On Tuesday night, TSN released their annual list of the top 50 players in the CFL ahead of the 2022 season.
Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ quarterback Zach Collaros topped the list and even if you don’t think Collaros is the best player in the league — I have my doubts — most would agree that him getting the No. 1 spot is not some kind of grave injustice.
The Bombers having five of the top seven players — six if you count Kenny Lawler, who earned his way onto this year’s list while playing with Winnipeg last year — is something that might need to be defended a little more.
Montreal running back William Stanback finishing third and four receivers in the top 10 not named Duke Williams are things that warrant at least some discussion, but they are far from the most egregious errors on the list.
Two of my colleagues released their ballots and they differed on almost every player, in some cases wildly disagreeing on who should and should not be on the list.
It is a perfect example of how reasonable people can see things differently. I think both are among the brightest football analysts we have in this country and I even shook my head at some of their selections and rankings.
TSN didn’t give me a ballot so I can’t tell you who I voted for, but what I can do is take their finished product and give you my opinions on where it went wrong.
And oh boy, do I think they went wrong in more than a couple of spots.
Let’s get started.
Andrew Harris at 18 is insane
Andrew Harris is not a top 20 player in the league any longer. Harris was excellent in the 2019 Grey Cup but his next great game will be his first since that cold November Sunday. The future sure-fire Canadian Football Hall of Famer was far from a dominant player in 2021, playing in just seven games, posting his lowest rushing totals in a decade and the lowest receiving totals and total touchdowns of his career.
Even Harris’ most ardent supporters would tell you the 35-year-old is on the downside of his football journey. His inclusion on this list is based almost entirely on his body of work over a fantastic career, but he is nowhere near close to being the 18th best player in the league entering this year. Positioning Harris as a top-20 player in 2022 will age about as well as a glass of milk left out in the hot summer sun.
Bo is not a top-15 player
Speaking of rankings that will not look great in retrospect…
Don’t let the flag-wavers fool you, Bo Levi Mitchell is not a top-15 player and has not looked like one since the Calgary Stampeders last won the Grey Cup back in 2018. Injuries are catching up to him, and the shoulder problem that sidelined him in 2019 seems to still be an issue.
Mitchell wasn’t bad last year, but he wasn’t great either and his play from a year ago does not match his placement on this list.
Quarterbacks are over-represented on any list that ranks the best players in football — we will get to why I hate that in a minute — and while Bo should definitely be included on the list somewhere, I do not believe that somewhere should be inside the top 15.
Chris Van Zeyl? I’m not sure about that
Another player who found a spot on this list due to his reputation is Hamilton Tiger-Cats’ offensive lineman Chris Van Zeyl. Van Zeyl played in just seven games last year and while he still looks good I am not sure you can put a 39-year-old coming off his most injured season in the top 50.
Van Zeyl is still very good when he is on the field, but I am unsure if you can count on the future Hall of Famer being available for a full season ever again. Van Zeyl being on the list while someone like Edmonton’s David Beard misses it seems unfair.
Vernon over Dane? Huh!?
This might be the most baffling decision by the voters, including one of our own.
This is what John Hodge wrote about Dane Evans:
“Hodge’s ranking — NR: Evans was my next-ranked quarterback when I ran out of spots on my ballot. He needs to take a step this year now that he’s the face of the franchise in Hamilton.”
Here is what he wrote about Vernon Adams:
“Hodge’s ranking — 32: Adams is one of the most fun players to watch in the CFL but he needs to get more consistent before I put him in the top 30. This is a make-or-break year for the 29-year-old.”
No offence to Hodge here, but this is indefensible. Adams may be fun to watch, but does that make him a better player? JaVale McGee is a fun player to watch in the NBA but I am not taking him over someone like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, even if the Hamilton native has to step his game up to make his Oklahoma City Thunder a playoff contender.
Adams has been entirely too inconsistent over his career, which Hodges notes, but the former Oregon Duck has also not accomplished anywhere near what Evans has so far in his career. The former University of Tulsa Hurricane has started the last two Grey Cups for the Tiger-Cats, while Adams has yet to even experience a playoff victory as a starter.
Even if you are basing your decision on how you think they will perform during this upcoming season, which some voters do (the criteria for these lists are never spelled out very well), Evans comes out on top there as well. Adams is already fighting for his job, with turmoil in Montreal brewing before the season even begins, whereas Evans might have the longest leash of any quarterback in the league not named Collaros. Barring injury or something catastrophic we know the Ticats will be going with Evans for the whole season. Can you say the same about the Als with Adams?
I don’t want people to think I am picking on John here either. My colleague obviously wasn’t the only voter who had Adams above Evans, since the former came in one slot ahead of the latter on the final list.
One spot probably shouldn’t rile me up this much but whether you are basing your ranking on their respective résumés or trying to project into the future, I do not think there is any metric that would have me putting Adams above Evans.
Lack of defensive back respect
If there was one position group that was disrespected the most in compiling this list it was easily the defensive backs. Eight secondary players made the list, which isn’t bad, but the highest-ranked among them was Ticats’ boundary halfback Cariel Brooks at No. 28.
The other seven who were selected were Winnipeg’s Brandon Alexander and Deatrick Nichols at 29 and 34, respectively; B.C.’s Loucheiz Purifoy and T.J. Lee at 38 and 41; Hamilton’s Tunde Adeleke and Jumal Rolle at 44 and 47; and Calgary’s Tre Roberson at 45.
Saskatchewan Derrick Moncrief, who plays the defensive-back-like strong-side linebacker spot, came in at No. 42.
Some of those seem really low.
Purifoy might be the most versatile player in the league, Lee might be the most underrated great player in the entire CFL and many believe Adeleke is the best Canadian player regardless of position in the game today. None ranked higher than 38th!
Despite just one season, Nichols is in the running as the league’s best boundary half, a title currently strapped around the waist of Cariel Brooks, while Roberson was an elite defender when he left for the NFL and I have no doubt he will get back to that level this season.
The fact that none of these players even cracked the top 25 is mind-boggling to me and tells me most of the voters don’t respect or pay enough attention to the secondary when watching games.
Too! Many! Quarterbacks!
If there is one thing these lists are good for it is making sure almost every quarterback makes it. Of the league’s nine projected starting signal-callers for this upcoming season, seven made the top-50 list. The two players on the outside looking in were Edmonton’s Nick Arbuckle and B.C.’s Nathan Rourke, both understandable omissions.
I understand that the CFL is a quarterback’s league, but seven QBs in the top 50 seems a bit much.
For starters, Argos quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson should not be on this list. His team has shown so little confidence in him that this is the first offseason where the Argos didn’t bring another veteran player in to take the Law Firm’s job.
In 2019, following Ricky Ray’s retirement, the Argos traded with Edmonton for James Franklin because they didn’t believe in Bethel-Thompson at the time. In 2020-2021, the Argos did it twice, first signing Matt Nichols ahead of the cancelled 2020 season and then signing Nick Arbuckle after he was released by the Ottawa Redblacks ahead of the 2021 season.
Kudos to Bethel-Thompson for eventually fending off all those challengers, but the fact that his own team doesn’t see him as the long-term solution at quarterback should tell you he does not belong on this list.
I have already discussed Evans and Adams and while I think Evans should be on the list, I do think he should probably be lower. He has accomplished quite a bit in his short CFL career, but 26 seems a tad high for someone who is only just now getting the reins as the unquestioned starter.
I will be honest here, as much as I like Adams, I am not sure he is a top-50 player right now. He has bounced around the league quite a bit and has yet to put together a full season of solid play. His own team has him on the hot seat as the season begins and any hiccup will see the fans in Montreal screaming for Trevor Harris to take his job. A guy who might not finish the year as his team’s starting quarterback probably shouldn’t be ranked in the top 50, let alone as the league’s 25th best player,
Jeremiah Masoli, Bo Levi Mitchell and Cody Fajardo all deserve spots, but I think they are all too high. I have already discussed Mitchell at length but I do have some questions about the other two.
I am still not a big believer in Cody Fajardo. Riders fans love him, but I think his 2019 season was not as good as those with green-tinted glasses will lead you to believe and I do not think he progressed at all in 2021, throwing just 14 touchdowns while also tossing 11 interceptions.
Maybe we give Fajardo a mulligan for last season, but being named the 16th best player means Fajardo needs to significantly boost his one touchdown pass per game average as the Riders’ starter.
Masoli is a great player, but I need to see what he will do in Ottawa after a rocky 2021 in Hamilton before I bestow him top 20 honours. At one time he was bordering on a top-10 player but one knee injury and another subpar season later, I think it is fair to question if Masoli will ever reach the heights he did in 2018 when he was the East Division’s nominee for Most Outstanding Player.
Collaros as the top QB is acceptable, but I am not sure if he is the league’s best player. He is the reigning Most Outstanding Player and Grey Cup Most Valuable Player, so it is hard to knock him too much, but I don’t think he was truly exceptional last year — I don’t think anyone was, honestly. His Grey Cup performance that won him MVP wasn’t an all-time great one either, as he went 21-of-32 for 240 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. A fine outing but not one of the ones we will remember decades from now.
There are players on Collaros’ own team that might have a better case for the top spot, but until we get away from being so quarterback-centric with these lists and in our analysis in general, that will never happen. I guess I just have to accept that around one-sixth of these lists will be taken up by the men who take the snaps.