In the 2021 season the Canadian Football League’s Ottawa Redblacks had a couple receivers that stood out on their roster. Those two names were RJ Harris, and Ryan Davis. Harris led the team in targets, and yards with 80 targets, 46 receptions for 595 yards and a 12.9 average. While Davis racked up 85 targets for 55 receptions, 589 yards and 2 touchdowns. However despite that, Third receiver Nathaniel Behar who just signed an extension prior to the start of free agency stands to take over the number two role in Ottawa if the team decides to let Harris leave via free agency, as of right now the two sides have not come to an agreement on an extension. So where does that leave Ottawa who had a total of 7 receivers slated for free agency until they extended Behar?
The truth is that they have a lot of work to do. When your top two receivers are rated 17-18 in yardage, and combine for just 2 touchdowns. When there are multiple teams with 3 receivers rated higher than both of your top two, there might be an issue at the position. There is a reason they are letting most of their depth chart test free agency including 1 of their top 2 receivers in terms of targets and receptions. They are also losing DeVonte Dedmon to the NFL. They already decided to move on from Kenny Stafford and Ervin Phillips. This leaves them with 3 of their top 8 receivers left over from the 2021 season. Surely they cannot go into the 2022 season counting on their depth chart that underperformed last season by continuing to count on these guys. However the free agent market holds several very promising free agents such as:
Jake Weineke who caught 56 passes for 898 yards and 11 touchdowns
Ricky Collins Jr who caught 55 passes for 642 yards
Steven Dunbar 44 receptions for 630 yards and 4 touchdowns
Jaelon Acklin 50 receptions for 678 yards and 4 tds
Kenny Lawler 64 receptions for 1,014 yards and 6 touchdowns
Rasheed Bailey 52 receptions for 629 yards and 5 touchdowns
Markeith Ambles 54 receptions for 686 yards and 3 touchdowns
Greg Ellingson 47 receptions for 687 yards and 1 touchdown
Personally if I’m the coaching staff for the Redblacks I’m campaigning for Jake Weineke. The 6’4 215 lb wideout has produced 19 touchdowns in his two seasons in the CFL. He has a career catch rate just above 60% which could be better, but his height and abilities in the redzone make up for any minor drop issues he might have. He could immediately come in and be the number one target in 2022, relegating Ryan Davis to the second role, with Behar and Coombs rounding out the top 4 which looks a lot more promising than the roster did in 2021. The former Minnesota Viking, and Salt Lake Stallion has settled right in with the CFL in his only two seasons and at 27 years old should be around for years to come. However if they would rather have another second year wide out that has done nothing but win since joining the CFL, they could target Kenny Lawler Jr.
Kenny Lawler Jr. is a former 7th round pick of the Seattle Seahawks, he was signed by the BC Lions originally in 2018 but never logged a stat with them signing with the practice roster for the Blue Bombers. He immediately began contributing to the Blue Bombers. In 2019 he was targeted 63 times, catching 43 passes for 637 yards and 4 tds, returning to Winnipeg in 2021 and firmly establishing himself as the number one target on the team. He was targeted 94 times, catching 64 passes for 1,014 yards and 6 touchdowns. Despite being targeted 31 more times, he managed 1 more yard per reception in 2021 than he had in 2019. I believe Lawler Jr could be another mismatch type receiver at 6’2 205 lbs, if used correctly couldn’t definitely consistently produce around 60 receptions and 800 yards.
We could also see general manager Shawn Burke play on his Hamilton roots and try and lure either Dunbar or Acklin both of which he had a hand in signing with Hamilton. Both of these men are taller receivers at 6’3 and 6’2 respectively but Acklin is a fairly small body type at just 190 lbs, while Dunbar is 202 lbs. Neither are the physical receivers that my personal favorite Weineke.
The last receiver that makes sense for the team from where I stand is Greg Ellingson. Ellingson is a familiar name for Ottawa fans. He managed to put together 4 straight 1,000 yard seasons in Ottawa before leaving for Edmonton. When he joined the Elks, he managed another 1,000 yard season in 2019 before the shut down, making it a total of 5 straight in his career. He likely would have hit the 1,000 yard mark again in 2021 if not for the fact that he played in just 10 games, still managing to rack up 69 targets, 47 receptions, 687 yards and 1 td. If the Redblacks thought he had lost a step prior to leaving then think again. In 2021 he was averaging more yards per reception than he had since 2017 with Ottawa. The 33 year old would likely welcome a return to the Redblacks where he played the majority of his career, and the chance to retire where he did the bulk of his damage in the league. Ellingson may not be the dominant physical presence I am dreaming of but he is still a guy who can go up and get a jump ball at 6’3 with a 39.5 inch vertical at his pro-day coming out of Florida International. He may have lost a step off of his 4.44 40 yard dash at his pro-day but Ellingson has not lost his sticky hands, and veteran route running ability.
The bottom line is with the amount of reliable starting receivers available if Burke doesn’t get QB Caleb Evans a dominant wide receiver he will be wasting a talent at QB that could develop into a CFL star if he surrounds him with the talent he needs to be successful. Evans needs to work on accuracy for sure, but he also suffered from drops in the 2021 season that did not help his case, he also lacked a redzone threat that could have helped him produce better passing touchdown numbers. However his mobility, placed him second on the team in terms of total rushing yards, but he led the team in rushing touchdowns to go with his 9 tds through the air. His 7 yards per attempt will only increase given a receiver like the one’s listed above and Burke surely see’s this heading into free agency. With less than 2 weeks to go I for once will be excited to see what Ottawa chooses to do when it comes to the receiver position.
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