There’s a reason the Calgary Stampeders (15-2-1) will go down as one of the CFL’s best-ever teams if they deliver a championship, and the 2016 league awards will very likely reflect that.
The East Division-winning Ottawa REDBLACKS dominated the night last year in Winnipeg, with Henry Burris, SirVincent Rogers, Brad Sinopoli and head coach Rick Campbell all bringing home hardware. Don’t be surprised, however, if Calgary one-ups the REDBLACKS given the amount of well-deserving candidates that will be representing the Stamps at the ceremony in Toronto.
The following picks are not predictions, but rather who I think should win. Credit to SportsCentre anchor and CFL stats guru Derek Taylor for providing many of the advanced stats used in my justifications.
Let’s get into it.
Most Outstanding Player
QB Bo Levi Mitchell, Calgary Stampeders
This pick is a no-brainer. Mitchell quarterbacked the Stampeders to a 15-1-1 record (Drew Tate was the starter in Calgary’s week 19 loss), leading the CFL in most major statistical passing categories. Along with a league-leading 32 touchdown passes, Mitchell has the lowest interception percentage among starting quarterbacks at 1.3%. His exceptionally quick release and ability to process information quickly played a huge role in the Stamps allowing a league-best 20 sacks. For reference, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers allowed 71 sacks in 2014. Qualifying for a second championship in three years as a starter with a win in the West Final would absolutely eliminate any remaining questions as to who’s the league’s 2016 Most Outstanding Player, though there already shouldn’t be any doubt. Mitchell should win this award unanimously.
Most Outstanding Defensive Player
DE Charleston Hughes, Calgary Stampeders
Hughes flew under the radar more dramatically in 2016 than in any other season in his nine year career – and that’s saying something considering three defensive ends opposite Hughes have received NFL contracts before he has. Hughes had the best season of his career in 2016, registering 55 pressures, 16 sacks, 3 forced fumbles and 47 tackles. Hughes, somehow, has 18 more pressures than the next leading pass-rusher (John Chick, at 37) despite dropping into pass coverage more than any other pass-rusher in the top-5. Hughes’ next greatest competition for this award is British Columbia’s Soloman Elimimian, but when comparing the degree of which each of them stood out among their peers at their respective position groups, it’s clear enough that Hughes should be the winner.
Most Outstanding Special-Teams Player
K/P Justin Medlock, Winnipeg Blue Bombers
Need any convincing that Medlock should be the unanimous choice for this award? You shouldn’t. The most accurate field goal kicker in CFL history, Medlock’s 2016 campaign was one for the ages. In his first season as a Bomber, Medlock has come one point shy with one game remaining of Troy Westwood’s club record for points in a season, and is three field goals away from tying Dave Ridgeway’s record of 59 successful field goals in a season. On top of all this, Medlock broke a club record on his first successful kick for longest field goal made at 58 yards. Oh, and he’s also, far and away, the only kicker to have not missed a convert. This season will go down in history as one of the best ever from a CFL kicker.
Most Outstanding Canadian
RB Jerome Messam, Calgary Stampeders
This may have been Bombers’ RB Andrew Harris’ award had he not missed three games mid-season, but give credit where credit’s due – Messam had a tremendous season in his first full campaign in Calgary. And it’s hard not to be happy for him – playing in all 18 games and leading the league in rushing – after bouncing around from team to team year after year ever since he won this award back in 2011 with the Eskimos. Messam also recorded 485 receiving yards along with his 1,198 rushing yards in 2016, both of which are career-highs. While many will point to Calgary’s exceptional offensive line – dubbed the Great Wall of Calgary – for Messam’s success, his 2.8 average yards-before-contact only ranks sixth among eligible running backs. Evidently, Messam played a huge role in Calgary’s explosive run game, and has done more than enough to secure his second Most Outstanding Canadian award.
Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman
LT Derek Dennis, Calgary Stampeders
Another rather no-brainer, the Stamps knew they had a great one in Derek Dennis before his second season kicked off, and they were more than right. Per TSN’s Derek Taylor, offensive tackles allowed more pressures than guards and centers combined in 2016, yet only four interior offensive lineman – and no tackles – have allowed less pressures than Dennis. With that being said, Dennis has started many more games than three of the four players ahead of him, further emphasizing his success in 2016. The Stamps unquestionably had the best offensive line in the league in 2016, and it’d be a farce if anyone but a Stamps’ lineman received this award. While Spencer Wilson had another great year, Dennis gets the nod.
Most Outstanding Rookie
FS Taylor Loffler, Winnipeg Blue Bombers
Unlike every other award, picking the league’s Most Outstanding Rookie had me completely torn. In past seasons (before the league updated its criteria for illegal contact), 891 receiving yards and nine touchdowns would be a solid season for a receiver who played a full season. Stamps’ receiver Davaris Daniels, however, reached these totals in just 11 games – as a rookie, nonetheless. Loffler, meanwhile, took a starting spot from an American and never looked back, quickly becoming a player opposing offenses game-plan around as he increased his totals to four interceptions, five pass breakups, 3 forced fumbles and 21 run stops on a total of 59 tackles in just 12.5 starts. Seeing as their numbers are completely incomparable considering one plays offense and one plays defense, we must default to comparing their play to that of their peers at their respective positions. Loffler has the best numbers of any safety, and the only free safety that has a legitimate argument as to having a better 2016 season is Calgary’s Josh Bell. Meanwhile, Daniels’ 81.5 yards-per-game is just seventh in the league among receivers. Daniels does have a comparable catch percentage to All-Star receiver Derel Walker (68.9% to 70%), but Walker had 80 more targets. Loffler is completely deserving of this award despite the fact that the CFL doesn’t have an exceptionally strong list of starting safeties, having allowed just nine catches on 21 targets for 242 yards and only one touchdown. Loffler’s 12.8 yards-per-target is quite good for any safety, let alone a rookie Canadian third-round pick. Loffler’s range, closing speed, angle-taking and knack for making bone-crushing hits project the UBC product as a top Canadian for years to come.
Coach of the Year
Mike O’Shea, Winnipeg Blue Bombers
There’s been little talk surrounding the Coach of the Year award. The league has a 15-2-1 team in the Stamps, but does Calgary’s exceptionally talented roster decrease rookie head coach Dave Dickenson’s credibility? Has Bombers’ boss Mike O’Shea done enough, recovering from a 1-4 start to making the play-offs, even if his club finishes fourth in the West or is one-and-done in the playoffs? And what about the CFL’s winningest coach, Wally Buono, who completely turned the Lions around in one season following the mess Jeff Tedford left? Though its close, and all three can be justified, O’Shea should get the nod for this reason: guiding his team to the play-offs with a middle-tier quarterback in Matt Nichols. Rather than elite-level QB play, the Bombers, with a never-say-die attitude, relied on turnovers, a solid-ground game, and the exceptional consistency of Justin Medlock to make the playoffs with a winning record. The Blue & Gold found ways to win, and went on a 7-game win-streak after starting 1-4 to vault themselves into the post-season for the first time since 2011. O’Shea’s defining moment, however, may not have come during the 7-game win streak, but rather in the Bombers’ crucial two-game sweep of the Lions in weeks 16 and 17. The Bombers were down two scores late in week 17 at BC Place before the O’Shea’s club scored 13 points in the last four minutes to win the season series.