Defensive stalwarts presenting a stronger-than-usual case to capture the league’s award for most outstanding player this season
If it’s ever going to happen again, this is the kind of season that should see the Canadian Football League’s most outstanding player award go to a star on defence.
Willie Jefferson of Winnipeg, for instance. How about Calgary’s Tre Roberson? Hamilton’s Ja’gared Davis?
Or maybe the Football Reporters of Canada should skip the vote and just give the award to Roughriders’ star defensive end Charleston Hughes, whose Twitter handle is @sackatchewan.
“I’m the real MOP,” Hughes claimed in a tweet last week.
At age 35, in his 12th season, Hughes leads the league with 15 sacks. He has 41 tackles, four forced fumbles, two recoveries and a TD, and isn’t afraid to stress his candidacy for MOP.
“I feel great about my chances. I knew early in the season, within the first half of the season, you know what, this is probably my year to win a lot of awards I haven’t won before,” he said Tuesday from Regina.
“With the way I’m playing, the way I feel, the dynamic of how the league is working out
right now, I just see myself as being one of those players.”
That’s too much confidence for some observers, who have been critical of Hughes on social media.
“That doesn’t bother me. You’ve got to have confidence in your ability. I know what I’m capable of and I’ve been proving it. I’ve shown it week in and week out.”
With Calgary and now Saskatchewan, Hughes has been a West Division all-star seven times, a CFL all-star five times, but he has never been named most outstanding defensive player.
His current teammate, linebacker Solomon Elimimian, is the only CFLER to take home both the MOP and outstanding defensive player awards when he double-dipped in 2014 for the B.C. Lions. He had an amazing season, with 143 tackles, five sacks, a pick and two forced fumbles.
But even a great campaign like that would normally fetch only the most outstanding defensive player award. To scoop both in the same campaign is to take advantage of a rare, league-wide offensive lull that essentially removes all QBS from the hunt. It’s the default MOP position.
Since the MOP was first awarded in 1953, it has gone to a QB 39 times, 16 to a running back and 10 to a receiver.
In 2014, when Elimimian won, not a single CFL pivot managed 5,000 passing yards, as Ricky Ray led all QBS with just 4,595. It was the lowest total from a category leader
since 2001, and remains the fifth-lowest by a yearly leader since the CFL went to an 18-game schedule in 1986.
So the stars aligned for Elimimian, and it’s happening again.
There is virtually no chance any CFL quarterback will reach 5,000 yards this season. Edmonton’s Trevor Harris leads the pack at 3,706, and would have been a likely MOP, but he’s on the shelf with a forearm injury, and won’t be adding to his total any time soon.
If he doesn’t return at all, the best bet to top the passing yards chart would be B.C.’S Mike Reilly. The Lions QB is at 3,615 now, averaging 258 yards per game. At that rate, he would finish with 4,644.
That could be enough to win if he’d also filled the end zone, as Dave Dickenson did in 2000 for Calgary. Dickenson won the MOP award on the strength of 36 TD passes and only six picks, despite throwing for only 4,636 yards.
But Reilly has 15 TD passes and 15 interceptions, so it’s not looking good. In 2014, Ray was the leader in TD passes as well with 28, which didn’t look impressive against 15 picks.
So the MOP probably shouldn’t be a quarterback this year, and there aren’t many compelling arguments to be made for receivers, other than Hamilton’s Brandon Banks. He has eight receiving TDS, a rushing major and two more on missed field goal returns, so he’ll be a contender.
That leaves the running backs, specifically rushing leader Andrew Harris of Winnipeg.
Let me join the chorus of those who believe he simply should not be a contender for any league-sanctioned award in the same year that he served a two-game suspension for performance enhancing drugs. It sends a terrible message to have him on the ballot during Grey Cup week. End of argument.
All that said, it could well come down to Banks versus a defensive player for MOP.
“It’s an offensive driven league,” said Hughes. “When you come across special guys who can really have an impact on the defence, they’ve got to be recognized.”
Roughriders’ star rush end Charleston Hughes is one of several players on the defensive side of the ball who could lay claim to the CFL’S Most Outstanding Player award. Hughes wouldn’t disagree with that.