Willie Jefferson named Most Outstanding Defensive Player

CALGARY — Willie Jefferson capped off an incredible 2019 season by winning the Most Outstanding Defensive Player award at the Shaw CFL Awards on Thursday night.

Jefferson was a nightmare for opposing offences this season, whether he was getting after the quarterback, dropping back in coverage or stopping running backs in their tracks.

“This just shows all the hard work that I put in during the offseason as a whole and the work we put in during the offseason,” Jefferson said. “Just being recognized for all that hard work, all those passes knocked down and all those sacks.”

Hamilton Tiger-Cats linebacker Simoni Lawrence is the runner-up after leading the league with 98 tackles, including a CFL record 17 in one game back on Sept. 27. Lawrence and Jefferson will go head to head in the 107th Grey Cup presented by Shaw on Sunday.

Jefferson possesses a skill-set that is unique to the CFL, compiling a stellar campaign that included a career-high 12 sacks along with 24 tackles, an interception, six forced fumble, two recovered fumbles, five tackles for a loss and 16 pass knockdowns, a league record for a defensive lineman.

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The Beaumont, Texas native led a defence that ranked first in opponent rushing yards, turnovers forced and pass knockdowns. Winnipeg finished second in interceptions (24), fumble recoveries (13) and in forcing turnovers (45).

In the process, Winnipeg’s run defence put up historic numbers, allowing just 64.2 yards per game on the ground — the second lowest total in modern history. Jefferson, who joined the Bombers as a free agent after spending time with Saskatchewan and Edmonton, played a leading role.

The honour marks the first of Jefferson’s career, which began back in 2014 when he broke into the league with the Eskimos. The Blue Bombers have claimed the award in back-to-back years, following Adam Bighill’s win in 2018. Other Winnipeg players to receive the honour include Jovon Johnson (2011), Greg Battle (1990-91) and Tyrone Jones (1985).