2016 CFL Preview: Top Linebackers

***For the Top Pass Rushers***

https://thepracticesquadblog.wordpress.com/2016/04/15/2016-cfl-preview-top-pass-rushers/

***For the Top Kickers***

https://thepracticesquadblog.wordpress.com/2016/04/08/2016-cfl-preveiw-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.  Adam Bighill: (2015 Stats: 114 TKL – 4 Sacks)

I’ll come right out and say it, Bighill’s teammate, Solomon Elimimian, won’t be on this list. As amazing as Elimimian is at LB, his injury was so severe that I am unsure he will ever return at his previous high. The same cannot be said for Bighill, who slides into the top spot based on his history of elite production. A sideline to sideline defender, Bighill can also be a dangerous pass rusher and won’t hesitate if asked to cover receivers over the middle. As the most versatile defensive player on the Lions, Bighill will be asked to perform a variety of roles for the Leos and I don’t see him backing down from the challenge. Though he may not lead the league in tackles or sacks this year, I see Bighill as the rock that the Lions can rally around if their season hits a snag or Elimimian does struggle out of the gate.

2. J.C. Sherritt: (“15 Stats: 70 TKL – 2 Sacks)

If you solely consider Sherritt’s last few years it would seem a stretch to rank him this high. However, when I watch how Sherritt played in 2015 I get the feeling that the linebacker from 2012 is about to rear his head again. Hampered by injuries and adjustment to a new scheme, Sherritt’s production tailed off in 2013 and ’14. Yet despite the setbacks the former record-breaking Linebacker showed he had not lost his edge in last year’s Grey Cup run. Even with Chris Jones and his scheme gone to Saskatchewan, I see Sherritt terrorising offenses as the centerpiece of a defense desperate to prove it is still elite. Going even further in my Sherritt prediction, I can see him making the transition from tackling machine to generating more impact plays (tackles for loss, sacks, forced fumbles, INTs) in 2016.

3. Winston Venable (“15 Stats: 103 TKL – 5 Sacks)

Easily the biggest surprise (to me) on this list is Venable who prior to week 12 of last year, I had somehow missed in my weekly stat reviews. Going back and looking at the impact Venable made, however, its not hard to see that he is primed for a huge 2016. Logging over a 100 tackles in a defense that also features Chip Cox (more on him in a bit) is a huge feat. Yes I know the Als were perennially behind and facing lots of runs (thus the inflated tackles) but guys don’t stick around on bad teams long enough to make that many tackles by chance. Venable may actually have an even more profound impact in 2016 if his offense can give him opportunities to put more pressure on the QB on passing downs, and that should scare some people.

4. Chip Cox: (“15 Stats: 79 TKL – 1 Sacks)

For years Chip Cox was my unquestioned #1 Linebacker. The man can cover wide receivers and beat them at least half the time (22 career INTs), blitz the quarterback  (25 career Sacks), tackle anything that moves (709 career TKL), and is a straight up Iron Man (1 missed game in 10 Seasons). A veteran leader and playmaker, Cox seems to make a game changing play every week and is highly consistent in his production. Age and the influx of new, younger talent on the Als roster (aka #3 Winston Venable) are the only reasons I see Cox falling to #4 in 2016.

5. Simoni Lawrence (“15 Stats: 80 TKL – 5 Sacks)

Steadily improving over the past few years, Lawrence often seems to go unheralded as an impact player on Kent Austin’s Ti-Cats, but make no mistake, the man can play. While Lawrence doesn’t place in the elite in any single statistical category he provides a solid mix of tackles, sacks, forced fumbles, and picks every year to give his team a source of well rounded production. With Collaros possibly being limited to start the season I can see the Ti-Cats turning to Lawrence to lead them through some tough games. My guess: he wont disappoint.

Young Guns: Jeff Knox Jr. (“15 Stats: 114 TKL) and Khalil Bass (“15 Stats: 99 TKL- 5 Sacks)

Both of these players had outstanding production for their first year in the league and both have valid claims to be featured on the list above. However, as with Jamaal Westerman and Boris Bede in my previous posts, I am always wary of placing rookies too high with only one year under their belts. Yet, despite my reservations, I cannot deny Knox and Bass a mention in this preview because they could very well be #1 and #2 for years to come if they continue to improve and play like they did in 2015. Go get em young guns…

 

 

 

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