CFL vet Ryan Phillips: these are the best defensive backs in the league

Editor’s note: With the 2017 season just past the halfway point, we asked 12-year CFL veteran Ryan Phillips to give us his choices for the best defensive backs in the league. Phillips spent more than a decade in the secondary with the B.C. Lions before joining the Alouettes this season. A two-time Grey Cup champion, he is currently the president of the Lockdown/Playmaker Institute.

This is the moment most players and fans have been waiting for: finally, an opinion and perspective from a player not too far removed from recent times. But also an unbiased and true perspective of who and why these players are the best of the best. Obviously, I have a passion for this position, but I have taken the time to watch all the games and do the necessary homework. I have seen the performances of all the great defensive backs across the CFL. I know I’m going to have a few guys mad at me, but I wanted to be as truly honest as possible. This is just the all-star Lockdown/Playmaker team through the first half of the season with a lot of football left. So, if you’re not on here now it doesn’t mean you won’t be by seasons end.

Let me give a little background about the criteria:

1. There will be “NO ONE HIT WONDERS.” I have seen it happen too many times in this league where people crown some guys off of one game or one performance. Trust me it won’t happen here. 

2. Make an impact in more ways than one. I say this because I don’t want people to think I’m judging only based off interceptions. I like overall impact on the game and production. Difference makers.

3. Consistency. It’s simple. Can your team rely on you being this all-star player week in and week out. Consistency is the difference between being great and being average.

4. Are you on the oppositions scouting report as a threat? That’s inside information for me only. Sorry HAHA

5. Big play ability. Do you make the big play? Do you make an impact when the game is on the line? Do you limit the production of the opposition? These are all critical elements to being an all-star.

So, now without further ado here is the Lockdown/Playmaker Mid Season all-stars of 2017:

Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ Chris Randle (8) celebrates his touchdown against the Ottawa Redblacks with teammates during first half of a CFL football game in Ottawa on Friday, Aug. 4, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Cornerbacks: Chris Randle (Winnipeg), Ronnie Yell (B.C. Lions)

Now in his sixth season, Randle has embodied the word consistency. He’s a solid corner that does everything well. He tackles, makes plays and limits whatever receiver he faces. In my opinion he’s one half of the best boundary side secondary in the league. Yell is definitely one of the leading candidates for comeback player of the year, a guy who gives his team a chance to win ball games every week. With three interceptions he’s showing steady improvement by making game changing big plays.

Honourable mentions: Ciante Evans (Calgary), Johnathon Mincy (Montreal), Jovon Johnson (Saskatchewan), Richard Leonard (Hamilton)

Saskatchewan Roughriders defensive back Ed Gainey celebrates an interception during first half CFL action against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, in Regina on Sunday, September 3, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mark Taylor

Halfabcks: T.J. Heath (Winnipeg), Ed Gainey (Saskatewan)

Heath is just a great and consistent playmaker. Always around the ball. Definitely on the other teams scouting report as a threat to make plays and create turnovers. Meanwhile, Gainey is simply the “HOTTEST” DB in the league. Gainey has went from a four interception game to making plays every week. Just added another two interception game in the Banjo bowl against Winnipeg.  Big time players, make big time plays, in big games. His impact on defense goes without question while probably playing the hardest spot in the secondary “boundary halfback.” Simply put, this selection is a no brainer. 

Honourable mentions: Jamar Wall (Calgary), Loucheiz Purifoy (B.C. Lions), T.J. Lee (B.C. Lions)

Edmonton Eskimos linebacker Kenny Ladler (37) celebrates with defensive back Arjen Colquhoun (36) after he intercepted a pass to end the game against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats during fourth quarter CFL football action in Hamilton, Ont., on Thursday, July 20, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Dave Chidley

Nickel: Kenneth Ladler (Edmonton)

Ladler is a rising star. Always sticks out on film by steadily being around the ball and making plays. Plays hard all the time and he’s starting to become one of the most important guys on that Edmonton defense especially with J.C. Sherritt’s absence.

Honourable mentions: Cassius Vaughn (Toronto), Maurice Leggett (Winnipeg), Shaquille Richardson (Calgary)

Safety: Antoine Pruneau (Ottawa)

Antoine Pruneau- Pruneau is taking full advantage of being able to go back to free safety full time. He’s making plays in every facet of the game including special teams. His ball skills are a pleasant surprise with his team leading three interceptions.

Honourable mentions: Taylor Loffler (Winnipeg),

Good luck to everyone on the second half of the season and let the big plays continue.