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. Mike Reilly (2015 Stats: 2449 Yards-15 TD-10 INT)
Hard to dispute Mike Reilly taking the top spot after his return from injury sparked and incredible 10 game winning streak and a CFL championship. Forget Reilly’s average statistics, those will return in spades this year with a healthy body and the terrifying duo of Adarius Bowman and Derel Walker to throw to. Instead, look at how the Eskimos came together as a team when under the veteran leadership of the CFL’s toughest player. The Eskimos lost their entire coaching staff and many impact players this past offseason, but with Reilly under center this team still has one of the best chances to win it all yet again.
2. Henry Burris (2015 Stats: 5703 Yards-26 TD-10 INT)
In terms of statistical production Henry Burris was in a league of his own last year as the director of the CFL’s best passing attack. Piling up nearly 6000 yards and creating enough opportunities for four different 1000 yard receivers Burris shot down any suggestion that the aging passer (41) had lost any of his edge. In fact, Burris was so successful that his stellar season keeps potential top 5 QB Trevor Harris (who now backs up Burris) off the list entirely.
Having come just 6 points away from adding another Grey Cup ring to his collection I see Burris keeping his foot on the gas pedal in 2017. With all four of his elite receivers from the previous year still on the roster and yet another first round offensive lineman added via the draft there is no way I can drop Henry any lower than #2.
3. Darian Durant (2015 Stats: 165 Yards-2 TD-0 INT)
Perhaps the biggest leap I have taken on any of my positional rankings this offseason, I have DD coming back from not one but two (!) season ending injuries to be the #3 quarterback in the CFL. Despite not seeing a CFL snap in nearly a year reports are that Darian’s poise and accuracy are leaving teammates stunned by the scope of his game. At 33 Durant is both experienced enough to fully understand the intricacies of the CFL game while still young enough to keep the physical edge and escapability that have defined his career with the Roughriders. While people will point out the absolutely awful season the Riders had a year ago don’t forget that the Green and White still had one of the most productive offenses without Durant. Now with a blank slate and a completely new coaching staff I can see the Riders offense reaching new heights with Durant at the helm.
4. Bo Levi Mitchell (2015 Stats: 4551 Yards-26 TD-13 INT)
Bo Levi is one of the most curious cases in the CFL when it comes to discussing his place among the best quarterbacks in the game. On one hand you have people pointing out his record setting number of wins to start a career (12 of 13), his Grey Cup ring won at the young age of 25, and his elite level of production the past 2 seasons (over 3000 yards and 20 TDs both years). Yet on the other hand you have the fans that point out the Mitchel was placed on one of the strongest and deepest rosters the CFL has seen in decades, tutored under one of the best offensive coordinators in the game, and buoyed by the presence of the indomitable Jon Cornish.
I can see validity of both sides of the argument but I keep coming back to one simple truth: Quarterback is the single most important position in football and you either have one or you don’t. The Montreal Alouettes had a very powerful roster last year and they got nowhere because they didn’t have a quarterback. The Edmonton Eskimos were the Grey Cup champions but you cant tell me that team wins with just anyone at throwing the rock. Bo Levi may benefit from having an incredible team around him but he alone is making the reads and completing the passes. I for one see Bo continuing to produce at a high level in 2017 and beyond.
5. Ricky Ray (2015 Stats: 423 Yards-2 TD-1 INT)
Taking a leap of faith here when it comes to placing Ricky Ray at #5 after the veteran passer missed nearly all of last year with a nagging injury. Yet Ray is uniquely qualified to make an excellent return from injury. Why you ask? For one it was never his physical gifts that made Ricky Ray dangerous. Essentially the “Peyton Manning” of the CFL Ricky Ray is renowned for how well he can read a defense, single out a weak spot, and put the ball where no one but his intended receiver can get it. I haven’t heard anyone talk up Ray’s fastball in the past 6 years but that hasn’t stopped him from winning a Grey Cup or snagging multiple League All Star nods.
The second reason to belive Ray will make a solid return is what surrounds him on offense. The incredibly promising young receiver corps of Kevin Elliot, Tori Gurley, and Vidal Hazelton is more than most QBs have to play with. Combine this with two of the leagues best pass catching backs in Andre Durie and Anthony Coombs and Ray has all the weapons he needs to keep pace with the CFL’s elite passers.
Comeback Player of the Year: Travis Lulay (2015 Stats: 1953 Yards-12 TD-10 INT)
Its easy to forget but from late 2010 to 2012 Travis Lulay was the best quarterback in the league, leading the Lions to a Grey Cup win in 2011 and snagging an MOP for himself. Yet a scant 5 years after his crowning achievement Lulay finds himself battling 23 year old Jonathan Jennings for starter snaps in training camp. Injuries and the inconsistent play that accompanied playing through them stripped Lulay of his elite status and have some already resigning him to the “Kevin Glenn” like career of a perpetual backup.
Despite all this I think Lulay is ripe for a comeback season that downright shocks the CFL. Finally healthy and undoubtedly motivated Lulay still has the mobility and veteran savvy that helped make him one of the games most dangerous signal callers. If his accuracy returns and he stays out of the trainers room I think Lulay could climb right back up to #1 on this list for 2017.