With the 2023 campaign winding down, we’re heading into All-Star season! Fan voting is open until Oct. 31 and it feels more difficult than ever to narrow down selections to such a small number.
Once again this year, league All-Stars will be decided by input from fans, us media folks in the Football Reporters of Canada and the league’s nine head coaches. The voting process is slightly different for all three groups involved, but one theme is constant: these are some really tough decisions.
Here are three of the biggest dilemmas we’re all going to face as we start putting together ballots.
The quarterback conundrum
It feels like the league’s best quarterback has been relatively easy to identify in any given season. That isn’t the case in 2023.
Toronto’s Chad Kelly, Winnipeg’s Zach Collaros, and BC’s Vernon Adams Jr. all have eyes on this year’s Most Outstanding Player. As such, all three players will get plenty of All-Star consideration. But narrowing it down to one is extremely difficult knowing how close these three have been.
The difference between the CFL’s three best pivots this season is miniscule. While Adams and Collaros have been slightly more prolific through the air, Kelly makes up for it with his eight rushing touchdowns, which is the second-highest total in the league behind Ottawa’s Dustin Crum.
So how the heck do you choose just one? Even selecting only one of Collaros or Adams to represent the West Division is going to be difficult, let alone choosing one ultimate league All-Star. For me, with two weeks remaining in the season, I’m leaning ever so slightly to Kelly.
What Kelly has done as a first year CFL starter is impressive. He’s been dynamic, dangerous and has done a strong job of limiting mistakes. In fact, his 3.0 per cent interception rate is the lowest of the trio in question. It’s been a long time since the Argos have had an offence this explosive and Kelly is the biggest reason why. That’s an All-Star quality.
When I submit my ballot every season, I get to choose multiple receivers to help the league get to five when they announce the roster. That’s going to be a tall task this year with how ridiculously deep the position is. But to get it down to just one on the fan vote? That seems almost cruel.
With two weeks remaining, Hamilton’s Tim White leads the league with 1,269 receiving yards. Then there’s last year’s Most Outstanding Rookie in Winnipeg’s Dalton Schoen, who’s the league leader in touchdown catches with 10, and only a mere 47 yards behind White.
Oh, and then rounding out the top-five on the yardage chart just happen to be a trio of breakout stars. Keon Hatcher (1,226) and Alexander Hollins (1,157) are both having superstar seasons with the BC Lions while Austin Mack (1,097) has taken the CFL by storm since signing with Montreal in May.
Any one of the above five could and should be an All-Star. But we haven’t mentioned Nic Demski of the Bombers who has a higher average per catch (11.8 yards) than any of the names already mentioned. And nobody in the league has more targets (125) or receptions (85) than Shawn Bane Jr. of the Roughriders.
I’m crossing my fingers we get a little more separation in the final two weeks of the season. Honestly, though, I’m not counting on it.
Lots of linebackers
Similar to the conversation at receiver is the dilemma that exists in choosing just one or two linebackers. Because as much as defensive tackles are a very telling stat, it’s not the only metric that carries weight in this conversation.
And that’s not to say current leader Micah Awe of the Stampeders shouldn’t be getting serious consideration here. With 113 tackles and two games to go, Awe will almost certainly finish the year on top of the league to go along with one sack, two interceptions, and one forced fumble.
Saskatchewan’s Larry Dean is a great story, too. After missing all of 2021 with injury and then spending 2022 on the weak side, Dean is back at his natural middle linebacker position this year and you can tell. Dean sits second with 100 defensive tackles and has added two sacks, two interceptions, and a forced fumble.
So how then do we value the season Cameron Judge is having in Calgary? His 84 defensive tackles are nothing to sneeze at and place him seventh overall. But Judge has also added four interceptions, including a huge pick six in Saturday’s win over the Riders, to go along with two sacks and a forced fumble.
I ask the same question when talking about Toronto’s Wynton McManis. He leads all linebackers with two defensive touchdowns this season while also racking up four interceptions, four sacks, and 75 defensive tackles.
Much like quarterback, sometimes it’s relatively easy pinpointing the league’s best one or two linebackers in a given season. This year is definitely not one of them.