The 2021 CFL season didn’t quite go as planned for the Ottawa Redblacks. Going into the season, the Redblacks, like every other team in the CFL had all eyes on playing the Grey Cup in Hamilton on December 12th. Instead, they went 3 and 11 and will not play again until the 2022 CFL season, finishing their 2021 season on November 19th in Montreal, but even though they didn’t make it far, the Ottawa Redblacks were able to find some key pieces for the 2022 CFL season and beyond.
Among those pieces, and leading the pack for the Redblacks during the back half of the 2021 CFL season is Caleb Evans. The 23 year old rookie quarterback came into his first professional game on September 28th against the Edmonton Elks at TD Place where he put the entire league on notice, throwing for 191 yards, running for an additional 59 yards and scoring three touchdowns through the air in what was the Redblacks second of three wins on the season. He then went on to complete 108 of 182 passing attempts in 7 starts for 1,279 yards with a 5:9 touchdown to interception ratio and 345 rushing yards and 3 touchdowns. Evans finished the 2021 CFL season strong, going back to back starts without throwing an interception to close out the season and winning the season finale against the Montreal Alouettes with 229 yards of offence, 2 rushing touchdowns and two 2-point conversions to receiver RJ Harris but he wasn’t able to accomplish everything he did on his own.
There were a number of players on the Ottawa Redblacks offence that helped Caleb Evans and other quarterbacks Matt Nichols, Dominique Davis and Devlin Hodges put points on the board during the 2021 CFL season. Up front, on the offensive line, although there were struggles, giving up a league lead 53 sacks on the season, all of the positives that came out of the 2021 season would not be possible without offensive lineman Mark Korte. Korte missed just one of the 14 games during the 2021 CFL season and played nearly every single position on the Ottawa Redblacks offensive line over the span of the season. With 48 games under his belt over the three seasons he’s been with the Redblacks, there is no doubt that he is a must re-sign player for the Ottawa Redblacks this off-season as he is a pending free agent alongside other proven lineman Nolan MacMillan.
From the backfield, standing right next to the quarterback before every play is the running back. For the Ottawa Redblacks, there wasn’t one running back that made a huge impact for the team in the running game, simply because the offensive line was never 100% healthy and the Redblacks rarely were in situations to run the ball consistently, so the running backs were often put in the position to pass block and go out to catch the ball as a receiver. Over the 2021 season the Redblacks saw Timothy Flanders, Justin Davis and De’Lance Turner start games for the team, and of all of the running backs it is Flanders that made the largest impact in the passing attack. It wasn’t because he caught 100 passes or anything crazy like that, but because Timothy Flanders consistently provided his pass blocking abilities to the Redblacks offence, which, in a year where the offensive line struggled came in to play a big role in the offence. Flanders also caught for 168 yards and a touchdown in the games he played, including a 39 yard screen pass on the final drive of the 2021 CFL season which set up the game winning score against the Alouettes.
Then at receiver, there wasn’t just one player that helped Evans and the Ottawa Redblacks quarterbacks, but it was more of the entire receiving core that did so.
R.J Harris, in his third season as an Ottawa Redblacks receiver took on more of a primary role in the Redblacks offence, leading the pack with 595 receiving yards on 46 catches. He also added two 2-point conversion catches in the season finale to his totals. Rookie wide receiver Ryan Davis, after setting the record at Auburn University for most receptions in a collegiate career with 178 caught a team lead 55 passes for 589 yards and 2 touchdowns. Davis also had 43 rushing yards and 481 return yards, giving him 1,113 yards all-purpose as a rookie, awarding him the Redblacks rookie of the year award. Canadian receiver Nate Behar, from Carleton University in Ottawa had his biggest season of his CFL career, having a career high 38 catches for 439 receiving yards. Behar now has 81 catches for 865 yards and a score in his 61 games in the CFL over the 4 seasons he’s played with both Edmonton and Ottawa.
Kenny Stafford, who came in mid way through the 2021 CFL season by the Ottawa Redblacks, although he’s not talked about heavily made a large impact in the Redblacks offence. He, a 31 year old, 8 season CFL veteran brought a much needed veteran presence to the Ottawa offence, and not only did he help lead the group with the players around him, but he excelled with them as well. He wasn’t thrown the ball a lot as if he was the number one target in the offence, but when targeted he was efficient, catching 17 passes for 242 yards and 3 scores in the 8 games he played with the Redblacks.
The four leading receivers for the Ottawa Redblacks combined for a total 156 catches, 1,865 yards, 5 touchdowns and two 2-point conversions. They aren’t flashy numbers by any means, but the group made a big enough impact to help rookie quarterback Caleb Evans develop and grow into the quarterback we will see in 2022.
When the Ottawa Redblacks are back in 2022, the offence could look very different though, Stafford, Harris and Behar are all pending free agents. Ryan Davis, and Jordan Smallwood are under contract though, two receivers that spent their rookie CFL seasons with Ottawa in 2021, and the Redblacks are expected to go after a number one receiver in free agency. If the three pending free agents are extended, both Smallwood and Davis remain in the nation’s capital and the Redblacks bring in a number one receiver as well as a ratio breaking Canadian receiver, the Ottawa Redblacks offence could be one of the best in the CFL with dual threat quarterback Caleb Evans.
Those ifs will only be answered with time though, the CFL’s 2021 season will officially wrap up on December 12th in Hamilton with the 108th Grey Cup. After that it will be the off-season, an off-season full of big decisions for the Ottawa Redblacks. Stay tuned.