When I hear or read various media-types talk about the lack of “Star” quality in today’s game, I generally dismiss them as curmudgeons that all too often hearken back to the good old days of the CFL. I will admittedly get a little upset thinking that they do not give the players of today enough credit, and are stuck in their romanticism with the names of the past.
I decided to take a closer look into it and found – much to my surprise I might add – the grumpy, old sourpusses may actually be onto something!
We all know that offensive output league-wide was down this past season. When you look at the last 10 years, Net Offense Yards Per Game in 2014 was down roughly nine per cent from the average, while it is off almost 18 per cent from the high of 769 yards per game that was achieved in 2008. Over the last 10 years, the trend, while downward, is not as dour as one might think. The average contraction of offensive output is just shy of one per cent per season.
But what really jumps out when looking at the various numbers is the dramatic decline in members of what I will call “The 1,000 Yard Club”.
As you can see illustrated above, the number of running backs or receivers that gained more than 1,000 yards rushing or receiving in a particular season has been in an almost free-fall descent. In fact, the rate of decline of 1K rushing or receiving members is far greater than the decline in overall Offensive Output Per Game.
In 2014, the league saw only ONE running back cross over the 1,000-yard threshold (Calgary’s Jon Cornish). On average, over the last 10 years, there are usually 3.6 rushers that achieve the 1,000-yard milestone. For those of you playing along at home, that is more than a 250 per cent drop in “Star” or “Elite” running backs. If measured from the top year of 2009 – when seven running backs were able to chew up more than 1,000 yards – that represents a 600 per cent decline in the number of 1,000-yard rushers.
Now, hold onto your hats everyone because this is about to get even bumper. The decline in 1,000-yard receivers is even more dramatic – almost staggering even. In the most recent season, there were three receivers that accumulated more than 1,000 yards (Edmonton’s Adarius Bowman, Winnipeg’s Clarence Denmark and Montreal’s Duron Carter). The average over the last 10 years, you ask? Ten! Yes, that’s what I said … TEN! And that is just the average. If you once again measure from the top year of 2005 – where 19 pass catchers exceeded 1,000 yards – that is an astonishing decline of more than 500 per cent in “Star” or “Elite” quality receivers.
What would explain or account for such a decline and disparity?
What has happened to the Thousand Yard Club?
Where have all the “Stars” or “Elite” Players Gone?
Some would say that it is due to the ineptness of offenses league wide. Yet, as previously noted, Offensive Output Per Game has not declined at the same rate as Members of the 1,000 Yard Club.
Others will say that it is due to expansion and the subsequent watering-down of talent league wide. While this may explain the drop between 2013 and 2014, it does not explain the declines experienced over the previous nine seasons.
How about rules and regulations? Perhaps. Changes to way the game is officiated often results in changes to player performance and the on-field product. But if you really think back on it, the majority of the rule changes and applications have been implemented to benefit the offensive side of the ball.
Are defenses getting better? This may actually carry some attribution weight when it comes to explaining the disappearance of many “Star” or “Elite” offensive players. But again, better defenses only explains the most recent past as Total Offensive Output has basically been flat on average over the last 10 years.
Running-Back-by-Committee Theory? While this explains the decline in 1,000-yard rushers, it does nothing to help resolve the mysterious disappearance of the 1,000-yard receivers.
So, are we just going through a temporary down cycle where there is a lack of “Star” or “Elite” Players or is there something else at play here?
My personal belief is that it is the way coaches have changed the way the game is planned, strategized, managed and ultimately played.
Dink and Dunk. Go through your reads and progressions. Hit the check-down. Spread the ball around. Play within yourself. Manage the game.
While this does not sound all that illuminating or controversial, I do feel that it has a significant and worrisome undertone that I personally believe we are witness to occurring in today’s CFL.
The CFL is becoming a league of coaches and moving away from a league of Stars. Gone are the days of improvisational players. Those guys with that certain je ne sais quoi! They have taken player creativity out of the game by micro-managing every aspect of the game.
Coaching systems and strategies are much more dependable, predictable and reliable than any individual player. They are complex and constrained systems executed by practiced participants. That is what the league and the owners ultimately are looking to achieve: dependable, predictable and reliable results.
But is that what the fans want?