***For last week’s article on 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 years players as I have little info on new International players and the draft rarely yields elite level talent (at least in the players rookie year). Please feel free to leave a comment if you have other thoughts and check out my CFL thread on disqus.com (https://disqus.com/home/channel/cflcanadianfootballleague/)
Here we go…
I want to preface this with just how hard it is to select the best pass rushers in the CFL. I left off about six players who all could make legit claims to be on the list. However, while I can’t say my list is definitive these are the players I feel are going to produce the most sacks in 2016.
1.Justin Capicciotti (“15: 12 Sacks-1 FF)
I know I will have a lot of push back here but I am willing to go out on a limb for the #1 spot. “Cap” surprised everyone when he broke out a couple years ago, then showed he was not a one year wonder by putting together another stellar season. Now in Saskatchewan I see several reasons that Cap can take home the Sack Championship. First, he will be under Chris Jones’ mastermind defensive scheme that will put Cap at the center of attention. Jones targeted Cap in FA for his ability to be a game wrecker and he will have big plans for the Canadian D Lineman. Second, Cap will be placed among several other pass rushers who can wreck havoc (Shawn Lemon and Tearrius George) and will be expected to lead by example with intriguing young talents Dylan Ainsworth and Brandon Tennat waiting in the wings. Health permitting, I can see Cap hitting 16+ sacks this season which should be enough for the title.
2. John Chick (“15: 11 Sacks-1 FF)
This placement is an indication of Chick’s overall talent and past achievements as well as how disrespected he must feel by getting cut from the Riders (motivation will not be lacking). Arguably the top pass rusher in the league over the past few years Chick was unceremoniously dumped and scooped up by the Ti-Cats. Like Capicciotti, Chick is with a coach that knows how to use him (Austin, who was with Chick in “07), and will be on a deadly lineup in Hamilton that includes Ted Laurent and Eric Norwood. The only thing keeping Chick lower than Cap on my list is his age (33) which may signal the start of a decline for the former Rider. Still, a motivated John Chick could be a scary thought for the rest of the league.
3. John Bowman (“15: 19 Sacks-2 FF)
It hurts putting the reigning Sack Champion this low, especially when he he did it in a year when his own coaching staff questioned his necessity. Even ranked at #3 I will never fully discount Bowman after his highly productive career. I still remember some years back when Bowman was taking on 2 Roughrider O-Line men and split em both for a critical strip sack of Darian Durant on the final play of the game. That’s Hall of Fame material and its happened throughout his career. That said, the old adage that “Father Time is undefeated” applies to all players, even Bowman. I still see him being an elite pass rusher, but not leading the CFL for two years in a row.
4. Odell Willis (2015 Stats: 9 Sacks-1 FF)
Willis is a curious case with some valid arguments that he should be higher or off the list entirely. There are weeks where the enigmatic defender will seem completely unblockable and turn in game changing plays, and then there are others where his impact will appear minimal. Still, if you look at his body of work you will see an upper echelon pass rusher who can be a downright nightmare when he is on. I see Willis putting in extra effort as a defending Grey Cup champion with seemingly everyone doubting his teams ability to repeat.
5. Jamaal Westerman (“15: 17 Sacks-1 FF)
I wanted to place Eric Norwood or Charleston Hughes in this spot as Westerman has only played one year, I also wanted to put Westerman higher on the list because 17 sacks is flippin crazy for your first CFL season. The dynamic defender made his way up from the NFL and justified his high CFL expectations with a phenomenal season. In the end I decided this is the safest place to slot Westerman. I expect a drop off from his numbers last year but even if he gets six less sacks he will still be in the top five. Very interested to see what the Bombers top defender will do in 2016.
Sleeper Candidates: Gabriel Knapton (“15: 11 Sacks-0 FF) and Aston Whiteside (“15: 7 Sacks-2 FF).
Knapton logged 9 sacks in 2014 and threw up 11 this past season. The Montreal pass rusher has demonstrated consistency and stayed relatively healthy throughout his two seasons and should only improve at the young age of 26.
For some Whiteside’s name may fly under the radar as he only started 5 games before injury knocked him out for the season. Make no mistake however, his impact on the field was certainly note worthy. Notching 7 sacks in those 5 games to go along with 2 forced fumbles is tremendous production for a player with such limited snaps. Injuries cost him a chance to place higher on the list and may be a concern going forward, but Whiteside is a player who is going to make a splash.
Stay tuned next week for the top Linebackers of 2016…