CFL: How is Different from the NFL and How Can We be Successful in DFS?

CFL: How is Different from the NFL and How Can We be Successful in DFS?

How are the NFL and CFL different?:

If you have watched any American football in your day (high school, college, professional), you probably know a little bit about it. Well, the CFL (Canadian Football League) is a bit different in almost all regards to American football (specifically the NFL which we can play in DFS). I will explain a lot of the major differences with the chart and information below:We will begin with some differences that have a major effect on the game. First of all, the CFL plays on a longer and wider field with bigger end zones. The extra space allows for the addition of a player on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball. In the CFL, offenses only have three downs to make a first down, as opposed to four in the CFL (I will discuss the fantasy impact of this later in the article).

Scoring is the same in the NFL and CFL (six points for a touchdown, three points for a field goal, one point for an extra point, two points for a conversion), except that the CFL has the rouge (also called a single). The rouge is one point that is awarded to the kicking team if: (a) the kickoff, punt, or missed field goal is fielded in the end zone but the returning team is tackled in the end zone, takes a knee, or runs out of bounds in the end zone; (b) the kicking team kicks it through the end zone (except on kickoffs and made field goals). So, in the CFL it is more of a strategic play to kick it in the end zone than in the NFL. A field goal miss off the goal post is a dead ball. It is important to understand that any ball kicked into the end zone is a LIVE ball until on of the of previous events occur or the returning team returns the ball to the field of play. Another significant difference in the kicking game is that the goalposts are at the front of the end zone in the CFL unlike in the NFL where they are located on the back line of the end zone. This makes it much more likely to return missed field goals (field goals can be returned in the NFL, but is very rare due to the post being located at the front of the end zone) due to the twenty yards of space behind the goal posts. The goal posts location also allows teams to attempt field goals from further back. For example, a ball on the 30-yard line in the NFL usually amounts to about a 47-yard field goal. In the CFL, that would only be a 37-yard attempt.

Here are a few other rules differences:

  • There are no fair catches in the CFL. All punts and kickoffs must be returned (unless they go out of bounds or out of the back of the end zone). The returner is given a five-yard halo to field the kick which is called the No Yards rule. The opposing kicker is exempt from this rule and can recover their own kick.
  • The three-minute warning stops the clock after every play in the last three minutes of the second and fourth quarter. It doesn’t start until the ref’s whistle.
  • The play clock is only 20 seconds.
  • Any backs can be moving before the snap. They can be moving in any direction including forward. So, a wide receiver can get a running start if timed correctly.

CFL Divisions and Playoffs:

The CFL has nine teams and is broken into two divisions. Here is a look at the divisions.

The regular season consists of 18 games. The two division winners clinch a bye int he first round of the playoffs. The next two teams in the division make the playoffs UNLESS the fourth-place team in Division A has more points than the third-place team in Division B. In this case, the fourth-place team will cross over to Division B, replace the third place team in division A, and compete against the second-place team of that division. The Edmonton Eskimos id this most recently last season knocking the Montreal Alouettes out of the playoffs. The CFL championship is called the Grey Cup. The Ottawa Redblacks won last season’s Grey Cup. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers have the most Grey Cup appearances (24) and the Toronto Argonauts have the most Grey Cup wins (16).


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Depth charts:

With there being twelve players on the field, the extra player is in the backfield on offense and can be anywhere on defense. The offensive side of the ball consists of five linemen (a center, two guards, and two tackles like in the NFL), a quarterback, two wide receivers, a running back, two slot backs (like NFL slot receiver), and a fullback (or third slot back). Slotbacks are usually in motion towards the line of scrimmage before the snap. Wide receivers play extremely wide and sometimes are in motion before the snap. The defensive side of the ball consists of a 3-4 (three defensive linemen) or 4-3 (four defensive linemen) base with some combination of defensive ends, defensive tackle, and nose tackle. There is a Sam linebacker (strong side), Will linebacker (weakside) and one or two Mike linebackers (middle) depending on the formation. The defensive backfield is composed of a safety (like NFL free safety), two defensive halfbacks (similar to NFL slot corners), and two cornerbacks called the field corner and boundary corner. I am going to discuss boundary and field briefly below:

  • Due to the wider field in the CFL, they denote corners as boundary and field. The boundary corner defends the short side of the field and is usually a more physical, jamming type of corner. The field corner defends the wide side and is often a faster corner to cover the bigger space.

Here is a look at a pretty common team depth chart released before each game:


Fantasy Aspect:

Understanding the differences in the CFL and NFL is one of the biggest advantages to being successful in DFS. Right now, CFL contests are offered only on DraftKings. Here is a breakdown of the scoring:

Offensive stats:

  • Passing Touchdown: 4 Points
  • 25 Passing Yards: 1 Point (0.04 Points per yard)
  • 300 or more Yard Passing Game: 3 Points
  • Interception: -1 Point
  • 10 Rushing Yards: 1 Point (0.1 Points per yard)
  • Rushing Touchdown: 6 Points
  • 100 or more Yard Rushing Game: 3 Points
  • 10 Receiving Yards: 1 Point (0.10 Points per yard)
  • Reception: 1 Point
  • Receiving TD: 6 Points
  • 100 or more Yard Receiving Game: 3 Points
  • Punt, Kickoff or Field Goal Return for a Touchdown: 6 Points
  • Punt/Kickoff/FG Return Yards: 1 Point (0.05 Points per yard)
  • Fumble Lost: -1 Point
  • 2 Point Conversion (can be either Pass, Run, or Catch): 2 Points

Defensive stats:

  • Sack: 1 Point
  • Interception: 2 Points
  • Fumble Recovery: 2 Points
  • Rouge Scored: 1 Point
  • Kickoff Return Touchdown: 6 Points
  • Punt Return Touchdown: 6 Points
  • FG Return Touchdown: 6 Points
  • Interception Return Touchdown: 6 Points
  • Fumble Recovery Touchdown: 6 Points
  • Blocked Punt or FG Touchdown: 6 Points
  • Safety: 2 Points
  • 0 Points Allowed: 10 Points
  • 1-6 Points Allowed: 7 Points
  • 7-13 Points Allowed: 4 Points
  • 14-20 Points Allowed: 1 Point
  • 21-27 Points Allowed: 0 Points
  • 28-34 Points Allowed: -1 Points
  • 35 or more Points Allowed:-4 Points

Points allowed stat categories only points scored against the defense will count.

One thing that is ESSENTIAL to know is that kick returners accumulate points for return yardage (this is not the case in NFL DFS). When I discuss players to know below, I will discuss some players who become weekly plays based simply on their return yardage potential. Due to the wide field and three downs, the CFL is more of a passing-centered (pass-heavy) league than the NFL. There aren’t many workhorse (or feature) running backs like in the NFL. Here are some stats to back that up:

The CFL had three quarterbacks pass for 5000+ yards (33% of teams) last season while the NFL had one quarterback (3%). Granted the NFL plays two fewer games. So, let’s look at passing yards per game. The CFL had seven quarterbacks average 270+ passing yards per game while the NFL had 11 quarterbacks. Something to note, there was only one quarterback in the CFL who played all 18 regular season game last season. There were 14 NFL quarterbacks who played in all 16 regular season games. My point is this: if you take the two Ottawa Redblacks quarterbacks and combining their yardage they threw for 5720 yards last season. That is just one example. The Hamilton TiCats quarterbacks combined for 5633 yards.

The CFL saw only two players rush for 1000+ yards, six players rush for 55+ yards, and eleven 100+ yard rushing games. The NFL had 12 players rush for 1000+ yards, 33 players rush for 500+ yards, and 96 instances of a player rushing for 100+ yards in one game. There were seven CFL running backs who played at least nine games (half the regular season) and saw 100+ rushing attempts on the season. Of those seven players, four averaged over 60 yards rushing per game with one averaging over 70 yards (73.5). In the NFL, 41 players played in at least eight games (half the regular season) and rushed at least 100 times with 17 of those players averaging over 60 yards per game. This is the most interesting stat of all, in my opinion. Of the seven CFL players who played at least ten games and saw 100+ attempts, all but one averaged over five yards per carry. Of the 41 NFL players, only six averaged five yards per carry. In addition, of the seven CFL players, none averaged more than 13 attempts per game. Yet, of the 41 NFL players, over half (21 players) averaged more than 13 attempts per game. The CFL did have two running backs average 17 and 15.33 attempts per game, but they played in four and six games, respectively. One CFL player scored double-digit rushing touchdowns (11) and only three scored seven or more rushing touchdowns. The NFL had seven running backs score double-digit touchdowns and 19 scored at least seven or more rushing touchdowns. CFL running backs can also provide fantasy relevance in the passing game. Six backs had at least 300 receiving yards and those six players, all averaged at least 25 receiving yards per game. In the NFL, 19 running backs had at least 300 receiving yards, and of those backs, ten had at least 25 yards receiving per game. It can be concluded that CFL players actually provide good value if given the opportunity. The passing game usage allows them to carry fantasy upside (THIS IS IMPORTANT – I will discuss some good pass-catching backs below). It is a small pool of players, though, smaller than that of the NFL. These players will be discussed later in the article.

Correlation is key in fantasy football. If we expect a team to throw a lot, score a lot of points, have a big passing game, etc. we often target the quarterback and a receiver or two from that game. This is called stacking. With the statistical information I provided in regards to quarterbacks and the pass-heavy nature of the league, wide receivers are often a good place to start when building DFS lineups. There were five players who had more than 100 receptions in the CFL. The NFL only had three receivers with 100+ receptions. When looking at the CFL, there were 16 players who saw 100+ targets (Derel Walker is in NFL now and Ady Fantuz is recovering from a torn ACL). The NFL had 48 such players (41 WR, six TE, one RB). Of the 14 current CFL players, five saw 115+ targets (35.7%). Removing the seven players who were not wide receivers, 27 of the 41 NFL receivers saw 115+ targets (65.9%). Of the 14 CFL receivers, two averaged 20+ DK points per game and eight averaged 15+ DK points per game (57.1%). Of the 41 NFL players, one averaged 20+ DK points per game and 14 averaged 15+ DK points per game (34.1%). In conclusion, CFL receivers actually can carry greater upside due to the passing nature of the league, BUT like in the NFL we are targeting volume. There are a lot of mouths to feed in the CFL due to their being at least five passing options on every down. Therefore, we want to target matchups and target monsters like in the NFL. Some of these target monsters will be discussed below.

One important difference in CFL fantasy and NFL fantasy is that kick returners accumulate points for return yardage, not just touchdowns. Therefore, you can often play someone in your lineup whose only role is to return punts and kickoffs (and missed field goals). Unfortunately, the player must be an offensive player to be in the DK player pool. Last season, ten players averaged over five DK points a game on returns alone. Some of them also played running back or wide receiver which gave them some of the highest upside on the slate.

Defense? One thing I noticed last season is that picking one of the cheapest defenses often paid off. At the end of the season, all the defenses averaged within two DK points of one another. Target bad quarterbacks and teams with good return guys (points awarded for this).


Players to Know:

I am going to list a few players at each position that I think you need to know about for fantasy purposes. Ash and I will cover more players in depth in our podcast.

QUARTERBACK

Mike Reilly (Edmonton): Led the league in passing yards (5554) and was second in passing touchdowns (28). Also added 406 rushing yards and nine rushing touchdowns.

Bo Levi Mitchell (Calgary): Won last season’s Most Oustanding Player award. Second in the league in passing yards (5385) and first in passing touchdowns (32). Oh yeah, and his girl is smoking hot.

Jonathan Jennings (British Columbia): Finished third in passing yards (5226) and passing touchdowns (27). Added 363 yards and four touchdowns on the ground.

Zach Collaros (Hamilton): Only played ten games due to injury last season, but still had 2938 passing yards and 18 passing touchdowns. Expanded over a full season, he would have been third in passing yards and first in touchdown passes. He has the potential to be the best quarterback in the league this season if he stays healthy.

RUNNING BACK

Jerome Messam (Calgary): Only running back to amass 1100 yards (1198) and only back to score double-digit rushing touchdowns (11). Added 485 receiving yards on 54 receptions (68 targets).

Brandon Whitaker (Toronto): Only other running back to go over 1000 yards (1009). Saw an insane 100 targets for 81 receptions, 549 yards, and four receiving yards. The David Johnson of the CFL.

John White (Edmonton): Had 58 receptions (on 72 targets) for 464 receiving yards to go with 886 rushing yards and eight rushing touchdowns.

Andrew Harris (Winnipeg): Third in the league with 974 rushing yards. Added 631 receiving yards on 67 receptions (77 targets).

WIDE RECEIVER

Adarius Bowman (Edmonton): As you can imagine, Mike Reilly had to have someone on the other side of all those passing yards. Bowman led the league with 120 receptions on a league-best 168 targets and 1761 receiving yards. Added nine touchdowns. His teammate, Derel Walker, had 154 targets for 109 receptions, 1589 yards, and 10 touchdowns. Walker is now in the NFL. Bowman could have a historic year.

Emmanuel Arceneaux (British Columbia): Tied for second in the league (with Walker) with 154 targets. Had 1566 receiving yards and a league-best 13 receiving touchdowns.

Davaris Daniels (Calgary): One of the best deep threats in the league (17.4 yards per catch) was also one of the best red zone options in the CFL leading the league in RZ target rate (21.6% of targets were RZ targets, 16/74) and red zone targets per game (1.45).

Brad Sinopoli (Ottawa): Often overlooked, finished sixth in the league with 90 receptions and added 1036 receiving yards. With the team’s top two receiving options gone (Chris Williams and Ernest Jackson), Sinopoli could take on an even bigger role this season.

Nik Lewis (Montreal): A great value play all season. Often priced much cheaper than the studs, Lewis was fourth in the league with 102 receptions and added 1136 receiving yards. He had a league-leading 621 yards after the catch. If he can improve in his three touchdowns from last season he could have a massive season.

RETURN SPECIALIST

Chris Rainey (British Columbia): Second in the league in return yardage (first in kickoff return yardage) with 2384 yards. Added two touchdowns and was third with 7.29 DK points per game on returns alone. Added value due to 309 rushing yards, two rushing touchdowns, 252 receiving yards, and three receiving touchdowns.

Stefan Logan (Montreal): Led the league with 2514 return yards. Added a touchdown. Second in the league with 7.31 DK points per game on returns.

Brandon Banks (Hamilton): League-best 7.63 DK points per game on returns. Had 2082 return yards and three touchdowns (two on missed field goals). Added 32 receptions, 376 receiving yards, and four receiving touchdowns.


Same Faces, New Places:

Due to the league being so small, there is a lot of movement in the CFL among players (free agency, trades, releases, signing with new teams, etc.). Here are some of the biggest changes that occurred this offseason and their impact.

Darian Durant (QB) from Saskatchewan to Montreal: Durant is a two-time Grey Cup winner and a pretty darn good quarterback. He finished fourth in the league last season with 3829 passing yards. He added 14 passing touchdowns. He also added 308 yards and six touchdowns rushing. He should be an upgrade from the combination of Kevin Glenn and Rakeem Cato. He will help Nik Lewis and Benny Cunningham.

Shakir Bell (RB) from Edmonton to Ottawa: The starting running back job is up for grabs in Ottawa. If Bell can win it he carries some nice value. In limited action last season, he averaged 70.8 rushing yards and 14.8 DK points per game. 

Chris Williams (WR) from Ottawa to British Columbia: Williams was a freak last season. He missed four games due to an ACL tear, but still finished with 77 receptions, for 1246 yards, and 10 touchdowns. He is currently working his way back from the injury so he may not start the season on the field. He should be an upgrade for Jonathan Jennings, but we need to see what effect it has on receivers, Emmanuel Arceneaux and Bryan Burnham (both of who finished in the top 15 in targets, receptions, and receiving yards).

Ernest Jackson (WR) from Ottawa to Montreal: Jackson finished last season sixth in receptions (88), eleventh in targets (111), seventh in yards (1225), and tied for second in touchdown receptions (10). He should slip right in as the number one option in the Montreal passing attack as he moves from a team loaded with receiver options to a team with nothing more than a possession receiver in Nik Lewis. This move impacts Darian Durant greatly, as well, giving him a real target down field.

Duron Carter (WR) from Montreal to Saskatchewan: Crazy ass Duron Carter is on a new team. Shocking! The guy is a super talent but an absolute headcase. If he can get it together, he carries massive upside. He averaged 15.4 yards per reception and had 938 receiving yards. He also had a streak last season where he had at least 115 receiving yards in four of five games. He faded late in the season due to poor quarterback play. His biggest roadblock to a big year (other than himself) will be the person throwing him the ball. Naaman Roosevelt (76/1095/2) might see his numbers drop, as well. The additions of Chad Owens and Bakari Grant makes this receiving corp one to keep an eye on early in the season to see how things play out.

Diontae Spencer (WR) from Toronto to Ottawa: I love this. Spencer is a superb talent. Despite missing six games last season, he had 71 receptions (106 targets), 706 receiving yards, and three touchdowns. Ottawa is one of the most potent passing attacks in the league. Spencer should take on a big role with the departures of Chris Williams and Ernest Jackson (combined 20 touchdowns and 165 receptions). It will be interesting to see how these moves affect Brad Sinopoli (90/1036/4) and Greg Ellingson (76/1260/4) who are two really good receivers. Tori Gurley and Kenny Shaw will also have a role on this team.

Vidal Hazelton (WR) from Toronto to Edmonton: The hole left by Derel Walker’s departure is massive (109 receptions, 154 targets, 1589 yards, 10 touchdowns). Hazelton should have the opportunity to fill this role. He only played eight games last season but was off to a decent start with 27 receptions, 361 yards, and three touchdowns. I expect Hazelton to take a big jump this year.

I hoped you enjoyed this article on the CFL and that it helps you be successful in DFS this season. Good luck!

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Billy Harrell