less told was the emergence of young star receivers around the league.
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Some first or second-year pass-catchers stepped into key roles from the very outset of the season, while others seized the spotlight as a result of injuries.
Chris Matthews headlines next year’s sophomore receiver class, placing sixth in the league in receiving yards after spending the majority of the season in the top-five.
But while Matthews was a step in front of the rest this year, he can expect plenty of competition from some of the league’s other top young receivers next season.
Here’s a look at some of the top breakout receivers heading into 2013, as they prepare to take the next big step in their careers:
Athletic and just 23 years old, Matthews was an intriguing prospect coming into the CFL in 2012 to say the least. But while his six-foot-five, 229-pound frame to go along with his skill-set gave the Bombers reason to be excited, it’s unlikely anyone thought he would be this good.
The Kentucky alum burst onto the scene, catching 19 passes for 350 yards and three touchdowns in his first three CFL games, en-route to a memorable rookie season and an eventual honour for the league’s Most Outstanding Rookie in November.
Matthews finished just outside the top five in receiving yards with 1,192, but with his first full pro season now under his belt and a chance to improve even more this off-season, expect him to make even bigger waves in 2013.
After putting up 800 yards and five touchdowns, while also being Ricky Ray’s go-to guy for a good part of the season, Dontrelle Inman very quietly asserted himself as one of the most dangerous receivers in the league.
Like Matthews, Inman is only 23 years old, and while he’s usually going to be one of the faster players on the field, he also has the ability to climb the ladder and make the big grab.
A mid-season injury cost the rookie from Charleston, S.C. almost a quarter of his season and likely a shot at eclipsing the 1,000-yard mark – but he more than made up for it in the playoffs with touchdown grabs both in the Eastern Final and the Grey Cup.
Expect even more from Inman as the Argonaut offence continues to evolve heading into next summer.
You know that guy who shows up late to the party, but when he finally does show up, he’s the most popular guy around? Well Maurice Price was that guy in 2012, not playing his first CFL game until mid-September in a 44-3 win over the Bombers.
Yet, fashionably late, Price was arguably the hottest receiver in the league heading into the playoffs, accumulating 405 yards and three touchdowns in just eight games of regular season action.
With an almost unheard of 22.5 yards per catch, the second-year receiver was among the best in the league when it comes to making the big play.
After missing his entire rookie season and playing only eight games as a sophomore, Price will get a chance to put his talents on display for his first full season in 2013.
Marcus Henry is another player primed for big things a year from now, after a promising showing down the stretch in 2012.
The second-year native of Hinesville, Ga. got his chance in the Eskimo offence after Greg Carr was traded, stepping into the lineup with a big game on Sept. 7 against the Stampeders in which he caught six passes for 89 yards.
At six-foot-five, 224 pounds, he’s one of those rare receivers that can dominate a game physically, while at 26 years old it appears his best football is in front of him. Next season will be about battling for reps in what should be a loaded receiving corps, especially as Adarius Bowman returns from injury.
Unlike some of the other receivers mentioned about, Onrea Jones is not a household name in the CFL quite yet, but he’s certainly got the potential to be next season.
He finished sixth in yards in a busy Ticats receiving corps with 464 yards and four touchdowns, but when given the chance proved capable of being a reliable go-to target if needed.
Depth at receiver is the team’s biggest strength, and if all of the pieces remain intact next season, it might be difficult for Jones to make a major impact. But we’ve seen how quickly players can shoot up the depth chart, which is something we could see with Jones in 2013.
Taj Smith is another example of a receiver that had a big inaugural CFL season, but flew under the radar a little bit in 2012. The 29-year-old finished the year with 690 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 47 catches, and aside from Weston Dressler was arguably the team’s biggest playmaker at that position.
He’s one of the more veteran players of this group, with a few years of NFL experience under his belt, but his ability to adjust to the Canadian game and flourish in Riderville shows that he may still have a long future here.
It didn’t take the Newark, N.J. native long to find chemistry with Darian Durant, and in 2013 we should expect that chemistry to continue to build as the Riders begin their quest to defend Mosaic Stadium in the 101st Grey Cup.
Nick Moore and Ernest Jackson
You might also add Courtney Taylor to this list, but Nick Moore and Ernest Jackson played a key role in the Lions’ West Division title, combining for 746 yards and four touchdowns.
Heading into the season, they probably weren’t really on anyone’s radar as potential breakout stars, especially with Travis Lulay leaning on the likes of veteran mainstays Geroy Simon and Arland Bruce – but when Bruce and Simon went down with injuries, Moore and Jackson kept the offence ticking as Lulay’s go-to pass-catchers.
The Lions’ receiving corps will remain crowded in 2013, which is a good thing, but it’ll be a shock if Moore and Jackson aren’t playing a more prominent role throughout the entire season.