2015 West Division All-Stars

With the 18 game regular season in the books, it’s time for me to reveal my own 2015 CFL All-Star teams. Yesterday, we started out East. Let’s get to the West.

Quarterback: Bo Levi Mitchell, Calgary Stampeders

(17 games, 65.9% passing, 4,551 YDS, 26 TD, 13 INT, 96.8 QBR)

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.

Running back: Jerome Messam, Calgary Stampeders

(15 games, 135 carries, 1,006 YDS, 2 TD, 6.1 YPC; 53 REC, 497 YDS)

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.

Running back: Andrew Harris, BC Lions

(18 games, 222 carries, 1,039 yards, 7 TD, 4.7 YPC; 53 REC, 484 YDS, 2 TD)

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.

Receiver: Eric Rogers, Calgary Stampeders

(17 games, 87 REC, 1,448 YDS, 10 TD, 16.6 YDS/REC, 85.2 YDS/G)

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.

Receiver: Adarius Bowman, Edmonton Eskimos 

(17 games, 93 REC, 1,304 YDS, 7 TD, 14.0 YDS/REC, 76.7 YDS/G)

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.

Receiver: Derel Walker, Edmonton Eskimos

(12 games, 89 REC, 1,110 YDS, 6 TD, 12.5 YDS/REC, 92.5 YDS/G)

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.

Receiver: Emmanuel Arceneaux, BC Lions

(17 games, 76 REC, 1,151 YDS, 9 TD, 15.1 YDS/REC, 67.7 YDS/G)

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.

Offensive Guard: Brendan Labatte, Saskatchewan Roughriders

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.

Offensive Guard: Spencer Wilson, Calgary Stampeders

Wasn’t easy, but Wilson made his way onto my list. While he was a little shaky around midseason, all in all, Wilson still had a solid season at guard for the Stampeders.

Offensive Tackle: D’Anthony Batiste, Edmonton Eskimos

A very, very underrated right tackle, Batiste was the most consistent figure along Edmonton’s offensive line that had virtually no continuity from week-to-week.

Defensive Tackle: Micah Johnson, Calgary Stampeders

(11 games, 32 tackles, 6 sacks 1)

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.

Defensive End: Charleston Hughes, Calgary Stampeders

(14 games, 39 tackles, 10 sacks, 2 FF)

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.

Special Teams: Bo Lokombo, BC Lions 

(24 special-teams tackles)

Kicker: Rene Parades, Calgary Stampeders

(41/47 FG, 89.7%, long of 51; 26/30 PAT)

Punter: Rob Maver, Calgary Stampeders

(134 punts, 45.7 AVG)

Coffin. Corner. Master.

2015 East Division All-Stars

With the regular season in the books, it’s time to reveal my own 2015 divisional All-Star teams. We start out with the East….

Quarterback: Henry Burris, Ottawa REDBLACKS

(18 games, 70.6%, 5,703 YDS, 26 TD, 13 INT, 101.0 QBR)

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.

Running Back: Tyrell Sutton, Montreal Alouettes

(15 games, 180 attempts, 1,059 YDS, 5.9 YPC, 5 TD; 43 REC, 334 YDS, 2 TD)

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.

Running Back: Brandon Whitaker, Toronto Argonauts

(15 games, 121 attempts, 636 YDS, 5.3 YPC, 3 TD; 53 REC, 440 YDS, 3 TD)

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.

Receiver: SJ Green, Montreal Alouettes

(17 games, 71 REC, 1,036 yards, 3 TD, 14.6 YDS/REC, 61 YDS/G)

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.

Receiver: Chris Williams, Ottawa REDBLACKS

(16 games, 88 REC, 1,214 YDS, 5 TD, 13.8 YDS/REC, 88 YDS/G)

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.

Receiver: Greg Ellingson, Ottawa REDBLACKS

(18 games, 69 REC, 1,071 YDS, 9 TD, 15.5 YDS/REC, 69 YDS/G)

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.

Receiver: Luke Tasker, Hamilton Tiger-Cats

(14 games, 76 REC, 1,066 YDS, 6 TD, 14 YDS/REC, 76.1 YDS/G)

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.

Offensive Tackle: SirVincent Rogers, Ottawa REDBLACKS

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.

Defensive End: Justin Capicciotti, Ottawa REDBLACKS

(16 games, 47 tackles, 12 sacks, 1 FF)

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.

Returner: Brandon Banks, Hamilton Tiger-Cats

(12.4 AVG/PR, 4 TD; 17.4 AVG/KR)

Kicker: Justin Medlock, Hamilton Tiger Cats

(42/47 FG, 89.4%, long of 57; 49/52 on PATs)

Punter: Boris Bede, Montreal Alouettes

(108 ATT, 44.3 AVG, 6 singles, long of 69)

Ottawa Redblacks' Henry Burris lines up a pass as he takes on the Calgary Stampeders during CFL action in Ottawa on Sunday, Aug. 24, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
 THE CANADIAN PRESS: Sean Kilpatrick