They may be beginners, but luck has played no part in the success of these athletes.
On Tuesday, the Canadian Football League unveiled the 128 players eligible to be nominated for their Most Outstanding Rookie award. While only nine will ultimately be put forward for end-of-the-year accolades, far more have proven themselves to be budding stars in their first professional season.
With the 2022 campaign nearing its close and all-star selections coming down the pipe, 3DownNation is kicking off the festivities with our first-ever all-rookie team. Here are the first-year players who have impressed the most this year.
* denotes Canadian player
Quarterback: Tre Ford, Edmonton Elks*
While Toronto’s Chad Kelly and Hamilton’s Jamie Newman have done some damage on short yardage, the obvious choice to lead our 2022 all-rookie team is the only first-year player to start and win a game — and the first U Sports player to do so since 1985.
While an unfortunate injury limited Ford’s season stats, his Canada Day debut was a heart-warming story. The reigning Hec Crighton Trophy winner may just get a chance to do it again this week when he makes his third start of the year against the B.C. Lions.
Running back: Kevin Brown, Edmonton Elks
For much of the 2022 season, Saskatchewan’s Frankie Hickson looked to be running away with the title of the best rookie ball carrier, with Ottawa’s Devonte Williams a distant second. While Hickson still has a slight edge in yardage, Brown’s production in just six games this year is difficult to dispute, as he has amassed 466 yards with an average of seven per carry — higher than any back in the league.
Receivers: Dalton Schoen, Winnipeg Blue Bombers | Dillon Mitchell, Edmonton Elks | Tyson Philpot, Montreal Alouettes* | Jalen Philpot, Calgary Stampeders* | Kai Locksley, Edmonton Elks
Dalton Schoen may well be the best receiver in the CFL this year in addition to being the top rookie, leading the league in both yards and touchdowns. However, Dillon Mitchell’s average of 82.4 yards per game would have actually outpaced Schoen had he played a whole season and not just seven contests.
Both Philpot twins have also come as advertised as receivers and returners since being selected in the first round of the 2022 draft, while Kai Locksley edges out the likes of Hamilton’s Kiondre Smith and Winnipeg’s Greg McCrae by virtue of the six touchdowns he’s scored as the Elks’ short-yardage quarterback.
Offensive Line: Logan Bandy, Saskatchewan Roughriders* | Gregor MacKellar, Toronto Argonauts* | Pier-Olivier Lestage, Montreal Alouettes*| Tyrone Riley, Hamilton Tiger-Cats | Andrew Garnett, Edmonton Elks
For all the well-earned criticism directed at Saskatchewan’s offensive line this year, it is a remarkable achievement for a rookie like Logan Bandy to step in as the starting centre for a professional team for the majority of the season. Nova Scotian Gregor MacKellar has done much the same as a plug-and-play guard for the Argos, while it took Pier-Olivier Lestage just five weeks to leapfrog into the Alouettes’ starting lineup after returning north from the NFL mid-season.
That places him ahead of season-long depth players like Ottawa’s Cyrille Hogan-Saindon and Winnipeg’s Liam Dobson, while Tyrone Riley and Andrew Garnett edge out the Riders’ Kooper Richardson for our two tackle spots after seemingly seizing control of their franchises’ starting jobs.
Defensive Line: Sione Teuhema, B.C. Lions | DeMarcus Christmas, Saskatchewan Roughriders | Mustafa Johnson, Montreal Alouettes | Brandon Barlow, Toronto Argonauts
While his production was feast or famine to begin the year, Sione Teuhema has developed more consistency in his pass rush and now sits tied for fifth in the league with eight sacks — the best on a deep Lions defensive line. No other rookie defensive end comes close to that number but the early impact of Brandon Barlow since joining the Argos mid-season gives him the nod over Ottawa’s Bryce Carter and Calgary’s Romeo McKnight.
Despite very promising campaigns from a bevy of young Canadian defensive tackles — B.C.’s Nathan Cherry, Edmonton’s J-Min Pelley, Calgary’s T.J. Rayam, and Hamilton’s Mo Diallo — the all-rookie team interior will be all American, with DeMarcus Christmas having stepped up big for the Riders due to injury and Mustafa Johnson looking like a very promising prospect for the Als down the stretch.
Linebackers: Enock Makonzo, Edmonton Elks* | Vosean Joseph, Hamilton Tiger-Cats | Donald Rutledge Jr., Winnipeg Blue Bombers
It’s at linebacker where this all-rookie endeavour really started to struggle, as the 2022 class is deep in talented strong-side linebackers but weak elsewhere. Despite the bulk of Enock Makonzo’s snaps coming at that position, this year’s fourth overall pick allows us to cheat because he began the season as a backup on the weak side.
Our other true backer position goes to Vosean Joseph over Montreal’s Tyrell Richards and Toronto’s Jonathan Jones due to one impressive start and a successful year on special teams, while I believe Winnipeg’s Donald Rutledge has quietly become one of the best coverage linebackers in the league — though we’ll be bending the rules to accommodate a few more rookie SAMs.
Defensive Backs: Tarvarus McFadden, Toronto Argonauts | Jamal Parker, Winnipeg Blue Bombers | Emmanuel Rugamba, B.C. Lions | Titus Wall, Calgary Stampeders | Alonzo Addae, Ottawa Redblacks*
Once named the best defensive back in Division 1 college football, Tarvarus McFadden has looked like much the same player at cornerback for the Argos, while Jamal Parker has emerged as a legitimate contributor to the field for Winnipeg. Meanwhile, we’ll be cheating the system by moving a couple of deserving strong-side linebackers to halfback, as Emmanuel Rugamba has looked like a gem of a find for the Lions and Titus Wall may well have challenged Schoen for Most Outstanding Rookie had he played the whole season.
Canadian Alonzo Addae claims the final defensive spot on the team despite sometimes inconsistent play at safety, with Calgary’s Dionte Ruffin and Saskatchewan’s Amari Henderson finding themselves as the odd ones out.
Specialists: Seth Small, Hamilton Tiger-Cats | John Haggerty, Toronto Argonauts | Peyton Logan, Calgary Stampeders
The list of eligible specialists is short but luckily filled with deserving candidates. Seth Small has finally solved the Ticats’ troublesome kicking game, leading the lead with a 91.2 percent success rate and nailing four field goals from outside the 50. Australian punter John Haggerty has been just as impactful while flipping the field, averaging 48.6 gross yards per kick.
Meanwhile, Peyton Logan could have easily been in the conversation for the running back spot but instead makes it as a returner, beating out Hamilton’s Lawrence Woods thanks to a pair of scores. Just missing the cut are some fabulous special teamers, as Edmonton’s long snapper Peter Adjey has been solid all year, while Montreal’s Zach Lindley and Toronto’s Daniel Adeboboye have been demons in kick coverage.