There’s not much to disagree with about Ottawa’s nominees for the 2017 CFL awards.
Greg Ellingson (Outstanding Player), Antoine Pruneau (Outstanding Defensive Player), Brad Sinopoli (Outstanding Canadian Player), Alex Mateas (Outstanding Offensive Lineman) and Diontae Spencer (Outstanding Special Teams Player) are all highly deserving of praise and recognition for their exceptional seasons.
That being said, if I was a voting member, my ballot would’ve been a bit different.
For starters, as fantastic as Ellingson has been, he’s actually cooled off significantly since his torrid start to the season, eclipsing the 100 yard receiving mark just once in his last nine games. That’s why my nod for MOP would’ve gone to William Powell. What Powell accomplished in just 12 games is astounding. His 1,026 rushing yards lead the CFL and he is the only running back to have crossed the 1,000-yard mark so far. Powell also amassed 242 receiving yards on 32 catches. His strength (evidenced by the yards he repeatedly gains after contact) and his ability to make defenders miss in the open field is all the more impressive when you remember that he missed all of 2016 with a torn Achilles. Not to mention that Powell’s heating up at the right time, averaging 120 yards on the ground over the last six games.
When it comes to the Outstanding Defensive Player, although Antoine Pruneau made more splash plays (interceptions, onside kick recoveries, special teams tackles), Taylor Reed with his 94 tackles, four sacks and forced fumble would’ve gotten my vote. Reed is often under-appreciated but always around the ball and sets the tone for the entire defence with his physical play.
However, my ballot still would’ve had a spot for Pruneau, it just would’ve been in a different category (Outstanding Canadian). Again, this isn’t a slight on Sinopoli’s season, as he was phenomenal, crossing the 1,000-yard mark for the third consecutive year, but Pruneau’s ability to create turnovers on defence at key moments AND make an impact on special teams (eight tackles, an onside recovery) has to be taken into account.
As for Alex Mateas, while I do think he’s been a steady presence since moving to centre in place of the injured Jon Gott, his early-season struggles at guard can’t be ignored. If Outstanding Offensive Lineman was a half season award, he’d be a shoo-in. But if one takes into account his entire body of work on the year, Mateas comes up a bit short. Instead, I would go with Jason Lauzon-Séguin. The second-year Laval product started 17 out of 18 games, playing multiple positions (right guard and tackle) and consistently held his own against some of the league’s best pass rushers.
Given his historic performance against the Ticats, it seems sacrilegious to put anyone other than Diontae Spencer down as the nominee for Outstanding Special Teams player. Nevertheless, Keelan Johnson would’ve gotten my vote. Johnson may become just the second player in Ottawa’s CFL history to lead the league in special teams tackles (he currently has 29, a three-tackle lead over BC’s Chandler Fenner). While it’s rare for the spotlight to be cast on a team’s cover unit, the thankless task of hustling downfield to contain a dangerous returner is vital in winning the field position battle.
Lastly, on a squad that featured a handful of strong rookie campaigns, I’ll go with DT Jake Ceresna as Most Outstanding Rookie. The six-foot-five, 295-pound Ceresna was a key cog in the middle of the Redblacks’ defensive line. Capable of collapsing the pocket and stuffing the run, Ceresna racked up 18 tackles (three for a loss), 11 QB pressures, two sacks and had four knockdowns.