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)