November 10, 2010
The CFL's all-star teams were announced today, and, as usual, there were both some excellent choices and some surprising omissions. There's also some interesting data on the ages and CFL experience of the chosen players, who were picked in balloting that involved the Football Reporters of Canada, the CFL head coaches and fans from across the country. You can find the full list of all-star selections by team here and by position here. Before we get to the trends, let's discuss a couple of the most notable omissions and a couple of the best selections.
Solomon Elimimian, linebacker, B.C. (pictured, top): Elimimian was chosen by the Vancouver chapter of the FRC as the Lions' candidate for rookie of the year, and he's been a dominant force on defence since the earliest days of the Lions' season. He's ninth in the league with a team-leading 78 tackles, and he can dial up the punishment on defence. That's pretty evident from the following highlight video, made from his plays in a single Oct. 16 game against Edmonton (one of which got him fined):
Elimimian has five sacks and a forced fumble on the year, but he's about more than just hard hits on blitzes against quarterbacks, though. He's become a pretty good linebacker in pass coverage as well, and he's excellent at stopping the run. Of the three West Division linebackers who were selected instead, it's tough to argue with Saskatchewan's Barrin Simpson (who led the league with 105 tackles, was an unstoppable force against the run and put up three sacks), but you can make a case for Elimimian in place of teammate Korey Banks (only 55 tackles, but seven sacks, four forced fumbles and two interceptions) or Calgary's Juwan Simpson (71 tackles, two forced fumbles, one interception). If I was making the call, I'd probably replace Juwan Simpson with Elimimian.
Jermaine McElveen, defensive tackle, Montreal: The East Division has a ton of great defensive linemen and dominates the sack chart, so you can make an argument for a lot of players here. It is notable that Winnipeg defensive end Odell Willis (11 sacks, third in the league) isn't here, but that's understandable, as the two players ahead of him (teammate Phillip Hunt and Montreal's John Bowman) both play defensive end as well. The defensive tackle selection is more curious, though; Toronto's Kevin Huntley is a logical selection, as he's had a great year with nine sacks (and has also been strong against the run). but Winnipeg's Doug Brown is more curious. Brown's a well-known and well-respected player, of course, and he had a pretty good season, recording 49 tackles, five sacks and a forced fumble. There are just other defensive tackles who were more impressive to me, including McElveen (only 21 tackles, but eight sacks and three forced fumbles). McElveen, a former defensive end, moved inside to fill the hole left by Keron Williams' departure, and did a pretty great job of it. He also played end on occasion, but was mostly at tackle and was selected to the CFL Daily Dose midseason all-star team at that spot. I'd give him the nod ahead of Brown.
Willie Pile, safety, Toronto: Despite an anemic offence that gave opponents plenty of opportunities, the Argonauts allowed the fewest points in the CFL this year, only conceding 442. That stellar defence was a key reason for their turnaround from 3-15 to 9-9, and Pile was a huge part of it. He roved all over the field from his safety position, putting up 83 tackles, two sacks, two forced fumbles and four interceptions. It's nice to see him get some recognition for his performance.
Ben Archibald, tackle, Calgary: I chose Archibald as my pick for this year's outstanding offensive lineman, so he's definitely a good selection in my books. He's had several strong and consistent years protecting Henry Burris' blind side and paving the way for the Stampeders' excellent run game, and he was chosen as the team's outstanding lineman earlier this year.
Overall, I'd say this is a pretty good crop of nominees. There are some interesting things of note about them, however, and one is just how much of a role age plays. Looking through the list by position, six of the East's 12 offensive players are over 30 (Anthony Calvillo, Arland Bruce, Terrence Edwards, Dave Stala, Rob Murphy, Scott Flory), and most of the rest aren't that much younger. On defence, only three East players (Brown, Pile and Kevin Eiben) have already hit 30, but Lin-J Shell turns 30 in December and many others aren't far behind. When you add Damon Duval, that's 10 of the East's 27 players who are already 30 or older, or 37 per cent.
In the West, older players are even more prominent. Seven of 12 offensive players (Henry Burris, Wes Cates, Joffrey Reynolds, Romby Bryant, Archibald, Gene Makowsky and Jeremy O'Day) have already hit 30. On defence, it's four of 12 (DeVone Claybrooks, Brent Johnson, Banks and Barrin Simpson). There are two more older types on special teams, 33-year-old punter Burke Dales and 40-year-old kicker Paul McCallum. That adds to a total of 13 of 27 players who are 30 or older, or 48 per cent. Overall, 23 of the CFL's 54 all-stars (43 per cent) are 30 or above.
That isn't necessarily a bad thing. Some might see that as name recognition winning out over pure quality, but I don't think that's the case here. The vast majority of the selections look like good ones to me, and ones backed up by the numbers. To me, this looks like more of a reflection that it can take players quite a while to adjust to the differences in play in the CFL. Experience with the Canadian game can be hugely beneficial, and sometimes more so than raw youth or talent. It's not that the league's just full of old stars with no one to replace them; there are plenty of young up-and-coming players as well, with some on this list and some just off it. The ones who didn't make it this year are likely to wind up there some day if they can use their CFL experience to good advantage.