The Hamilton Tiger-Cats released their list of player award nominees on Wednesday, which included some no-brainers like Stavros Katsantonis and Brandon Revenberg as Most Outstanding Canadian and Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman, respectively, though there were also some debatable selections as well.
The most egregious omission was rookie special teams ace Carthell Flowers-Lloyd being shut out for both Most Outstanding Special Teams Player and Most Outstanding Rookie. Hamilton voters opted to bestow those nominations upon kick returner Tyreik McAllister and quarterback Taylor Powell, respectively.
Powell did an admirable job keeping the team afloat during a tumultuous summer that saw Bo Levi Mitchell and Matthew Shiltz go down with injuries. Powell was solid in relief, throwing for 2,177 yards, 10 touchdowns, and seven interceptions to go 4-5 as a starter.
McAllister put the league on notice early, catching a long touchdown pass in his first game and providing excellent returns on punts and kickoffs all season long. He and Powell were better than expected but I wouldn’t categorize either as outstanding.
Flowers-Lloyd has been the definition of that word since his first game with the Tabbies.
It didn’t take long for the 25-year-old to make his mark on special teams, blocking a punt in Hamilton’s Week 1 game against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Since then, all he’s done is lead the league in special teams tackles with 30, nine more than any other player and just seven shy of the single-season record held by Wade Miller and Dylan Barker.
The Ticats have also allowed only one return touchdown all season along with the fewest yards per return of any team in the league. A lot of that is due to the excellent play of Flowers-Lloyd.
Coverage guys don’t get the type of credit they usually deserve and are often overlooked come awards time. However, given that Hamilton doesn’t have a touchdown-heavy returner, this feels like the year an underrated coverage player should have gotten some shine.
While snubbing Flowers-Lloyd was the biggest and most indefensible decision, it wasn’t the only one that left some scratching their heads.
There’s no denying that Simoni Lawrence has been exceptional down the stretch. Despite being in his eleventh season at age 34, the future Canadian Football Hall of Famer has turned back the clock in the past few months, playing at a level near his peak.
Do I think he’s been Hamilton’s best defensive player this year? Despite my admiration for No. 21, I don’t.
While the case can be made for Lawrence, the case is stronger for a pair of his teammates: defensive lineman Casey Sayles and defensive back Richard Leonard. Sayles has been a rock in the middle of Hamilton’s defensive line, excelling in both run defence and rushing the passer. The Ticats have had their issues defensively this season but Sayles hasn’t been one of them.
The same can be said of Leonard, who has flourished in arguably the best season of his career. He’s played multiple positions in the defensive backfield, switching from field halfback to field cornerback, and has been the lone veteran in what has been an inexperienced Tiegr-Cats secondary that has taken some lumps along the way. It’s not just the intangibles that he brings but he has also been exceptional locking down some of the league’s better pass catchers this season.
The argument against Tim White as the team’s Most Outstanding Player comes down to whether half a season of otherworldly play is negated by a full season of solid to exceptional play. White is the former, whereas running back James Butler is the latter.
White has been on a tear since around Labour Day and is currently the league’s leading receiver, a title he has a good chance to hold onto when the season ends. Butler, on the other hand, became Hamilton’s first 1,000-yard rusher in over a decade and has been the catalyst for Hamilton’s offence since switching from Tommy Condell to Scott Milanovich as offensive coordinator.
Both players have benefitted greatly from Milanovich’s arrival but what separates the two is what they did prior to that. Neither lit the world on fire but Butler was at least serviceable, while White was nowhere to be seen for games at a time. In a race between two players with similarly impressive stats, I tend to side with the player who showed more consistency throughout the season.