Best CFL receiver? Let the debate begin

The talent evaluation side comes out when the greatest receiver in CFL history talks about Nik Lewis but as a general manager in waiting it’s also quite clear Geroy Simon is also still capable of leaning on his sense of political correctness.

The director of Canadian scouting for the B.C. Lions was asked this week for his take on the 35-year-old Lewis, who is still performing a functional role for the Montreal Alouettes, who drop by for their annual torture test Friday at B.C. Place Stadium. Each team is trying to end a three-game losing streak.

Simon no longer holds two of the league’s most significant career receiving records, having been surpassed last week by Lewis in career pass receptions. B.C.’s legend still has a substantial advantage when it comes to career receiving yardage but the milestone achieved by Lewis at least fuels a debate about their relative order of standing in league history.

With 1,036 catches, Lewis achieved his mark in 15 fewer games, and has one more 1,000-yard receiving seasons (10) than Simon, with an outside chance for another this year as he rolls along with the 3-7 Als.

Greatest receiver? You’ll have to start that argument somewhere else.

“You can’t even compare because we’re two totally different players,” said Simon, who receives his formal induction into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame next weekend and was announced Thursday as an inductee into the B.C. Football Hall of Fame. “Call a spade a spade, in the grand scheme of things Nik has been a very good receiver for a long time.

“Quarterbacks trust him on second down. He had big plays first 11 years of his career; the last few years he’s basically become a tight end/fullback that gets the ball checked down him when things breaks down. He’s not going to be a big play guy. There’s times nobody covers him; it’s not a knock on him. Why not throw it to him because he’s got some of the best hands ever to play in this league. Quarterbacks know he’s gonna catch the ball and he’s going to fall forward for a first down.”

It’s a respectful assessment from a former player, but also one rooted in honesty by someone making a living making talent evaluations these days.

It’s not a big debate, however, because another truism is that the 5-5 Lions have more important things to figure out than creating talk-show fodder, just as it might be fair to assume the first game in Vancouver as head coach for Jacques Chapdelaine isn’t generating headlines with the Als either. Same for the 10 Montreal players on various Alouettes rosters with ties to the Lions.

Simon’s focus these days is helping out a group of Lions receivers who seem to have misplaced their collective ability to separate and become better targets during their three-game losing streak, something Lewis does in his own way. It’s one of the big reasons why Travis Lulay will run the Lions offence in the foreseeable future instead of Jon Jennings.

Emmanuel Arceneaux, the Lions’ biggest target, seemed to suggest there might have been some validity to the area of the team that means to most to Simon.

“Last three or four weeks, we’ve had some fence-straddlers,” Arceneaux said this week. “It’s time to be all-in. It’s holding every man accountable. It’s about action speaking louder than words. Coach can always say ‘are you all-in?’ It’s easy to say yes but when you get out there we’re not putting together four quarters of football.”

Accountability has always been big with coach/GM Wally Buono, who began the week looking to bench two defensive starters in addition to Jennings until Mich’ael Brooks was shut down Wednesday and fellow tackle Bryant Turner was given a reprieve.

“We can’t keep talking about accountability but do nothing when production isn’t there,” said Buono, who will give increased playing time to rookies Junior Luke, Kenneth Boatright and Micah Awe, along with veteran Ricky Foley.

That same kind of talk generally resonates with Simon, though he’s getting good at the fine art of political persuasion too. A subtle difference showing up in the Lions offence at practice has been to put second-year receiver Shaq Johnson closer to the quarterback, a move which comes in part thanks to a little Simon lobbying.

“He has potential to play like an American. He has the skill set of an American receiver who played in the NCAA,” Simon said of Johnson, a fourth-round pick last year who got Simon’s attention initially running 4.39 seconds at the CFL combine.

“That being said, it’s not just time to be on the field but to take the next step and have an impact on the game.”

Strong words about a sophomore. When the player who has the most pass receptions in league history is the topic, you tread more lightly, which may be the first time anyone has associated finesse with the 240-pound fireball who’ll be in position to snare passes from Darian Durant Friday.

“I definitely respect his game and success,” Simon said of Lewis. “No matter what anybody says the guy has shown longevity and has had an impact on the game to this day, eight yards at a time.”

Lewis said he could do more if asked to provide in a different manner.

“What I do and what I’m allowed to do is what it is. I’m going to take my role and be the best I can be. Geroy wasn’t even a fast guy; he was effective at how he got open. I used to watch Geroy and Milt Stegall all the time. I would never sit down on the sidelines; how they were patient with their routes.”

“Nik’s a different guy than Geroy,” said Chapdelaine. “What’s similar about them is they’re both very very good at understanding the game around them.” They each also now own one of the game’s most prestigious receiver records.

LIONS TALES: The current predicament of the Lions in the West Division, in last place during the month of September for the first time in the Buono era, is not lost on the team’s veteran players…. “Whether we want to believe it or not there is a sense of urgency, particularly coming off three straight losses,” quarterback Travis Lulay said. “Pressure’s a good thing,” suggested wideout Marco Iannuzzi. “Whatever we were doing the last three weeks wasn’t working so how about lighting some fire under us? It’s not a negative pressure. It’s a good pressure.” Buono knows it too. “As they say in golf, we’re out of mulligans,” he said.

Lowell Ullrich

Lowell Ullrich

Lowell Ullrich has covered the Lions since 1999 and was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 2014. He is also a contributor to TSN1040.
Lowell Ullrich
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Lowell Ullrich
About Lowell Ullrich (104 Articles)
Lowell Ullrich has covered the Lions since 1999 and was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 2014. He is also a contributor to TSN1040.

32 Comments on Best CFL receiver? Let the debate begin

  1. If you solely base it on stats, then of course Nik. If you base it on performance and talent my choice would be “Swervin” Mervyn Fernandez. He was absolutely dominant. He was good enough to make it in the NFL and stay there for years. That’s the CFL conundrum. You need players that are good enough to excel up here, but not good enough to crack an NFL roster. (If I had a second choice it would be Alan Pitts)

    • white stallion in red // September 8, 2017 at 3:47 pm //

      Loved Pitts. Tall,slow and not overly athletic, but new his route and new where to be.
      They tried to contact him for the 25th year celebration of 1992 Greycup. Apparently he is living on the streets on LA and a meth addict

  2. never heard of milt stegall?

    • white stallion in red // September 8, 2017 at 3:32 pm //

      I gotta give a lot of credit to Stegall. Consider he played on 1 team that save for a few years were rather terrible. He had to do it with many second rate QBs.
      Allan Pitts always played on good teams with good qbs. Darren Flutie played on different teams but always the same QB. Fir that reason I would agree with you in Stegall.

    • Lancaster/Reed // September 9, 2017 at 1:56 am //

      Got to agree, Milt was arguably the best overall receiver the league has seen. The most acrobatic receiver ive seen, one who made diving catches seem ordinary, was Chris DeFrance . He never gave up on a ball.

  3. white stallion in red // September 8, 2017 at 3:41 pm //

    Lewis was tough. Could take a hit. Simon couldn’t
    Some are fast, some are great route runners some are just freaky good athletes that can jump and contort their bodies to make crazy catches.
    Much credit goes to offensive systems as well.
    For all this is hard to name a best but I would give the nod to Stegall as mentioned above. If you look at most of the best they played on good teams with great qbs. Stegall did not

  4. white stallion in red // September 8, 2017 at 3:55 pm //

    Hate to go Green but another worthy mention is Don Narcisse

    • And one of my favourites, Ray Elgaard. For brute toughness and never give up attitude, plus a Canadian, Ray Ekgaard will always be one of my favourites. Plus, a real character in the locker room.

  5. To stay with the theme of my “good enough to go to the NFL” comment, where would players such as Cameron Wake, Jeff Garcia, Joe Theisman, etc rank in the all time greats argument if they spent their entire careers in the CFL?

    • white stallion in red // September 8, 2017 at 4:21 pm //

      Wake would have smashed the all time sack record I’m sure. Theiseman, top 5 passing, Garcia top 10 passing. The 2 QB’s that could have blown all QB’s stats would have been Dickenson if he could have stayed healthy and played more and longer and Flutie had he spend his entire pro career in CFL and never bothered with USFL and NFL. He might have got close to 100,000 passing yards

  6. “For a receiver who played his whole career with bad qbs he had good stats” stegall is still alltime leader in touchdowns and retired being the receiving yards leader as well. This is pure stupidity and the fact there is no mention of him is insane.

  7. What Rider fan didn’t appreciate the contributions of Ray Elgaard and his big ol mustache.

    • white stallion in red // September 8, 2017 at 4:37 pm //

      Elgaard was a great Canadian receiver yes

    • Yes, another Elgaard fan. I bet most don’t remember Rhett Dawson, who signed with Saskatchewan mid-way through the 1974 CFL season with the Saskatchewan Roughriders. First CFL game against Calgary, and my first game at old Taylor Field, Dawson scored on two touchdown passes from Ron Lancaster, including a deep bomb, in a 34-10 victory. Unfortunately, Dawson retired after the ’76 season in a contract dispute with the Roughriders, and retired in Florida. I believe he went back into the construction business and was never heard of again. A great athlete that retired before his prime. One of the unforgotten. And that ended the dominance of the Saskatchewan Roughriders from 1966-76.

      • Lancaster/Reed // September 9, 2017 at 11:36 am //

        He was my hero when he played. Could have been one of the best if he stuck around.

        • Agreed. He had so much potential to be an all-time CFL great. I was 11 years of age when I witnessed my first game, the first game of Rhett Dawson’s career as a Roughrider.

  8. Nik does well at 3 to 7 yard receptions. Hardly comparable to pass receivers who can catch & and really run. The total # of catches is not always so significant . Nik does not sell tickets.

  9. Southwest cowboy // September 8, 2017 at 11:44 pm //

    In his prime, defenses were relieved when Nik Lewis caught the ball because that meant he wasn’t out there blocking for someone else. Ferocious blocker.

  10. All Time? Hal Patterson.

  11. Rumblinbumblinfumblin // September 9, 2017 at 11:06 am //

    Allan Pitts was an amazing receiver and would be up there. Same with Narcisse, Simon, and Lewis. but Milt was a guy who every game you expected a big play against you. The only other guy I loved watching was Mookie Mitchell. His season in98 was one that is nearly untouchable. 160 catches 2000 yards. And consistenly always a 1000 yard receiver.

  12. Best all-time receivers by team:
    – BC: “Swervin” Mervyn Fernandez, Geroy Simon
    – Edmonton: Brian Kelly, Terry Vaughn
    – Calgary: Allen Pitts, Nik Lewis
    – Saskie: Ray Elgaard, Don Narcisse
    – Winnipeg: Jeff Boyd, Milt Stegall
    – Hamilton: Rocky diPietro, Earl Winfield
    – Ottawa: Tony Gabriel, Greg Ellingson
    – Toronto: Darrel “mookie” Mitchell, Paul Masotti
    – Montreal: SJ Green, Ben Cahoon

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