Riders’ Cody Fajardo was great this year, but he shouldn’t be MOP

Photo Scott Grant / CFLPhotoArchive.com
Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/CFLPhotoArchive.com

The 2019 CFL season was a different one than most and nowhere better does that show than Cody Fajardo being a finalist for Most Outstanding Player.

None of this is meant to take away from the season that Fajardo had in leading the Riders to a 13-5 record and a first-place finish in the ultra-competitive West Division. But the idea that some pundits voted for him over Hamilton Tiger-Cats receiver Brandon Banks for the award is, quite frankly, laughable.

Fajardo’s numbers are some of the lowest for an MOP candidate over the last 30 years.

Let’s start with one argument that we need to kill and that is that Fajardo deserves the award because the CFL is a quarterback-driven league and he was the best quarterback in the league this year.

Every football league is a quarterback-driven league. Teams go as their quarterbacks go, and that is true in high school, college, the NFL, CFL, XFL, AAF, WLAF, NFL Europe, the list goes on and on. The CFL is not some outlier where quarterbacks matter more, so let’s stop making this argument.

Next, was Fajardo the best QB in the CFL this year? He was certainly the healthiest, playing in 17 of the Riders’ 18 games, and because of that he led the league in passing yards with 4,303. But Fajardo is just the third player in the last 10 years to throw for fewer than 5,000 yards and lead the league in passing — Ricky Ray in 2014 and Henry Burris in 2013 are the other two. And he had the fewest yards for a league-leading passer since 1988.

His 253 yards-per-game, which I think is a much more helpful stat than total yards, puts him fourth among quarterbacks who played in at least 10 games, behind Bo Levi Mitchell, Trevor Harris and Dane Evans, and just slightly above McLeod Bethel-Thompson.

Fajardo also finished sixth in touchdown passes with 18, fewer than Mitchell, Mike Reilly, Evans, Vernon Adams Jr. and Bethel-Thompson. He had just three more TD passes than Matt Nichols, who only played in nine games, and two more than Harris, who played in 13.

His rushing stats, which including 611 yards and 10 touchdowns are impressive, and stack up favourably to other MOPs like Tracy Ham (1989) and Kerry Joseph (2007), but no quarterback over the last 30 years has won MOP throwing fewer than 24 TD passes (Joseph, 2007), and none had fewer than 28 total touchdowns (Anthony Calvillo, 2009). If you want to make the argument that his 10 rushing scores are important then you also have to agree his paltry passing touchdown totals are a huge demerit.

Quarterbacks winning the MOP is never a surprise, as 22 of the last 30 winners have been quarterbacks. But of those 22 only one had numbers comparable to Fajardo’s 2019 numbers, and he just so happens to be the last Rider player to win MOP: Kerry Joseph in 2007.

But Joseph was the anomaly, not the standard. The average stats for an MOP quarterback since 1989 have been 5,300 yards, 34 passing touchdowns and 39 total touchdowns. Fajardo’s numbers in 2019 come nowhere close to matching those and would be the second-lowest yardage total, as well as the lowest passing touchdowns by a wide margin and tied for the lowest total touchdowns with Calvillo in 2009.

If you still aren’t convinced, I’d like to play a little game of “Name this QB” with you. Here are some numbers of players who had similar stats to Fajardo over the last few years.

  • QB No. 1: 4,927 yards, 25 total touchdowns (all passing), 65.8 per cent completions
  • QB No. 2: 4,354 yards, 34 total touchdowns, 71 per cent completions
  • QB No. 3: 4,472 yards, 30 total touchdowns, 71 per cent completions
  • QB No. 4: 4,302 yards, 28 total touchdowns, 71.5 per cent completions

Now, we know QB No. 4 is Fajardo, but can you guess who the other three are?

If you guessed Henry Burris in 2013 with Hamilton (QB No. 1), Trevor Harris in 2015 with Toronto (QB No. 2) and Matt Nichols in 2017 with Winnipeg (QB No. 3), congratulations.

All three were MOP for their team, but none of them advanced further than that. Ricky Ray was the East nominee in 2013, Burris himself was the East nominee in 2015 and Reilly was the West nominee in 2017. Fajardo also deserved to be the MOP nominee for the Riders, but like Burris, Harris and Nichols that is as far as his candidacy should have gone.

Fajardo had a wonderful season, and he definitely has a bright future with the Riders, but let’s not let that cloud our MOP judgment.

Josh Smith has been writing about the Ticats and the CFL since 2010 and was sporting his beard way before it was cool. Will be long after, too.