With just two games left in the regular season, it’s time to consider the candidates for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats most outstanding player awards. Ballots from members of the local media – including The Hamilton Spectator’s Steve Milton and I – as well as head coach Kent Austin are due Sunday at midnight.
Here are the leading candidates for each award, as well as my picks.
Most Outstanding Player: Zach Collaros
This award would have been a slam dunk for Collaros – and he would have been a leading contender for the CFL award – had he not suffered a knee injury on Sept. 19, ending his season.
But even having missed four-plus games, Collaros is still fourth in the CFL in passing yardage (3,376) and second in touchdown passing with 25 (he’ll likely finish the season third.) The Ticats were 8-3 when he was injured and have gone 2-3 since.
There is precedent for giving an award to a player who hasn’t appeared in all – or even most – of his team’s games. Toronto’s Ricky Ray was the East Division MOP in 2013, despite playing in just 10 games, while Calgary’s Jon Cornish appeared in 11 games last season and won the CFL’s Most Outstanding Canadian award.
There are a few other worthy candidates to consider, however.
Receiver Terrell Sinkfield leads the team in receiving yards (967), is second in catches (60) and second-down conversions (27), while Luke Tasker is first in catches (68) and second in both yards (951) and conversions (25.) Sinkfield, who has played in 13 of a possible 16 games thus far, also has 22 carries for 93 yards and is second on the team in all-purpose yards with 1,140. That gives him a slight edge over Tasker, who has appeared in 12 games this season.
Brandon Banks has four punt return touchdowns and six overall to go along with his 1,862 all-purpose yards. Simoni Lawrence has had a solid, all-around season anchoring a stout Hamilton defence. Justin Medlock leads the CFL in points and is fourth in the league with an 88.1 per cent accuracy rate.
Despite Sinkfield’s solid numbers and durability, the basic question is this: who was the Ticats best player this season? Despite making just 12 starts, that’s Collaros.
While the Hamilton offence has been decimated by injury – there isn’t a single skill player to start every game this season – the Ticat defence has six.
Of those, Lawrence has the best all-around numbers. He leads the team in tackles (73), is third in sacks (5) and has two interceptions, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. His athleticism and versatility make him a factor against the run and pass coverage.
Taylor Reed has put forward a solid sophomore campaign (70 tackles), Justin Hickman leads the team with eight sacks (tied for 10th in the CFL) and Bryan Hall has an impressive 34 tackles from his defensive tackle position. Emanuel Davis leads the team with five interceptions, including three returned for a TD. His 54 tackles is good for third on the Ticats.
Still, Lawrence is the complete package and the key cog in a strong defensive unit.
Laurent’s value doesn’t really show up in the numbers. The defensive tackle has 24 takedowns through 16 games and will likely surpass his number from last season (also 24) but his sack totals are down, from nine a year ago, to three this season.
That doesn’t diminish his impact: Laurent is incredibly disruptive on the interior of the line, either forcing offences to double team him or collapsing the pocket from the inside. Playing beside him, Hall’s 34 tackles are testament to how much attention Laurent is drawing.
Field corner Courtney Stephen also deserves consideration with his four interceptions and 40 tackles (good for fourth on the Ticats.)
But Laurent’s the pick for the second year in a row.
It’s hard to believe the Ticats got Filer for nothing.
A fifth-round draft pick of the Calgary Stampeders in 2012, the Brantford native was released in June of that year before signing with Hamilton. Since then, Filer has developed into one of the best young offensive linemen in the game.
Without his season-ending knee injury, left tackle Jake Olson would have garnered some consideration and Pete Dyakowski has had a nice bounceback year after missing most of 2014 with a torn patella.
Filer has been the lone offensive lineman to start every game this season, combining his solid play with much-needed stability.
Medlock deserves some consideration given that he leads the CFL in scoring and has hit on 88.1 per cent of his field goals this season but Banks’ four punt return touchdowns this season are tough to beat.
Banks has slowed down some in the second half – just one of his scoring returns has come after Labour Day – but remains a threat every time he touches the football.
Injuries have forced the Ticats to rely on first-year players more than they would have liked, particularly on offence.
Running backs Ray Holley and Michael Ford have seen significant time filling in for C.J. Gable while receiver Tiquan Underwood earned playing time filling in for vets Bakari Grant, Tasker and Andy Fantuz.
But Terrence Tolliver earned a starting job right out of training camp and played in 13 consecutive games before going down with an injury three weeks ago (he hopes to return against Ottawa on Sunday).
Tolliver is third on the team with 48 catches and 679 yards while Underwood is fourth with 31 and 496. Tolliver also has six touchdown catches to Underwood’s three.