O Canada: the CFL’s all-time roster of Canadians (defence)

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant / CFLPhotoArchive.com

After creating the NFL’s all-time roster of Canadians last month, I’ve decided to do the same for the CFL. Below you’ll find the best homegrown players at each position in league history along with a few honourable mentions.

I have strived for positional accuracy, though many of the players listed below played several positions throughout their long careers.

This article lists only the players on defence and special teams. For the offence, click here.

Editor’s note: players at the same position are listed in alphabetical order.

Defensive Tackle — Doug Brown (2001-2011), Dave ‘Dr. Death’ Fennell (1974-1983)

Brown was a seven-time CFL all-star who spent his entire career with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, appearing in three Grey Cups. The native of New Westminster, B.C. recorded 429 tackles and 52 sacks and was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 2016.

Fennell is one of two interior defensive linemen ever to be named the CFL’s Most Outstanding Canadian (the other is Brown). The five-time CFL all-star won six Grey Cups with his hometown Edmonton Elks and was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 1990.

Honourable mentions: Ron Atchison (1952-1968), Ted Laurent (2011-present)

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant / CFLPhotoArchive.com

Defensive End — Peter Neumann (1951-1964), Brent Johnson (2001-2011)

Neumann played fourteen seasons with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and was named an East Division all-star nine times. The St. Catharines, Ont. native won three Grey Cups and was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 1979.

Johnson is the only defensive lineman in CFL history to be named Most Outstanding Canadian multiple times, finishing his career in B.C. with 277 tackles and 89 sacks. The Kingston, Ont. native was a five-time West Division all-star and was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 2018.

Honourable mention: Bill Baker (1968-1978), Leroy Blugh (1989-2002)

Weak-side Linebacker — Kevin Eiben (2001-2012)

The Delta, B.C. native was a three-time CFL all-star with the Argonauts, recording 814 tackles, 15 sacks, ten interceptions, and one Grey Cup victory. His 113 tackles from 2005 remains the highest single-season total recorded by a Canadian player in league history.

Honourable mention: Glen Jackson (1976-1987)

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant / CFLPhotoArchive.com

Middle Linebacker — Mike O’Shea (1993-2008)

O’Shea remains easily the most dominant Canadian linebacker in CFL history, recording 1,151 tackles (second-most all-time), 30 sacks, and 22 interceptions. The native of North Bay, Ont. won three Grey Cups as a player and was named the league’s Most Outstanding Canadian in 1999.

Honourable mention: Henoc Muamba (2011-present)

Strong-side Linebacker — Harvey Wylie (1956-1964)

The Calgary native was a five-time West Division all-star with the Stampeders who was named the league’s Most Outstanding Canadian in 1962. He retired with 35 career interceptions and 15 fumble recoveries and was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 1980.

Honourable mention: Antoine Pruneau (2014-present)

Cornerback — Davis Sanchez (1999-2000, 2003-2011), Bob Simpson (1950-1962)

Sanchez was a two-time CFL all-star who won Grey Cups with the Elks, Alouettes, and Lions. The Delta, B.C. native retired with 333 tackles and 28 interceptions, including a league-leading nine picks with the Alouettes in 2000.

Simpson was a major contributor on offence and defence with the Ottawa Rough Riders, recording 6,034 receiving yards and eighteen interceptions. This native of Windsor was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 1976 after earning seven East Division all-star nods.

Honourable mentions: Lorne Richardson (1973-1977), John Wydareny (1963-1972)

Halfback — Ed Learn (1958-1969), Larry Robinson (1961-1974)

Learn started his CFL career weighing 145 pounds and quit smoking help him gain weight, growing to 175 pounds by his second season. The Welland, Ont. native would eventually retire with 51 career interceptions and four East Division all-star nods — two with Montreal and two with Toronto.

Robinson played exclusively for his hometown Stampeders, appearing in 224 consecutive games and earning three West Division all-star nods. Also an accomplished placekicker and kick returner, Robinson retired with team-record 50 interceptions and 17 fumble recoveries.

Honourable mention: Oskar Kruger (1954-1965)

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant / CFLPhotoArchive.com

Safety — Paul Bennett (1977-1987)

The hard-hitting defensive back excelled in stints with the Argonauts, Blue Bombers, and Tiger-Cats, recording 45 interceptions. The three-time CFL all-star remains the only defensive back in league history to be named the league’s Most Outstanding Canadian multiple times.

Honourable mentions: Rob Hitchcock (1995-2007), Glen Suitor (1984-1994)

Kicker — Dave Ridgway (1982-1995)

The long-time Roughrider made 574-of-735 career field goal attempts, a percentage (78.0) that was unprecedented at that point in CFL history. The six-time all-star outmatched his contemporaries Lui Passaglia (72.7 percent) and Paul Osbaldiston (72.2 percent) by a significant margin and booted the Grey Cup-winner with Saskatchewan in 1989.

Honourable mentions: Rene Parades (2011-present), Don Sweet (1972-1985)

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/CFLPhotoArchive.com

Punter — Bob Cameron (1977-2002)

The five-time divisional all-star holds the CFL record for most career punting yards (134,301) and developed a number of techniques for kicking the ball in windy prairie conditions. The native of Ancaster, Ont. won three Grey Cups with the Blue Bombers and was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 2010.

Honourable mentions: Rob Maver (2010-2019), Lui Passaglia (1976-2000)

Return Specialist — Paul Bennett (1977-1987)

The Toronto native appears twice on this list as he remains second all-time in CFL punt returns (659) and punt return yards (6,358). Bennett only brought one punt back for a touchdown but his 9.6-yard return average rivals that of fellow Argonauts’ great Michael ‘Pinball’ Clemons (9.9).

Honourable mention: Harvey Wylie (1956-1964)

Special Teamer — Jason Arakgi (2008-2017)

The McMaster product set a new league record with 194 special teams tackles over ten seasons with the B.C. Lions. The native of Montreal was named a West Division all-star and the West Division’s Most Outstanding Special Teams Player in 2009.

Honourable mentions: Mike Miller (2011-present), Wade Miller (1995-2005)

Editor’s note: an earlier version of this article omitted Bill Baker; he has since been added as an honourable mention.

John Hodge is a CFL insider and draft analyst who has been covering the league since 2014.