Nearing the halfway point of the abbreviated CFL season, what have we learned so far?
The defending Grey Cup champion Winnipeg Blue Bombers are still the class of the league and everyone else is playing for second place.
We should get a better idea where the Roughriders rank in that second tier this Friday night, when they face the BC Lions in Vancouver.
The Riders’ winning record includes their season opening victory over the Lions at Mosaic Stadium.
However, the Lions are not the same team they were in week one.
The Riders nearly squandered a 32-9 halftime lead allowing a rag arm Michael Reilly to rally the Lions to within 4 points by the end of the game.
Since then, the Lions have reeled off 4 of 5, and Reilly’s throwing arm has recovered enough to lead the league in completion percentage and second only to Zach Collaros in passing yards.
Cody Fajardo’s passing stats, once impressive, took a dump thanks to back-to-back losses to the Bombers.
His mental state took a beating as much as his numbers did.
The Riders quarterback admitted he was down in the dumps following the Banjo Bowl after reading all the personal criticism on social media.
Overcoming self doubt
“A lot of guys had some self doubt including myself, when you go out and lay an egg and for me personally I laid an egg for two straight games,” Fajardo said, following Friday’s 30-16 victory over the Argos.
“I had some self doubt and confidence is kind of low, so to go out there and execute the game felt really good for me.”
Fajardo threw for 212 yards and two touchdowns leading the Riders to their fourth win of the season.
Nearly half his throwing yards were to a youngster named Kian Schaffer-Baker who fell just a yard short of the 100 mark.
While early season accolades were pouring in for the Riders Regina duo, Brayden Lenius and Mitch Picton, Schaffer-Baker is the Canadian receiver people are now talking about.
His 24 yard, fourth quarter touchdown was worthy of any highlight reel as he bounced off several Argos en route to his first CFL touchdown.
It certainly caught Fajardo’s attention.
“The kid’s a stud, he belongs in this league … when you throw him a two-yard route and he breaks it for a 20-yard touchdown breaking 30 tackles, it feels pretty good as a quarterback, you want to get him the ball more.”
Schaffer-Baker made his first appearance for the Riders with four catches and 64 yards back in week three against Ottawa.
It was the week after Shaq Evans went down with a six- to eight-week injury and the Riders were in desperate need of a go-to, to take pressure off Kyran Moore.
The University of Guelph grad has responded with 21 receptions for 256 yards in four games.
Schaffer-Baker is second only to Hamilton’s Tim White among first-year players, so pencil in KSB as a mid-season candidate for rookie of the year.
That is definitely on the list of goals for the confident 23-year-old.
“I want to win multiple Grey Cups, I want to be the MOP, the most valuable Canadian, whatever I can possibly do to make my team win.” Schaffer-Baker said after practice Monday.
His coach will settle for consistency.
“I’m going to tell everybody straight out, he’s going to have some highs and lows, that’s what rookies do,” said Dickenson.
“Tonight (Friday) was a high for him, hopefully we don’t have too much of a dip, you have to be patient with first-year players.”
It’s easy to explain why the common reaction in the CFL to Schaffer-Baker’s performances has been: “Who?”
Kian Schaffer-Baker was part of the 2020 draft class. A year that had no season.
There was no training camp to draw attention to the Riders’ fourth round selection, their second pick overall.
“We felt like Schaffer-Baker was an extremely talented player, we’re not sure why he didn’t have as many catches as other guys,” head coach Craig Dickenson said, recalling that 2020 draft.
In the 2020 draft class, 19 other receivers had better numbers.
If nothing else, Schaffer-Baker’s university career at Guelph can be summed up as decently consistent. His rookie season numbers were as good as his fourth season, which unfortunately doesn’t thrill the scouts who like to see progression.
Prior to the draft, KSB was regarded as the best prospect no one was talking about.
He never appeared in any of the pre-draft rankings and he wasn’t invited to the National Combine.
But there was a consensus Schaffer-Baker had all the tools, which he demonstrated Friday during the victory over Toronto.
KSB is playing with a chip on his six-foot-four frame.
He felt he should have been have the first overall player taken in the 2020 draft. He didn’t envision falling to 30th.
As far as he is concerned, 29 teams passed on him including the Riders who selected offensive lineman Mattland Riley with their first pick.
“That just fuelled my fire, that just made me want to work even harder, now I have 29 teams to prove wrong.”
Well, maybe just nine teams to prove wrong, including the Saskatchewan Roughriders who would prefer to be right grabbing Kian Schaffer-Baker when they did.