October 13, 2023

O’Leary: The challenges of choosing just one player

Jimmy Jeong/

Whenever I look at the ballot for the CFL All-Star Fan Vote, I’m reminded of The Highlander movies and their infamous slogan: There can be only one.

While the stakes aren’t as high as immortals battling each other over centuries in a last-swordsman-standing scenario, there are (maybe?) similarly difficult scenarios to deal with when you make your All-Star selections.

We’ve looked at it with the quarterback position and our Marshall Ferguson has touched on the difficulties of evaluating the running back spot. Here, we’ll look at two positions that battle each other, with receivers and defensive backs and how difficult your selections might be for each group. For many fans, the league leader in a category can be a driving force in making a decision, so we’ll start with that and work our way through some top candidates.

CFL All-Star 2023
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Wide receiver

Winnipeg’s Dalton Schoen could duplicate the league-leading success he had as a rookie a year ago. With 1,222 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns through 16 games, Schoen once again leads the league in yardage and has gone over the 100-yard receiving mark in three of his last four games, as the Bombers eye a return to the top of the CFL mountain this season. He’ll be a quick selection for many fans as they try to make the decision at the WR spot.

Schoen’s place at the league’s top receiver is in jeopardy in Week 19, though, as the Bombers are on a bye. There are five players on Schoen’s heels and all are active this week.

The first that we’ll look at is Tim White. The Hamilton Tiger-Cats’ top pass catcher has 1,157 yards and six touchdowns to go with them. White has been a key piece in the Ticats’ push through the second half of the season to become a playoff team. He put up an eye-popping 180 yards and two touchdowns against Ottawa in Week 14 win and had an absurdly efficient three catches for 129 yards this past week in Saskatchewan, as the Ticats’ downed the Roughriders.

Just behind White is BC Lion Keon Hatcher and his 1,134 yards with six touchdowns. Hatcher has enjoyed a career year catching passes from Vernon Adams Jr. He can hang his hat on a 10-catch, 172-yard, one-touchdown showing against the Riders in Week 17 and a nine-catch, 170-yard, one-touchdown performance against the Stamps in Week 10.

Then there’s Montreal’s Austin Mack, who’s having a Schoen-like debut season himself (Mack isn’t eligible as a CFL rookie because of his prior NFL experience). Mack has put up 1,097 yards in 15 games, with four touchdowns and provided an answer to the Als’ biggest off-season question on who could step in at receiver for the club. He’s had five 100-plus-yard games, with his seven-catch, 143-yard, one-touchdown showing against the Lions in Week 13 as his best performance to date.

We get a second BC Lion in the mix, with Alexander Hollins and his career-best, 1064 yards and eight touchdowns. Along with Hatcher, Hollins stepped up and produced at an All-Star level while Dominique Rhymes dealt with injuries. His seven-catch, 161-yard, one-touchdown game is his only 100-plus-yard game of the season to this point, but it was an impressive one.

Finally, Calgary’s Reggie Begelton is right behind Hollins with 1,053 yards and four touchdowns through 14 games. Begelton has had two jaw-dropping games this season, posting 141 yards in the Stamps’ Week 2 win over Ottawa and then topping that with a nine-catch, 203-yard, two-touchdown game in the Stamps’ Week 12 win over the Toronto Argonauts.

With Schoen sitting this week, in theory all five of these players are capable of jumping into the league lead with another one of those season-best-type performances. Things like team performance and durability can factor into voting and since it is a fan vote, fandom can play a big factor too. If you’re an Alouettes fan, you might put far more weight on Mack’s emergence in an offence that needed him to succeed than in the other receivers thriving in their respective systems.

Defensive back 

The other half of that on-field battle has always been the more difficult choice for me. Production alone doesn’t always give you a clear cut answer with defensive backs. It’s a good place to start the internal debate though.

Winnipeg’s Demerio Houston leads the league with seven interceptions. The third-year Bomber has had a breakout season, having pulled in just two interceptions last year for the Bombers. Hamilton’s Stavros Katsantonis is another third-year player enjoying a breakout season. Primarily a special teamer in 2022, Katsantonis is one of three players tied for second in interceptions, with five. While Houston has done the bulk of his damage in the first half of the season, Katsantonis has seen his numbers peak alongside the Ticats’ run to the playoffs, with four of his picks coming in his team’s last five games.


Then there’s Marc-Antoine Dequoy, another third-year player who has put together a big season in Montreal. Dequoy also has five interceptions, including a pair of pick-sixes. He’s also added a pair of forced fumbles this year and has been one of those players who seem to be everywhere during the course of a game.

Ottawa’s Brandin Dandridge is the third part of that three-way tie for the second spot. The fourth-year REDBLACK has improved on his 2021 form this year, with a career-best five picks, two trips to the end zone and a forced fumble.

We all know though, that those stats don’t tell the whole story. Some of the most menacing defensive backs in the league are the ones that OCs and quarterbacks avoid throwing against. This is where Pro Football Focus has helped fill in what’s been a longstanding grey area for me.

PFF’s coverage grades among DBs reveal some interesting stuff. Dequoy is the highest graded DB at 90.6, which could separate him from other players in the eyes of some voters. Hamilton’s Richard Leonard (with three interceptions) is behind Dequoy with an 88.7 grade. Other standouts include BC’s Garry Peters (87.8 grade with four interceptions), BC’s Quincy Mauger (85.4 grade with one interception), Toronto rookie Qwan’tez Stiggers (84.8 grade with three interceptions) and Montreal’s Reggie Stubblefield (83.5 grade with two interceptions).

Choosing All-Stars should involve a little of everything. Stats are a part of it, but analytics and some old-school eye test can also factor into a decision. As I always tell people that are looking at the All-Star Fan Vote, having the ability to fill out three different ballots can help ease some of that pick-making anxiety.

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