Cauz: Selecting an all-free agent team

I think it is fair to say that we are in store for the wildest free agency period in the history of the game. There is so much talent out there I easily could have put together a completely different roster of players that would have dazzled and impressed. Make no mistake, if your favourite team is able to sign any of these players count yourself lucky. This roster may be a bit older but if you’re looking to win the Grey Cup in the next three years this group will get it done.

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Zach Collaros’ been there, done that demeanour through the last two playoff runs with the Bombers makes him the top quarterback on the pending free agent market (Geoff Robins/CFL.ca)

Offence

QB-Zach Collaros

There are younger free agent quarterbacks out there but Collaros is not showing any signs of slowing down. In fact, this past year was his best since his breakout 2015 season with the Tiger-Cats. With five playoff wins the past two seasons, Collaros brings a sense of calm to a huddle. There is no on-field scenario he hasn’t experienced.

RB-Andrew Harris

Yes, there were four running backs that finished the year with more rushing yards but Harris put up over 600 yards in just seven games. For anyone concerned about me taking a running back at his age I would point out only William Stanback had a higher average yards per carry than Harris among running backs. Also, with his limited workload in 2021 I expect at least one more monster year from Harris.

WR-Kenny Lawler

It’s safe to say the first two years have worked out quite well for Lawler, leading the Bombers in receiving yards in his two seasons while collecting two Grey Cup rings. The only receiver to eclipse 1,000 yards this year, Kenny was a big reason why Collaros won his first MOP award.

WR-Jake Wieneke

Just like with Lawler with the Bombers, Wieneke’s production took a massive step in his second year with the Alouettes, despite uncertainty at the quarterback position. Wieneke led the CFL with 11 touchdown receptions, the only player to hit double digits.

WR-D’haquille Williams

I’m less interested in his 2021 numbers and more about his potential next year. Williams only played in a handful of regular-season games but his 16.8 average yard per catch sticks out, as did his 108-yard, one touchdown day against the Bombers in the playoffs.

2021 was a down year for Brandon Banks, but CFL.ca’s Matt Cauz sees the 2019 MOP bouncing back in 2022 (Peter Power/CFL.ca)

WR-Brandon Banks

Taking a chance here on the 2019 MOP to bounce back in 2021. Considering his talent this is a risk I am more than willing to take.

WR-Bryan Burnham

Year-in and year-out you know exactly what you’re going to get from the Lions’ top target. Burnham missed out on his fifth straight 1,000-yard season by just 35 yards. Beyond the eye-popping numbers, what I love about Burnham is his durability. He’s missed just three games during his impressive five-year run.

LT-Stanley Bryant

Death, taxes and Stanley Bryant protecting his quarterback. This was the easiest pick to make as Bryant made CFL history this year by being the first player to be named the Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman three times.

LG-Brandon Revenberg

I always enjoy when a six-foot-four, 300-pound offensive linemen is described as a “gentle giant”. The third overall pick of the 2016 draft has more than lived up to his draft status after being named to his third CFL Eastern All-Star team.

C- Michael Couture

We generally focus more on Winnipeg’s defence but the offence did lead the league in offensive points scored and was second to Montreal in yardage. The offensive line allowed the fewest sacks and was second in rushing yards despite Harris missing half the season. Yeah, I agree this selection is a no-brainer.

RG-Patrick Neufeld

A fixture in Winnipeg since 2014, Neufeld has seen it all in his 10-year career, from batting serious injuries to winning back-to-back Grey Cups. After a decade in the league, Patrick finally earned his first CFL All-Star award.

RT-Chris Van Zeyl

The 2019 Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman Award winner was a steadying influence on an offensive line with rookies in Jordan Murray and Coulter Woodmansey and Darius Ciraco taking over the centre position for the first time in his young CFL career.

Defence

DE-Willie Jefferson

The most disruptive defensive player in the league, there is literally nothing Jefferson could do on a football field that would shock me. A turnover creating machine Jefferson always seems to be around the ball. When quarterbacks have nightmares is it Jefferson’s face they see?

DT-Ja’Gared Davis

All right I am cheating here as I had to find a way to get Davis on my team. He’s bulky enough and smart enough to navigate his way through the middle of any offensive line to get to the quarterback and/or ball carrier. Apologies to Mike Rose and Steven Richardson for leaving both out of this spot.

DT-Micah Johnson

Johnson’s tackle totals won’t blow you away but the eye test will, as Johnson is just such a headache for opposing offensive coordinators. Johnson led the league in tackles for a loss and his presence certainly played a big part in his fellow defensive linemen A.C. Leonard and Jonathan Woodard finish first and second, respectively, in sacks.

DE-A.C. Leonard

This was one of the toughest picks as it came down to Leonard or Jackson Jeffcoat. I choose Leonard by a butterfly’s eyelash over Jeffcoat. Leonard led the league in sacks despite missing three games.

WLB-Jameer Thurman

Jameer may not have been named to the All-Star team but the dude was certainly deserving with his production this past season. Don’t take my word for it. Listen to what his teammate Mike Rose had to say in a Calgary Sun article: “He’s the best in the nation. Jameer Thurman is the best. I don’t even know why people play with Big Thurm like that. There’s no one better. He does everything: Coverage, blitzes, he makes the tackles. That’s a complete linebacker right there. That’s the best in the nation.” All right is Rose a wee bit biased? Of course, but that doesn’t mean he also isn’t right.

MLB-Adam Bighill

Really not much I can add that you don’t already know. In a time where finding examples of good karma can be difficult it was great see Adam win just about everything a CFL player could after taking a pay cut to stay in Winnipeg. If anyone deserved to be rewarded with individual and team success it was the Bombers’ middle linebacker.

Adam Bighill opted to stay in Winnipeg and was an anchor to its dominant defence, picking up Defensive Player of the Year honours along the way (CFL.ca)

SLB-Alden Darby

One of the sneaky big plays of the Grey Cup was Darby swatting away a second-down pass by Jeremiah Masoli, forcing Hamilton to kick a field goal with three minutes left in the half. When you go back and watch the play you see Tim White wide open in the end zone.

DB-Jumal Rolle

I was shocked that Rolle had never made an All-Star team before this year. At the age of 31, Rolle put together an excellent all-around season leading the league in pass knockdowns, picking off two passes and totalling 40 tackles.

DB-Cariel Brooks

Tied for the league lead in interceptions, Brooks was a part of a Tiger-Cats secondary that was second in the league in average pass yards allowed.

DB-Monshadrik Hunter

The Alouettes’ defence finished the year second in net yards, third in yards allowed per play and fewest passing first downs allowed. Hunter nabbed two inceptions for the third season in a row and made his first All-Star team after finishing second to Rolle in pass knockdowns with 10.

DB-Nick Marshall

Marshall started the year with an interception return touchdown against the BC Lions and ended it picking off soon-to-be MOP Zach Collaros in Saskatchewan’s playoff loss to Winnipeg. In between Marshall led the team with seven pass knockdowns.

S-Brandon Alexander

Alexander brings a perfect balance of coverage skills with the physicality required to play safety. I always want my safety to be able to stop a running back in his tracks on first down while helping deflect a pass on second down. Alexander consistently was up to the task all year for Winnipeg.

K-Rene Paredes

Paredes hit the kicker triple crown by attempting the most field goals, making the most field goals and leading the league in field goal percentage.

P-Stefan Flintoft

Normally I don’t like to take punters who ply their trade at home in a dome but I’ll make an exception for Flintoft, who ended the year with a CFL high a net punting average of 47.8 yards.

Return-Lucky Whitehead

All right, I’m cheating again but can you really blame me considering just how electric Whitehead is? I know that technically Lucky made the switch to full-time receiver as he finished fourth in receiving yards. Still, he had the longest play in 2021, a 119-yard missed field goal return and though he only had 12 punt returns he did bring one of them back for a score.

LS-Jorgen Hus

As mentioned before I’m always here to reward those players who are always available and Hus has only missed nine games in his six-year career.

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