Three Bold Predictions for the 2015 CFL Season

With the CFL regular season set to kick-off just two days from now, it’s time for some bold predictions. Without further ado, here they are:

1. Brandon Banks will disappoint in the return game

FBO CFL East Final 20141123

Brandon Banks is a very good kick returner. He’s got speed, agility, elusiveness, and can be very dangerous in space. With that said, I’ve grown tired of hearing Banks touted as some type of legendary, all-time great player since Hamilton’s playoff run last November. I’ve read numerous CFL pundits this off-season mention Banks’ name specifically in reference to the CFL’s new return rules predicting he could score as many as ten touchdowns in 2015.

Excuse me?

As mentioned above, I have great respect for Banks as a player. He’s great. But ten return touchdowns? That’s lunacy.

Though the CFL’s new return rules will surely make it more difficult for cover units to contain the league’s best returners, one should hardly expect the league’s special teams coordinators to enter the upcoming season waving white flags of surrender. There is a wealth of intelligent, dynamic CFL special teams coordinators who have known about the upcoming rule changes for months. Most will be well prepared for the new challenges that lie ahead. Those who aren’t will have enough film by week three to mimic the adjustments that have been made by those who do.

Let’s get back to Banks for a moment. Is it possible, even remotely so, that CFL fans and media got so caught up in Banks’ great playoff performance this past season and that the diminutive returner is, dare I say, a little overrated?

[cue Tiger-Cat fan rage in the comment section below]

Consider Banks’ return averages from this past season. Surely the best in the CFL, right? Hardly.

Player Kick Return Av Punt Return Av Return TDs
Brandon Banks 23.4 10.3 2
Tim Brown 22.9 10.4 1
S. Cunningham 21.6 11.2 1
Weston Dressler 17.0 12.5 2
Tristan Jackson 22.6 9.1 0
Kendial Lawrence 29.0 9.1 2
Stefan Logan 23.0 8.9 0
Chad Owens 18.9 11.7 1
Jock Sanders 17.5 10.5 0
Branden Smith 26.1 5.9 0
Troy Stoudermire 24.6 12.5 1
Demond Washington 33.8 5.4 1

As we can see, Banks’ numbers hardly jump off the page. His kick return average of 23.4 yards is good for just fifth on this list; his punt return average, sixth. Notice how strongly Banks’ numbers resemble those of Tim Brown’s and remember that Brown is currently making $725/week to practice with the Stampeders after being unceremoniously cut by the Lions prior to training camp.

An argument can be made that Banks holds greater value than many players on the list above because of his work as a receiver. If you’re a Ti-Cat fan, however, there’s huge reason for concern if Kent Austin and company decide to dispatch Banks as a full-time receiver and returner. The number of hits Banks is sure to take if given such a role would make it virtually impossible for him to avoid suffering a serious injury in 2015. Consider the size of some of the returners on the list above: Troy Stoudermire, 5’10, 200; Sederrik Cunningham, 5’11, 200; Kendial Lawrence, 5’9, 195; Branden Smith, 5’11, 182; Tristan Jackson, 5’8, 185. Banks, just 5’5, 155, is diminutive even by returner standards. This will make it very tough for the third-year Ti-Cat to sustain the extra wear and tear that’s sure to come his way should he play two positions full-time.

I’m not trying to suggest that Banks will have a poor season in 2015. I just foresee a high risk of injury and disappointing return numbers given the impossible expectations that have been thrust upon him.

2. Two-point converts galore

Toronto Argonaut #30 kicker/punter Swayze Waters during practice  at York University

As most CFL fans know by now, the CFL made major changes to the way in which converts will be conducted this year. One-point converts will now be kicked from the thirty-two yard line instead of the twelve-yard line (lowering the odds of success from >99% to roughly 82%), while two-point converts will be moved up from the five-yard line to the three.

Let me be the first to say that I’ve loved this change since the first day that it was proposed. My significant other, born and raised in Toronto, wasn’t a football fan growing up. I took her to her first game at Investors Group Field this past year and explained the basic rules of football to her as the game progressed. When it came time for the game’s first convert to be attempted, the following conversation took place:

“This kick happens every time a touchdown is scored. It’s worth one point.”

“It’s so short – does anyone ever miss?”

“Nope.”

“Then why bother kicking it at all?”

It was a legitimate question.

The new rules will turn a play that was once a boring, foregone conclusion into one that is as exciting as any other in the game. Sure, there will be some irate fans the first time a team loses because of a missed convert, but the added excitement that convert attempts will garner in one-point games will be well worth the added aggravation.

Two-point converts in the NFL (where such plays are attempted from the two-yard line) are successful at a rate of 44.8 percent. Though the CFL’s two-point converts will be attempted slightly farther out than the NFL’s two-pointers, the wider Canadian field and extra-deep end zones mean the success rate of two-point converts north of the border is likely to hover around that of the NFL. This raises an important question: will we see one or more CFL teams go exclusively to two-point converts this season?

Think about it. If a team is able to convert two-point converts at a success rate of 44% (and it stands to reason that teams with excellent offences will be able to convert at a higher rate than that), exclusively attempting one-point converts will only make sense if the team’s kicker can successfully kick them at a rate of at least 88%. Though many CFL kickers will surely be able to achieve this, I expect a few will not.

3. Young QBs for M.O.P.

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It’s been three seasons since a quarterback was named the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player, the longest such drought since Willard Reaves, Mervyn Fernandez, and James Murphy won the award in 1984, 1985, and 1986, respectively. It’s also been a rarity for quarterbacks at or under the age of thirty to receive a divisional nomination for the award in recent years. Since 2005, this has happened just twice: Kevin Glenn, 2007; and Travis Lulay, 2011.

This year, I believe that there will be not one but two such quarterbacks nominated for the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player Award. With advanced age and bum shoulders set to hinder the production of CFL veterans Ricky Ray, Travis Lulay, and Darian Durant, I believe Mike Reilly, 30, Bo Levi Mitchell, 25, and Zach Collaros, 26, are set to become the league’s next group of top-tier quarterbacks. Come November, look for Reilly and Collaros to go toe-to-toe for the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player Award. The winner? Reilly in a tight vote.

John Hodge, Blue Bomber Talk

Twitter: @BlueBomberTalk

Email: [email protected]

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