Bombers’ Brady Oliveira, Argos’ Chad Kelly finalists for CFL’s best player

Rushing leader Brady Oliveira and record-setting quarterback Chad Kelly are the finalists for the CFL’s outstanding player award.

The CFL unveiled its individual finalists Wednesday after voting by the Football Reporters of Canada and nine head coaches.

The five-foot-10, 222-pound Oliveira, a Winnipeg native, led the CFL in rushing with 1,534 yards (5.9-yard average) and nine touchdowns.

The 26-year-old also has 38 catches for 482 yards and four touchdowns for 2,106 combined yards for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

Kelly, 29, enjoyed a record-setting 2023 campaign, his first as Toronto’s starter.

The 29-year-old nephew of former Buffalo Bills star Jim Kelly won 15 of 16 starts, guiding the Argonauts to a franchise-best 16-2 record, which also tied the single-season league record for wins set in 1989 by Edmonton. The 93.8 win percentage also set a league record by a starter with at least 14 starts.

Kelly was one of six Argos to earn East Division nominations. The others included linebacker Adarius Picket (defensive player), tackle Dejon Allen (lineman), returner Javon Leake (special teams), defensive back Qwan’tez Stiggers (rookie) and Ryan Dinwiddie (coach of the year).

The six-foot-two, 216-pound Kelly finished 270-of-394 passing (68.5 per cent) for 4,123 yards (fourth overall) with 23 touchdowns (third most) and 12 interceptions. He also rushed 40 times for 248 yards (6.2-yard average) and eight TDs (tied for second most in the CFL).

The CFL will honour its top individual performers Nov. 16 at Fallsview Casino & Resort in Niagara Falls, Ont.

Montreal Alouettes DB Marc-Antoine Dequoy makes an interception in a game in September. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

Oliveira got the nod in the West ahead of CFL passing leader Vernon Adams Jr. of the B.C. Lions (4,769 yards), Edmonton Elks quarterback Tre Ford (2,069 yards passing, 622 yards rushing in 10 starts), Calgary Stampeders receiver Reggie Begelton (86 catches, 1,169 yards, five TDs) and Saskatchewan Roughriders linebacker Larry Dean (104 tackles).

The other East Division nominees were Hamilton Tiger-Cats receiver Tim White (75 catches, CFL-high 1,269 yards, eight TDs), Montreal Alouettes receiver Austin Mack (78 catches, 1,154 yards, four TDs) and Ottawa Redblacks running back Devonte Williams (1,003 yards rushing, three TDs).

Oliveira is also the West Division nominee as top Canadian. Montreal defensive back Marc-Antoine Dequoy, who had five interceptions (a league-high two returned for TDs), two fumble recoveries and three forced fumbles, secured the East Division nomination.

Dinwiddie, O’Shea

Dinwiddie is a finalist for coach of the year for a third straight season and is only the ninth head coach ever to win division titles in each of his three seasons. Mike O’Shea of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers — the winner of the honour the last two seasons — is the West Division nominee after guiding his club to a 14-4 record.

At nine seasons, O’Shea, of North Bay, Ont., is the CFL’s longest-serving head coach. He has amassed a 96-62 record and has the most wins among active coaches.

B.C. Lions DL Mathieu Betts is the West nominee as top defensive player. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

B.C. Lions defensive lineman Mathieu Betts had league-high 18 sacks — the most ever in a season by a Canadian — and is the West nominee as top defensive player. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)
Defensive lineman Mathieu Betts of the B.C. Lions, who had a league-high 18 sacks — the most ever in a season by a Canadian — received the West nomination as top defensive player. The former Laval star added 44 tackles (three for a loss), while adding two special-teams tackles, three forced fumbles and a blocked punt.

Pickett finished with 105 tackles (five for loss), 19 special-teams tackles, six sacks, a fumble recovery and two forced fumbles. He was part of a Toronto defence that finished first against the run (84 yards per game) and tops in sacks (68).

Allen was part of a Toronto offensive line that led the East Division with 56 offensive TDs while allowing a league-low 19 sacks. The Argos’ unit averaged a league-leading 7.3 yards per play en route to 591 points — tops in the East Division and second overall.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea, left, jokes around with Jermarcus Hardrick during a practice. O’Shea is a finalist as coach of the year and Hardrick is up for top lineman. (John Woods/The Canadian Press)

Winnipeg’s Jermarcus Hardrick earned the West Division nod as top lineman. The Bombers allowed 33 sacks (second-best in the CFL) while leading the CFL in rushing (139 yards per game), net offence (415 yards per game) and points (594).

Leake led the CFL in punt returns (81 for 1,216 yards) and return touchdowns (four).

Kicker Sean Whyte of the B.C. Lions, a 14-year CFL veteran, was the West Division special-teams nominee after making 50 of 53 field goals and 44 of 45 converts.

Stiggers recorded 53 tackles (three special-teams tackles) and five interceptions in 16 games with Toronto.

The West Division’s top rookie is Edmonton defensive back Kai Gray, one of three first-year players to appear in 18 regular-season games, registered 54 tackles (two special-teams tackles), two interceptions and a TD for the Elks.

The Canadian Press, known in French as La Presse Canadienne, is a national news agency headquartered in Toronto. It was established in 1917 as a vehicle to permit Canadian newspapers of the day to exchange their news and information.