Ranking the CFL’s Most Outstanding Rookies of the 21st century (No. 10-1)

Photo courtesy: Minnesota Vikings

Editor’s note: this article is part two of the list that was published on Wednesday; click the link below to read part one.

Ranking the CFL’s Most Outstanding Rookies of the 21st century (No. 20-11)

10. SAM Dexter McCoil, Edmonton Football Team (2014)

The six-foot-four defender was a CFL all-star in his rookie season after recording 63 tackles, six interceptions, and four sacks. He won a Grey Cup in his second year before leaving for the NFL, appearing in 26 games with the Chargers and 49ers (2016-2018). He returned to the CFL at the end of the 2019 season, dressing for three games with Calgary.

Screenshot courtesy: BlueBombers.com

9. REC Chris Matthews, Winnipeg Blue Bombers (2012)

Matthews caught 143 passes for 1,192 yards and seven touchdowns as a rookie, though he missed most of the following season due to injury. He spent the next four years in the NFL (2014-2017) with his best performance coming in Super Bowl XLIX with Seattle (four receptions for 109 yards). Matthews has since bounced between Calgary, Winnipeg, and Montreal after returning to the CFL (2018-2019).

8. REC Jason Clermont, B.C. Lions (2002)

The Regina product built on an impressive rookie campaign (735 receiving yards, six touchdowns) with three 1,000-yard seasons, one CFL all-star nod, and two CFL Most Outstanding Canadian awards (2004, 2007). Clermont appeared in four Grey Cups — winning one in 2006 — and was named the game’s Most Valuable Canadian in 2004.

7. REC/RET Chris Williams, Hamilton Tiger-Cats (2011)

The Texas native built on a strong rookie campaign in his second year, recording 83 receptions for 1,298 yards and eleven touchdowns along with five punt return scores. Following a six-game stint with Chicago in 2014 — during which he recorded a punt return touchdown — Williams returned to the CFL for two all-star seasons with Ottawa (2015-2016) and two modest seasons with B.C., Montreal, and Hamilton (2017-2018).

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

6. REC Weston Dressler, Saskatchewan Roughriders (2008)

The native of Bismarck, N.D. posted 1,123 receiving yards and six touchdowns as a rookie and maintained a similar level of production with the Riders until he tested the NFL in 2014. The four-time West Division all-star had his sixth and final 1,000-yard season with Winnipeg in 2016, retiring in 2019 with 10,026 receiving yards, 61 touchdowns, and one Grey Cup victory (2013).

5. OL Brett Jones, Calgary Stampeders (2013)

The Regina product built on his successful rookie season by being named a CFL all-star and the league’s Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman in 2014. He has since been under contract in the NFL with the Giants (2015-2017) and Vikings (2018-present), dressing for 53 games and making 17 starts at centre and guard.

4. LB Barrin Simpson, B.C. Lions (2001)

The six-time CFL all-star (2001-2004, 2006, 2007) remained dominant through most of his career, retiring with 955 tackles (fifth-most all-time), 38 sacks, and ten interceptions. The Mississippi State product appeared in two Grey Cups but did not win one having left B.C. one year prior to the Lions’ championship in 2006. Strangely, Simpson is not yet a member of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame.

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/CFLPhotoArchive.com

3. REC Nik Lewis, Calgary Stampeders (2004)

The six-time divisional all-star turned a 1,000-yard rookie season into one of the most illustrious careers in CFL history. The two-time Grey Cup champion (2008, 2014) retired in 2018 as the league’s all-time receptions leader with 1,051 and fifth all-time in receiving yards with 13,778. Lewis remains second in virtually every Calgary team receiving category behind the great Allen Pitts.

2. LB Solomon Elimimian, B.C. Lions (2010)

The native of Nigeria has the two best single-season tackling totals in CFL history (143 in 2014; 144 in 2017) with 32 career sacks and eight interceptions. Elimimian is a two-time winner of the CFL’s Most Outstanding Defensive Player award (2014, 2016) and remains the only defensive player in league history to be named Most Outstanding Player (2014).

1. DL Cameron Wake, B.C. Lions (2007)

What is there to say about Cameron Wake? The pass rusher recorded 137 tackles and 39 sacks over two CFL seasons during which he was twice named the league’s Most Outstanding Defensive Player. That gave way to an eleven-year NFL career during which Wake made 341 tackles, 100.5 sacks and 22 forced fumbles en route to five Pro Bowls.

The twenty winners of the CFL’s Most Outstanding Rookie award from the 21st century break down by position/team as follows:

Receiver — nine
Linebacker — four
Defensive Line — three
Running Back — two
Offensive Line — one
Kicker — one

B.C. Lions — seven
Calgary Stampeders — four
Winnipeg Blue Bombers — three
Edmonton Football Team — two
Hamilton Tiger-Cats — one
Ottawa Redblacks — one
Saskatchewan Roughriders — one
Toronto Argonauts — one
Montreal Alouettes — zero

John Hodge is a Canadian football reporter based in Winnipeg.