It has been a rough year for the East Division. With two weeks left in the season, no team in the East is above .500, two of its teams will miss the playoffs and a West team will once again crossover and compete in the East in the playoffs.
Another tough thing to figure out in the East is just who the division’s nominee for Most Outstanding Player should be. Last year, Henry Burris won the nomination and we also saw Zach Collaros and Trevor Harris put up monster numbers before their season’s were ended by injury and benching, respectively. The East was not short of deserving MOP candidates last year.
Fast forward to 2016 and figuring out who should get the nomination is no easy task.
Quarterbacks are usually the front runners for this type of thing, but not a single QB in the East is worthy of such recognition. In total, 11 different players have started at QB for an East Division team in 2016. Trevor Harris has started the most games, 10, of any QB in the East, but he was benched a couple weeks ago for Henry Burris, who himself was benched for Trevor Harris. Jeremiah Masoli is next up with nine starts, but despite his play, he will be back on the bench now that Zach Collaros is once again cleared to play. Toronto has cycled through Ricky Ray, Logan Kilgore, Dan LeFevour and Drew Willy, and are now back around to Ray again. Montreal just gave Vernon Adams his first career start last week, replacing the ineffective Rakeem Cato who ascended to the No. 1 spot when the team traded Kevin Glenn, their starter at the beginning of the year, to Winnipeg back in early September.
So with no viable QB candidate for MOP, we have to look elsewhere and that is where things get tricky.
Chris Williams likely would have been the nominee if he wasn’t out for the season with a knee injury. Williams’ numbers are excellent — 77 catches for 1,246 yards and 10 TDs — and he is still fourth in the league in receiving yards and tied for the league lead in receiving touchdowns. But much like last year’s presumed MOP, Zach Collaros, his season ending early will likely stop him from getting the nomination.
Both Toronto and Montreal have been disasters this year, and terrible team seasons usually preclude a member of that team from being named the division’s MOP. In fact, since 1994, the East Division MOP nomination has only been awarded to a player on a team with a .500 record twice (2006, 2012), on a team that finished lower than second twice (2006, 2014) and on a team that was under .500 and missed the playoffs once (2014). So while Shawn Lemon and Nik Lewis have had great years for the Argos and Als, respectively, history shows that it is highly unlikely that either player will be the East nominee.
So that leaves the Ticats, who have two players that could conceivably take home the award: Andy Fantuz and John Chick. Much like in 2014 when Solomon Elimimian won the league award, this is another year where a defensive player could be up for it. John Chick has been nothing short of phenomenal for the Ticats this year. He is third in the league in sacks with 13, he has four multi-sack games, and his 35 tackles are third amongst East Division defensive linemen. The problem with giving it to Chick is that Lemon’s numbers with Toronto are slightly better. Lemon has 14 sacks, five multi-sack games and 25 tackles. Team performance can be used as a tiebreaker, but you would have a hard time handing an individual award to someone over a guy who plays the same role, but has better numbers.
That leaves Fantuz, who after 11 years in the CFL might just get his first MOP nomination. His numbers are the best he has put up since his stellar 2010 campaign when he led the league in receiving and was named the league’s Most Outstanding Canadian. Fantuz has 101 catches for 1,059 yards and five scores, and he is the first player in Ticats history to haul in 100 or more passes in a season. His 101 catches is tops in the East, while his 1,059 yards puts him behind just Chris Williams, Greg Ellingson and Ernest Jackson amongst East receivers, and his five TDs falls behind just Williams, Jackson and his Ticats teammate Terrence Toliver. His totals also put him in the top 10 in all those categories.
While you can argue that Fantuz hasn’t been outstanding, what he has been is reliable. He has played in every game this season, no small feat when you consider he has done that just once before in his pro career, and has been a go-to target for both Ticats starting quarterbacks this year, catching fewer than four passes in a game just twice. He has stepped up in the recent absence of fellow receivers Luke Tasker and Chad Owens, too, catching 40 passes in his last four games.
The East Division has been a dumpster fire for most of the season, and because of that it will be hard for the award voters to select someone as the East Division’s Most Outstanding Player. While no one player has stood out above the rest, it looks like the one viable candidate left standing is Hamilton’s Andy Fantuz.