Above and beyond: every CFL team’s biggest overachiever of the 2022 season

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/CFLPhotoArchive.com

In football as in business, sometimes the secret to success is underpromising and overdelivering.

Every CFL season, dozens of unknown players crawl out of the woodwork and rise to prominence in roles people never expected of them. For some, it’s an indication of future stardom. For others, it’s simply a case of a depth contributor stepping up for his teammates at the right moment. Either way, there is no way to build a winning football team without a few overachievers.

With the 2022 regular season now in the history books, here’s the player from every CFL team who exceeded expectations the most this year.

Photo courtesy: Tiffany Luke/B.C. Lions

B.C. Lions: Tibo Debaillie, Defensive Tackle

When prized free agent acquisitions Woody Baron and Steven Richardson both sustained offseason injuries, it seemed the Lions’ hopes of a revamped defensive interior were dashed. Instead, a multitude of role players have plugged the gaps — none more surprising than Debaillie. A former third-round Global Draft pick from Belgium who was unceremoniously cast aside by the Elks in the offseason, he’s played major minutes in every game this year and recorded 20 tackles, three sacks, and one fumble recovery.

Photo: Larry MacDougal/3DownNation. All rights reserved.

Edmonton Elks: Scott Hutter, Safety

In his first two seasons after being drafted in the sixth round of the 2019 CFL Draft, Hutter excelled on special teams but failed to record a single defensive tackle. 2022 was an entirely different story, as the Laurier product outperformed a number of American challengers to seize the starting safety job and racked up 57 takedowns — leading the Elks in both defensive and total tackles.

Photo: Larry MacDougal/3DownNation. All rights reserved.

Calgary Stampeders: Malik Henry, Receiver

Injuries have held Henry to just 13 games thus far in 2022, but that hasn’t stopped him from establishing himself as the Stampeders’ best receiver by a country mile. That breakthrough has been especially astounding given that Henry was never a college standout, failing to carve out a meaningful offensive role at the Division I level and amassing a career-high of 407 yards in his lone season at Division II West Georgia. After adding just 124 yards to his resume as a rookie with Calgary, his thousand-yard sophomore campaign has been the very definition of an overachiever.

Photo courtesy: Saskatchewan Roughriders

Saskatchewan Roughriders: Anthony Lanier II, Defensive Tackle

Finding people who met expectations this season on the Riders is difficult, let alone listing those who exceeded them. Lanier’s jump from a promising piece a year ago to one of the best in the league this season is one of the few that qualifies, so we’ll overlook the solid NFL resume that hinted at this trajectory. A concussion held the 29-year-old to just 11 games in 2022 but he still managed eight sacks and produced pressure at one of the highest rates of any defensive tackle.

Photo: David Mahussier/3DownNation. All rights reserved.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers: Chris Kolankowski, Offensive Line

The centre is the central nervous system of an offensive line and losing your starter in the middle can often be devastating for an offensive unit. That was not the case for the Bombers when Michael Couture was forced to miss 11 weeks of the 2022 season. A 30-year-old career depth player, Kolankowski stepped to the plate to start for the very first time since being selected in the sixth round of the 2016 CFL Draft by Toronto and continued to guide the team on their dominant run.

Photo: Bob Butrym/3DownNation. All rights reserved.

Hamilton Tiger-Cats: Felix Garand-Gauthier, Fullback

The Ticats had big shoes to fill when Nikola Kalinic headed south to the Indianapolis Colts but many expected 2021 first-overall draft pick Jake Burt to fill that void perfectly. Instead, it has been the man taken 36 picks later in that same draft, fifth-round selection Felix Garand-Gauthier, rising to the occasion. While not as regularly involved offensively as Kalinic, the Laval product has matched his career-high of eight special teams tackles and added 190 yards through the air — more than the big-bodied NFL tight end ever managed.

Photo: Bob Butrym/3DownNation. All rights reserved.

Toronto Argonauts: A.J. Ouellette, Running Back

An early-season injury to Andrew Harris looked like a potentially fatal blow to Toronto’s offence, but that was before human Swamp Thing A.J. Ouellette stepped into the backfield. After two fairly uneventful seasons as a depth piece in the centre of the universe, the Ohio product has averaged more yards per carry than his Hall of Fame predecessor. Most importantly, he’s gotten better as the season went on and has come up clutch in a number of games that Toronto needed to win in order to secure a first-round bye.

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/CFLPhotoArchive.com

Ottawa Redblacks: Lorenzo Mauldin IV, Defensive End

When new general manager Shawn Burke brought Lorenzo Mauldin IV over with him from the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, hardly anyone batted an eye. While many saw a 30-year-old NFL castoff with four sacks in two CFL seasons, the Redblacks ended up receiving one of this year’s biggest breakout stars. With 17 sacks, Mauldin easily led the league and was recently named the best player on another disappointing Ottawa team.

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/CFLPhotoArchive.com

Montreal Alouettes: Tyrice Beverette, Linebacker

Canadian running back Jeshrun Antwi deserves an honourable mention for the Alouettes but my focus has drifted to the rise of linebacker Tyrice Beverette. What appeared to be little more than an expensive special teams acquisition in the offseason has now prompted a formal ratio change in Montreal, with the third-year spark plug pushing his way in front of Chris Ackie on the depth chart. With just 16 defensive tackles over the past two seasons combined, Beverette has now added 56 and a game-winning pick-six — all while still racking up 21 special teams tackles in 18 appearances.

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.