The Canadian Press
With the traditional start of training camp getting closer, it’s starting to feel a lot like football. It has been 14 months since we’ve seen CFL football and almost two years since we’ve heard the crashing of pads at training camp. With that in mind, I thought I’d put together a bit of a crash course over the next few weeks to help refresh your memory of the 2019 season.
We’ll start by focusing on the East Division and naming one MVP for each team. We’re only using one piece of criteria: the player we singled out had to be under contract on the same team for the 2021 season.
Montreal Alouettes: Vernon Adams Jr., quarterback
This was the easiest decision to make. While there can only be two nominees for Most Outstanding Player each year, there probably should have been three in 2019. That’s how good Vernon Adams Jr. was in his first full year as a CFL starting quarterback and he deserved to be in the same conversation with Saskatchewan’s Cody Fajardo and Hamilton’s Brandon Banks (more on him later).
Adams finished the 2019 season fourth in passing yards (3,942) and second in passing touchdowns (24). He also added 394 more rushing yards and tied for the league lead with 12 rushing majors. With 36 total touchdowns, Adams was the CFL’s most dangerous scoring threat in 2019. Not bad for a guy that wasn’t even Montreal’s Week 1 starter.
Adams was also the driving force in a return to relevance for the Alouettes. It had been a tough slog in Montreal, but with key additions on both sides of the ball, the team finished 10-8 for their first season above .500 in seven years. Adams returns this season alongside fellow key players William Stanback, B.J. Cunningham, Patrick Levels, and Quan Bray, which means the 2021 expectations will be justifiably high.
Hamilton Tiger-Cats: Brandon Banks, receiver
Knowing how good Hamilton was in 2019, choosing a most valuable player wasn’t as easy as you’d think. But, considering Brandon Banks is the reigning Most Outstanding Player, the nod had to go to him after re-signing with the Tiger-Cats in December. Hamilton enters 2021 as Grey Cup favourites once again, mainly because they’ve returned so many players from last season. Banks is at the head of that class.
Banks was quite simply the CFL’s most electrifying player in 2019 en route to another career season. Considering what he did in 2018, I wasn’t sure that was possible. I was wrong. Banks led the league in both receiving yards (1,550) and touchdowns (13). He also added a rushing major and two return touchdowns on a pair of missed field goals.
The only reason Banks wasn’t a slam-dunk here was because of how many elite players Hamilton is returning in 2021. Also coming back with Banks are fellow 2019 league All-Stars Bralon Addison, Brandon Revenberg, Chris Van Zeyl, Dylan Wynn, Simoni Lawrence, Tunde Adeleke, and Frankie Williams. I think you can understand why they remain Grey Cup frontrunners.
Ottawa REDBLACKS: Avery Williams, linebacker
2019 was tough in Ottawa, specifically knowing how conditioned this team had been to winning. Prior to last season, the REDBLACKS had made the playoffs four straight seasons, appearing in three title games in that span. To go from an appearance in the 106th Grey Cup to a 3-15 season the following season was hard to swallow. But there were bright spots, including the sophomore campaign for Avery Williams.
Williams turned into a key part of Ottawa’s defence almost immediately upon joining the team for the 2018 season. And, had he not been limited by injuries in 2019, he would have challenged for the league lead in tackles. As it was, he still finished top-20 with 69 defensive tackles in 11 games. Over 18 games, however, Williams’s pace would have had him in the mix near the top of the league.
Williams also added a sack and a forced fumble to complete his 2019 season and will once again be a huge part of an Ottawa defence that also boasts newcomers Don Unamba and Cleyon Laing. At 26, it feels like Williams is just getting started, which should bode well for a REDBLACKS team looking for a huge bounce back season.
Toronto Argonauts: Alden Darby, defensive back
Toronto’s narrative over the last few months has been all about new faces. That’s what happens when a team adds names like Charleston Hughes, Cameron Judge, Henoc Muamba, Nick Arbuckle, Eric Rogers, and Odell Willis. As such, a re-signing like Alden Darby’s in late January flies a little more under the radar as a result. That shouldn’t diminish how important it is, though.
Darby is coming off an outstanding 2019 for the Argos where he finished third on the team with 56 defensive tackles and tied for third in the league with five interceptions. Entering his fourth CFL season, Darby has shown he can slot in and excel pretty much anywhere in a defensive backfield. He has taken steps in each of his three seasons and I’m expecting that trend to continue in 2021.
So while the Argos have been busy adding impact players, they’ve made some key re-signings, too. Joining Darby are Llevi Noel and 2020 signings Juwan Brescasin and Drake Nevis. Even with the massive additions they’ve made, losing Darby would have been a massive loss for Toronto. The expectations are sky high this year and Darby will play a huge part in helping the Argos achieve their lofty goals.