Welcome to Week 1 of the 2022 season!
If 2021 was the triumphant return of the CFL, then this year serves as a welcome return to normalcy for football in this country. Training camps in May, games in June, and it all leads up to the 109th Grey Cup on November 20.
As we sit just a few days away from the season opener between Montreal and Calgary, here are a few early season awards predictions.
Most Outstanding Player: William Stanback, Montreal Alouettes
He’s already the reigning East Division MOP, and I think 2022 is the year Stanback takes it one step further. If he were to do so, Stanback would become just the third running back in the last 30 years to win the league’s top individual award, joining Jon Cornish (2013) and Mike Pringle (1995, 1998). Knowing the season Stanback is coming off, and what we know he’s capable of, seeing him take another step forward wouldn’t be surprising at all.
2021 saw Stanback run for 1,176 yards in just 12 starts, which led the league by more than 300 yards in one of the more dominant ground performances we’ve seen in a long time. Prorated over an 18-game season, Stanback would have been on pace for 1,764 rushing yards, or the sixth highest single season total in CFL history. And the scary part is it feels like Stanback is just getting started.
Still just 27 years old, Stanback has plenty left in the tank; after all, he’s dressed in just 13 games over the last two years. Seeing him run for a similar per-game average again this year won’t be a surprise, and I’m curious to see if Montreal involves him more in the red zone. With just eight career rushing touchdowns, there’s plenty of scoring potential still be unlocked. If that happens this season, watch out.
Most Outstanding Defensive Player: Jameer Thurman, Calgary Stampeders
I’m feeling beyond bullish about what a full season back in the CFL could look like for Thurman. After two solid campaigns with the Stamps, Thurman spent time south of the border in 2019 and 2020 before returning to the CFL last year. That return was a successful one, as Thurman played 14 games with Calgary, primarily at weak side linebacker, and was dominant. And much like Stanback, this guy is also just getting started.
At 27, Thurman is smack dab in the middle of his prime years at his position. We’re talking about one of the league’s best athletes here, and Thurman uses all those gifts on the field. He’s rangy and is seemingly never out of range to make a tackle. But it’s not just straight-ahead and lateral speed Thurman brings to the table. His athleticism carries over to the back foot, too, enabling him to drop into coverage at an elite level for a natural linebacker.
Thurman’s numbers were great last season: he finished with 62 tackles, three sacks, and three forced fumbles. With his move to MIKE linebacker, though, Thurman’s numbers have a strong chance of exploding. With Darnell Sankey, the league’s leading tackler last year, no longer in the fold, Thurman now brings all his tools to the middle of the defence. I can’t wait to see how it plays out.
Most Outstanding Canadian: Jordan Williams, BC Lions
Williams could have easily won this award last year, but instead it went to teammate and fellow linebacker Bo Lokombo. In reality, there was next to nothing between the two players, but a team can only nominate one player for each award. Luckily, Williams wasn’t left out in winning a major award in 2021, as he ended up being named Most Outstanding Rookie. Once again, he and Lokombo will make up a dynamic Canadian duo unlike any found elsewhere in the league.
Williams joined the Lions with huge expectations after being selected first overall at the 2020 CFL Draft. When the league resumed play last year, Williams was beyond ready to rock. After his college career wrapped up in 2017, Williams tried to find work on both sides of the border before opting to use his Canadian citizenship to enter the draft in 2020. After a worldwide pandemic delayed his return to game action a further year, you can understand how fired up Williams was to finally make his professional debut.
The results were impressive. Williams finished his rookie season with 92 defensive tackles, good for second overall. He also added one sack and one interception to complete a sparkling debut campaign that sets the tone for what’s to come. With Lokombo on BC’s weak side again, you know Williams is going to rack up the tackles for a second straight year. In fact, knowing what he did as a rookie, it wouldn’t surprise me if Williams finishes well into the triple digits. The last Lions player to do that just happened to be some guy named Solomon Elimimian.