***For the Top Linebackers***
***For the Top Pass Rushers***
***For the Top Kickers***
With the new CFL season getting ever closer, I will be taking a look at each position from Kicker to Quarterback going into 2016 and ranking who I see as the best. This will be a list made up of last year’s players as I have little info on new International players and the draft rarely yields elite level talent (at least in the player’s rookie year). Please feel free to leave a comment if you have other thoughts.
Here we go…
1. Andrew Harris (2015 Stats: 1039 yards – 4.9 AVG )
I’m a big believer in the statistic yards per carry average, especially in the CFL where running backs get fewer carries than the NFL and must make each one count. Harris having the lowest AVG of last year‘s top running backs almost made me move him down, but several factors kept him as the #1. First: Harris has a history of production, despite his teams being up and down over the years he is consistently a top 5 back. Second: Harris “is” the Winnipeg offense. The Bombers offered the big bucks so when Harris came over he could take every possible snap which should net Harris yards/TDs by sheer volume of carries. Finally: When Harris is motivated in a game, he becomes unstoppable. There are several games over the years where something set Harris off and he simply refuses to be brought down. Its fascinating to watch and impossible to defend. Playing for his hometown team and finally getting the big money deal he felt he deserved (he did), I can see Harris having plenty of fuel to quash any doubt of his top dog status in 2016.
2. Tyrrell Sutton (’15: 1059 yards – 5.9 AVG)
Every time I re-watch the Als season finale with SSK and see Sutton “will” his way to the rushing title, my eyes get a little wider. I know SSK had an atrocious defense last year but one man should not be able to out-muscle 3-4 other men his size or bigger, and certainly not multiple times. Sutton was a monster at times last year and his stats would have been even better if the Als offense had not been a train wreck at times. Sutton oozes “effort” when he runs a play but can be a little inconsistent (4 games over 100 yards – 6 games under 50 yards) but the man above him in the rankings had far more variance in his games so I can’t dock him too much. In the end I think the uncertainty at QB and the presence of runner Brandon Rutley will keep Sutton under Harris in terms of production, but it will be a fun battle to watch.
3. Jerome Messam (’15: 1006 – 6.2 AVG)
My most uncertain ranking of the list. Messam has been forecasted to both lead the league and to bottom out entirely by a variety of experts. Count me as on the fence when it comes to the play of the bruising Canadian rusher. Messam has both a fantastic opportunity and crushing expectation on him going into 2016. Being in Calgary with a superior coaching staff, an elite QB, a solid O-Line, and the outright pedigree of a perennial contender, Messam stands to power his way right back to the top of the league. However, Messam is also in his thirties, taken (and delivered) a huge amount of hits and is now stepping into a situation where a new Head Coach may shake things up on offense with the losses of Eric Rogers and Jeff Fuller to the NFL. My gut tells me that Messam puts up a workman-like season (around 700-800 yards) while being a goal line beast, that should be good for #3.
4. Anthony Allen (’15: 574 yards – 6.2 AVG)
Probably the biggest surprise on my list. Allen isn’t even guaranteed a starting gig with Jeremiah Johnson also signing in BC in a possible split-carries situation. Despite the possible barriers, I still see Allen as a breakout candidate in 2016 and beyond – based on his tantalizing potential (Side Note: I hate the word “potential” as it is way too overused in pro sports). Allen was 70 yards away from 1000 in 2014 despite being benched frequently and only playing in 13 games. The following year, he still nearly got to 600 yards despite running behind #3 Jerome Messam. Top it all off with Allen’s solid receiving skills and two years of CFL experience in pass protection and you got some serious “potential” (ugh). Allen’s biggest knock against him is his fumbling but that can correctable and Wally Buono is exactly the type of coach who will make that a priority while not outlawing Allen to the wasteland like his previous coach Corey Chamblin. If BC’s offense takes off under exciting young QB Jonathan Jennings (whose mobile playing style greatly benefits a running back), I can see Allen leading the league in rushing.
5. William Powell (’15: 447 yards – 5.9 AVG)
I had Brandon Whitaker in this spot for the longest time but the more I was honest with myself, the more I felt that Powell has a much higher upside over the aging Whitaker. In the limited sample size we saw last year, I felt Powell had above average burst and an almost slippery running style – both good qualities for the pass heavy offense the REDBLACKS operate. In addition, with Jeremiah Johnson heading to BC, there is no real threat to steal carries away from Powell which makes him a strong bet to rack up yards and TDs. If Powell can stay healthy and Burris has one more good year in him, I think the REDBLACKS will remain a top scoring offense, and Powell a top scoring RB.
That Pair In Edmonton: John White (2014 Stats: 852 yards – 6.9 AVG) and Shakir Bell (2015 Stats: 633 yards 5.6 AVG)
Back in 2014, I thought White had the potential to overtake Cornish as the league’s top runner, then, he was lost for a year to injury and people seem to have moved on entirely. White was an absolute beauty to watch when he ran: tacklers slid off him or had their ankles broke when he cut at full speed. Anytime a runner can average just under 7 yards per carry, you take notice – and White made it look easy. That said, coming off a major injury is never easy, even with today’s modern medical care, and White will have to prove he remains the threat we saw a year ago. Further complicating matters is the emergence of rookie sensation Shakir Bell who had a big hand in making everyone forget about White with his sizzling debut. I don’t think Bell has the pure power or toughness that White does but Bell is the better receiver and thus more versatile. The problem with both of these backs is that they are so good that HC Mass will likely have them split carries, thus preventing either from passing the runners above in sheer numbers.