November 17, 2010
The CFL's league-wide all-stars were released today (list by position here), and, as with the divisional all-stars, there are some curious choices. Those are most notable in the linebacking corps, and most prominent of all is the selection of the wrong Simpson.
No, we're not talking about Homer (pictured above centre), but rather Juwan (pictured above left). Juwan Simpson is a very solid player, but I question whether he's one of the three best linebackers in the league. I'm not even sure he's one of the three best linebackers in the West, as I would have picked Solomon Elimimian over him if I had a vote. His stats are fine (71 tackles, seven sacks, two forced fumbles, one interception), but they're not close to any of the league leaders in any of those categories; he's tied for 11th in tackles, tied for seventh in sacks and isn't even close in anything else. He is tied with B.C.'s Korey Banks for the sack lead amongst linebackers, so that's notable, but other then that, he fades into the crowd.
Defensive statistics aren't the be-all and end-all of judging these awards, as they can sometimes be deceptive. For example, a tackle is counted the same if it's the result of a great play to shoot a gap and bring a running back down in the backfield or if it's a result of poor pass coverage that allowed your man to make a first-down reception. That's why it's important to watch games as well. Having said that, though, Simpson's been good in the Calgary games I've seen, but hasn't really stood out to me, and the stats do still have value. As a great man once said, "Facts are meaningless. You could use facts to prove anything that's even remotely true!"
This wouldn't be an egregious selection in a vacuum, as Simpson certainly had a strong season. It's notable because of the other players he was picked over, though, and particularly one who shares his last name. Middle linebacker Barrin Simpson (pictured above right) was arguably one of the most important pieces in the Saskatchewan defence all year and put up some incredible games, including his performance in the Banjo Bowl against Winnipeg. He led the league with 105 tackles and also recorded three sacks and a fumble recovery. He was the crucial component in the Riders' run defence, which looked notably vulnerable against the Lions without him Sunday, and also did quite well in pass coverage against receivers going over the middle. He didn't record as many sacks as his competition, but that's partly because he wasn't asked to blitz as much as Juwan Simpson was. He was recognized as a West Division all-star, but in my mind, he had a much stronger all-around season than Juwan Simpson and deserved to receive a league all-star nod as well.
It's quite possible the Stampeders' league-best 13-5 record and the Roughriders' 10-8 mark factored into this, as Calgary wound up with eight all-stars against Saskatchewan's two. Some say team records should be taken into consideration when picking awards, and you can make that argument. I don't agree with that logic, though; all-star selections and individual awards are about how players have done in my mind, not how well their teams have done. Sometimes the two overlap, but quite often they don't. The voters for the league all-stars (a mix of fans, coaches and Football Reporters of Canada members) recognized that on one front, giving four members of the last-place Winnipeg Blue Bombers all-star nods, but they didn't on another if Simpson was chosen because he's a Stampeder. I agree with most of the other Stampeders who were chosen, but I think the voters got this one wrong.
Juwan Simpson over Barrin Simpson (pictured at right bringing down Toronto's Dalton Bell in an Oct. 2 game) isn't the only all-star selection I'd take issue with. I'd also choose Toronto's Kevin Eiben over Montreal's Chip Cox for one of the other linebacker slots (Markeith Knowlton thoroughly deserves his). That's more open to debate in my mind, though. I also already laid out the case for Montreal's Jermaine McElveen as a divisional all-star at defensive tackle over Winnipeg's Doug Brown, so I don't think choosing Brown as one of the two best tackles in the league is a particularly good move (Kevin Huntley, on the other hand, is a great choice). Brown has been dominant in the past and was still solid this year, recording 49 tackles, five sacks and a forced fumble. His stats were better than West Division nominees DeVone Claybrooks and Tom Johnson, both of Calgary, so this does make some sense, but I would rather have seen McElveen with this nod.
I also would have taken Montreal quarterback Anthony Calvillo over Calgary quarterback Henry Burris (and as I'm based in B.C., I don't think Burris can blame my choice on the "Eastern media"); Calvillo played three less games than Burris (two thanks to injury and then the final game, where he sat out to rest for the playoffs; Burris only threw three passes for 55 yards and a touchdown in that final game, though, so the gap is closer to two games), but only finished with 106 less passing yards. He also completed more of his passes than Burris did (67.6 per cent to 66.2 per cent) and had a much better touchdown-to-interception ratio (32 to 7 against Burris' 38 to 20). Burris had a great season, but Calvillo's was even better in my mind.
Still, on the whole, these selections are pretty solid. The running backs are absolutely right (Cory Boyd and Fred Reid), as are the receivers (Nik Lewis, Andy Fantuz, Terrence Edwards and Arland Bruce III), and the offensive line selections are all good ones. The secondary looks good, as do the special teams. There are a lot of things done right here, even if they're overshadowed by mistakes like taking the wrong Simpson. D'oh!