Week 8 in the Canadian Football League starts tomorrow when the Hamilton Tiger-Cats visit the Ottawa Redblacks for a little Wednesday night football. The game between two East Division foes also signifies that we’re just past the midway point of the 14-game season, which led me to wonder who would be up for some individual hardware should the season end today. I will be picking who I think should be the West and East nominee for the following awards: Most Outstanding Player, Most Outstanding Defensive Player, Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman, Most Outstanding Special Teams Player, Most Outstanding Rookie, Most Outstanding Canadian and Coach of the Year. Let’s see who the nominees and winners are.
Most Outstanding Player:
West nominee: Michael Reilly, BC Lions
East nominee: Simoni Lawrence, Hamilton Tiger-Cats
I narrowed the West Division nomination down to two quarterbacks in Zach Collaros and Michael Reilly, but leaned the way of Reilly due to the fact he’s played a big part in pacing the Lions to a 4-2 start, which currently ties them for second in the division with Saskatchewan. The other factor that played into my decision was the fact that the Lions rely more heavily on Reilly than the Bombers do on Collaros. Winnipeg’s offensive game plan is very similar from week-to-week: give Andrew Harris around 20 touches a game, don’t force Collaros to throw more than 25 passes and let the defence do it’s thing by forcing pressure on the oppositions quarterback and forcing teams into turnovers. Collaros has played in one more game this season, completing 70.4 per cent of his passes, for 1,731 yards with 10 touchdowns and four interceptions. For comparison, Reilly has completed 75.6 per cent of his passes (tops in the CFL) for 1,601 yards along with eight touchdowns and one interception. Again, the one stat that separates them is the average depth of target with Reilly’s coming in at a whopping 9.8 yards while Collaros average is 8.7 yards. Simply put the Lions rely more heavily on Reilly to win them games that Winnipeg does with Collaros.
The East nominee was a bit of a tougher choice. So far there hasn’t really been anyone who’s put themselves in the lead to be named MOP such as Reilly and Collaros have. Vernon Adams Jr. has had an up and down 2021 campaign so far, while other quarterbacks such as Dane Evans, Nick Arbuckle and Jeremiah Masoli have all dealt with either injuries, inconsistent play or both. William Stanback gets an honourable mention at this point in time due to his almost 500 yards rushing and 6.2 average per carry but I decided to pick a defensive player in Simoni Lawrence. Lawrence currently sits fourth in the league in tackles heading into Week 8 with 37, while also adding a sack and two interceptions that have both been returned for touchdowns. At this point I think Lawrence is well within the conversation for league’s MOP.
Winner: Michael Reilly
The decision of Reilly being named the mid-season MOP was fairly simple due to the fact the CFL is an offensive league and the offensive player almost always wins the award. Only Solomon Elimimian has won Most Outstanding Player as a defensive player since the award started to get handed out in 1953.
Most Outstanding Defensive Player:
West nominee: Willie Jefferson, Winnipeg Blue Bombers
East nominee: Simoni Lawrence, Hamilton Tiger-Cats
The West came down to a pair of Winnipeg teammates in Willie Jefferson and Adam Bighill. Bighill is third in the CFL with 38 tackles and one interception in seven games while Jefferson has five sacks on the season to go along with 10 tackles, an interception and three forced fumbles. Jefferson causes so much havoc on defence for an elite defence in Winnipeg that it was impossible for me to sway away from the man who won the award in 2019. Oh and he’s doing all of this while being hampered by an ankle injury for the majority of the season.
If Simoni Lawrence gets the nod for Most Outstanding Player nominee, I think that should almost guarantee him to be the East representative for Most Outstanding Defensive Player. This is an unpopular opinion but I thought Lawrence should have beaten out Jefferson for this award in 2019, but his suspension for his hit on Zach Collaros in Week 1 put him in the CFL’s bad boy books and it hurt him when the award show rolled around.
Winner: Simoni Lawrence
This might be controversial but it’s my list so I can do what I want. I think Lawrence finally gets the award I thought he should have won in 2019 as his stock has really been boosted by a pair of pick six touchdowns in both of Hamilton’s home games. The first helped seal their Labour Day victory against Toronto and his most recent turned the tide in Hamilton’s most recent game against Calgary in which the Ticats were playing with their third string quarterback. Hamilton has had to ride their defence more this season than Winnipeg has so that played a role as well.
Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman:
West nominee: Sean McEwen, Calgary Stampeders
East nominee: Kristian Matte, Montreal Alouettes
I think McEwen is the best center in the CFL and he has thrived since he made the transition to Calgary. The Stampeders have struggled this season with a 2-5 record but McEwen has been far from the issue as the Stamps are second in the league with the least amount of sacks given up. He also has yet to miss a game in his CFL career, which is pretty unbelievable considering the amount of wear and tear get put on an offensive lineman’s body.
The Montreal Alouettes have given up the least amount of sacks through the first seven weeks with just five. That’s partially due to Vernon Adams Jr. being extremely elusive in the pocket but also due to the fact that the Alouettes offensive line has been solid. I’ll be the first to admit I don’t know all the ins and outs of offensive line play but I do know that Kristian Matte has been a very good guard in this league for a long time. This is more of a recognition nominee for the 36-year-old 10-year veteran.
Winner: Sean McEwen
I’m not sure McEwen will actually win this award due to the fact the Stamps are looking more and more likely that they’ll miss the playoffs, but I have been a big fan of his work this season on an offensive line that lost both Shane Bergman and Brad Erdos.
Most Outstanding Special Teams Player:
West nominee: Mike Miller, Winnipeg Blue Bombers
East nominee: Frankie Williams, Hamilton Tiger-Cats
How can you not nominate the CFL’s all time special teams tackle leader in Mike Miller? In seven games he has 15 (!!!) special teams tackles, just 12 off of his career high of 27 in 2016 with Edmonton. Miller broke the record in Week 3 against Toronto and now has 200 career tackles over his 10 year career.
Frankie Williams is having a special season and it almost led me to put him as the East nominee for Defensive Player of the Year as Williams has a very strong impact on both the defensive side of the ball as well as in the return game. In six games this season Williams has 383 punt return yards and a touchdown while also adding 384 yards on kickoff returns. He averages 11.6 yards per punt return and 22.6 yards per kick return. To go with these special team stats he also has 19 defensive tackles and one interception.
Winner: Mike Miller
If Williams adds another touchdown or two to his stats then I think he might take this award, but it simply came down to the fact that Miller set the league record for special teams tackles this season and is too big of an accomplishment to overlook.
Most Outstanding Rookie:
West nominee: Jordan Williams, BC Lions
East nominee: Daniel Bravermann, Toronto Argonauts
Jordan Williams was the easy selection in the West as his currently is the runaway favourite to win the award flat out. He’s currently second in the league with 41 defensive tackles, while also adding a sack, an interception and two special teams tackles. The former first overall pick by the Lions in 2020 has been outstanding in the middle of the Leos defence.
As for Bravermann, he has made a name for himself in the Argonauts offence with 15 catches for 152 yards while also adding nearly 300 return yards on both punt and kickoffs.
Winner: Jordan Williams
This was the easiest selection of the group as Williams could also be an honourable mention in both Most Outstanding Canadian as well as Most Outstanding Defensive Player. He’s been that special for the Lions this season and is a huge part as to why the Lions have flipped the script from missing the playoffs in 2019 to being two games over .500 in 2021.
Most Outstanding Canadian Player
West nominee: Bo Lokombo, BC Lions
East nominee: Henoc Muamba, Toronto Argonauts
Bo Lokombo has had an unbelievable start to the 2021 season since returning to BC after spending 2019 with Montreal. The 30-year-old linebacker has racked up 32 defensive tackles (good for sixth in the league), four special teams tackles, one sack and three interceptions, one that was returned for a touchdown. He is also currently tied with Winnipeg’s Deatrick Nichols as the league leader in interceptions.
Henoc Muamba has had a bit of a down year by his standards, but still enough to get recognized as the East’s Most Outstanding Canadian. Muamba’s statistics have taken a dip mostly due to the fact that the Argos have placed some nice talent around him and he hasn’t been forced to make all the tackles like he sometimes has in the past. The 2019 Most Outstanding Canadian currently has 22 defensive tackles, one sack and one interception while helping the Argos find themselves tied with Hamilton for tops in the East Division.
Winner: Bo Lokombo
This award is Lokombo’s to lose, especially if he keeps up his pace this season. He and middle linebacker Jordan Williams have been a great one-two punch in the Lions linebacking core.
Coach of the Year:
West nominee: Mike O’Shea, Winnipeg Blue Bombers
East nominee: Ryan Dinwiddie, Toronto Argonauts
Mike O’Shea is the obvious selection for the West Division Coach of the Year, as the Bombers have a league leading 6-1 record while also putting up the most points and allowing the fewest thus far. It is pretty amazing to see what O’Shea has done since taking over the Bombers in 2014.
First-year Head Coach Ryan Dinwiddie has done a good job of pulling together a bunch of talented pieces in Toronto in such a short period of time. While the Argos are currently 3-3 on the season, they’ve been in every contest and are on pace to smash their 2019 win total of four. For this, I think he’s the frontrunner for the East Division’s Coach of the Year.
Winner: Mike O’Shea
While Dinwiddie and the Argos are a nice story, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where O’Shea isn’t standing on the podium at the end of the season collecting this award unless something catastrophic happens in Winnipeg. There isn’t much to argue about when his Bombers are the best team in the CFL through seven weeks and have tallied the most points on offence and allowed the fewest on defence. O’Shea is the run away favourite for Coach of the Year and as of right now it is the pick I feel most confident in when we look back on this list in December.