Choosing an NFL equivalent for CFL quarterbacks

The NFL season is getting into crunch time and the CFL has now gone over a year without game action.

I was considering a few quarterback parallels between leagues, then decided to try to work out the full group. I think I’ve found a pretty good NFL match for each CFL quarterback — starters, near-starters and a couple of bonus passers.

Here’s what I came up with.

Mike Reilly (B.C.) = Aaron Rodgers (Green Bay)

This was the easiest one on the list and one that I’ve thought of for years, so let’s kick off with it.

Whether you point to the years spent in Green and Gold, the majestic beards or the magic-making, Reilly and Rodgers are icons in their respective leagues. They can make any throw at any time, but they won’t hesitate to do damage with their legs at the right moment.

It’s a bit of a surprise that they’ve each only won one ring as a starter. They were actually teammates for a brief time when Reilly was on the Packers’ practice squad in 2009. Further, they’re the subject of hot debate on who is the best quarterback in their era — more on that shortly.

Trevor Harris (Edmonton) = Drew Brees (New Orleans)

The kings of the short-to-mid passing game. Both are known not for their mobility but for their ability to shred defences from the pocket.

These two are renowned for their accuracy — they lead their respective leagues in career completion percentage, which is strongly related to average depth of target — but it’s not a surprise to see them around the league lead in passing yards at the end of the year.

They’ve also been major contributors to championship winning teams, although in Harris’ case it was Henry Burris who finished the job in 2016. Harris has a ways to go to match Brees and Burris, who played into their forties, but he’s openly determined to do it.

Photos courtesy: Liam Richards/Electric Umbrella & Buffalo Bills. Edit: 3DownNation.

Cody Fajardo (Saskatchewan) = Josh Allen (Buffalo)

Up-and-comers with a fearless attitude. I was close to picking Russell Wilson here, but landed on Allen for Fajardo and chose Wilson for someone else.

Both have endeared themselves on and off the field to one of their league’s most dedicated fan bases. They may not be the most precise passers, but they aren’t strangers to the 300 or even 400 yard marks. And of course, they are arguably even more threatening as runners.

Both franchises are feeling optimistic going forward, mostly for good reason. I couldn’t find a joke comparing Saskatchewan’s two seasons of futility in 2015 and 2016 to Buffalo’s last two decades, but Fajardo and Allen led their teams to their best regular seasons in a very long time in 2019, and Allen has a good shot of setting the bar again in 2020.

Bo Levi Mitchell (Calgary) = Tom Brady (Tampa Bay)

They’re the leaders of teams who regularly top the standings — past tense in Brady’s case with New England — and have multiple championship wins. They get as much credit for their ability to win as their quarterbacking skills.

Both are polarizing figures, in sharp contrast to their almost universally-liked top-tier rivals Reilly and Rodgers. As players, can Reilly and Rodgers’ talents outweigh the unparalleled success of Mitchell and Brady?

It’s inarguable that the latter pair benefited from their respective franchises, but how much of what makes teams great is the quarterback and how much is the environment?

Zach Collaros (Winnipeg) = Derek Carr (Las Vegas)

It’s a bit hard to assess quite how good both players are, so they tend to settle in the middle-tier of quarterbacks. They’ve demonstrated elite abilities at times in their careers but failed to impress consistently.

Both also suffered a season-ending injury late in their team’s most promising season — Collaros with the 8-3 Ticats in 2015 and Carr in Week 16 with the 12-4 Raiders in 2016. But Collaros was able to reach the peak with Winnipeg in 2019 in what is still the most recent CFL game.

Carr is trying to help the Raiders end a drought similar to the one Winnipeg just ended. It’s harder to win a Super Bowl than a Grey Cup, but the Raiders haven’t even won a playoff game since 2002, losing their only attempt in 2016.

Matt Nichols (Toronto) = Kirk Cousins (Minnesota)

Nichols and Cousins have been lightning rods for criticism, some of which is deserved but most not. Both are targeted for not ‘knowing how to win,’ yet neither has experienced a .500 or worse season as a full-time starter (except for Cousins’ 2017 season in Washington, during which the team went 7-9 despite him throwing 27 touchdowns to 13 interceptions).

The pair swapped teams partway through their careers and ended up on running back-driven offences — who can blame the teams with Andrew Harris and Dalvin Cook at their disposal?

It might be fair to call them inconsistent from game to game, but over a full season they will give you decent play. With the next quarterback opting out of his Argos contract, Nichols is lined up to be ‘the guy’ in Toronto in 2021.

McLeod Bethel-Thompson (Toronto, opted out) = Ryan Tannehill (Tennessee)

These are two players who haven’t spent a lot of time on successful teams but have surprisingly good individual stats when you think to check.

Tannehill had a decent start to his career in Miami before being paired with Adam Gase — who you may know as current head coach of the winless New York Jets — and is now reviving his career and more with Tennessee.

Bethel-Thompson, meanwhile, has played for two spectacularly bad Argonauts teams with his most recent season being by far the better one. In short, this is probably a better pair of passers than they get credit for.

Nick Arbuckle (Ottawa) = Jimmy Garoppolo (San Francisco)

This pair backed up Mitchell and Brady before a highly anticipated trade across the country gave them a chance to start. Of course we’re still waiting to see what Arbuckle can do full-time; Garoppolo has had a very interesting 49ers career, tearing his ACL three games into his first full season in San Francisco, then leading them to the title game in 2019 before crashing back to earth with suspect play and another injury in 2020. Not sure if Redblacks fans would be happy with that from Arbuckle, but no doubt they’re eager to finally see.

Vernon Adams Jr. (Montreal) = Kyler Murray (Arizona)

Adams and Murray are — along with our next duo — two of the most frustrating quarterbacks to play against. It might be fairer to call them football players rather than quarterbacks, specifically.

They’re both capable of leading an air raid, but they’re best known for their scrambling abilities. Their teams appear to be on the rise out of some serious depths with offensive-minded coaches and dangerous weapons.

Plenty of eyes are on Adams and Murray at all times because they can spice up any dull moment without warning.

Jeremiah Masoli (Hamilton) = Russell Wilson (Seattle)

These two are what I call ‘sandlot quarterbacks’. At its heart, that means frustrating to play against, as suggested above.

They excel at breaking their way out of trouble and improvising, punishing opponents with either their arm or their feet. It’s fair to say Wilson is a tier up as a passer and has quite a bit more playoff experience, but their styles are a great match right down to their short and stout body types.

They also have a shared affinity for throwing the ball away while getting tackled and pretending it’s not intentional grounding. Masoli is the only pending free agent on this list, compared to the CFL’s quarterback carousel of 2019.

Dane Evans (Hamilton) = Jared Goff (Los Angeles)

Evans was the hardest to find a match for on this list. Even only starting most of one season, both he and Goff have experienced highly successful regular seasons before equally disappointing championship game defeats.

They aren’t in the top level of quarterbacks — not to say they can’t be some day — but you’ve seen enough to know they’re probably starters. Neither is especially known for being mobile and they can make big plays by fulfilling their main role of simply getting the ball to their best play-makers.

Bonus 1 – Ricky Ray (Edmonton/Toronto) = Peyton Manning (Indianapolis/Denver)

Hall of Fame pocket passers who step up still from Harris and Brees. Both passers won a championship in two different cities, including one at the very end of their careers.

Incredibly, one big difference is that Ray never won Most Outstanding Player, but Manning won five NFL MVPs.

Bonus 2 – Kevin Glenn (CFL) = Ryan Fitzpatrick (St. Louis/Cincinnati/Buffalo/etc.)

They’re always there. They’ve been everywhere. Icons in their eras, they are the definition of ‘journeyman’ — decent starter in a pinch, never a star — and in some ways the opposite of Ray and Manning.

Glenn finally retired last year, undoubtedly comforted that Fitzpatrick would have quite a time trying to match his ‘be part of every team’ record. These may not be obvious: do you know a) which team Glenn last was with, and b) who Fitzpatrick currently plays for?

Let us know in the comments or on social media if you think you have any better comparisons. 

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