The CFL recently released their annual divisional All-Star list, and four of Ottawa’s players were voted onto the team. Fittingly, the Redblacks had an astounding eleven games decided by eight points or less. This included three of their four victories, and 8 of their 14 losses. In fact, on a 4-14 team, they scored 415 points, and allowed 507 points.
The one thing all of the playoff teams have in common this season: none of them allowed more than 471 points, and only Winnipeg and Toronto have scored more than 500 points. Ottawa was not that far away from being a playoff team in a season where we see two teams with losing records find their way in. The 8-10 Hamilton Tiger-Cats simply won when it mattered the most, in particular the games against Ottawa where they went 3-0, finding their only in division wins all season. Ottawa was the only team in the East to have a win-less record in division.
To say Ottawa lacks talent simply wouldn’t be true. What Ottawa lacks is talent in very key areas that brings down the team as a whole. The men voted onto the All-Star team, likely would have been stars on any other team in the CFL, and perhaps performed even better.
Justin Hardy was the most consistent performer on the offense all season long. Suffering from a litany of quarterback injuries this season, Hardy pushed through no matter who was throwing him the ball, and continued to perform when his number was called.
He finished the season with a 69% catch rate on 123 targets, which amounted to 85 receptions, for 1,009 yards and 3 touchdowns. He also returned 4 punts for 21 yards, and 2 kicks for 57 yards. Let’s not forget this is only Hardy’s second season in the CFL.
The one-time NCAA all-time receptions leader has been a very valuable addition to the Redblacks since he signed his contract in March of 2022. Last season in just seven games, Hardy had 44 receptions on 62 targets, for 412 yards. Hardy is a guy Ottawa must keep around long term. It hasn’t materialized yet, but with steady quarterback play, a receiver room that features Jaelin Acklin, Justin Hardy, and Nate Behar, and Devonte Dedmon can be dangerous.
Another second year CFL player, Carter had a break out season in 2023. Named to my 7 Redblacks to Watch List prior to the season, even I didn’t expect the performance Ottawa received from Carter this season. Having 2022 Defensive MOP on the opposite side attracting extra attention certainly doesn’t hurt, but Carter’s performance can’t be ignored.
Carter graduated college after four years on the field at Towson and James Madison with 24 sacks, so it was never a secret he could play when he joined the Redblacks as a rookie. Between the natural time to adapt to a completely different game from the NCAA style of play, and learning a new defense, Carter was bogged down in 2022.
Suffering from paralysis by analysis as it’s often referred to in the sports world, Carter would flash at times in 2022, but his true potential never came together until 2023. Heading into his second season with the Redblacks, he had to learn a new defense, but at this point the game play itself was no longer foreign to him. Feeling more comfortable with his surroundings paid dividends for the Redblacks in 2023 when he produced 12 sacks and forced almost 100 yards lost by opposing quarterbacks.
Carter will turn 26 years old in March of 2024, and has already produced 14 sacks in just 24 CFL appearances. If that doens’t peak the interest of NFL teams I would be surprised. Granted he is undersized, and not the prototypical athlete you would expect at 6’0 255 lbs, he plays with great leverage, and tremendous strength for his size. He also has a quick first step which has helped him find so much success in the CFL. All of this will translate to the NFL if they give this small school product a chance.
Brandin Dandridge, CB
If this man hadn’t made the list, the CFL would have made a huge mistake. Dandridge was one of the top performers across the league not only on defense, but on special teams as well. Following the injury to Devonte Dedmon, Dandridge was asked to step in, and he filled in admirably in every facet of the return game.
On punt returns he had 45 returns for 539 yards and 1 touchdown, he had a long of 79 yards. He returned 15 kicks for 328 yards with a long of 39 yards. On missed field goal returns, he had just 3 attempts for 92 yards, including a long of 69 yards. He also scored twice on defense, intercepting five passes he was able to rack up 33 return yards and 2 touchdowns. He also collected 24 tackles. He was the best player on the Redblacks this season regardless of position, and he deservedly gets an All-Star nod.
Richie Leone, P
Richie Leone has now been named to the CFL East All-Star team four times since joining the Redblacks Including three seasons straight from 2018-2021. Leone was used early and often this season and did his best to put the Redblacks defense in good position each time he was called upon. Leone punted 117 times for 5,568 yards, an average of 47.6 yards per punt, and scored four points, while also handling kickoff duties. On kickoffs, he had 54 attempts for 3,218 yards, or 59.5 average.
Leone is one of, if not the best punter in the league and they have recognized him a total of six times in the divisional awards ceremony during his career. Leone will cross a milestone in 2024 if he continues on the pace he has been on, he will likely top the 35,000 yard mark in his career. Currently he has punted for 32,594 yards on 688 attempts a 47.4 average. He is also on pace to top the 25,000 yard mark in kickoffs. Something tells me Leone isn’t done being named to the the All-Star team.
Congratulations to the Redblacks All-Stars. All four men are very deserving of this accolades, and should be viewed as the building blocks to a brighter future in Ottawa. If the Redblacks want to get back to winning these four men must be in the long-term plans.
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