MOP & Book It - Major CFL Award Finalists In Place

By Chris Lawton

We have already looked at the CFL MOP candidates from each team for 2023. But at this time of year these things move quickly, and now the league has announced the finalists for each of the major season end awards categories. Because of the way the league does this we can now focus in on a few individuals who have had fantastic seasons and see who might pick up some silverware.

The MOP and more awards will be handed out soon. So, the easiest way to do this is to look at each award of interest in turn. And see what each player/coach has achieved this year to merit nomination.

Each award is pared down to two finalists. With one being the East Division representative and one repping the West. Out of that comes our overall winner.

The MOP Award

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The MOP (Most Outstanding Player) award comes down to Brady Oliveira (RB) of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, and Chad Kelly (QB) of the Toronto Argonauts.

Oliveira has stopped Blue Bombers QB Zach Collaros having a shot at taking home a third straight MOP award. So, he must have done something special right? Well, yes, indeed.

Oliveira led the league by establishing career-highs in rushing yards (1,534), yards from scrimmage (2,016) and total touchdowns (13 – nine rushing and four receiving). He is the 15th player to eclipse the 2000 mark and the 1st to do it since 2013. At 1534 rushing yards, he holds a 393-yard lead over the second placed back.

The last running back to win MOP was fellow Canadian Jon Cornish. Statistically he has delivered the second greatest year by a Canadian back ever.

Over in the East, the MOP award is being vied for by Argos QB Chad Kelly. In his first season as a full-time starter in the CFL, Kelly guided the Argonauts to a franchise-best 16-2 record, tying the all-time mark for victories set by Edmonton in 1989.

The biggest question about the Boatmen before the season was whether they had the right man at the controls for quarterback. He has more than answered that. Not only did he lead the Argos to a 16-2 record, but finished 15-0 in games which he started, and played at least a full half game.

Along the way, Kelly completed over 47% of passes of 20-yards or more and led the league with a 10.5 yards per pass attempt average. Not only that but Toronto scored on nearly 30% of the drives he led – whereas the league average is neared 16%.

For 2023 Kelly has 270 completions on 394 attempts for 4123 yards and 23 touchdowns. As well as 41 carries for 248 yards and 8 touchdowns.

Often this award goes to a quarterback. Kelly did not have the productivity of many previous winners, but he has led to team to unequalled success. Oliveira though has had one of the great rushing seasons. I think it should go to Oliveira, but we will see if the QB favouritism wins through.

The MOC Award

The MOC award (Most Outstanding Canadian), comes down to a choice between Oliveira in the West, and the Montreal Alouettes Marc-Antoine Dequoy in the East.

Dequoy finished the season with 57 defensive tackles, 5 special teams tackles, 5 interceptions, 3 forced fumbles, 6 pass knockdowns, and two interceptions returned for touchdowns, including a league-best 108-yarder.

Oliveira, who we have already seen is up for the MOP award, led the league with seven 100+ yard games & had more than 500 yards more on the ground than his previous best.

With one of the great rushing seasons from a Canadian back surely this one will go to Oliveira.

The MOPD Award

The MODP award (Most Outstanding Defensive Player), comes down to a choice between Mathieu Betts of the BC Lions and Adarius Pickett of the Toronto Argonauts.

Betts set a single season sack record for a Canadian player with a league leading 18 on the season. He also recorded 42 tackles, 3 TFL’s 4 forced fumbles and a blocked punt.

Pickett was the Alouettes nominee last year and is named by his team for this award in back-to-back seasons. The former UCLA Bruin had 105 tackles, 19 special teams tackles and 6 sacks. He was a leader on a hard-hitting ball hawking D – and you can add 5 TFL’s, 4 forced fumbles, 6 PBU’s and 2 picks to his resume.

This is one of the harder ones to pick. Because of how favoured sacks are as a stat it could well go to Betts.

The MOOL Award

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The MOOL award (Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman), comes down to a choice between Jermacus Hadrick of Winnipeg and Dejon Allen of Toronto.

Hadrick is in exalted company, being nominated in place of his teammate Stanley Bryant who was named the league’s Most Outstanding Lineman in 2017, 2018, 2021 and 2022. Hadrick anchored a line that allowed just 33 sacks and had the best rushing attack (139 yards per game) and the top scoring team in the league that averaged the most yards per game.

The Argonauts led the league this year allowing a CFL low 19 sacks over an 18-game regular season. That is 14 fewer than second best. So, you could argue that the Argonauts have the best O line in the league, and Allen has been nominated as the best lineman on the best line. The Argos have a 1,000 yard back and have averaged 113+ yard per game on the ground. At different times this season Allen has played on both sides of the Argonauts’ line.

Another tough call – perhaps Oliveira’s remarkable season behind the Winnipeg line will sway this for Hadrick.

The MOST Award

The MOST award (Most Outstanding Special Teams) comes down to a choice between Sean Whyte (K) of the BC Lions and Javon Leake (KR/PR) of the Argonauts.

Whyte passed 200 games in his CFL career this year and was as good as ever when it came to being Mr Reliable. He made 50 of 53 field goals this season (94.3%). with a longest kick of 51 yards, and went 44 of 45 on his extra point attempts. He contributed 194 points to the Lions cause.

Leake set the Argos’ single season punt return record (1,216 yards on 82 returns) which is good for third best in CFL history. He also set a new team record with 4 punt return TDs, just one shy of Henry Gizmo Williams’ all-time league record. Leake also led the league in punt return yards, punt return average, and total KR touchdowns – where he recorded 793 yards on 38 attempts.

Both players had remarkable seasons, Whyte’s accuracy and reliability has been incredible but when you are being mentioned alongside ex greats like Gizmo, and Michael ‘Pinball’ Clemons as the former Maryland Terrapin Leake has been you have to think it will go his way.

The MOR Award

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The MOR award (Most Outstanding Rookie) comes down to a choice between Kai Gray of the Edmonton Elks and Qwan’tez Stiggers of the Argonauts.

Gray was one of only three rookies on the team to start all 18 games this season. He finished third on the Edmonton D with 56 tackles and had 2 interceptions including a pick six.

Stiggers has had an amazing rookie year – especially for a player with no college experience. He notched 5 picks and 5 knockdowns along the way and has been a reliable cog in the Argos D all season long. He also racked up 53 tackles during the campaign.

Both rookie DB’s had a fantastic first year in the league with remarkably similar levels of production. Fitting in on a 16-2 team and having 3 more picks will likely see Stiggers favoured here.

Coach of the Year

Coach of the year is filled by the same two candidates as in 2021 & 2022. Because once again Winnipeg’s Mike O’Shea is nominated in the West, and Toronto’s Ryan Dinwiddie is the East nominee.

The Blue Bombers under Mike O’Shea’s are chasing a third Grey Cup in four seasons after winning championships in 2019 and 2021. O’Shea led Winnipeg to a 14-4 record and its third straight division title, including an 8-1 showing at IG Field and a 9-2 mark against West Division foes.

He is the longest-serving coach in the CFL, with a 96-62 record overall. This includes seven consecutive double digit win seasons. Meaning he has gone 84-38 in that time including a 15-win season followed by a 14-win season over the past two years.

He has the most wins among active coaches and is nominated for a third consecutive Coach of the Year award.

Meanwhile Ryan Dinwiddie has taken the Toronto Argonauts to the top of the East Division for the third year in a row.

After 3 seasons in charge, he holds a 36-14 record (going 16-2 in 2023) and has never finished off the top of the division. He led the Argos to a 10-0 home record and went 9-0 in the East.

When Dinwiddie took over the 17-time Grey Cup champions they were in a sorry state having posted back-to-back 4-14 seasons. Now they have three straight East Division titles and coaches the defending champions. Becoming a 16-win club this year means Dinwiddie has equalled the all-time regular season record.

A league record matching 16-win season and chasing a repeat? This looks to be going Dinwiddie’s way.

The CFL is full of talent, and awards season is a great time to celebrate that. The ceremony and awards will be handed out on the 16th of November. Let’s see who gets what and enjoy celebrating some of that talent.

Feature Image Credit: Neil Noonan/3DownNation



Chris originally started following the NFL with the ‘first wave’ of fans when it was shown on Channel 4 in the 1980’s. He has been a keen supporter of the Miami Dolphins since 1983. Chris first encountered the CFL in 2016 and instantly fell in love with the Canadian game. He has been writing about the CFL 2017. Chris has a degree in history, postgraduate degree in librarianship and can be found on twitter as @CFLfanUK