TORONTO — With the midpoint of the season quickly approaching we’re entering into the territory where it’s safe to start thinking about end-of-season award winners.
It’s fitting that the first team to truly hit the midway mark in the schedule is the 9-0 Winnipeg Blue Bombers. We expected success from the two-time defending Grey Cup champions, but to see them run the table to this point — without getting a bye week yet! — has been truly incredible. Of course, with the Bombers’ continued success, the talk of Zach Collaros continuing on as MOP rolls on with it. Collaros is a more than worthy MOP candidate (we’ll get into that fully very quickly here), but he’s got some competition that very few people saw coming this season.
Nathan Rourke and the BC Lions are doing everything they can to upend the Bombers as this year’s biggest story. Rourke, a 24-year-old first-year starting quarterback (you may have heard he’s also Canadian), has led the Lions to a 6-1 record and rewritten the record books along the way.
A rookie receiver in Winnipeg has generated a ton of buzz for himself and there are a handful of candidates — many at linebacker — that are making their respective cases for Defensive Player of the Year recognition. CFL.ca’s writers take a look at all of this — and you can voice your opinion too — in the near midseason edition of the Weekly Say.
Who is your midway pick for Most Outstanding Player?
Jim Morris: Right now the MOP race is between Zach Collaros and Nathan Rourke. Both play on talented teams. You wonder about the future of either team if their starting quarterback were injured. I lean toward Collaros because he clearly won the only meeting between the two. Also, Rourke has yet to prove he can beat the Stampeders and Bombers.
Kristina Costabile: This year’s MOP has to be Zach Collaros. All Zach has done since joining the Bombers is win and not only that, he’s playing some of the best football I’ve ever seen from him. I said this before the start of the season and I stand by it, I think Collaros will win back-to-back MOPs.
Marshall Ferguson: The natural argument here is Collaros vs. Rourke, but the consistency and overall statistical production leans Rourke, which I value higher than Collaros’ – admittedly special – second down and late game magic. Rourke isn’t just the best story in the CFL. He’s proven to be one of its very best players.
Chris O’Leary: Rourke’s numbers have been spectacular to this point, but like Jim says, I’d give the edge to Collaros at this point. Collaros is leading a history-making team that hasn’t taken a single loss yet. That includes a convincing Blue Bombers win over the Lions in Week 5.
Jamie Nye: Some QB in BC. Seems kind of talented.
Who is your midway pick for Rookie of the Year?
Jim Morris: To me, the top rookie is Dalton Schoen. He was a walk-on in college and looks very comfortable on the Bombers being third in the CFL in yards and second in touchdowns.
Kristina Costabile: Dalton Schoen has been the most impressive rookie this year. He sits third in the league in receiving yards (641) and second in touchdowns (seven), fitting nicely into the Bombers receiving corps.
Marshall Ferguson: When Kenny Lawler left, the Bombers’ passing attack was inevitably going to lean on Greg Ellingson. With him injured and out I never could have imagined a rookie receiver grabbing the dominant Winnipeg receiver reins from Rasheed Bailey or Nic Demski, but that’s exactly what Schoen has done.
Jamie Nye: Dalton Schoen! The Bomber receiver has all the intangibles that make for a dangerous CFL receiver: great route runner, quickness, decent size and great hands. Winnipeg isn’t missing Kenny Lawler or Darvin Adams because they found an excellent star in Schoen.
Chris O’Leary: It’s Schoen, for all of the reasons listed above. I do think that Stamps’ defensive back Titus Wall deserves a little love here too. The 23-year-old defensive back has 30 tackles, two sacks and three picks and two of those went to the end zone. He’s also got a pair of forced fumbles. That’s not a bad start through seven games.
Who is your midway pick for Outstanding Canadian?
Jim Morris: Nathan Rourke is the clear favourite for top Canadian. He’s proven his value both on the field, where he leads the league in passing yards (2,418) and touchdowns (21). He’s also twice set the record for yards by a Canadian quarterback in a game. Maybe more importantly, Rourke has revitalized interest in Lions football in Vancouver.
Kristina Costabile: Is there any question that the best Canadian this year has been Nathan Rourke? His first year as a starting pivot has been exceptional, breaking records and leading his team to a 6-1 record. He’s at the top of almost all QB stats among starters (yards, touchdowns, completion percentage and efficiency) and doesn’t look to be slowing down any time soon.
Marshall Ferguson: If Rourke stays healthy and on track with his current rate of production he’ll have one of the most memorable seasons in recent CFL memory; an accomplishment that would be ludicrous not to crown with both MOP and MOC.
Jamie Nye: See MOP choice.
Chris O’Leary: Outstanding Canadian feels like a lock for Rourke. Really, he probably has it based off of the setting and re-setting of Canadian passing records this season alone.
Who’s your midway pick for Defensive Player of the Year?
Jim Morris: I think Riders’ linebacker Larry Dean is quietly putting together a very good season. He leads the league with 49 tackles, has two sacks, two forced fumbles and an interception.
Kristina Costabile: This was a tossup for me between two Roughrider linebackers but I’m going to go with Larry Dean. Dean’s having an excellent season. He’s been all over the field making plays and is a big part of the success of the Riders’ defence.
Marshall Ferguson: A Linebacker.
With Money Hunter out several weeks but still tied for the CFL lead in interceptions, and Pete Robertson doing the same for Saskatchewan in sacks it feels as though the plethora of linebacking talent across the CFL is undeniably going to take home this award. The determining factor will likely be which West Division standout peaks as voting nears. I see this as a tossup right now between Saskatchewan’s Darnell Sankey and Larry Dean, Calgary’s Cameron Judge and Jameer Thurman or possibly an East Division dark horse like Wynton McManis.
Jamie Nye: Pete Robertson. He’s only played five games of the team’s eight and he’s still No. 1 in sacks in the league. Add in the fumble recoveries and forced fumbles and Robertson has been a force off the edge. The Riders will be happy to have him back this weekend.
Chris O’Leary: It feels strange to not automatically go to a Bombers player here. Either Adam Bighill or Willie Jefferson have won this award in Blue and Gold going back to 2018. I could be swayed back here in the second half of the season but right now I like what Jamie Nye is cooking. Pete Robertson has been a disruptor in the five games he’s played and they were 4-1 when he went out. He just may be an important piece for them.