Selecting just five receivers for the CFL’s All-Decade Team presented by LeoVegas was not an easy task. You can still vote on receivers and defensive backs right now, while the second window is now also open for running backs and linebackers (more on that later). But it’s my belief that receiver was the league’s most stacked position over the last decade, which made narrowing it down to just five very tough.
As part of the All-Decade Team media panel, we were also asked to rank the five receivers we selected, which added another layer of difficulty for me. I’ll be perfectly honest: I probably changed by selections 20 times at receiver, because the position was that stacked. At one point or another Derel Walker, Adarius Bowman, Nik Lewis, Greg Ellingson, SJ Green, Brandon Banks, Fred Stamps, and Jamel Richardson all made it into my top three.
MORE ON THE ALL-DECADE TEAM
“I look at guys like SJ and Fred Stamps,” said All-Decade nominee Lewis when I spoke with him last week. “Those guys have been able to do it for a long period of time. There are so many talented receivers in the CFL, and I think that’s what it makes so special. You have so many guys that go out there and that can play really talented football.
“Eric Rogers has been around; unfortunately when he went to the NFL, he tore his ACL. He came back and it has been bothering him a little bit, but he still shows that he can make plays. You get a guy like Brandon Banks, who has done it for, what, about two years now out of seven. But he’s done it at a very high level in the last two seasons. It’s almost like: what do you like? What are the aspects and what are you really looking for?”
I really do think voting on receiver is going to be the widest ranging of all the positions and I wouldn’t even want to take a guess as to how it’s going to shake out. What I can do is give you an idea of where I went on my final ballot. Here are three receivers who made it into my top five when I finally hit “submit.”
Nik Lewis – Calgary Stampeders, Montreal Alouettes
Lewis finished his Hall of Fame career with ten 1,000-yard seasons, with six of them coming prior to the last ten years. But what Lewis did at the front half of the 2010’s, and with the longevity he showed, this was a no-brainer for me. Lewis sealed his reputation as one of the most dynamic, reliable, and consistent receivers in CFL history during the last decade.
Adarius Bowman – Edmonton Eskimos, Winnipeg Blue Bombers, Montreal Alouettes
When Bowman was healthy and wearing green and gold, he was perhaps the most dominant receiver of the last ten years. In three straight seasons between 2014 and 2016, Bowman went over 1,300 yards, including his monster 2016 campaign that saw him finish with 1,761 yards and nine touchdowns. Bowman was fast, strong, and impossible to cover and put together an absolutely stellar decade.
SJ Green – Montreal Alouettes, Toronto Argonauts
Green burst onto the CFL scene at the very beginning of the last decade alongside the aforementioned Jamel Richardson. For the first half of the 2010’s, Green was as physically overpowering as any receiver I can remember before injuring his knee in 2016. After almost an entire season away, Green resurfaced in Toronto and hammered out three more 1,000-yard campaigns to lock him into my final ballot.
Linebacker and running back dilemmas
The second window of voting is now open with a boatload of new difficult decisions at running back and linebacker. Here are the biggest things I struggled with when making my final decisions at each position.
Linebacker: Productivity vs. longevity
Okay, so you’ve got players like Solomon Elimimian, Simoni Lawrence, Chip Cox, and Adam Bighill who were pictures of high-end consistency over the last decade. Every single one deserves serious top three consideration at the position, mainly because you knew/know exactly what to expect every year.
But then there are cases like Alex Singleton and Larry Dean. Neither has the same tenure compared to the aforementioned group, because both started their CFL careers in 2016. Yet, in Singleton’s three seasons, he ran roughshod over the league and earned Most Outstanding Defensive Player honours in 2017. All Dean has done is finish top four in defensive tackles in each of the last three years, earning three straight Division All-Star nods along the way.
On a recent Berg vs. Ferg, we debated how things should be weighted when comparing productivity vs. longevity. I feel like linebacker is the position that encapsulates the argument better than any other.
Running back: An all-Canadian matchup
Jon Cornish or Andrew Harris? In a lot of ways, that’s what I think the vote for starting All-Decade running back is going to come down to, and I’m totally on board. To have two Canadians serve as leading candidates at this position is remarkable, which Lewis pointed out last week.
“It might be two running backs that are Canadian,” he said. “How crazy is that? If you look at the All-Decade Team from 2000-2010, and then you see the Canadian content now in 2010-2020 and have the possibility of two Canadian running backs, I mean that’s outstanding. It’s well deserved on both of their parts.”
With no disrespect intended to the other candidates, it really did come down to Cornish and Harris for me. What Cornish did upon taking the starting job in Calgary from Joffrey Reynolds in 2011 is remarkable. It was highlighted by one of the two or three best rushing seasons in league history, regardless of passport, in 2013 when Cornish finished with 1,813 yards and 12 touchdowns. He was on pace for an even better year in 2014 before sustaining an injury that spelled the beginning of the end of his career.
But then there’s Harris who took over as a full-time tailback in 2011 with the BC Lions and rattled off five 1,000-yard seasons over the next ten years. And, when adding in his outstanding receiving numbers, Harris has been one of the most productive players in league history, all in the last decade. Oh, and just to really cement things, Harris saved his best for last: a Grey Cup MVP and Most Valuable Canadian nod with Winnipeg last November.
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