In years past, it was never a question who was going into the season as the Redblacks’ ball catchers with names like Greg Ellingson, Ernest Jackson, Brad Sinopoli, Chris Williams, and Diontea Spencer being established names that you knew would be capable of putting up 1,000-yard seasons year in and year out.
After multiple players leaving in free agency, moving onto the NFL, and just straight up retiring, the Redblacks have lost most of their big-name talent at the receiver spot. Heading into the 2021 season, fans have expressed their concerns about who will be capable of stepping up and putting up those big numbers. While nothing is set in stone just yet, I’m here to shed some light on who they could turn to when the first ball flies on August 7th in Edmonton.
After Sinopoli called his career just before camp opened, R.J. Harris was the name that stepped up into the number one slot in the mind of most fans. After injury derailed his 2019 season, Harris has come out in camp and shown that he can be capable of filling the big shoed that have been vacated.
Harris was impressive for the entire duration of camp with the exception of his rest days, which were given to anyone who needed them. In his two past seasons, Harris has hauled in 111 passes for 1471 yards and four touchdowns in 30 games. Averaging 13.3 yards per reception, he has shown to have an ability to make the big play when needed.
Now at the age of 29 and in his third CFL season, Harris looks ready to take over the number one spot and be a deadly threat that teams need to game plan around. He has a good combination of size, speed, and hands that could make him an elite receiver in the CFL if he continues to play like he did at training camp.
After being drafted 26th overall by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in 2018, Daniel Petermann has followed Head Coach Paul LaPolice to Ottawa, a place where he will play a big role in the offence. His training camp was very impressive, and with the retirement of Sinopoli, the Redblacks are looking to replace him. Petermann is someone who might be able to do that, but I have tried to stop myself from comparing the two players.
It has been hard to avoid comparing them, however. Petermann is a very good route runner and specializes in yards after catch, exactly what made Sinopoli as effective as he was. There are some differences between them of course, and that is mostly the height. Petermann stands at only five-foot-eleven while Sinopoli was six-foot-four but the one thing that Petermann does better is his speed. While Sinopoli was rather limited to the short and medium routes, there will likely be more freedom for Petermann to do anything.
At only 25 and two years into his CFL career, Petermann didn’t see much playing time in Winnipeg. In his two seasons previously, he has 25 receptions for 272 yards and two touchdowns. There is a familiarity with Matt Nichols that none of the other options save for Timothy Flanders have and there should be some chemistry and trust already built up.
Comparing the two players doesn’t mean that Petermann will be Sinopoli and those would be massive expectations to place on the young man’s shoulders, but Redblacks fans should definitely get to know his name. When you need a pair of sure hands and some yards after the catch, Nichols will be looking to find Petermann a fair amount this season.
Jordan Smallwood is new not only to the Redblacks, but the CFL as a whole. Despite being the new kid on the block, he was very impressive during training camp and will more than likely see a significant amount of playing time this season. A good combination of route running, speed, hands, and size has Smallwood looking like he could have a breakout season.
Smallwood stands at 6-foot-2 and 219 pounds and is still young by CFL standards at only 26. One of the major drawbacks when it comes to Smallwood however is his supreme lack of playing time thus far in his young career. Where this is different from a player like Petermann as mentioned previously is this is his first season in Canada. Through college playing at Oklahoma, Smallwood had only 18 receptions for 170 yards.
In 2018, Smallwood was given a chance in the preseason with the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs. This chance was admittedly very small including just two receptions for 32 yards, but he does have some kind of knowledge about an NFL locker room. The bulk of his experience comes in 2020 with the XFL’s Los Angeles Wildcats. Smallwood was 10th in the XFL in receiving yards and third on his team in the same category.
In five XFL games before the league was forced to shut down due to COVID-19, Smallwood was targeted 27 times with 18 receptions. He picked up 236 yards, averaging 13.1 yards per reception and scoring one touchdown. Although he’s new to the CFL, Smallwood has a chance to become a big factor in the Redblacks’ offence in the right situation.
DeVonte Dedmon made his name with the Redblacks in 2019 with explosive kick returns and very rarely saw the field offensively. Despite the small role in 2019, Dedmon looks like a player that could get some time on the offensive side of the football this season, although you shouldn’t expect him to be on the field all that much when the season kicks off in Edmonton this week (from ‘GETTING READY FOR REAL: Full steam ahead to CFL season-opener for Redblacks,’ Ottawa Sun, August 2nd, 2021).
If you were looking for a speed/deep threat on the Redblacks sideline, you need not look any further than Dedmon. Although he has bulked up in the offseason adding some weight, he still has that crazy speed that had fans’ jaws hitting the floor in 2019. His hands and route running are also solid meaning he could play a solid role outside of the kick return game for Ottawa this season.
It’s likely that he would have to earn more playing time on the offence as the season goes on. He won’t be on the starting offence (at least for the time being) when the games get real this weekend as many fans thought and hoped he would be. In truth, there is plenty of talent to go around on the offence and he is looked at as a kick returner having only proved he can do that.
If he does get some time with Nichols and the offence at some point, he should be a difference-maker. The opposing team would have to focus on taking the deep ball away from him possibly leading to more short and medium routes being open for his teammates. It’s just another way Dedmon could contribute even without the ball in his hands.
Another new addition to the offence is CFL veteran and Canadian, Anthony Coombs. Coombs is entering his seventh season in the CFL, spending five years in Toronto with the Argonauts and spending 2019 with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. So far in his career, it has been up and down with solid numbers in 2015 and 2017, but numbers he wouldn’t be happy with in 2018 and 2019.
While the past two seasons haven’t been what Coombs would like to see out of himself, he has a chance in Ottawa to step up and play a crucial part in getting the offence off the ground early. With 69 games of CFL experience, Coombs brings 190 receptions, 1695 yards, and seven touchdowns to the table. You might not think there’s all that much in the numbers, but he’s been an effective player in the league for some time now.
He’s certainly not the top of the totem pole in terms of Redblacks receivers going into week one, but having him out on the field with the offence adds someone with experience to offset some of the inexperience that they have. He won’t put up massive numbers this season, but he might just be the safety valve that makes a massive difference for Nichols this season.
Is It Going To Be Enough?
Only time will tell if the Redblacks and Marcel Desjardins have built a team that can put the dreadful 2019 season in the distant memory, but on paper, I’d argue that the receivingcore can do big things. There is a lot of unknowns with this team of course, and they might stumble at times, but ultimately, I believe that there is a good foundation with some of the names above. There are others including Nate Behar to turn to if they need help, and they can even look to the practice squad for a guy like Mike Klukas if the time comes.