The CFL’s regular season has come to a close one week after each team unveiled their nominees for the league’s six year-end player awards.
The East and West Division finalists for each award won’t be announced until Thursday, Nov. 25, but I decided to take an early look at who I would vote for in each of the following categories. For clarity, I do not receive a vote for the awards below.
Most Outstanding Player
West Division nominees: REC/KR Lucky Whitehead, B.C.; RB Ka’Deem Carey, Calgary; RB James Wilder Jr., Edmonton; QB Cody Fajardo, Saskatchewan; QB Zach Collaros, Winnipeg.
This pick may have been different had Lucky Whitehead’s season not been derailed by a broken hand, but given the circumstances I see only one serious candidate for this award.
Zach Collaros played at an elite level throughout the season, leading the CFL in quarterback rating (111.6) and passing touchdowns (20) and finishing second in passing yards (3,185). His offence was productive regardless of whether or not Andrew Harris was in the lineup and he protected the football effectively despite taking plenty of shots downfield.
The pick: Collaros.
East Division nominees: LB Simoni Lawrence, Hamilton; QB McLeod Bethel-Thompson, Toronto; KR DeVonte Dedmon, Ottawa; RB William Stanback, Montreal.
Lawrence’s game reached a brand new level in 2021 and DeVonte Dedmon was by far the brightest spot in an otherwise dark season for Ottawa. Even so, I’ve got to pass on both for a player who has quickly established himself as the league’s best running back.
Stanback romped for a remarkable 1,176 yards in just 11.5 games, which is Mike Pringle-type production. His 6.1 yards-per-carry average is No. 1 league-wide among players with 50-plus carries and a full yard better than Montreal’s other ball carriers. I expect he’ll only get better as the weather continues to turn heading into the postseason.
The pick: Stanback.
Most Outstanding Defensive Player
West Division nominees: LB Bo Lokombo, B.C.; DL Mike Rose, Calgary; SAM Derrick Moncrief, Edmonton; DB Loucheiz Purifoy, Saskatchewan; LB Adam Bighill, Winnipeg.
Lokombo reestablished himself as one of the league’s top linebackers this year and I would have given serious consideration to A.C. Leonard here, though he did not receive Saskatchewan’s nomination.
Bighill led a dominant Winnipeg defence that allowed the fewest points, the fewest net yards, and forced the most turnovers in the league. His numbers — 70 tackles, two sacks, and two interceptions — aren’t as strong as Lokombo’s, but I still think the future Hall of Fame inductee has a great shot to win this award for the third time in his career.
The pick: Bighill.
East Division nominees: LB Simoni Lawrence, Hamilton; LB Dexter McCoil, Toronto; LB Avery Williams, Ottawa; DL David Ménard, Montreal.
McCoil showed zero signs of rust in his first full CFL season since 2015, consistently making an impact on Toronto’s defence. Ménard posted eight sacks despite starting just one game for the Als and Williams racked up a ton of tackles in Ottawa.
Lawrence has been named the top defensive player in the East Division twice before and could break through to win it at the league level for the first time this season. He put up 73 tackles, four sacks, three interceptions, and two touchdowns while serving a key leadership role in Tiger Town.
The pick: Lawrence.
Most Outstanding Canadian
West Division nominees: LB Bo Lokombo, B.C.; DL Derek Wiggan, Calgary; K Sean Whyte, Edmonton; LB Micah Teitz, Saskatchewan; REC Nic Demski, Winnipeg.
Whyte was as consistent as ever and Teitz made Rider Nation forget all about Cameron Judge in a hurry. Lokombo would be a worthy pick here — he could easily get the nod — but it’s hard to overlook arguably the league’s best dual-threat offensive player.
Demski led all Canadian receivers with 654 receiving yards this season, which he recorded despite missing two games due to injury. He’s also been effective out of the backfield, carrying the ball 13 times for 87 yards and a touchdown.
The pick: Demski.
East Division nominees: LB Tunde Adeleke, Hamilton; REC Kurleigh Gittens Jr., Toronto; K Lewis Ward, Ottawa; DL David Ménard, Montreal.
This is a two-horse race: Gittens and Adeleke. Gittens took the league by storm this year and leads all Canadian players in receptions with 64 despite spending most of his time at field-side wide receiver. Adeleke didn’t light up the stat sheet in Hamilton but people around the league rave about him on film.
Kurleigh Gittens Jr. comes up with his 4th TD of the year to extend Toronto's lead! pic.twitter.com/pbMJTFs1zE
— TSN (@TSN_Sports) November 13, 2021
Adeleke would be a deserving candidate here, but I have to give it to Gittens after watching him shake Adeleke at the goal line in Week 15. That move was sweet.
The pick: Gittens. Jr.
Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman
West Division nominees: RT Kent Perkins, B.C.; C Sean McEwen, Calgary; RG Matt O’Donnell, Edmonton; C Dan Clark, Saskatchewan; LT Stanley Bryant, Winnipeg.
With all due respect to the other candidates above, maybe it’s time we consider renaming the DeMarco–Becket Memorial Trophy the Stanley Bryant Trophy. He’s won this award three years in a row and he’s going to win it again in 2021.
McEwen will win this award before his career is over and Clark continues to get better into his thirties. They’ll just have to keep biding their time until Bryant finally regresses or retires.
The pick: Bryant.
East Division nominees: LG Brandon Revenberg, Hamilton; C Peter Nicastro, Toronto; LT/C Mark Korte, Ottawa; RT Landon Rice, Montreal.
Rice was impressive at right tackle, Nicastro shone as a rookie, and Korte showed impressive versatility starting at centre and left tackle. However, like the West Division’s nomination, this is a one-horse race.
There are many CFL offensive linemen who handle themselves well in pass protection and plenty who can get upfield and make blocks at the second level. Revenberg is one of few who can do both at a high level. He got this nomination in 2018 and he should get it again in 2021.
The pick: Revenberg.
Most Outstanding Special Teams Player
West Division nominees: P Stefan Flintoft, B.C.; K Rene Paredes, Calgary; K Sean Whyte, Edmonton; K Brett Lauther, Saskatchewan; FB Mike Miller, Winnipeg.
Flintoft, Whyte, and Lauther has consistent seasons booting the football, while Miller led the league with a remarkable 25 special teams tackles.
Paredes led the league in field goals made (44) and field goal percentage (91.7) among kickers with at least ten attempts. His kickoff average is in the middle of the pack, but I wouldn’t hold that against him too much. He was the best specialist in the league this year.
The pick: Paredes.
East Division nominees: SAM Nic Cross, Hamilton; K/P Boris Bede, Toronto; KR DeVonte Dedmon, Ottawa; K David Côté, Montreal.
Côté and Cross has solid rookie seasons and Bede’s got a cannon, but is there any question who’s going to win this award?
Dedmon became must-watch entertainment this year, which is saying something considering how awful some of Ottawa’s games were. He put up 2,063 return yards and three touchdowns in just eleven games, establishing himself firmly as the league’s most dangerous return man.
The pick: Dedmon.
Most Outstanding Rookie
West Division nominees: LB Jordan Williams, B.C.; DL Isaac Adeyemi-Berglund, Calgary; LB Nyles Morgan, Edmonton; REC Kian Schaffer-Baker, Saskatchewan; DB DeAundre Alford, Winnipeg.
This might be the strongest group of candidates we’ve ever had for the Most Outstanding Rookie award in one division. Morgan finished tenth league-wide in total tackles, Schaffer-Baker was arguably the best Canadian receiver in the league, and Alford was excellent along the boundary in Bomberland.
Williams finished second league-wide with 97 total tackles along with one sack, one interception, and one fumble recovery. He certainly lived up to his billing as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 CFL Draft, becoming a difference-maker from day one with the Lions.
The pick: Williams.
East Division nominees: DB Desmond Lawrence, Hamilton; OL Peter Nicastro, Toronto; REC Ryan Davis, Ottawa; K David Côté, Montreal.
Davis almost led his team in receiving yards, Côté was consistent, and Lawrence was solid along the boundary when called upon in Hamilton.
The pick could easily be Lawrence, but he only started five games for the Ticats. Nicastro was a day-one starter in Toronto who played extensively at guard and centre before succumbing to a knee injury. That’s the more impressive season in my opinion, especially considering the way in which centres are required to make calls and adjustments on the fly.
The pick: Nicastro.
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