Looking back on the 2023 season for the Ottawa Redblacks there weren’t a whole lot of bright spots no matter where you looked. However, one of the few bright spots on this team, what its rushing attack which ended up finishing the season ranked second in total yardage.
While it certainly didn’t hurt that ranking when Dustin Crum was inserted as the starting quarterback for the majority of the season, and used as a runner often. However Devonte Williams deserves the credit for carrying the rushing attack in 2023. Finishing the season with nearly 300 yards more than Crum who was second on the team, and over 800 more than the third place player.
Devonte Williams is a Weapon for Ottawa
Not only did he lead the team in rushing by a wide margin but he was the only running back on the roster that managed more than 176 yards all season long. While Williams was averaging 67 yards on the ground and another 21 through the air, per game. The team as a whole was
Williams struggled to stay healthy during the 2022 season preventing the break out year from happening a season earlier. Playing in just 8 games he managed 90 carries for 454 yards. He was on pace for 1,021 rushing yards in 18 games. Through his short professional career Williams has averaged over 5 yards per carry for Ottawa, a far cry from his days in college.
Better in Canada than in College
Over five seasons of college he appeared in 49 games starting just 16. He didn’t top 90 carries or 4.0 yards per carry until his senior season. Finally after five years Williams got a chance to be the guy, and rewarded his team with 136 carries for 599 yards and 8 touchdowns he added 68 receptions for 571 yards and 3 touchdowns. This certainly helped out him on the map for the CFL, however I’m not sure anyone expected him to come into the professional ranks and perform as well as he has.
His first year as a professional he improved his career high in yards per carry by over half a yard from 4.4 to 5.0, then did it again heading into his second professional season, when he averaged 5.49 yards per carry. Ottawa found a diamond in the rough with Williams, and realized they had to bring him back if they wanted to find success in 2024.
One facet of this offense that will be fascinating to watch is the transition to Tommy Condell from Khari Jones. Last season quarterbacks accounted for 875 yards rushing or 38.5% of the teams total rushing yardage. They also accounted for 15 rushing touchdowns, as opposed to the 7 by running backs. With Dru Brown likely to start the season chances are the quarterback run game will not be as prominent in their offense in 2024. Brown is mobile and can run without a doubt but he is arguably a much better passer than anyone who suited up for Ottawa in 2023. This could mean more carries to go around at running back.
Not Done at Running Back
I still firmly believe the Redblacks need another running back that’s bigger and can be used in short yardage and goal line situations. Ante Milanovic-Litre was supposed to be that guy but suffered through injuries and often wasn’t utilized enough to be a factor. I would like to see Ottawa bring him back or bring in a back similar in stature. Although he’s likely way above budget, an offense led by William Stanback and Devonte Williams would be about as good as it gets in the CFL.
Some other free agents that would make sense:
Sean Thomas-Erlington at 5’9 217 pounds to steal a phrase from a Chevy commercial is Built “like a rock”. Despite his size he still has 4.4 speed, and has developed into a quality contributor for Hamilton and brings value in multiple facets of special teams as well.
Thomas-Erlington is a tremendously versatile back for his size already having collected 63 receptions on 84 targets, for 631 yards and 3 touchdowns as a receiver. As a runner he has 191 carries for 1,170 yards and 6 touchdowns. He is coming off a career high in rushing yards, yards per carry, targets, receptions, and receiving yards. He could be the perfect compliment to Williams due to his ability in the passing game. Putting him in the game wouldn’t necessarily tip the defense off that it was a run play 100% of the time.
LaFrance could be a solid fit for this position as well. At 5’10 214 lbs he’s a little bit more lean than Thomas-Erlington. LaFrance has primarily been a special teams player the majority of his career. He has collected 39 tackles on special teams and 6 defensive tackles in 89 games, he has also returned 13 kicks for 280 yards.
In 2023 he wasn’t asked to play on kick coverage units for BC but still appeared in 10 games. He collected 7 carries for 27 yards, and 1 reception for 4 yards. Bringing his career totals to 166 carries for 691 yards and 4 touchdowns, as well as 61 receptions for 364 yards, and 2 touchdowns. He began his career in Ottawa back in 2016, and now set to be 33 before the 2024 season he could finish his career in Ottawa too.
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