Steinberg’s MMQB: Bold predictions for 2021

Welcome to Week 1.

It sure does feel good to write that. We’re just days away from kicking off the 2021 CFL season, so it’s prediction time! In what promises to be one of the most unpredictable seasons ever, you can still feel free to call me out if/when these predictions are wrong come December.

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108th Grey Cup champion: Hamilton Tiger-Cats

It’s the popular pick for many, but I just can’t get past how complete Hamilton looks right now. After posting a franchise best 15-3 record in 2019, the Ticats ran into a buzz-saw Winnipeg team in the Grey Cup and weren’t able to go wire-to-wire as the league’s best team. With so many players back who endured that tough loss 20 months ago in Calgary, this Tiger-Cats season has plenty of motivation added to what is an already stacked team.

Hamilton is deep across the board. They boast two high caliber quarterbacks in Week 1 starter Jeremiah Masoli and backup Dane Evans. The Ticats have an incredible group of receivers, the CFL’s most terrifying defensive line, a talented secondary and an elite head coach. On talent, Hamilton looks like the cream of the crop in 2021. We also know they can put it together on the field over the course of an entire season. Now it’s all about winning that last game on December 12th, which just happens to be at Tim Hortons Field.

Most Outstanding Player: Trevor Harris, Edmonton Elks

I have high hopes for Edmonton’s offence this season. Much of that comes down to Harris, who enters his second season in green and gold trying to build on a successful 2019. Had Harris not sustained a Week 13 upper body injury, he would have been right there with Saskatchewan’s Cody Fajardo in the West Division MOP conversation. As it was, Harris still finished second overall with 4,027 passing yards in 13 starts and threw 16 touchdowns passes against just six interceptions.

There’s plenty to like when it comes to what surrounds Harris, too. Receiver Greg Ellingson joins Harris for a fifth straight season in the same offence, dating back to their time in Ottawa. Superstar Derel Walker and the very reliable Armanti Edwards have joined this Elks receiving group for 2021, too. And, in James Wilder Jr., Edmonton has a game breaking, versatile talent at running back. On paper, Edmonton has the potential to roll out the league’s most explosive offence this year. If that’s the case, it’ll be Harris at the helm.

Most Outstanding Canadian: Hergy Mayala, Calgary Stampeders

In his second season, Hergy Mayala will look to have a bigger role with the Stamps this season (Stampeders.com)

It’s hard not to have Mayala on your radar ahead of the season, even if the Stamps would love him to be a little more incognito. Mayala exploded down the stretch in 2019 with more than 300 receiving yards and five touchdown catches in his final five regular season games. After a slow transition to professional ball after four years at the University of Connecticut, Mayala looked like a star after finding a groove with quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell.

The door is wide open for a monster year for Mayala starting this weekend. With the departures of Reggie Begelton, Eric Rogers, and Juwan Brescacin, there’s plenty of opportunity for Mayala to be used extensively from the get-go. Mayala is strong, quick, and versatile and Calgary has the option to use him from a variety of different spots on the field. After what he did late last season, Mayala’s confidence should be soaring. That sounds like the final ingredient of a true breakout campaign.

Most Outstanding Defensive Player: Willie Jefferson, Winnipeg Blue Bombers

Will Jefferson win back-to-back Most Outstanding Defensive Player awards? (CFL.ca)

We haven’t seen a back-to-back winner of this award in more than a decade when BC’s Cameron Wake took it down in 2007 and 2008. Funny enough, the similarities between the two players are quite striking. Both play the same position, both uniquely combine brute strength with quickness and speed, and Jefferson is only a couple years older now than Wake was when he won his second MODP award.

Just 30 years old, Jefferson is coming off a career season with 12 sacks, six forced fumbles, an interception, and 24 defensive tackles. The thing about this guy is, even with those insane numbers, it always feels like Jefferson is just scratching the surface. With a full year off and back with a talented Winnipeg defensive group, there’s nothing that says Jefferson won’t be able to put together another banner season in 2021.

Quick hits

Just one more prediction for the coming season: Montreal’s William Stanback to lead the league in rushing. Despite missing four games in 2019, Stanback still finished with 1,048 yards on the ground and five touchdowns. He also brings a dangerous dimension to the passing game, adding 329 receiving yards last season. Having turned 27 a month ago, it feels like Stanback is just hitting his stride. Look out.

Hamilton named Masoli their Week 1 starter over the weekend, which sets up quite the storyline for Thursday night. In his return from a serious knee injury, Masoli takes on his old Ticats teammate Zach Collaros in Winnipeg. Knowing how things looked for both guys at the midway mark of last season, I’m really happy to see both starting games a couple years later.

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