The CFL released their list of finalists for the player awards that will be handed out later this month, and while some were no brainers — Mike Reilly and Ricky Ray for MOP; Andrew Harris for top Canadian — there were some spectacular snubs that make me, as a voter, wonder what my fellow voters were thinking.
Here are the five choices I think awards voters got dead wrong.
Most Outstanding Rookie, East Division
I knew it was going to happen, but I was hoping it wouldn’t, and it seems voters chose James Wilder, Jr. and his flashy numbers over Richard Leonard’s solid, year-long play.
I am not trying to disparage Wilder or talk down the season he had. He was tremendous, but he was tremendous in way fewer games than Leonard, who was tremendous over a full season and did so playing two different positions in the secondary.
Wilder won this award on the backs of two sets of back-to-back games. He had 190 and 141 in back-to-back weeks against Edmonton and Montreal, respectively, and finished the season with 112 against Winnipeg and 136 against B.C. But those four big games were also the only games Wilder cracked the 100-yard mark. He cracked the 70-yard mark just one more time and was under 50 yards in every other game he played. Wilder had some highlight-reel moments, but he wasn’t as consistent over the whole season as Leonard was.
Leonard was entrusted to move from field corner to field halfback, and in the process supplanted Emanuel Davis and sent the two-time East all-star to the bench. Leonard didn’t miss a beat, and had arguably his best game in the season’s final contest, when he intercepted two passes against the Montreal Alouettes. Leonard finished second in the league in interceptions with seven and tied for the league lead in both pass knockdowns and fumble recoveries (one of which he took to the house). Leonard should have been a shoe-in for this nomination, and yet he will be at home while James Wilder, Jr. likely collects the trophy.
It is a shame, not just for Leonard, but for defensive players in general. It seems as if voters, when given a choice between an offensive player and a defensive player, will pick the offensive player. It is a mindset that needs to be changed, but it is too late to change it to give Richard Leonard the credit he rightfully deserves.
Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman, East Division
Sean McEwen probably isn’t even the best offensive lineman on his own team — Chris Van Zyel should have been the Argos’ nominee for top o-lineman — so it is hard for me to say that he is the best offensive lineman in the entire East Division.
Call it homer bias, and maybe it is, but Ryan Bomben probably should have been the recipient of Leo Dandurand award. It is always tough to judge the play of offensive lineman — be honest, how many of you actually pay attention to the hogs when the game is going on — but Bomben has been a solid player for many years and was again this year. McEwen is a good young player, but was he the top offensive lineman in the East Division in 2017? I don’t think so.
Most Outstanding Canadian, East Division
Brad Sinopoli probably shouldn’t have even been his team’s nominee — it should have been Antoine Pruneau — and because of that, picking him over any of the three offensive lineman was a mistake.
Sinopoli had a fine year, went over 1,000 yards (thought just barely) for the third straight year and is a very good player. But was he outstanding this year?
This is another case of voters looking at numbers and name — let’s face it, most people know who Brad Sinopoli is, but couldn’t pick Ryan Bomben, Sean McEwen or Kristian Matte out of a lineup of one — and not actually judging the play on the field. Another one I knew would happen, but one I had hoped wouldn’t. Most years, Brad Sinopoli has deserved being recognized as the East’s top Canadian, but not this one.
Most Outstanding Special Teams Player, East Division
One game made the difference here, and because that game happened near the end of the season and not the beginning, the more-deserving Martese Jackson is left out in the cold while Diontae Spencer is named the East’s top special teamer.
If Spencer does not have a near 500-yard performance (and please remember that all of those yards did not come on special teams) in Week 19, he’s not picked. That one game stood out in voters’ minds as they made their selection, and they ignored a year’s worth of great special teams performances by Jackson in favour of picking the guy who had the one big game.
Jackson had over 400 more total return yards than Spencer, Jackson’s average-per-return was three yards higher and he scored twice on returns while Spencer never found the end zone on special teams. Spencer was the better overall player 2017, but Jackson is the better special teams player and should have been the East’s nominee.
Coach of the Year, West Division
If I told you before the season that the Calgary Stampeders would win 13 games, you might think that low. If I told you that the Saskatchewan Roughriders would win 10, you tell me to stop huffing paint. I take nothing away from the job Dave Dickenson has done, but Chris Jones turned a league punching bag into a playoff team and that deserved recognition.