As reported by Herb Zurkowsky of the Montreal Gazette, the Montreal Alouettes are supposedly shopping former Winnipeg Blue Bombers middle linebacker Henoc Muamba, who they signed in September 2015.
After spending the 2014 season with the Indianapolis Colts and then being cut in training camp the following year, Muamba signed with his home-province Alouettes in October, starting 4 games. Muamba looked great in those games, recording 14 tackles and one interception until he was sidelined with an injury for the end of the year.
Montreal is noticeably packed at inside linebacker with incumbents Muamba, Bear Woods, Kyler Elsworth, Kyries Hebert and the recently re-signed Winston Venable. It’s no surprise that Montreal is looking to trade the priciest of bunch in Muamba, who’s making around $250,000 annually.
Kirk Penton reports that the Bombers have not contacted the Alouettes regarding Muamba, likely because of his heavy price-tag. Ian Wild is currently penciled in as the starting middle linebacker in Winnipeg and that’s no problem, but Muamba would absolutely be an upgrade.
Already having to release a bevy of veterans, don’t expect Kyle Walters to make this trade happen for salary cap reasons.
In a wild, wild off-season littered with coaching changes and controversy, it’s only fitting that free agency will see a record number of free agents hit the open market in what will be an absolute frenzy. The off-season will finally reach its climax.
And as always, I’ve ranked the top-20 free agents (and more) and which team I think they’ll put pen to paper with. This was harder than usual, of course, with the vast amount of eligible free agents. This is the first free agency where we’re seeing the effect of the CBA’s now-allowed one-year contracts, which were agreed upon in the 2014 negotiations. It’s no guarantee that General Managers such as Jim Barker and Wally Buono, who typically sit back in free agency, will become players given the amount of free agents and the the low prices that the middle class of free agents will be forced to take. But I think they’ll come out of their shells and open up the payroll.
Last year, I went 9/18 – excluding the NFL departures – and am looking to improve this time around.
1. DT Ted Laurent, Hamilton Tiger-Cats
Laurent is undoubtedly the best nose tackle in the league – Canadian or not. As a 0-tech and 1-tech, the 6’1″, 301-pounder is an elite run-stuffer who pushes the pocket and attracts double teams in the pass-rush. He’ll likely be made the highest paid Canadian in the league, earning around $250,000/season. Laurent will receive interest from all nine teams, but the likely suit could be Chris Jones’ Saskatchewan Roughriders. The ‘Riders already have National depth to put behind Laurent with have money to spend.
Prediction: Signs with Saskatchewan
2. DE Justin Capicciotti, Ottawa REDBLACKS
Being only 26-years-old and having 23 sacks in the past two seasons, Capicciotti’s value may not ever be higher. He’s an elite, Canadian pass-rusher that’s been the anchor of Ottawa’s defensive line for the past two seasons. An alum of Simon Fraser University, Capicciotti has roots in British Columbia and would make a great fit in the Lions’ defense. BC desperately needs help with their pass-rush, as well as a Canadian starter to replace Andrew Harris in the ratio; Capicciotti makes the most sense.
Prediction: Signs with British Columbia
3. DB Aaron Grymes, Edmonton Eskimos
Grymes is arguably the best defensive back in the league and should get paid decently for an international. He’s been exercising all NFL options up to this point but I wouldn’t suspect he signs a deal. The ‘Riders only have one returning halfback in Tyree Hollins, while Grymes excelled in Chris Jones’ system in Edmonton. A return to northern Alberta or a new beginning in Regina are the likely options. Don’t rule out the Lions, either, if Wally Buono decides to be a player in free agency, as Grymes is a native of Seattle, WA.
Prediction: Re-signs with Edmonton
4. RB Andrew Harris, BC Lions
Despite being one of the best running backs in the league – and a Canadian, at that – Harris may not get paid as much as people think on Tuesday. And while, personally, I’d pass on Harris, he’s likely on his way to Winnipeg – his hometown where his daughter lives.
Prediction: Signs in Winnipeg
5. QB Trevor Harris, Toronto Argonauts
Harris and the Montreal Alouettes is a perfect fit. Montreal needs a franchise quarterback and there wouldn’t be much of bidding war to get Harris’ services. But I think he re-signs with Toronto, as Ricky Ray’s deal is incentive-laden, meaning the starting job is still very much open.
Prediction: Re-signs with Toronto
6. RB Jerome Messam, Calgary Stampeders
Messam was easily the most dominant running back last season, averaging 6.1 yards-per-carry. The 30-year-old managed to stay healthy throughout the season and wasn’t abused with too many carries. Contract negotiations have begun between Calgary and Messam, and are beginning to gain momentum. I think they’ll reach a deal.
Prediction: Re-signs with Calgary
7. LB Winston Venable, Montreal Alouettes
Venable had his breakout season in 2015 and likely earned a big pay raise. It’s no guarantee he re-signs in Montreal, however, as they already have Henoc Muamba, Bear Woods and promising rookie Kyler Elsworth as inside linebackers. With Chris Jones unable to recruit Sherritt to Regina, he’ll hit a home run with Venable.
Prediction: Signs with Saskatchewan
8. LB Keon Raymond, Calgary Stampeders
Considering the huge role he played within Calgary’s defense and how great he played, Raymond is still an elite player in this league. He can line up all over the formation and take on many responsibilities; he’s truly one of the most underrated player in the CFL. It would make a lot of sense for Raymond to follow his defensive coordinator, Rich Stubler, to Toronto, where he’d hold down a strong-side LB position that hasn’t be solidified in Toronto for a few years.
Prediction: Signs with Toronto
9. SB Ryan Smith, Saskatchewan Roughriders
The new regime in Saskatchewan appears to be moving on from Smith (which, by the way, doesn’t make a lot of sense). But he makes a lot of sense for the Bombers to sign – more sense than Weston Dressler – and would complete their receiving corps. The 24-year-old accumulated 991 yards in 16 games during his true rookie season and could be a slam-dunk pickup for the Bombers.
Prediction: Signs with Winnipeg
10. SB Kenny Stafford, Edmonton Eskimos
Surely, Kenny Stafford will look elsewhere of Edmonton where he’ll get a bigger role in another offense. He’s a legitimate deep-threat receiver that would fit in well in Winnipeg’s offense. But I think he’s Saskatchewan-bound, reuniting with Chris Jones and offensive coordinator Stephen McAdoo.
Pick: Saskatchewan Roughriders
11. DT Keith Shologan, Ottawa Redblacks
Having missed out on Ted Laurent, Cleyon Laing (NFL) and Justin Capicciotti, I think the Bombers will pick up Shologan, which would still be a big pickup. Jake Thomas provides good depth behind the 30-year-old, who’s been nothing but productive throughout his career.
Prediction: Signs with Winnipeg
12. RT Josh Bourke, Montreal Alouettes
Any time a Canadian offensive tackle hits the open market, he’s going to garner a lot of interest. But I re-watched a lot of tape on Bourke and he was the weakest link on a relatively strong Montreal offensive line. He’s now 33-years-old and Montreal could be letting him walk knowing 2016 is the season that he really falls off, similarly to Saskatchewan and Dominic Picard. With all of Hamilton’s offensive tackles slated to hit free agency, they could take a gamble on Bourke and start four Canadians on their offensive line.
Prediction: Signs with Hamilton
13. DT Euclid Cummings, Toronto Argonauts
Cummings emerged in his rookie season as one of the best three-tech defensive tackles in the league. He’s another one of Jim Barker’s many treasures from down south and I don’t think he’s going to let Cummings walk after just one full season in the league.
Prediction: Re-signs with Toronto
14. MLB JC Sherritt, Edmonton Eskimos
After a bounce-back 2015 campaign, Sherritt could test the market and check his value. But he’s been the heart-and-soul of Edmonton’s defense for a long time and I don’t think that’ll change. And Edmonton can’t allow that to change, either.
Prediction: Re-signs with Edmonton
15. K/P Swayze Waters: Toronto Argonauts
He’s just one year removed from dominating the CFL on special-teams and many pundits around the league seem to forget that. He’s an excellent kicker and punter that’s an impact player. Toronto can’t lose him.
Prediction: Re-signs with Toronto
16. DB Emmanuel Davis, Hamilton Tiger-Cats
Davis emerged in 2015 as a big-play defensive back, returning three of his five interceptions for touchdowns. He’s a good, not great, halfback, but would leave a big hole to fill in Hamilton’s defense if he leaves.
Prediction: Re-signs with Hamilton
17. DT Bryan Hall, Hamilton Tiger-Cats
Hall is a versatile three-tech that’s simply a bruiser in the trenches. He could garner a lot more interest in the market than people think, but Hamilton can’t afford to lose another key defender.
Prediction: Re-signs with Hamilton
18. SB Nic Moore, Winnipeg Blue Bombers
Had he missed maybe seven less games in is Bomber career, Moore would’ve never been on this list. But alas, he hasn’t been able to stay healthy and is now out of the Bombers’ plans. He’s still been productive when healthy, however, and likely would’ve had 1,000-yard campaigns in 2014 and 2015. The Stamps, who’ve lost Eric Rogers (NFL) and possibly Jeff Fuller, will be serious contenders.
Prediction: Signs with Calgary
19. WR Jeff Fuller, Calgary Stampeders
Fuller has the size and speed to be a Duron Carter-type player; he just needs to stay healthy. The six-foot-four, 223-pound boundary wideout is loaded on potential, and Jon Hufnagel knows that and won’t let him leave.
Prediction: Re-signs with Calgary
20. WR Shamawd Chambers, Edmonton Eskimos
Chambers will be a boom-or-bust pick for whoever picks him up. His tenure in Edmonton as a first-round draft pick was a bust – his 2-catch, 47-yard performance as Grey Cup Most Outstanding Canadian means nothing in the grand scheme of things- as he’s been constantly injured. National players almost always move closer to home in free agency, and that’s why I think the Markham, Ontario native will sign with either Toronto or Hamilton.
Prediction: Signs with Hamilton
21. K Justin Medlock, Hamilton Tiger-Cats
He’s an American that isn’t a great punter, which is rare to see, but Justin Medlock is still the best kicker in the CFL and that’ll make him a hot commodity on the open market.
Prediction: Re-signs with Hamilton
Best of the Rest:
SB Andy Fantuz, Hamilton: He’ll take a pay cut to stay in the QEW with Hamilton.
SB Chad Owens, Toronto: Ditto to Fantuz; re-signs with Toronto.
LB Taylor Reed, Hamilton: Cats can’t lose another defender.
RB/RET Chris Rainey: Dynamic player who’d fit in well in Ottawa or back in BC.
LB Cory Greenwood, Toronto: Serious concussion issues could scare a lot of teams off. He re-signs in Toronto.
SB Chris Getzlaf, Saskatchewan: Safe to say he’ll be back in Regina in a reduced role.
DB Otha Foster, Edmonton: Mediocre strong-side LB. Off to Saskatchewan.
C Cory Watman, Saskatchewan: Disappointing former first-round pick that’ll stay in Regina.
As a result of the absurd amount of injuries to starting quarterbacks, the 2015 CFL season showcased a great group of rookie quarterbacks – perhaps the best class in recent history. So I took about four weeks to analyze, scout and rank the five pivots that represent the future of the CFL.
I reviewed three to four games of each rookie quarterback, as you can find the complete TSN broadcast of each game on Youtube. I tracked and graded each play of two of the games, detailing every single part of it. The result: a massive 7,981 word, 27 page Microsoft Word document. Every pass attempt was re-watched at least twice (not including TSN’s standard replays) and dissected to the best of my ability.
As I expected, the results surprised me. Without giving anything away, there was one player who I thought would be ranked lower and one I thought would be ranked higher. You can probably guess which two quarterbacks I’m talking about.
In the overview, I include what I think the quarterback will develop into (franchise quarterback, game-manager, backup, etc) and in how many seasons it’ll take them to reach that potential.
Aside from looking up game-stats out of curiosity for 2 games, I stayed completely away from any stats in this post. Yards, touchdowns, passer rating, completion percentage, etc; these stats don’t tell the story.
Let’s get into it.
5. Brett Smith (Saskatchewan Roughriders)
(6’1″, 206-lbs, Wyoming)
Games re-watched: Calgary at Saskatchewan, Saskatchewan at Ottawa, Saskatchewan at Winnipeg
Smith is an ultra-competitive pivot who is still very raw. His teammates rally around him and he seemingly treats every play like it’s one in the Grey Cup. A legitimate dual-threat quarterback, Smith has fantastic speed and elusiveness of the pocket, but often takes off too early after one read and doesn’t usually stand in the pocket while it begins to collapse. With decent arm-strength and mediocre accuracy, his ball placement can allow DBs to make a play on the ball. He can be too aggressive at times and turns the ball over too much – he had quite a few dropped interceptions – and far too often stares down his receiver. While Smith can anticipate routes opening up and can read defenses decently, he struggles to see more than one area of the field per play. Smith doesn’t always stand tall in the pocket and doesn’t seem to be able to throw right off his drop; his last step is too wide and without a rocket arm, he has get his feet back closer together under his shoulders before releasing, which can throw the timing off on a route. His footwork needs work, but up top, his mechanics are solid – aside from dipping the ball down too low- and consistent.
Week 9 loss to Calgary: Despite the win-less Riders only losing to the Stamps 34-31, Smith didn’t play particularly well in this game. Smith’s stat line read 13/24 for 178 yards, 3 TD and 1 INT, however, 72 of those yards came on one completion to a wide open Nic Demski, and the Stamps’ DBs dropped two other interceptions. Smith often stared down receivers or, as the game went on, made one read before taking off. While he did make some key plays with his legs, Smith failed to see a lot of open receivers. There were some accuracy issues, but the Riders’ mediocre pass protection – despite the Stamps only blitzing on four of his drop-backs – didn’t allow him to step into a couple throws. Not to take anything away from a gutsy performance from the gunslinger out of Wyoming, but the Riders would’ve won this game with veterans Kevin Glenn or Darian Durant at the helm.
Week 10 loss at Ottawa: There were a lot of errors made in this game that lead to Smith’s benching; an interception that was dropped in the first quarter, a bad decision to pull the ball that lead to a 10-yard loss, a time-count penalty on second down in the red-zone, and the awful interception in the end-zone on his last snap of the game. Smith threw a lot of inaccurate passes – he overthrew Weston Dressler on what could’ve been a 70-yard TD in the second quarter – and often made one read before taking off. He did, however, make a couple great plays with his legs – plays that would’ve been sacks without a QB with Smith’s speed. His mobility, as well as the timing of the benching – Saskatchewan still had a great chance to win – was what made it a questionable decision on the part of Corey Chamblin. Ottawa’s blitz-heavy defense fielded mixed results for Smith; it forced him to take off – sometimes too early – and miss throws that he could’ve stood in and made. But he also got around the edge on a couple plays and picked up some yards.
Overview: Dependable backup in 1-2 years.
Smith needs a lot of work and also needs to be tamed. He can be get too fired up and force passes that lead to interceptions, particularly after making a great escape out of the pocket or following a big play on the previous snap. He has to learn to be more patient and become less run-first. Smith must also learn to read multiple sides of the field and not stare down his receiver, which work together. He has some traits that can’t be taught – competitiveness, athleticism and pass-rush elusiveness – but has a lot more flaws that could prevent him from ever being a franchise quarterback.
4. Jeff Mathews, Hamilton Tiger-Cats
(6’4″, 225-lbs, Cornell University, spent 2014 on three NFL rosters)
Games re-watched: Calgary at Hamilton, Hamilton at Montreal, Hamilton at BC
Mathews is a rather one-dimensional pocket passer with an absolute rocket of an arm. He’s not at all mobile and is a difficult quarterback to protect, but is also very accurate. His mechanics are great, just not always consistent and sometimes gets sloppy with his elbow-level. He appears to be a game-manager, often making the easy and safe throw, or taking the sack instead of trying to hit his check-down. While being a labelled a game-manager isn’t always a bad thing if you’re surrounded by great players, at times, Mathews was far too conservative, making well-covered speed-outs his first read. He showed glimpses of completing passes into very tight windows, but with his arm-strength, he needs to attempt those throws far more often. Mathews doesn’t seem to rebound well after interceptions, going back to full-out conservative mode, where he’ll throw to his first read no matter how tight the coverage is. From what he displayed when playing with full confidence, Mathews is clearly a smart quarterback. However, he has a fatal flaw fatal: he holds the ball too long on second-and-long situations when his running back is pass-protecting. His flat feet freeze, and he’s late delivering the ball. You don’t get away with that in pro football.
Week 15 loss to Calgary: While it was only his first career start, the game seemed to be too fast for Mathews. The Ticats clearly just wanted him to manage the game – they ran the ball or a screen on 14 of 22 1st-down plays – and he still struggled, staring down his receivers and throwing into coverage. At times, he got rid of the ball far too early – throwing a well-covered speed-out against a 3-man rush- and sometimes held it way too long with his eyes focusing on the pash-rush – a big no-no. He turned the ball over twice – the first on an interception on a very inaccurate throw over the head of Luke Tasker – but his red-zone fumble was the more costly one. The Stamps played very, very well on defense, but really, Mathews still struggled to make reads, settling on his first one very often.
Week 17 win in Montreal: Mathews was a game manager in this game, dinking and dunking his way down the field with safe throws. And that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The Ticats had the lead all game long and ran the ball efficiently on first down. Mathews converted on 2nd down with safe throws. He seemed to be pre-determining his short throws in the 1st half, which isn’t managing the game; that’s bad quarterbacking. But he read the defense better in the second half and used his rocket arm to thread the needle and hit a couple receivers across the middle.
Overview: Dependable backup (after next season) or below-average, game-managing starter in 2 seasons.
Mathews needs to become more aggressive and trust his arm more in the future, which, with more coaching, can improve. He will always be a difficult quarterback to protect, but if he can be more decisive, he’ll take less sacks/hits in the future. The game should slow down for the 24-year-old in the future – it’s a huge difference from Division II college football. I fully expect Mathews to beat out Jeremiah Masoli in training camp for the backup position next season.
3. James Franklin, Edmonton Eskimos
(6’2″, 225-lbs, Missouri, stint with Detroit Lions in 2014)
Games re-watched: Edmonton at Montreal, Toronto at Edmonton, Edmonton at Calgary.
Franklin is a 23-year-old with all the physical traits: build (6’2″, 215-lbs), mechanics (the best of all the rookies in his class), and athleticism. Many of his struggles throughout the season were simply based off inexperience. With very good arm-strength coupled with solid accuracy, Franklin throws an excellent deep ball as well as back-shoulder passes. His feet are quick in his setup and he throws the ball with great velocity. Best of all, however, is the fact that he protects the football despite his aggressiveness and decisiveness.
Franklin was given a great gameplan for a rookie quarterback in all his starts that included mostly easy reads and throws, including set-up swing passes to slots and running backs, screen passes, hook patterns, flood concepts and roll-outs. However, against the Stampeders, the defense knew exactly what to expect and took this all away.
Week 8 win in Montreal: Considering the circumstances, Franklin played a formidable game by rookie-facing-blitz-heavy-defense-on-the-road-in-relief-duty-in-second-ever-pro-appearance standards. The Alouettes blitzed Franklin on 17/26 plays, often sending several blitzers and consistently lining up in different, exotic formations. Against cover-zero, Franklin was great, releasing the ball early and incredibly accurately, especially on a 2nd-and-six strike to Kenny Stafford on a post. Franklin sometimes bailed out of the pocket too early and made a couple head-scratching decisions; Billy Parker dropped an easy pick with Franklin forcing the ball on a roll-out. But Franklin ultimately played good down the stretch and connected with Devon Bailey on a perfect, 22-yard back-shoulder toss to set up the game-winning field goal. Incredibly, Franklin was only sacked once, however, he did leave some plays out on the field.
Week 11 loss in Calgary: In this game, it was evident that Franklin had never seen a defense such as Calgary’s before and was quite overwhelmed. But give the Stamps some credit, too, as they played an excellent game. The entire unit was unbelievably disciplined with their assignments. The Stamps were also well prepared and, unlike the Argos, chose to play coverage instead of blitz (only blitzed six times, and only once sent more than five rushers), and heavily defended the flats. All game long, the Stamps played great and Franklin was confused by the coverage. It didn’t help that, for some reason, the Eskimos only gave RB Chad Simpson three (!) carries while Franklin was in the game. All game, the Missouri alum was frazzled in the pocket and made the wrong pre-snap read numerous times. He didn’t see some open receivers and was late throwing to others. He was decently accurate throwing into tight windows, but overall just wasn’t in attack mode.
Overview: Starting quarterback abilities with one-two more years of seasoning.
With all the intangibles, Franklin has the potential to stick in this league for many years to come. With more time as a backup, many of his issues such as pre-snap reads, pocket movement/footwork, and making more reads with improve with experience.
2. Rakeem Cato, Montreal Alouettes
(6’0″, 181-lbs, Marshall University)
Games re-watched: Calgary at Montreal, Montreal at BC, Montreal at Calgary, Hamilton at Montreal
While very undersized, Cato is simply a play-maker. A smart, aggressive quarterback, he often takes shots down the field and has an excellent knack of making plays with his legs. He makes good, quick reads and senses pressure very well, but could use some work on reading the pocket; he misses opportunities to step-up and usually will scramble to outside, which isn’t going to be sustainable. Cato is a very accurate quarterback when throwing with his feet set and, thanks to his great football sense, knows exactly where to place the ball on difficult throws. Cato operated Montreal’s full playbook despite being a rookie and never seemed overwhelmed.
Week 2 win vs. Calgary: Cato’s best game of the season came in his first one. First of all, the Stampeders played a terrible game on defense. DC Rich Stubler blitzed the hell out of Cato, and after getting burned by the rookie, they blitzed less than any other team in the league for the rest of the season. Cato got rid of the ball quickly, for the most part, but was late on a few throws, including a 10-yard-out to Fred Stamps that was jumped by CB Buddy Jackson. He made the right reads with poise, but typically only had to make one. He missed a couple of plays, opting for the short pass rather than the deep one, but it managed to work out for him. Cato was aided by RB Tyrell Sutton’s career day on the ground, as it occupied the attention of Calgary’s linebackers and safeties.
Week 9 win in BC: This was a game in which Cato hardly did anything on the stat sheet, but actually managed the game fairly well. The Lions had no answer for the Als’ run game, and as a result, Montreal ran the ball 36 times. When Cato wasn’t throwing any of his six screen/swing/shovel passes, he took advantage of his opportunities to drop back and throw underneath. BC, who only blitzed twice all game with Cato in the game, were leaving the flats wide open on second down plays. Cato’s longest throw was his touchdown to Nik Lewis, which was a great read and accurate throw across his body for 18 yards. All game, BC’s coverage was quite good downfield and Cato, who seemingly held onto the ball too long on many plays, only failed to pull the trigger on an open receiver 3 times. And on 2/3 of those plays, the coverage was still decent.
Overview: If he can stay healthy, Cato could be a franchise quarterback.
Cato really didn’t regress as much as it originally looked like back in August. He actually began to manage games better and take what defenses gave him. As a rookie fresh out of college, he was going to have some ups and downs – that was to be expected. He has to continue to work on protecting the ball, reading the pocket, and learning when to be aggressive or conservative during games.
1. Jonathon Jennings, BC Lions
(6’0″, 191-lbs, Saginaw Valley State)
Games re-watched: BC at Edmonton, Winnipeg at BC, BC at Edmonton, Hamilton at BC
Jennings is the best in the class and it’s not even close. Since his first career start in Edmonton against the no. 1 defense in the league, Jennings played like a seasoned veteran. Unlike no other rookie QB, he consistently manipulates defenses with his eyes and threw some incredibly accurate passes. Jennings has great arm-strength and can throw the ball with great touch. He makes very confident throws and gets the ball to wide-side of the field. Jennings goes through his progression faster than most quarterbacks – he makes more reads-per-play than any other rookie, by far – and can locate his check-down. He has an uncanny ability to stay extremely patient in the pocket and does a great job keeping his eyes downfield any time he’s under duress. Jennings has great mechanics and good feet. He makes everyone around him better, but on some occasions, needs to keep a short-memory and forget the last play.
Jennings has room for improvement against the blitz. There are times when he knows exactly where to go with the ball from his pre-snap read and executes. But on some occasions, he does this little half-roll and starts bouncing on his feet.
Week 17 loss at Edmonton: Against the best and stingiest defense in the league, Jon Jennings played a superb game – he shredded this defense. He made great reads all game long and, despite the Eskimos only rushing three on the majority of passing downs – picked apart the zone defense. He made confident throws – his go-route completion to Gore (unreal ball placement; 2nd-and-2, first quarter), end-zone fade-route TD to Arceneaux (1st-and-goal; third quarter) and dig-route completion to Gore on the wide-side (2nd-and-11, third quarter) all stand out – and was patient all game long. He progressed through his reads and calmly took advantage of the Eskimos only sending three rushers without getting antsy, as most quarterbacks do. You can’t teach that. Jennings’ lone error came at the wrong time; an interception in overtime to Dexter McCoil. While it looked ugly at first, it was actually SB Travis Hawkins who was early on the drag-route, which took McCoil right into the lane of the curl-route. It was a great play by McCoil, and if he was in that spot either one second later or earlier, Jennings would’ve had a completion.
Week 18 win vs. Hamilton: Aside from some trouble against Hamilton’s cover-0 and cover-1 blitzes in the late stages of the game, Jennings played great against the Tabbies. He effectively dissected the coverage with accurate throws; the 47-yard connection with Burnham on a skinny-post was likely Jennings’ most accurate throw of the season. He was aggressive and very patient, manipulating the defense with his eyes in the pocket. In another three-touchdown performance, Jennings threw the ball with confidence and into tight windows. He struggled late in the game when Hamilton started sending the house, going 2/5 against cover-0 for approx. 15 yards with: an interception, a bad drop by Collie, and a pass interference penalty for screening. His first half performance cannot be overlooked, as it was simply spectacular.
Overview: Franchise quarterback that’s ready to play.
Jennings has an extremely bright future and will be around for a long time. He could seriously be the best quarterback in the league by as early as next season. If you look at his abilities and tendencies closely, it’s clear that he’s already doing many things better than some of the veteran starters today.
Though he may not have lived up to the sky-high expectations some people had for Mitchell after he was named Grey Cup MVP, the native of Katy, Texas still had a solid season. Mitchell is arguably the most accurate passer in the league and managed to stay healthy and produce despite a parade of injuries to his offensive lineman.
Had Messam not been grossly underutilized in Saskatchewan, he would have easily ran away with the rushing title, and the Riders may have had a few more wins. The most dominant running back in 2015, Messam’s 6.1 yards-per-carry lead all starting ‘backs.
After a dominant month of July that had Harris looking like the front-runner for M.O.P., Harris and his offensive line really cooled down. But it was still his best season in a few years, and he’s still the most important piece for the Lions’ success.
After putting on a show in the 2014 Grey Cup playoffs, Rogers followed up with an amazing 2015 campaign (essentially his first true season), proving that he’s the best receiver in the Canadian Football League. With the perfect combination of size, speed and hands, it’s still yet to be proven that Rogers can indeed be shutdown.
If only Adarius Bowman had a more reliable pair of hands, he’d probably be in the NFL. While he did drop far too many passes, in typical Adarius Bowman fashion, he still finished with 93 catches and second in the CFL with 1,304 yards. He’s a frustrating talent, for sure. But man, is he ever talented.
After spending the first eight weeks on the practice roster, Walker exploded onto the scene, recording an absurd 31 catches for 472 yards in THREE games. And he never really slowed down either. Walker is the only other receiver on the same level as Eric Rogers. His 92.5 average yards-per-game lead all receivers.
After a rather sluggish and poor start compared to every other top-notch receiver, Arceneaux exploded once QB Jonathon Jennings took over the offence. He seemed inspired and determined, and it showed. No defensive back could cover Arceneaux down the sidelines.
Offensive Tackle: Jovon Olafioye, BC Lions
BC had arguably the best offensive line in the CFL for the first 1/3rd of the season, then they really trailed off. Everyone but the two-time CFL Most Outstanding Lineman award winner, Jovon Olafioye, that is.
Albeit far too many penalties against, Labatte was the lone Rider offensive lineman to have a good season. Sure, it wasn’t his best year, but Labatte is still the best run-blocking guard in the league, by far.
Centre: Pierre Lavertu, Calgary Stampeders
Lavertu managed to hold down Calgary’s offensive line when everyone around him was dropping like flies. Surrounded by backups (and sometimes their backups), Lavertu played through injuries and, as far as I’m concerned, was their best blocker. He’s no Brett Jones, but he’s pretty darn good himself.
Despite being limited to 11 games, Johnson still managed to lead all West Division defensive tackles with six sacks. He’s a big piece of Calgary’s defense and moves very well for a man of his size.
Defensive Tackle: Michael Brooks, BC Lions
(15 games, 51 tackles, 3 sacks, 1 FF)
Though he seemed to be a streaky player at times, Brooks, who has a Super Bowl ring with Seattle from 2014, has the potential to be the best defensive tackle in the league. He amassed an incredible 51 tackles in his first season in the CFL. Yes, you read that right.
Defensive End: Jamaal Westerman, Winnipeg Blue Bombers
(17 games, 61 tackles, 17 sacks, 1 FF)
In his first CFL season, Westerman emerged as the best and most complete defensive end in the league. He lead all defensive lineman with 61 tackles, and did all this with virtually no help along Winnipeg’s D-Line. Westerman’s relentless motor- matched with a large arsenal of pass-rushing moves and unmatched run-stop ability- is why he’s the real deal.
As a pure pass-rusher, Hughes has a large arsenal of moves he can beat an offensive tackle with. He was a force to be reckoned with when healthy, amassing 10 sacks and two forced fumbles in only 14 games.
Linebacker: Adam Bighill, BC Lions
(17 games, 117 tackles, 4 sacks, 1 INT)
Lining up all over the field and doing so many different jobs, Bighill proved he’s the most versatile inside LB in the league this season. In his best season since 2012, Bighill took off when MLB Soloman Elimimian suffered a torn achilles. Bighill is equally as valuable as his teammate, the 2014 CFL’s Most Outstanding Player.
Linebacker: Khalil Bass, Winnipeg Blue Bombers
(17 games, 102 tackles, 5 sacks, 1 INT, 1 FF)
While his counterpart, Jeff Knox Jr., had more tackles, he was playing on the team with the league’s worst run defense (see Simmons, Jasper), and so many of his tackles came 7-plus yards downfield. Bass is the more complete linebacker and excels in both pass coverage and blitzing the quarterback. Oh, and he’s also a very, very hard hitter; just ask Chad Kackert.
Linebacker: Dexter McCoil, Edmonton Eskimos
(18 games, 76 tackles, 3 INT, 2 sacks, 1 FF)
While 76 tackles aren’t incredibly high for the 2015 season, McCoil was, after all, playing with the league’s best defense with so much talent around him. McCoil is still a ball hawk (there were at least 2 or 3 more interceptions he should’ve had) and could certainly play safety if he was needed. With back to back All-Star seasons, the Tulsa alum is on his way to CFL stardom (or to an NFL try-out).
Cornerback: Johnny Adams, Winnipeg Blue Bombers
(17 games, 65 tackles, 6 INT)
A typical Michigan State DB through and through, Adams is very aggressive and very smart. As far as I’m concerned, he was the best shutdown DB in the league after the opening half of the season. One performance that sticks out was his week four game against BC, where in a battle on the boundary, he held Manny Arceneaux to zero catches. Adams is on his way back to the NFL.
Halfback: Aaron Grymes, Edmonton Eskimos
(15 games, 43 tackles, 1 sack, 4 INT)
There’s a reason Quarterbacks rarely target Aaron Grymes’ receiver. He’s that good, and the best half in the CFL. Enough said.
Halfback: Ryan Phillips, BC Lions
(14 games, 29 tackles, 6 INT)
Like fine wine, Phillips just keeps getting better with age. Despite missing four games and being surrounded by a not-so-good secondary, Phillips had his best season in a handful of years. Strictly as a cover-DB, Phillips was as good as Grymes.
Cornerback: John Ojo, Edmonton Eskimos
(18 games, 43 tackles, 5 INT)
Don’t worry, I thought long and hard before putting a wide-side corner on this list. Ojo simply was a dominant player in his rookie year, and there’s no doubt he’d also still be an All-Star had he played boundary corner, too- even ahead of Pat Watkins, who was beat for more touchdowns this season than he’s ever been. Size, speed, strength, ball skills; Ojo has it all.
Safety: Joshua Bell, Calgary Stampeders
(16 games, 47 games, 1 INT)
With star safeties Tyron Brackenridge and Maurice Leggett being moved to linebacker, Bell was almost the default choice, as he didn’t have as good a season as most thought he’d have. Despite the Stamps often running cover three defense, Bell was still beat over the top too many teams. But he did make many key plays, and is a far better All-Star selection than Marco Brouillette out east.
Coming off the worst season of his career, as a 40-year-old passer, Burris bounced back with undoubtedly his best season, where he set the single-season record for completions (481). Given a brand new set of star receivers in the off-season, Burris guided Ottawa to a 12-6 record and the best offence in Canadian football.
One of the less recognized running backs in the league, Sutton seemingly came out of nowhere to win the rushing title. Sutton’s average of 5.9 yards-per-carry was second in the league among starting running backs, while the third-year bruiser really did a lot of work himself. Without a respectable passing game and perhaps a below average season of offensive line play by Montreal standards, Sutton still managed to put together a breakout campaign.
Cut in training camp by the Montreal Alouettes, Whitaker quickly signed on with the Argos and contributed when he was given the chance, quietly surpassing 1,000 total yards-from-scrimmage. Scott Milanovich wasn’t very interested in running the ball, but always had Whitaker involved in the passing game. The seven-year veteran is the best receiving running back in all of the CFL.
At first glance, Green’s statistics aren’t amazing compared to some of the other receivers in the East. But in reality, Green managed to reach 1,000 yards despite playing behind seven different quarterbacks in 2015– most of them were less than serviceable. Green still has likely the best hands in the league and may actually draw more attention from defenses than any other slot back, thanks to an underwhelming group of pass-catchers around him.
While Williams’ first season in the CFL since 2012 may have seemed quite underwhelming, the former Tiger-Cat still finished 3rd in the CFL with 1,214 yards. Occupying the short-side wide receiver position, Williams was Ottawa’s vertical threat- there to take the top of the defences- and ran all sorts of impressive double moves.
Reunited with Henry Burris in our nation’s capital, Ellingson had a spectacular season. Burris trusted him more than any receiver in Ottawa’s loaded receiving corps, and Ellingson did not disappoint, often bailing out his quarterback with difficult catches in traffic. Ellingson exploded once he was moved out of the wide-side receiver position and into the slot.
Despite spending the start of the season on the six-game injured list, Tasker went on to average an impressive 76.1 yards-per-game on route to his first 1,000-yard campaign. A legitimate elite possession receiver, Tasker was sure-handed in 2015 and did plenty of damage after the catch. The Collaros-Tasker connection is one of the best young QB-SB duos in the league.
Signed away from the Argos in free agency, Rogers has been a revelation for Ottawa’s offensive line. The offensive tackles were the weakest point last season for the REDBLACKS, but in 2015, with Rogers as the anchor, they’re superior to the interior.
Offensive Guard: Philip Blake, Montreal Alouettes
Drafted by Montreal in 2011, Blake signed with the Alouettes in January after spending the start of his career in the NFL with the Denver Broncos. In his rookie season with Montreal, Blake was arguably Montreal’s most reliable run blocker. His pass-protection improved as the season progressed and now the Baylor product is one of the meanest and most polished blockers in the league.
Centre: Mike Filer, Hamilton Tiger-Cats
In his second season as Hamilton’s starting centre, Filer took a big step forward. While he was excellent in pass coverage, Filer is still coming around as a run blocker, and it showed. I like his chances of becoming a more complete centre in 2016.
Offensive Guard: Greg Van Roten, Toronto Argonauts
Though he played primarily centre in 2015 for the injured Jeff Keeping, Van Roten did see some time at guard, and excelled in both positions. Despite carrying an American passport, Van Roten will have a starting spot in 2016, even with Keeping returning to health and Sean McEwen graduating from the University of Calgary.
Offensive Tackle: Jeff Perrett, Montreal Alouettes
A staple along Montreal’s offensive line, Perrett had another solid season in 2015. As tough as they come, the Canadian right tackle is likely the best pass blocker in the East Division.
Defensive Tackle: Ted Laurent, Hamilton Tiger-Cats
(16 games, 26 tackles, 3 sacks)
Though he was far more dominant in the first half of the season, there is still no other defensive tackle that plugs up gaps like Ted Laurent. The 6’1″, 303 lbs Canadian draws multiple blockers almost every time the Cats present a 40 front.
Defensive Tackle: Cleyon Laing, Toronto Argonuats
(16 games, 40 tackles, 8 sacks)
A defensive tackle’s job is to occupy blockers and plug gaps- sacks and tackles are just a bonus. Cleyon Laing does his job as good as any interior defensive lineman in the CFL, but also racks up all the extra statistics. Laing led all defensive tackles with 40 tackles and 8 sacks. Incredible numbers.
Defensive End: John Bowman, Montreal Alouettes
(15 games, 46 tackles, 19 sacks, 2 FF)
2015 was a huge year for the veteran edge-rusher. Benched around midseason by former head coach Tom Higgins for reasons unknown, Bowman responded with a monster second half. He finished first in the CFL with 19 sacks and is one of the more gab-disciplined defensive ends in the league. It should also be mentioned that while Bowman was dominant, he may have had the most sacks in the league in which he was left unblocked on the play.
Capicciotti proved his 2014 breakout season was no fluke in 2015. The Canadian pass-rusher once again reached double digit sack totals and was a big reason why the REDBLACKS lead the CFL in sacks. Capicciotti has elite speed along the edge and a relentless motor.
Linebacker: Winston Venable, Montreal Alouettes
(16 games, 104 tackles, 5 sacks, 3 FF)
Venable was the most dominant linebacker in the East Division in his third season. He was a tackling machine who used his good speed and block-shedding ability to rack up 104 tackles. Unless Montreal switches to a 3-4 defense, neither Bear Woods or Kyler Elsworth will be starters in Montreal next season. Venable has been that good.
Linebacker: Gregory Jones, Toronto Argonauts
(18 games, 98 tackles, 1 INT, 2 sacks, 1 FF)
Jones built on a promising rookie campaign with a statistically dominant 2015 season. Jones improved every week and really became the leader of the Argos defense once weak-side LB Cory Greenwood’s season ended prematurely. A rather conservative middle linebacker, he displayed solid awareness in zone coverage this season.
Linebacker: Simoni Lawrence, Hamilton Tiger-Cats
(18 games, 80 tackles, 5 sacks, 2 INT, 1 FF)
One of the most athletic inside linebackers in the CFL, Lawrence is a perfect fit for Orlando Steinauer’s defense, and it translated into another successful season for the former University of Minnesota Golden Gopher. Lawrence, who recorded five sacks, is arguably the best blitzing linebacker in the league, and was also reliable with picking up running backs in the backfield.
Cornerback: Abdul Kanneh, Ottawa REDBLACKS
(17 games, 57 tackles, 2 sacks, 6 INT, 4 FF)
This was a total no-brainer. Kanneh was awesome in 2015, proving to be likely the best man-to-man corner in the East Division, and I don’t say that simply because he recorded an outstanding 6 interceptions. He’s an old-school press-corner that is very aggressive and very smart. Kanneh has a bright future with the REDBLACKS.
Halfback: Emmanuel Davis, Hamilton Tiger Cats
(18 games, 61 tackles, 1 sack, 5 INT, 1 FF)
A less obvious choice, Davis still had a very good season, highlighted by his three pick-sixes. Davis was targeted often but also made a lot of big plays. He’s a sure tackler that provides support for the run defense.
Halfback: Jerrell Gavins, Ottawa REDBLACKS
(14 games, 40 tackles, 4 INTS)
If Abdul Kanneh is the best corner in the division, his teammate, Jerrell Gavins, has a case as the best halfback. An underrated defensive back, Gavins has great footwork and the speed to keep up with anyone. His interceptions often come at a crucial time, too.
Cornerback: Jovon Johnson, Ottawa REDBLACKS
(18 games, 54 tackles, 1 sack, 5 INT, 1 FF)
Though I was hesitant to make a wide-side corner an All-Star, I really think Johnson’s 2015 season was far too good to exclude him from this team (Sorry, A.J. Jefferson). Though he never said so publicly, Johnson surely never approved of his move to a less important position, but he responded with a tremendous season that saw him make a lot of plays. 5 interceptions (and three pick-sixes) from on the wide-side? Impressive.
Safety: Marco Brouillette, Montreal Alouettes
(16 games, 43 tackles, 1 sack, 2 INT)
Despite a quiet season, Brouillette makes the list almost by default, as starting safeties Jermaine Gabriel, Craig Butler and Jermaine Robinson all missed significant time due to injury.