Rip up your ballots: seven CFL award nominees voters got wrong

Photo courtesy: Bob Butrym/RFB Sport Photography

The Canadian Football League has unveiled the team nominations for all of its major awards, causing the usual amount of controversy.

The selections, which were made by a panel of local media members in each city as well as the team’s head coach, are part of an archaic CFL awards format that punishes excellent performances from teammates. Zach Collaros might be one of the three best candidates for Most Outstanding Player and Nic Demski might have finished on the podium for Most Outstanding Canadian, but neither will get a chance to compete for those awards because Brady Oliveira clinched the team nominations.

This leads to plenty of heated internal debates with serious repercussions, both in terms of well-deserved recognition and — in many cases — financial bonuses. Toronto voters likely agonized over Adarius Pickett or Wynton McManis for Most Outstanding Defensive Player, Alouettes’ decision-makers had to pick between Tyrice Beverette and Marc-Antoine Dequoy, and Winnipeg media should still be losing sleep over picking Jermarcus Hardrick for Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman over Chris Kolankowski.

Those choices had merit, but the best player didn’t emerge on the right side of every debate. Here are my picks for the seven most baffling award nominees.

Photo: Matt Smith/3DownNation. All rights reserved.

LB Larry Dean, Saskatchewan Roughriders — Most Outstanding Player/Most Outstanding Defensive Player

This is the result of slim pickings and little critical thought in Saskatchewan. Faced with a lost season and limited talent, media voters looked at the guy with the most tackles on the team and half-heartedly shoved him into both of their marquee award slots.

Dean might be the finest run defender in the league and, in some ways, voters overvaluing that skillset is fitting — Riders’ management has done that plenty over the past couple of seasons. However,  the undisputed top player on Saskatchewan’s defence this season was Anthony Lanier II, who moved from defensive tackle to end and continued to be one of the top pressure generators in the CFL. While he only finished with five sacks — a deeply flawed metric by which to measure pass rushers — the 30-year-old was in an elite tier with Mathieu Betts, Jake Ceresna, and Folarin Orimolade in terms of how often he won on passing downs.

Photo courtesy: Bob Butrym/RFB Sport Photography

LB Simoni Lawrence, Hamilton Tiger-Cats — Most Outstanding Defensive Player

Lawrence was a feel-good story this year, as the 34-year-old franchise icon tapped into the fountain of youth after seemingly being at the end of his career. However, as well as he played, he was far from the best part of Hamilton’s defence.

You might expect me to point to fellow linebacker Jameer Thurman as the replacement candidate, but I view those two as interchangeable this season. The Ticats instead have two fabulous candidates in defensive tackle Casey Sayles and cornerback Richard Leonard, both of whom have been at the very top of their respective positions this season. Sayles has been exceptional against the run and rushing the passer, though I would lean toward Leonard’s lockdown ability with my vote.

Photo courtesy: Steven Chang/B.C. Lions

DE Mathieu Betts, B.C. Lions — Most Outstanding Defensive Player

How in the world was Betts not the unanimous choice for the Lions’ MODP nomination? It is I who cast the dissenting ballot and the stones you throw as a result only make me stronger.

I love Betts as a player and happily placed him at the top of my list for Most Outstanding Canadian. However, just like low sack totals can misrepresent a player’s effectiveness, a few lucky takedowns can overinflate their dominance. In the case of Betts, this inflation was not nearly as egregious as someone like Lorenzo Mauldin last year and the Laval University product remains one of the best down-in, down-out rushers in the league. Still, it obscures the fact that he is a suspect run defender, had stretches of ineffectiveness after a historically hot start, and has taken some costly penalties this year.

That wouldn’t be enough to deny him my nomination on any other team, but B.C.’s secondary boasts the best shutdown cornerback in the league. Despite being targeted at a relatively high rate, Garry Peters had held opponents to a 47.5 quarterback rating entering last week — a number I doubt jumped much against Jake Maier — and did not allow a single touchdown against all year. If pitching a clean sheet doesn’t get you love from the voters, we should just remove defensive backs from the ballot entirely.

Photo: Neil Noonan/3DownNation. All rights reserved.

OG Logan Ferland, Saskatchewan Roughriders — Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman

Maybe Saskatchewan voters felt bad for how much they’ve harped on Ferland in recent years. Maybe they were simply blown away by the time he kicked out to tackle and held his own. Either way, they got the wrong guy here.

The most effective and consistent blocker on the Riders’ line this year was Peter Godber, who had a career campaign thanks to a change of scenery. While I can appreciate giving the tiebreak to other positions given that centre is the least physically demanding spot along the offensive line, I don’t see the logic in rewarding a guy who wasn’t a top-five right guard over the league’s second-best snapper this season.

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/

OG Jacob Ruby, Ottawa Redblacks — Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman

This one feels like a massive overcorrection. The Redblacks made left guard Drew Desjarlais the league’s highest-paid offensive lineman this offseason, a move that hasn’t really paid off on a unit riddled with holes. Make no mistake though, he’s still been their best blocker, not Ruby.

Awards should reward the product on the field, not how they compare to expectations. This is a choice we’ll one day look back on and laugh at.

Photo courtesy: Bob Butrym/RFB Sport Photography

RB/KR Tyreik McAllister, Hamilton Tiger-Cats — Most Outstanding Special Teams Player

It is clear that the Ticats have found a unique weapon in the rookie from the University of Charleston, but McAllister’s nomination might be the single worst selection of the bunch. That’s because Hamilton is also home to the league’s special teams tackle leader, Carthell Flowers-Lloyd.

With 30 tackles through 17 games, the man who shares his initials with the league has nine more than the next-best player and sits seven shy of the all-time record. It is a historic season that arguably should have earned him both this nomination and the Most Outstanding Rookie nod over quarterback Taylor Powell. Instead, he has been snubbed entirely.

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/

DB/KR Brandin Dandridge, Ottawa Redblacks — Most Outstanding Special Teams Player

I appreciate the sentiment here as, when healthy, Dandridge had the type of all-around season that deserves some form of recognition. However, when it comes down to strictly special teams performance, one of the Redblacks’ unsung heroes should have gotten some love.

On top of being a solid rotational defensive end, Kene Onyeka has been one of the league’s most effective special teamers this season, both as a blocker and a tackler. At six-foot-three and 247 pounds, his 13 special teams tackles are especially impressive and his full season of work merited acknowledgement from the voters.

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.