October 6, 2023

O’Leary: The great All-Star QB conundrum

Daniel Crump, Minas Panagiotakis, Kevin Sousa/CFL.ca

It turns out the most interesting parts of the season also make for the most difficult decisions.

Three teams separated themselves from the pack early on in this season: the Toronto Argonauts, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and the BC Lions. As fans begin to place their votes for All-Stars this week through Oct. 31 and as coaches and media across the country weigh in on All-Star and award nominees, we’ll all start to see that these three teams are going to put us in difficult spots.

It runs deeper than quarterback, but the most important position in the game is a great place to start thinking about this.

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We’ll start with the two-time reigning Most Outstanding Player, in Zach Collaros. The Bombers’ pivot heads into Week 18 having thrown a league-leading 30 touchdowns and has 3,738 passing yards through 15 games. His 112.6 QB efficiency rating is the highest among starters in the league and the Bombers are sitting at 11-4, in that familiar spot atop the West Division that they’ve known so well over the last three seasons.

Unlike the last two seasons, this one hasn’t just been the Bombers flexing their dominance across the league, with the appropriate accolades — All-Star selections and award wins — piling up at their feet. The Argos and the Lions have made that top-team-in-the-league debate just as much about them, after the Argos topped the Bombers in the 109th Grey Cup last year in Regina.

Let’s stick with the Argos and Chad Kelly. Many of us spent the off-season wondering if the Argos had enough at quarterback in the wake of McLeod Bethel-Thompson‘s departure to successfully defend that Grey Cup title. It was never a knock on the glimpses that Kelly had shown in the time he got on the field; it was more of a quantity vs. quality question. Given that all we knew about Kelly was what we saw in the one CFL start he had and his acing of one high-pressure, bring-it-home closing sequence in that Grey Cup game, it was fair to question if he could deliver through a full 18-game schedule.


While some of us wondered, the Argos knew exactly what they had. Kelly rolled into the 2023 season looking like a poised vet essentially from the get-go. His 3,396 passing yards has him fourth in the league; his 21 touchdown passes are third in the league and his 110.2 QB efficiency is second behind Collaros. His numbers may stay around this mark, after the Argos clinched the East Division in Week 14. When you’re weighing Kelly’s All-Star worthiness, you’ll have to remember that he filled his resume out in the first two thirds of the season.

Our third piece of this puzzle might be putting together his strongest case for end-of-season love in the final third of the season. Vernon Adams Jr. has the Lions right there with the Bombers with a matching 11-4 record and of course, their teams meet tonight at BC Place for a first-place, season series-clinching showdown.


In his first full season with the Lions, Adams has taken the professional leap that he’s been after since he was named an East Division All-Star back in 2019 with the Montreal Alouettes. The 30-year-old leads the league in passing, with a career-best 4,005 yards on a 68.9 per cent completion rate and he’s bringing his best work late in the season.

His 458-yard, three-touchdown performance last week against the Saskatchewan Roughriders was the second-highest total he’s put up in his career, coming in just behind the 488-yard, four-TD game he had in 2019 against the Bombers. Since returning from injury in Week 10, Adams has only had one game of under 300 passing yards and the Lions have racked up wins, as they take a four-game win streak into this colossal game tonight against the Bombers.

So when it comes to All-Star fan voting, which way do you lean? Do you go with the Kelly, the QB tied to the team that’s been out in front of the pack all year? Do you go with Collaros, who has been consistently excellent essentially from the second he first put on a Bombers’ uniform four years ago? Or do you go with Adams, who has picked up the torch that was briefly and brilliantly held by Nathan Rourke this time last year and marched the Lions to the cusp of greatness?

The biggest challenge that fans will face in the voting process is that they can only choose one player at each position. That said, you do get three ballots if you want to spread the love around while giving no one player a distinct advantage. If you think the fan vote is difficult, wait until the coaches and media dig in on award voting in the coming month.

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