With Week 16 in the books, we have officially passed the three-quarter mark of the 2023 season.
While there’s still a ton to play for in this final stretch, I thought now would be a good time to identify some of the positive surprises from the season thus far. It turns out, narrowing it down was difficult but here’s what we came up with.
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Chad Kelly | Toronto Argonauts | Quarterback
We knew he had a solid track record and great potential. And we knew head coach Ryan Dinwiddie and general manager Pinball Clemons were putting their faith in him for a reason. But that doesn’t mean we really knew what to expect in Kelly’s first year as a professional starter. To see him, then, as a leading Most Outstanding Player candidate has to be considered somewhat of a pleasant surprise.
In his first year as a regular starter at any level since 2016, Kelly has knocked it out of the park. In 13 starts, Kelly has thrown for 3,396 yards and his average of over 261 passing yards per game leads the league. Additionally, Kelly has thrown 21 touchdowns against 11 interceptions and his 110.2 quarterback rating ranks him behind only Winnipeg’s Zach Collaros. When you add in eight more rushing touchdowns, it becomes clear just how well Kelly has performed.
Nyles Morgan | Edmonton Elks | Linebacker
There wasn’t a lot of buzz surrounding Morgan entering 2023, mainly because he only appeared in six games the prior year. In those six games, however, Morgan put himself on the radar as a potential breakout candidate this year. And that’s exactly what he’s been.
In fact, with his 12 tackles in Friday’s tough loss to BC, Morgan now leads the CFL with 98 defensive tackles this season. The third-year member of the Elks has also added four sacks and one interception in his breakout campaign and has been a big part of his team’s second half resurgence. And, having just turned 27 last month, Morgan isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
Austin Mack | Montreal Alouettes | Receiver
No one has been a bigger out-of-nowhere revelation this season than Mack. Signed by the Als just before the start of training camp, the Ohio State product has been a difference maker right from the start and is showing no signs of slowing down. In 14 appearances this year, Mack leads the league with 1,057 receiving yards while also catching four touchdown passes.
What makes Mack’s year even more impressive is his consistency. Mack has gone over 100 receiving yards on five different occasions and has gone for 70 or more in eight of his starts. It’s also important to note that even with more attention paid to him, Mack’s production and effectiveness didn’t drop while running mate Kaion Julien-Grant was on the shelf for an extended period.
Kevin Brown | Edmonton Elks | Running back
Much like teammate Morgan, Brown was on a few radars as a potential breakout candidate this year. And, after starting just four games in 2022, Brown has exploded onto the scene this season as one of the CFL’s most dangerous running threats. Brown is one of two tailbacks with a four-digit rushing total this year; his 1,022 yards put him behind only Winnipeg’s Brady Oliveira at 1,190.
What’s really notable is the fact Brown only became a true staple in Edmonton’s offence in the second half of the season. After being used more sporadically early on, Brown hit double digits in carries in six straight weeks before that streak was snapped over the weekend against BC. As such, Brown hasn’t touched the ball to the same extent that guys like Oliveira and Hamilton’s James Butler have. His 6.2 yards-per-carry average, however, just happens to lead the league.
Micah Awe | Calgary Stampeders | Linebacker
Many around the league wondered how Calgary’s defence would react with Jameer Thurman leaving for Hamilton. Well, the Stamps filled that void at middle linebacker by signing Awe in free agency and their decision has paid off. After five solid seasons with BC, Ottawa, Toronto, and Montreal, Awe has taken it to a different level in red and white.
Having paced the league in defensive tackles most of the year, Awe now sits second overall with 96. He’s also added six more on special teams to go along with one sack, two interceptions and one forced fumble. While it’s generally been a tough go in Calgary, Awe’s play has been a big-time bright spot. They’ll need him to keep playing at a high level if tracking down a playoff spot is in the cards.
Robertson Daniel | Toronto Argonauts | Defensive back
All Daniel has done in 2023 is redefine his position. From his spot at boundary halfback, Daniel has proven to be perhaps the league’s most versatile defender this year. With 55 defensive tackles in 11 starts, Daniel has been very involved for a defensive back…but it’s not like that has taken away from his more traditional responsibilities.
With four interceptions on the year, Daniel is among many tied for second overall in that department. Right there with him is Argos’ cornerback Jamal Peters. Those two have combined to form one of the CFL’s best lockdown boundary duos and Daniel has been a huge part of it. Very few saw this type of season coming from Daniel and his breakout has been a huge part of Toronto’s dominant campaign so far.