When fans of the Canadian Football League discuss high production quarterback play in the modern era, some well-known names come to mind like hall of famers like Damon Allen, Tracy Ham, or Anthony Calvillo. For others, it may be gunslingers like Kent Austin, Henry Burris, or Warren Moon. Then there are those who would bring up the names of the likes of Dave Dickenson, Khari Jones, and Danny McManus.
In evaluating how players do on the football field, we often turn to stats and let the numbers do the talking. In fact, our modern viewing has brought us fantasy football and the ability to “see” how good a player can be.
While so many CFL QB’s have had fantastic careers and individual seasons, the discussion on that position has started and ended in the last 20 years with one name. Doug Flutie.
No one in the last 20 years has come anywhere close to the six massive seasons that Flutie produced in the mid-1990’s, where he passed for big yards, threw a ludicrous number of touchdowns, and ran all over the field and into the end zone.
From a CFL fantasy football standpoint (had we all been playing it then), Flutie would have been a dream. His 1991 season with the BC Lions is the biggest point producing campaign in CFL history with a whopping 537.8 point total under the DraftKings CFL scoring system. In fact, during a seven-year period from 1991 to 1997, Flutie had the six biggest fantasy football years, all with more than 450 fantasy points.
Since then, there have been multiple 5500+ passing yard seasons, years with over 30 and even 40 passing touchdowns, and even some QB’s have rushed for as much as over 1000 yards. Still, no quarterback had put all that together and dominated defenses in each facet or with that amount of fantasy points.
That was until Mike Reilly in 2017.
In 2016, the Edmonton Eskimos signal caller actually produced one of the better QB stat seasons with more than 5500 passing yards, 28 passing TD’s, 406 rushing yards, and 9 rushing TD’s. Those numbers manufactured 416.8 fantasy points, good for the 12th largest total in league history. It was also the fifth largest non-Flutie QB season, trailing only Kent Austin (1992), Tracy Ham (1989 and 1990), Casey Printers (2004), and Henry Burris (2008).
Coming into the 2017 season, many questioned whether Reilly would be able to replicate those numbers. After all, the Eskimos had lost two-time CFL all-star receiver Derel Walker to an NFL contract and veteran Canadian receiver Nate Coehoorn to retirement, amongst other changes to the offense.
Thanks to the early season emergence of veteran international receiver Vidal Hazelton and rookie Duke Williams, the Eskimos offense did not miss a beat in the early stages of the new campaign. Reilly produced four 300+ yard passing games in the first seven games, propelling the Green and Gold to a 7-0 record to open the year.
Fantasy owners, meanwhile, enjoyed this early season success, with the Eskimos signal caller producing 167.3 total fantasy points in that stretch, an average of 23.9 per game.
For as encouraging as the first stretch numbers were for Reilly, he actually ran the ball himself far less than he had for most of his career. He averaged just 4.1 carries per game in that time, where he had averaged 5.3 carries per game between 2013 and 2016 with the Eskimos.
The numbers remained consistent for the veteran QB from a fantasy perspective even though the Eskimos lost five games in a row in that time. He continued to regularly produce fantasy points in the mid-20’s range and remained a no brainer start each and every week.
It was in the final third of the season, however, when the Edmonton field general really drove up his numbers. The return of Walker from the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers provided yet another weapon in the Edmonton offense. In addition, the Eskimos added former Hamilton running back CJ Gable in a late season trade to shore up the running game. Reilly averaged 30.3 fantasy points in that final stretch, which is fantasy playoffs time for those in season-long formats. In that six game period, he threw for 1881 passing yards, 8 touchdowns, just 2 interceptions, and ran the ball 38 times for 207 yards and 6 rushing TD’s. He closed out the year with games of 45.0 points and 32.7 points in week 18 and 20.
Thanks to that late season stretch, Reilly finished with 5830 passing yards, 30 touchdowns, 390 rushing yards, and an amazing 12 rushing TD’s (2nd most all-time by a QB). From the fantasy standpoint, that was good enough for a whopping 500.2 fantasy points, the fourth largest output in CFL history and the biggest non-Doug Flutie season. His average week was 27.8 points per game, well ahead of Trevor Harris of the Ottawa Redblacks, who finished with 22.4 points per game.
If there was any doubt that Mike Reilly was the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player in 2017, fantasy owners will be quick to make the case and showcase his stats. The Edmonton offense showcased an explosiveness not seen since the days of what many say was the greatest quarterback in the history of the league.
It’s rare to see a quarterback do it all in one season, and we had that from Reilly in 2017. The question now is if he is able to maintain the consistency for the length of time that Flutie did in the 90’s. Multiple CFL quarterbacks such as Burris and Calvillo have proved that the modern game can allow for players in that position to play into their late 30’s. Reilly, who turns 33 in January, has shown no signs of slowing down and if he maintains that level play should be in the conversation amongst the greatest ever at the position in the CFL.