MOP Watch: Rise of the running backs shakes up rankings

Photo: Nik Kowalski/3DownNation. All rights reserved.

They say the CFL is a passing league, but the race for Most Outstanding Player suggests that no one should take the ground game for granted.

Every week of the 2021 season, the 3DownNation trio of Justin Dunk, John Hodge and J.C. Abbott will vote for their top ten MOP candidates. Those rankings are aggregated and averaged to create a list of the top nine players in the mix for the trophy.

Each player will have their “last week” ranking listed beside their name, indicating the position that they held on the list the previous week.

This week there was a shake-up in the rankings, as just two quarterbacks made the cut with the voters. Instead, four running backs are rising up the ballot, making them the most heavily represented position in the MOP conversation.

Photo: Nik Kowalski/3DownNation. All rights reserved.

1. Zach Collaros, QB, Winnipeg Blue Bombers (last week: 1)

A Week 10 romp over Edmonton wasn’t Collaros’ best performance, but it is getting harder and harder to imagine anyone other than the Bombers’ signal caller taking home the trophy this year. That’s what happens when you lead the league in passing and command its most dominant team.

Photo courtesy: CFL/Graham Hughes

2. Michael Reilly, QB, B.C. Lions (last week: 3)

The Lions got to pound down extra turkey this week due to a Thanksgiving weekend bye and those in B.C. were certainly giving thanks for the steady hand of Michael Reilly while contemplating the quarterback uncertainty of some other franchises. The big armed passer is third in yards thus far and has protected the football at an absurd rate, with just a single pick in eight games. The addition of a weapon like DeVier Posey should only help those stats.

Photo: Nik Kowalski/3DownNation. All rights reserved.

3. Willie Jefferson, DE, Winnipeg Blue Bombers (last week: 2)

Jefferson remains a force to be reckoned with off the edge, notching six sacks, three forced fumbles and a pick this season, but he had a quiet night against Edmonton, recording one tackle. Of course, he didn’t need to make a game-breaking play to down the Elks and his pressure still contributed to a dominant defensive outing.

Photo courtesy: Jeff Vinnick/B.C. Lions

4. Lucky Whitehead, REC, B.C. Lions (last week: 6)

In the case of Lucky Whitehead, absence makes the heart grow fonder. Our voters moved the electric speedster up the ballot despite having been seriously injured in the first quarter of the Lions’ Week 9 game and not being expected to be back on the field for several more weeks. In that time, Lucky hasn’t slipped below second in league receiving or lost his status as the league’s most exciting player.

Photo: Nik Kowalski/3DownNation. All rights reserved.

5. James Wilder Jr., RB, Edmonton Elks (last week: 5)

The Elks are currently a dumpster fire, with the organization looking set to rip apart at the seams, but the one redeeming feature of their season has been the flashes of effort shown by James Wilder Jr. The big back has 837 yards from scrimmage through eight games and while he only had 56 in an embarrassing loss to Winnipeg, a change at quarterback might open up more opportunities.

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/

6. William Stanback, RB, Montreal Alouettes (last week: 7)

Stanback missed Montreal’s wild win over Ottawa with injury, but the incomparable power back still leads the CFL in rushing with 677 yards in seven games and an average of 6.2 per carry. With Vernon Adams Jr. headed to the six-game injured list, expect Stanback’s role in the offence to become more important, though the fact his backup put up over a hundred against the Redblacks might mean we should be giving more love to the Alouettes offensive line.

Photo: Nik Kowalski/3DownNation. All rights reserved.

7. Andrew Harris, RB, Winnipeg Blue Bombers (last week: not ranked)

Great teams need a finisher and Andrew Harris continues to be that for Winnipeg. The future Hall of Famer has only played six games due to a training camp injury, but sits third in league rushing and has yet to be held to less than 80 yards in an outing. Week 10 was Harris’ big statement, as he poured it on late to post 150 yards rushing and two touchdowns against Edmonton.

Photo courtesy: Winnipeg Blue Bombers

8. Kenny Lawler, REC, Winnipeg Blue Bombers (last week: 4)

Lawler is still the CFL’s top receiver heading into Week 11, a status he rightfully earned thanks to a 200-yard performance against the B.C. Lions two weeks ago, but his suspension last week for driving under the influence put a damper on his MOP candidacy. The Bombers are a better team with Lawler on the field, but how much better is what we’ll have to find out this week.

Photo courtesy: CFL

9. Ka’Deem Carey, RB, Calgary Stampeders (last week: not ranked)

Carey has been outside the MOP conversation all season, but his performance on the road in Mosaic was so good that Bo Levi Mitchell untied his shoes for him post-game. The former NFL Draft pick had 109 yards on 20 carries in the win against the Riders and added five catches for 69 more. That’s a MOP type outing, even if he still sits fifth in league rushing.

Also receiving votes: Jake Wieneke (MTL), Shawn Oakman (TOR), Bo Levi Mitchell (CGY), Rene Paredes (CGY)

Dropping out of the rankings: Cody Fajardo (SSK — LW: 8), Jackson Jeffcoat (WPG — LW: 9)

J.C. Abbott is a University of British Columbia graduate and high school football coach. He covers the CFL, B.C. Lions, CFL Draft and the three-down league's Global initiative.