Picking All-Stars is always an impossibly gruelling task.
Every year, there are players that are more than qualified for recognition and every year there are never enough spots to accommodate all of them. It’s one thing if you’re looking at a media ballot for All-Star recognition, where you get to recognize 27 players, covering 12 on offence and defence and three on special teams.
For the CFL’s All-Star Fan Vote, where you’re choosing a single player at 10 spots, it’s even more difficult (this is a great spot to remind voting fans that you can vote three times if you need to spread the decision-making love around to more than one player). It can make it doubly (or triply, quadruply, etc.) times more difficult for a player to break through as a first-time All-Star.
That could change this year, though. There’s a plethora of players worthy of a first-time All-Star selection. While they likely all won’t make it through, here are five that in my eyes need to be on at least one of your three All-Star Fan Vote ballots.
Austin Mack | WR | Montreal
Where would the Als be without Mack this season? The 26-year-old out of Ohio State exploded onto the scene this year, doing everything he could to answer the pre-season question about who would excel at receiver for the Als. Remember, this team lost Eugene Lewis, Jake Wieneke and Hergy Mayala in free agency. Mack looked like a vet out of the gate, posting at least 70 receiving yards in each of his first five games and going over the 100-yard mark five times as the Als head into their regular season finale this week. Mack’s 1,154 receiving yards have him at fifth in the league going into Week 21.
Chad Kelly | QB | Toronto
Kelly is another player who took the pre-season questions about his inexperience, tucked them under his arm and ran them into the end zone, as he’s steered a loaded Argonauts team to a league-best 15-2 (and counting) record. Kelly has played so well — 270-394 passing for 4,123 yards with 23 touchdowns, with 248 yards on the ground and another eight TDs — that you might have forgotten that he’s a first-year starter. Keep in mind with Kelly that his numbers would likely be higher if the Argos hadn’t clinched the East Division back in mid-September, allowing players across the board the opportunity to rest and for backups to see more in-game action.
Brady Oliveira | RB | Winnipeg
Oliveira’s nod as the team’s Most Outstanding Player nominee this season — where he disrupted QB Zach Collaros’ bid at three-straight MOP wins — tells you just about everything you need to know about his All-Star worthiness. A quick refresher on his season: The Winnipeg product leads the league in rushing yards with 1,498, giving him the second-best season a National running back has ever had in the CFL. Oliveira has been a dual threat all year long, racking up 482 receiving yards and a combined 13 touchdowns. As the weather shifts and with the Bombers hosting the Western Final on Sat. Nov. 11 at IG Field, Oliveira could be the most relied upon part of offensive coordinator Buck Pierce’s attack as the team looks to make it to its fourth consecutive Grey Cup game.
Mathieu Betts | DL | BC
Betts had a decent 2022 season with the Lions, his first after spending the previous two years with the Edmonton Elks. The Montreal native had seven sacks through 13 games, along with 26 tackles. In 2023, Betts blew those numbers out of the water. He piled up a career-best 18 sacks, setting a single-season record for Nationals along the way. He didn’t just bring QBs down to the ground, either, as he managed a league-leading four forced fumbles to head up a ferocious Lions’ defence.
Adarius Pickett |DB | Toronto
As they stare down the possibility of tying the 1989 Edmonton squad for a league record 16-win season this week, the Argos deserve some extra recognition for just how strong they’ve been in all three phases of the game (on that topic, another strong first-time All-Star candidate: Javon Leake). That brings us to Pickett, who came over from Montreal as a free agent this year and has helped elevate the Argos’ defence. Pickett has been a stat stuffer this year with 97 defensive tackles (fifth in the league), 18 on special teams (fifth in the league again), five sacks, a forced fumble and two fumble recoveries. A key part of a historically dominant team, Pickett is worth some All-Star love.