November 10, 2019

Into the Spotlight: 30 players to watch in the Grey Cup Playoffs

Matt Smith/CFL.ca

In the Canadian Football League, success is measured the most in confetti and rings.

Passing yards, rushing titles, all-star nominations, franchise records — all accolades that come second to one thing and one thing only. The Grey Cup.

Ricky Ray won four of them. Anthony Calvillo three. Bo Levi Mitchell two. This year, Dane Evans, Vernon Adams and Cody Fajardo are three of the league’s newest stars, all looking for that elusive first.

When we think of some of the greatest moments in CFL history, the images are vivid, from Dave Ridgway’s game-winning kick in 1989 to ‘Clutch in the Capital’, Greg Ellingson‘s game-winning 95-yard touchdown to put Ottawa back into the big game in 2015.

History has little interest in regular season win records or second-place finishes. Only select names are engraved on the trophy every year.

As the Shaw Road to the Grey Cup kicks off, CFL.ca reveals the top 30 players to watch over the next three weeks, a list determined by a panel that considers factors including position, pressure to win, popularity, overall ability, and other various storylines.

Previous Number Ones:

2018 – Trevor Harris, QB, OTT
2017 – Duron Carter, WR, SSK
2016 – Jonathon Jennings, QB, BC
2015 – Mike Reilly, QB, EDM
2014 – Jon Cornish, RB, CGY
2013 – Darian Durant, QB, SSK

30.
CHRIS STREVELER
QB | WPG

Even if Zach Collaros starts for the Bombers in the post-season, Chris Streveler should be an important part of Paul LaPolice’s offensive game plan. The sophomore is one of the league’s most versatile quarterbacks and could provide quite a challenge for opposing coordinators as a complement to Collaros.

29.
JOHN BOWMAN
DL | MTL

The CFL’s active sack leader with 134 takedowns in his career, John Bowman clearly made the right decision to return for a 14th season. Despite being 37, Bowman has been a handful for opposing offensive linemen, recording eight sacks in the span of 16 games. Now he’s well-rested and ready to make what is likely his final push for a Grey Cup.

28.
GREG ELLINGSON
WR | EDM

Receptions were down but production was up for Greg Ellingson, who recorded a fifth consecutive 1,000-yard season in 2019. Ellingson is no stranger to the playoffs, appearing in three Grey Cups and making arguably the most famous catch in REDBLACKS history. He’s a big-game player and Trevor Harris‘ go-to receiver.

27.
JUSTIN MEDLOCK
K/P | WPG

Kickers don’t get a lot of love in these rankings, but Justin Medlock is an exception. The Bombers average the longest length on field goal attempts at 36.1 yards, but Medlock has come through, connecting on 86 per cent of his tries with a long of 55 yards. We can’t help but sense Medlock’s name will be called in a critical moment this November.

26.
SOLOMON ELIMIMIAN
LB | SSK

After being cut by BC, Solomon Elimimian showed he’s got lots left in the tank, leading the Riders with 88 tackles despite missing four games. The 33-year-old, who’s in his 10th CFL season, has been a perfect fit for Jason Shivers’ defence, providing both leadership and playmaking ability to the league’s top-ranked unit.

25.
C.J. GABLE
RB | EDM

Despite not playing since Oct. 4 due to injury, C.J. Gable is expected to be ready for the post-season. Gable reached the 1,000-yard benchmark for the second year in a row, and will be a critical component not only to the Eskimos’ ground game but also for quarterback Trevor Harris. The seven-year veteran should have fresh legs for November.

24.
ADAM BIGHILL
LB | WPG

With just 61 tackles, the lowest total of his career as a starter, it might seem like Adam Bighill has underwhelmed in 2019. Yet the reliable veteran leads a front seven that has simply shut down opposing running backs this season, ranking first in the CFL in allowing just 64 rushing yards per game — nearly 30 yards fewer than the next closest team.

23.
GENO LEWIS
WR | MTL

Of all the talented receivers in Montreal, Eugene Lewis has stood out the most after becoming the Alouettes’ first 1,000-yard receiver in two seasons. The 6-foot-1, 208-pound receiver has gone toe-to-toe with many of the CFL’s best corners this season, while his connection with Vernon Adams Jr. continues to evolve.

22.
TYRELL SUTTON
RB | HAM

Cut by the Argos in the summer, Tyrell Sutton has discovered the fountain of youth, claiming the Ticats’ No. 1 running back job while rushing for 203 yards and 5.8 yards per carry in four games. The forecast predicts a significant role for the 32-year-old in the playoffs, as the Ticats look to balance their passing attack with a physical ground game.

21.
NICK MARSHALL
DB | SSK

With four interceptions and a touchdown, Nick Marshall has made his presence known as the starting boundary corner on one of the league’s scariest secondaries. A former quarterback at Aurburn — last season he even went under centre in short yardage situations for the Riders — Marshall is one of the most versatile athletes in the CFL.

20.
HENOC MUAMBA
LB | MTL

Former first overall pick Henoc Muamba is a force on the Alouettes’ front seven, ranking fourth in the league in tackles (84) and adding one sack and two forced fumbles. The Als’ secondary has struggled at times this season, but the Canadian contingency of Muamba, Chris Ackie and Bo Lokombo has put opposing offences on alert.

19.
BRALON ADDISON
WR | HAM

Partner in crime to Brandon Banks, Bralon Addison is as good a No. 2 receiver as you will find in the CFL. The former Oregon Duck was the sixth most targeted receiver but ranked fourth in receptions, powering the league’s top-ranked offence at 394 yards per game. There’s no doubt he will feature prominently throughout the playoffs.

18.
SIMONI LAWRENCE
LB | HAM

Love him or hate him — and many would qualify for the latter — Simoni Lawrence has been one of the most dominant defenders of his era. Everyone knows he can talk, but the eight-year veteran backs it up, leading the CFL with 98 tackles this season including a record-breaking 17 in one game. Lawrence is the heartbeat of the CFL’s top-ranked team.

17.
WILLIAM STANBACK
RB | MTL

Despite a slow second half of the season, William Stanback is one of the most impressive running backs in the CFL. Running in tandem with Jeremiah Johnson, teams must account for Stanback’s speed-size combo, as the 25-year-old can run between the tackles or beat defenders to the edge. His 6.2-yard average is tops among eligible running backs in 2019.

16. 
DYLAN WYNN
DL | HAM

It’s no surprise Dylan Wynn, a key component of the Argos’ Grey Cup-winning defence in 2017, has contributed to one of the most dominant seasons in Ticats franchise history. The 26-year-old had himself a season, leading all interior linemen with 11 quarterback sacks. Whether it’s Trevor Harris or Vernon Adams Jr., he’ll be on the chase again in the Eastern Final.

15.
ERIC ROGERS
WR | CGY

A sore knee wasn’t enough to stop Eric Rogers from taking over the Western Final in 2018, scoring three touchdowns to punch the Stampeders’ ticket to Grey Cup. The 6-foot-3, 215-pound pass-catcher is a matchup nightmare for opposing defences, and somehow never fails to step up in the game’s biggest moments.

14.
CHARLESTON HUGHES
DL | SSK

Charleston Hughes, the CFL’s sack leader in 2019, only gets better with age, recording a fourth season of 15 sacks or more. Hughes is the engine of a dominant Riders’ front, which ranks second in sacks and points allowed and first in net offence. The 12th-year veteran is sure to have an impact in the playoffs.

13.
SHAQUELLE EVANS
WR | SSK

Leading all qualified receivers with 18.5 yards per catch, Shaquelle Evans has become a household name at receiver. He’s the clear No. 1 for Cody Fajardo in Regina, converting 72 of 108 targets for 1,334 yards and five touchdowns. There’s no doubt that Evans’ ability to separate from defenders has played a role in Fajardo’s breakout season.

12.
TRE ROBERSON
DB | CGY

After opening the season with five interceptions in three games, opposing quarterbacks became wise to Tre Roberson and his abilities as a ball-hawking corner. The 27-year-old has 10 interceptions and two touchdowns in his first two CFL seasons, and is quickly earning a reputation as one of the league’s most dominant shutdown defenders.

11.
TREVOR HARRIS
QB | EDM

Trevor Harris is one of the biggest question marks entering the Grey Cup Playoffs, with just one start to his name since being injured on Sept. 7. When healthy, Harris is one of the league’s most accurate passers, as evidenced by a 16-6 touchdown to interception ratio and 72 per cent efficiency. The eighth-year vet is no stranger to big games.

10.
WILLIAM POWELL
RB | SSK

In his first year in Rider Nation, William Powell doubled his previous career high in touchdowns with 12. He also recorded his third straight 1,000-yard season, and led the CFL’s third-ranked rushing attack with 112.8 yards per game. There’s no doubt the Riders will lean heavily on one of the league’s top running back stars.

9.
BO LEVI MITCHELL
QB | CGY

If not for an injury that cost him 11 games, Bo Levi Mitchell might be the leading candidate for Most Outstanding Player. Either way, the 29-year-old is vying for back-to-back championships and the third of his career. Mitchell is playing some of the best football of his career, averaging 326 passing yards per game since returning from injury.

8.
ANDREW HARRIS
RB | WPG

Despite winning the CFL’s rushing crown with 1,380 yards, Andrew Harris was a notable omission from year-end awards. None of that will matter, of course, if Harris is able to help end a Grey Cup drought dating back to 1990. The legs just keep churning for the 32-year-old, who’s coming off a career year with 1,909 yards from scrimmage.

7.
WILLIE JEFFERSON
DL | WPG

Willie Jefferson has added some personality to the Bomber defence, recording a career-high 12 sacks and six forced fumbles in his first season in Winnipeg. After leading the CFL with 45 takeaways, the Bombers will be relying on some more big plays from Jefferson off the edge throughout the post-season.

6.
DANE EVANS
QB | HAM

Dane Evans has been the CFL’s most productive quarterback since Labour Day, averaging 10.5 yards per attempt and 372 yards per game since then. Now he needs to prove to his detractors that he can get it done in November, when the spotlight is biggest. Ending a 20-year Grey Cup drought would be an incredible start to a promising career.

5.
REGGIE BEGELTON
WR | CGY

With three- and four-touchdown games on his impressive 2019 resume, Reggie Begelton has quickly emerged as one of the CFL’s must-watch stars. The 26-year-old is clearly Bo Levi Mitchell‘s favourite target, ranking in the league’s top three in yards, touchdowns and receptions. When there’s a big play to be made, Begelton shows up.

4.
ZACH COLLAROS
QB | WPG

Many wondered whether he’d play again; now Zach Collaros is back in Grey Cup Playoff spotlight. Collaros has won his last three starts against the Calgary Stampeders, while his former team, the Saskatchewan Roughriders, also stand in the way of a Grey Cup appearance for the Bombers. A dramatic twist in the always compelling West.

3.
VERNON ADAMS JR.
QB | MTL

Of Vernon Adams Jr.‘s 24 touchdown passes, 10 have come in the fourth quarter alone. Plenty of individuals deserve credit, but Adams has become a symbol of the Montreal Alouettes’ incredible turnaround in 2019. After years of finishing near the bottom of the standings, Adams and the Als might be the league’s most exciting and dangerous team.

2.
BRANDON BANKS
WR | HAM

Never shy off the field, Brandon Banks made statements with his play in 2019. The CFL’s receiving leader simply couldn’t be stopped, putting up 1,550 yards and 13 touchdowns on the league’s most productive offence. Not only that, Banks also scored twice on missed field goal returns and once on a run play. Is there a more exciting player in football?

1.
CODY FAJARDO
QB | SSK

A third-string quarterback already on his third CFL team before his 27th birthday, Cody Fajardo was an afterthought when the summer began. Now he’s one of the league’s brightest up-and-coming stars, pivoting the Riders to their first division title in a decade while providing much-needed long-term direction at the position. Can this meteoric rise continue?