With Labour Day fast approaching, the CFL season has reached its mid-season mark. There’s still plenty of football to be played, but it’s time to start thinking about which players may be recognized in team awards come season’s end.
Most Outstanding Rookie — Cory ‘Poop’ Johnson, defensive tackle
Johnson has been a long-missing ingredient along Winnipeg’s defensive line, providing a consistent pass rush from an interior spot. He has just two sacks in eight games, but Johnson’s nine quarterback pressures put him among the league’s best defensive tackles. Receiver T.J. Thorpe, halfback Brian Walker, and cornerback Brandon Alexander will all push for this award down the stretch, but Johnson gets my vote for now. Jackson Jeffcoat, who’s been outstanding at defensive end opposite Jamaal Westerman, is ineligible for this award as he’s appeared in nine NFL games.
Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman — Travis Bond, left guard
Bond changed the entire complexion of Winnipeg’s offensive line when he joined the starting line-up in week six of last season. Bond is the CFL’s heaviest player at 356 pounds and uses his size to consistently overpower opposing defensive linemen. Playing at such a considerable weight would inhibit some players, but not Bond — fatigue never seems to slow him down, even in Paul LaPolice’s high-tempo, no-huddle offence. Enjoy him while he’s here, CFL fans — Bond could easily be NFL-bound this winter.
Most Outstanding Special Teams Player — Justin Medlock, kicker/punter
The league’s reigning Most Outstanding Special Teamer is a shoe-in (get it?) to earn the Bombers’ nod in this category. His field goal percentage is down slightly from last season (82.1 percent from 88.2 percent), but he leads the league in boots of more than 50 yards and has made three last-second game winners (week two, at Saskatchewan; week seven, at Ottawa; week ten, at Montreal). Honourable mentions go to Ryan Lankford, who leads the CFL in kickoff return average (min. 20 attempts), and Mike Miller, who is the league’s third-leading special teams tackler (13 tackles).
Most Outstanding Defensive Player — Maurice Leggett, strong-side linebacker
There are plenty of worthy candidates from this group — arguments could be made for cornerback Chris Randle, halfback T.J. Heath, and defensive end Jamaal Westerman — but Leggett is the linchpin of Winnipeg’s defence. Leggett leads the Bombers in tackles per game (4.6), forced fumbles (3), and is tied for second in quarterback sacks (3). His absence proved problematic in weeks three and four when the Bombers allowed a combined 752 passing yards and 85 points in games versus B.C. and Montreal, respectively.
Most Outstanding Canadian — Andrew Harris, running back
With all due respect to the Bombers’ other nationals, Harris is a lock for this team award. Harris has enjoyed one of the best opening halves to a season in CFL history, sitting second in league rushing (570 yards), fifth in receptions (54), and seventeenth in receiving (490 yards). Narrowly off the pace for what would be the league’s first 1,000-yard rushing and 1,000-yard receiving season, Harris has shown no signs of slowing down since turning 30 this past winter. It may just be the midpoint of the season, but the league’s Most Outstanding Canadian award may already be narrowed down to just two players — Harris and Calgary’s Jerome Messam.
Most Outstanding Player — Matt Nichols, quarterback
Harris is fully deserving of this award, but Matt Nichols gets my vote by a hair. Nichols is on pace for 5,282 passing yards this year — good for the second-best single-season total in club history — and possesses an outstanding 17-to-5 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Nichols is also the CFL’s highest-ranked pivot in the league’s new QUAR ranking, a statistic designed to most accurately reflect a quarterback’s impact on the field. Depending on how the West Division standings unfold, Nichols could be a serious threat to be named the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player come November.
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