HEADLINERS: The Best American Player on Each CFL Team

Edmonton Eskimos WR Greg Ellingson (#82), escapes tackle from BC Lions defender

On Sunday, we took a look at every roster in the Canadian Football League to examine who was the best designated national player on each team. While there are many incredibly talented Canadian players, even the most die-hard CFL fans can admit that more often than not, the most talented players in the league are Americans. With this in mind, today we see what American or “Import” players are the biggest difference-makers for each team. The only rules? A player must currently be under contract for next season by a CFL team to qualify. Unfortunately this means excluding the few very talented free agents still currently without a team, such as former Argonauts WR Darell Walker. With this in mind, let’s get into it!

BC Lions

WR Bryan Burnham #16

2019 Statistics: 17 GP 100 REC, 1492 yds, 11TDs 

Burnham (#16), with QB Mike Reilly
Photo Credit: OurSportsCentral.com

BC had a rough 2019, but they should be still be happy about what they have on offense if they can make some improvements. At the center of this potentially-loaded offense is Burnham, who finished last season second in the CFL in receiving yards. Now a six-year CFL vet, Burnham has a claim to longevity, with four seasons straight of over 1000 yards.

Honourable Mentions: QB Mike Reilly, WR Dominique Rhymes, RB John White IV

Calgary Stampeders

QB Bo Levi Mitchell #19

2019 Statistics: 11 GP, 66% comp pct, 3464 pass yds, 19 TDs, 11 INT

Stampeders teammates Bo Levi Mitchell (#19) and Alex Singleton celebrate winning 2018 Grey Cup
Photo Credit: Calgary Sun/Nathan Denette/ THE CANADIAN PRESS.

Anyone who knows the CFL knows that the Stampeders have ranked consistently among the elite the past half decade, and this can be significantly attributed to their quarterback Mitchell. The Eastern Washington product has built up a substantial CFL resume to date, leading Calgary to two Grey Cups while capturing two Most Outstanding Player Awards. Mitchell is also the fastest CFL quarterback to 60 wins, doing so in a mere 72 games. He was banged up last season, playing in only 11 games, but threw for nearly 3500 yards and 19 touchdowns to go along with 11 interceptions. If him and his fellow Stamps teammates return healthy next season, they likely should be considered among 2020 Grey Cup favourites.

Honourable Mentions: WR Kamar Jorden, WR Eric Rogers, DB Richard Leonard, LB Nate Holley

Edmonton Eskimos

QB Trevor Harris #7

2019 Statistics: 13 GP, 71.7 comp pct, 4027 pass yds, 16 TD, 6 INT

Harris makes a pass during 2019 training camp with the Eskimos
Photo Credit: Sportsnet.ca Jason Franson/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Oh, the year of the injured quarterback that was 2019. It was so bad that Harris, who still missed five games, was one of the lucky ones. And boy, did Edmonton need him. In his first season in the Albertan capital, Harris, along with fellow free agent signing WR Greg Ellingson, willed Edmonton to the playoffs and even a postseason victory over Montreal. Now going into 2020, Harris looks to remain healthy and continue a five year run of spectacular play.

Honourable Mentions: WR Greg Ellingson, OL Sirvincent Rogers, DL Almondo Sewell

Hamilton Tigercats

WR Brandon Banks #16

2019 Statistics: 16 GP, 112 REC, 1550 yds, 13 TD

Tigercats’ Brandon Banks (#16) breaks tackle attempt from Argonauts player
Photo Credit: TheStar.com Dan Ralph/THE CANADIAN PRESS.

It looked like the year the Tigercats would finally break their long Grey Cup drought in 2019, as they were led by the dynamic receiver combo of Banks and Bralon Addison. With Addison now with the Green Bay Packers of the NFL, this spot indisputably goes to the reigning MOP. One of the most evident examples of Canadian football fitting certain player skill-sets more so than the American game, the CFL style has unlocked the full potential of Banks, who was primarily just a return man in the NFL. Now heading into his 8th season with the Tigercats, the do-it-all weapon will look to lead Hamilton on a redemption tour.

Honourable Mentions: LB Simoni Lawrence, DB Delvin Breaux, DL Ja’gared Davis

Montreal Alouettes

QB Vernon Adams #8

2019 Statistics: 16 GP, 65.6% comp pct, 3942 pass yds, 24 TD, 13 INT

Alouettes’ Vernon Adams (#8), escapes from Blue Bombers’ Willie Jefferson
Photo Credit: Globalnews.ca THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Graham Hughes

Future MOP. That is what a realistic prediction is for Adams after he caught fire in his first season as a CFL starter. The former Oregon star, who many have thought for years has ideal ability for a CFL quarterback, combined with All-Star RB William Stanback to bring Montreal back to the playoffs in 2019. Adams did not just throw for 24 touchdowns through the air, but added an additional 12(!) on the ground for 36 total scores in 16 games. With other CFL teams out East having some degree of quarterback concerns, Adams has the Alouettes in a prominent position heading into the future.

Honourable Mentions: WR Eugene Lewis, DL John Bowman

Ottawa Redblacks

LB Avery Williams #42

2019 Statistics: 70 combined tackles, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble

Ottawa Redblacks’ Avery Williams (#42) playing in the 2018 Grey Cup against the Calgary Stampeders
Photo Credit: Calgary Herald. David Bloom/ Postmedia

The Redblacks have one of the more interesting rosters in the CFL, as on paper they currently have more proven Canadian players than Americans. That being said, Williams has produced at a high-level in his first two CFL seasons, earning the Redblacks’ nomination for Most Outstanding Player last season. Tackling is probably the linebacker’s biggest strength, with a nose for flowing to the ball and making an impact on most snaps. We will find out much more about Ottawa’s roster in 2020, as CFL newcomers might emerge all over the squad.

Honourable Mentions: DL Avery Ellis, WR RJ Harris, DB Randall Evans

Saskatchewan Roughriders

DL Charleston Hughes #39

2019 Statistics: 17 GP, 50 defensive tackles, 16 sacks, 4 forced fumbles

Roughriders’ DL Charleston Hughes (#39) against the Argonauts
Photo Credit: GlobalNews.ca Matt Smith/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Tough selection here for the Riders, who offer options on both sides of the ball. We will go with the veteran and future Hall of Famer in Hughes, who remains at the top of his game at the ripe age of 36. The six-time All-Star led the CFL in quarterback sacks last season, while chipping in a healthy amount of tackles for an edge player. Seriously, go check out some highlights of this guy absolutely schooling opposing left tackles and it is easy to understand why Hughes is easily one of the best players in the entire league.

Honourable Mentions: QB Cody Fajardo, RB William Powell, WR Shaq Evans, DB Ed Gainey

Toronto Argonauts

WR Davaris Daniels #80

2019 Statistics: 13 GP, 54 REC, 738 yds, 2 TD

Daniels (#80), in a game with the Eskimos
Photo Credit: Esks.com/tag

Much like the Canadian side, the American aspect of Toronto’s roster is currently in transition, with few standout performers returning next season. So how about one of their offseason additions? Daniels is an ideal candidate for a breakout season in 2020. With Calgary and Edmonton, the four-year veteran has never been the feature weapon of his team’s passing game, despite never dipping below 700 receiving yards in a season. Toronto’s offense last season liked to take plenty of chances down the field, giving plenty of opportunity for a talented receiver like Daniels.

Honourable Mentions: QB Matt Nichols, DB Tommie Campbell, DB Alden Darby

Winnipeg Blue Bombers

DL Willie Jefferson #5

2019 Statistics: 18 GP, 24 defensive tackles, 1 INT, 12 sacks, 6 forced fumbles

Jefferson (#5) playing in the 2019 Grey Cup for the Blue Bombers
Photo Credit: CBC.ca Todd Korol/ THE CANADIAN PRESS

Finally, we have arrived at the reigning Grey Cup champions. However, despite the roster having several other productive players, the choice of Jefferson is obvious. On the way to capturing last season’s Most Outstanding Defensive Player Award, the versatile defensive lineman wreaked havoc, spearheading a league-leading Winnipeg defense. One would just have to look at his 2019 Grey Cup performance, when Jefferson dominated an outstanding Hamilton offensive line with three sacks, to witness his impact. One could argue that given how many impact plays the lineman produced during the Bombers’ success that Jefferson was the single best player in the CFL last season.

Honourable Mentions: LB Adam Bighill, OL Stanley Bryant, WR Darwin Adams

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