CFL's 2022 Season Special Teams Preview
Want to know who kicks and punts for your favourite CFL team? Maybe some insight on how your teams' players might do? Let's discuss that;
Sean Whyte - Kicker
Stefan Flintoft - Punter
After struggling to find consistent success at the kicking position throughout the shortened 2021 CFL Season the B.C Lions made my favourite move of the 2022 Free Agency Period and snagged 36-year-old Sean Whyte. The B.C native will return home for his 13th season to the team that brought him into the CFL all the way back in 2009. Throughout his career, he has made 87% of his field goal attempts and will solidify a huge position of need for the Lions.
Stefan Flintoft, the 2021 CFL's Most Outstanding Special Teams Player, will remain the team's punter for 2022 after having an amazing rookie year in 2021. He finished first in the league with an average of 48.3 yards per punt and finished third in the league in terms of NET punt yards (37.3 NET Avg.).
During the Preseason, the B.C Lions had 3 specialists taking the field. Mark Milan was given an opportunity to make a roster spot but fell short, missing both field goal attempts, missing his only PAT, and having the lowest NET Avg. yards per punt in the CFL (16.5 NET Avg.). Milan was cut before the deadline and was not retained on the practice squad. Sean Whyte made both of his field goal attempts and both of his PATs as well. Stefan Flintoft showed why he was named CFL's Most Outstanding Special Teams Player, punting for a league-leading 50.8 yards per punt. He also had a very nice 44.8 NET yards per punt.
Rene Paredes - Kicker
Cody Grace - Punter
James Smith - Punter
Keiran Burnham - Kicker
The Stampeders will welcome back Rene Paredes for his 12th year in the CFL (all with Calgary). He is widely considered the best kicker in the CFL and has the stats to back that up. He made 92% of his 48 field goal attempts last year and will look to show the Stampeders why they resigned him yet again.
Cody Grace, the 2021 West Division All-Star, will return for his 2nd season with the Stampeders. He played well last year, punting 78 times for total of 3,557 yards (45.6 Avg.) and a NET total of 3240 yards. He lead the league in NET Avg. yards per punt at 41.5 NET yards. During the 2022 Preseason Grace punted 11 times for an average of 48.5 yards per punt and 44.3 NET yards per punt.
With Grace injuring his groin in practice this week, the Stampeders needed to do something about their punting position. They decided to trade a conditional seventh round pick in the 2023 CFL Draft and a third round pick in the 2023 Global draft to the Saskatchewan Roughriders in return for Australian Punter James Smith. Smith played well in his limited opportunities, punting 2 times for 96 yards and a NET Avg. of 48 yards per punt. Both his punts were inside the 20 yard line, and one of those was inside the 10 yard line, so the kid can punt well, just don't expect him to stick around once Grace is healthy.
Keiran Burnham had probably the most convincing Preseason statistics for any kicker in the CFL. He went 5/5 on a league-high number of field goal attempts, went 9/9 on PATs, and hit a career-long field goal of 49 yards. For his efforts, Burnham will be retained on the practice squad to wait for an opportunity if Paredes gets hurt.
Sergio Castillo - Kicker/Punter
Rafael Gaglianone - Kicker
Ryan Meskell - Kicker
Matt Mengel - Kicker/Punter
Wow.. just wow. After losing Sean Whyte in free agency and letting Punter Hugh O'Neill go in January 2022 the Edmonton Elks started camp with 9 specialists on the roster. They signed only one, that being Sergio Castillo. Castillo made an appearance during the 2021 CFL season with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, where he went 7/9 on field goal attempts and 3/3 on PATs. Chris Jones has recently announced that Castillo will handle all 3 kicking duties for the time being but will also be on the lookout for a new punter.
Looks like the Elks are not joking about keeping an eye out for new kickers, as just days later the Elks will ink both Ryan Meskell and Matt Mengel to the practice squad. Ryan Meskell was a kicker for Hawaii and will look to win the backup kicking position. Matt Mengel will look to become the team's punter after joining the team after a decent Preseason game with the Montreal Alouettes. He punted 6 times for an average of 41.2 yards and 35.8 NET Avg. per punt. I believe that he has the ability to play at a CFL level and that he will work his way onto a roster by season end. Rafael Gaglianone was selected with the 17th pick in the 2nd round of the CFL Global Draft and will remain with the team on the practice squad.
Hamilton Tiger Cats
Michael Domagala - Kicker
Joel Whitford - Punter
Blake Hayes - Punter
An interesting decision made by the Tiger Cats front end to entrust the starting kicking position to Michael Domagala, who is an unproven leg coming out of 2021. He played in 6 games and made 70% of his field goal attempts last season, including a long of 46. He had a good Preseason debut, completing his only field goal attempt from 49 yards out, and went 2/2 on PATs. The interesting decision was the Tiger Cats releasing American Kicker Seth Small, who outperformed Domagala during the Preseason. Small made all 3 of his field goal attempts with a long of 51 yards. The only reason I can see them keeping Domagala over Small is that Michael Domagala is Canadian and counts towards the ratio.
Joel Whitford will return for his second year with the Hamilton Tiger cats after winning the starting position over punters Blake Hayes and Tadhg Leader. He finished the 2021 season punting 68 times for an average of 45.1 yards per punt, and 37.7 NET Avg. yards per punt. He finished the 2022 Preseason punting 9 times for an average of 43.1 yards per punt, and 34.5 NET Avg. yards per punt. He managed to pin his opponents inside the 20 yard line 44% of the time and was able to get the ball pinned within the 10 yard line twice.
Blake Hayes will remain with the Hamilton Tiger Cats after putting up similar numbers to Whitford during Preseason. He punted 7 times for an average of 43.1 yards per punt and 34.4 NET yards per punt but fell short in terms of pinning the opponent deep which is why he is not the starter. I expect to see Hayes play if Whitford doesn't prove he has was it takes during the first quarter of the season.
David Côté - Kicker
Joseph Zema - Punter
David Côté, The Quebec Kid, will return for his second season with the Montreal Alouettes after edging out the competition brought in during the 2022 Preseason. He finished the 2021 season making a respectable 32 of his 39 attempted field goals (82%), and 32 of his 34 PATs (94.1%). Côté finished the Preseason completing 4/4 of his field goal attempts, and 1/2PATs. He will look to sustain his completion percentage going into his second year with the club.
Joseph Zema will also return for a second year after punting 90 times during the 2021 season for an average of 45.2 yards per punt and a NET Avg. of 36.8 yards per punt.
The Alouettes brought in 3 other specialists during the 2022 free agency period and have proven to show that they have a knack for finding diamonds in the rough as they are the only team whose cut player has been signed by another team (Matt Mengel signed by the Saskatchewan Roughriders). The other two specialists, Dante Brown and Andrew Foster did not impress during their camps and were let go during final roster cuts.
Lewis Ward - Kicker
Richie Leone - Punter
Jose Maltos - Kicker/Punter
Lewis Ward will return to Ottawa for his 4th year in the league after putting up impressive numbers yet again in 2021. He had a down year in 2021, making a career-low 83% of his field goal attempts. I will chalk this up to a shortened season and I would like to see him return to his 2018 form when he made 51/52 field goal attempts.
Richie Leone will extend his now 6-year career in the CFL after signing a new contract in the 2021 offseason. He comes into year 6 with an Avg. of 48 yards per punt and a NET Avg. of 39.1 yards per punt.
Neither of the starting players had many opportunities to play during the Preseason but that turned out to be a good thing. The Redblacks found their backup for both positions in one specialist who showed out when given the ball. Jose Maltos went 5/5 on field goal attempts, had a long of 38 yards, punted 11 times for 516 yards (47 Avg.), punted inside the 20 yard line 36% of the time, and had 3 punts over 50 yards. He will remain with the team on the practice squad, waiting for his opportunity behind two of the best to do it.
Brett Lauther - Kicker
Kaare Vedvik - Punter
Henry Nell - Kicker
After being named the teams Most Outstanding Special Teams player in 2021 Brett Lauther will return for a 4th season with the Roughriders. He inked a contract for 2 more years for a grand total of $131,000 this past January. He will come back after making 40 of his 47 field goal attempts (85%) in 2021. I am looking forward to seeing how Lauther will perform this year with a consistent holder.
Speaking of that holder, Kaare Vedvik will return to Saskatchewan for his 2nd season in the CFL. He played just 4 games in 2021 but put up respectable numbers, punting 28 times for a total of 1287 yards (46 yards per punt). He also finished out the year with every punt averaging a NET of 38 yards, which is good for 4th best in the 2021 CFL Season. He played very well in the 2022 Preseason, punting 5 times for an average of 50.8 yards per punt, and 46 NET yards per punt.
Henry Nell was selected by the Riders back in the 2021 CFL Global Draft and was kept on the practice squad for 2021. He made 1/2 of his field goals and 3/4 PATs in the 2022 Preseason and will remain with the team on the practice squad.
Boris Bede - Kicker/Punter
John Haggerty - Punter
Toronto is interesting. For the first time since he has entered the league, Boris Bede might only handle placekicking duties this year. He is coming off an impressive 2021 season, making 84.8% of his field goal attempts. He did have a down year punting, statistically speaking, only averaging a career-low 44.2 yards per punt. Historically, Bede has always performed decently as a punter but this year the Argos might have a cheat code at the position.
In what ended up being my second favourite special teams move this season was when the Toronto Argonauts selected punter Tom Haggerty with the 4th overall pick in the 2022 CFL Global Draft. The Aussie kid can play football, that's for sure as he averaged 48.7 yards per punt in college and was probably the best punter in the 2022 CFL Preseason. Now, there could be some bias here, but let me show you the stats to back it up. He punted 13 times (League High), for a total of 663 yards, which is an average of 51 yards per punt (League High). He also kicked almost 50% of his balls over 50 yards (6 - 50+ Yard Punts - League High). I am very excited to see how he plays this year. I feel the same way I felt about Flintoft last season.
My personal favourite player in the CFL, Toshiki Sato will remain on the Toronto Argonauts practice squad for another year. He showed significant improvement in terms of field goal attempts. After finishing the 2021 season missing his only PAT, he comes back into the 2022 Preseason strong, making his only field goal attempt and both PATs. I am looking forward to seeing him continue his journey.
Sato is also writing a blog! I've been really enjoying it and you can read his latest article here; Knowledge as a professional sports league CFL trainee
Winnipeg Blue Bombers
Marc Liegghio - Kicker/Punter
Ali Mourtada - Kicker/Punter
Winnipeg had what I am considering the worst Kicker camp in the entirety of the CFL. I think it is important to show you trust your kicker but I can understand why fans are nervous to see both Liegghio and Mourtada return to the team's active roster in 2022. Both kickers had their issues in 2021. Liegghio finished the season completing just 5 of his 8 field goal attempts, and punting for just 35 NET yards per punt. Mourtada finished the 2021 season making just 8 of his 15 field goal attempts (56%).
Neither performed particularly well during the 2022 Preseason. Liegghio did outperform Mourtada, making every one of his 4 kicking attempts (1 FG /3 PATs), while Mourtada only made 3 of his 4 PATs. Liegghio also beat out Mourtada in terms of punting average, NET average, punts inside the 10 yard line, and punts over 50 yards.(Both punted 5 times).
I'm not fully convinced of either of them, though I think it was the right call to keep Liegghio on the final roster. He has been talking a lot this off season about how good he feels he is playing in training camp and he also seems to have the support of his coaches. I wish him nothing but the best for the 2022 season.
The same goes for all kickers and punters named in this article.
I genuinely hope you all find success this year.
The fans are counting on you.
As always, thank you reader for making it this far in my article. This is the most ambitious piece I've written to date and I believe it will give you a good idea of who to watch this year. Please let me know what you liked and as always suggestions are always encouraged. After all, how will I get better at this writing thing without constructive criticism?