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No one in the league experienced as much offensive upheaval as the REDBLACKS. The champions of the East lost All-Star running back William Powell (Roughriders), All-Star receiver/return specialist Diontae Spencer (NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers), quarterback Trevor Harris (Eskimos) and All-Star receiver Greg Ellingson (Eskimos), which gutted the core of a unit that averaged 24.2 points and 387.1 yards per game.
Where there is departure, there are openings, which means Fantasy users will be able to unearth production from a combination of new faces in new places and reserves looking to step up into starting roles.
If coach Rick Campbell wants to guide Ottawa to a fourth East Division title in five years, how he handles the task of replacing Harris will be the deciding factor. The REDBLACKS brought in former Lions pivot Jonathon Jennings to compete for the starting job, but just recently named Dominique Davis the starter going into the season.
Starting the year in a backup role, Jennings is looking to find the spark that once made him a potential franchise quarterback. Since breaking out with 5,226 yards and 27 passing majors in 2016, Jennings has thrown for a combined 5,267 yards with a TD:INT margin of 24:26. Perhaps the change of scenery could be the tonic Jennings needs, but even at the age of 26, this could be his last chance to prove he can be an effective field general. No one questions that Jennings still has the talent to return to the status of an elite pivot, but Fantasy users are going to have a hard time buying into his potential after being burned over the past two seasons.
For now, the time has arrived for Davis to graduate from dependable backup/short yardage specialist to a starting role. Davis completed 61 per cent of his passes for 373 yards with a 3:1 TD:INT margin and added six rushing touchdowns as Harris’ backup. He may have the edge over Jennings due to having spent last season with the REDBLACKS and taking snaps with a host of backs and receivers who will now be in starting roles.
It’s unlikely Campbell will go with a rotation. If Fantasy users were forced to choose between Jennings and Davis, the choice would likely go to Davis. Whoever wins the role will provide Fantasy users with an interesting mix of glee and anger. Use accordingly.
The REDBLACKS are banking on a face from the not-too-distant past to return to previous glories. With Powell now in Saskatchewan, Ottawa will go to Mossis Madu, one of the heroes of their 2016 Grey Cup title run. Injuries — and the emergence of Powell — forced Madu into a backup role, resulting in him playing in a combined nine games the past two seasons. Madu has proven to be a good runner and receiver when given the opportunity, but it will be hard for Fantasy users to establish a level of trust in him. The lack of playing time, however, does work in Madu’s favor as he won’t have as much mileage as a 31-year-old back would usually amass.
Brendan Gillanders will have his best opportunity to have a significant role in the Ottawa ground game. Gillanders has just 34 career carries in his five-year career, with the past three with the REDBLACKS. He has shown signs of being a solid receiver, having averaged 10.4 yards per catch on his 21 career receptions. He might be a better fit as a reserve but will have mild Fantasy value if asked to start.
Greg Morris saw brief action with Ottawa last season and will look to find a way to crack into the rotation, but a pair of newcomers could also factor into the race for carries. John Crockett is a big back from North Dakota State who has the ability pound his way between the tackles. Dalton Crossan is versatile and with good speed. Chances are good that the REDBLACKS’ leading rusher will not be on the roster in Week 1.
Whoever wins the starting job at pivot will have the steady presence of Brad Sinopoli to turn to. The East All-Star set a league record last season with a career-best 116 catches, the most ever by a Canadian-born player. Sinopoli also established a personal best 1,379 yards, marking the fourth straight 1,000-yard campaign of his career. The only thing that keeps Sinopoli from being a surefire WR1 is the lack of touchdowns, as Sinopoli had just four majors in 2018.
Outside of Sinopoli, the rest of the corps will have a strong international slant. R.J. Harris will have a more prominent role in his second season after catching 49 passes for 697 yards and two majors. The same will be expected of third-year pro Dominique Rhymes, who pulled in 22 passes for 303 yards last season. His ability to make yards after the catch will make him appealing to Fantasy users if he is able to handle a larger role. Noel Thomas II played in just five games as a rookie yet showed flashes of potential as a boundary receiver, while former Eskimo Nate Behar will compete with savvy veteran Julian Feoli-Gudino for a starting role.
Former Blue Bomber Ryan Lankford will handle return duties but will also seek to replace Spencer as a threat from the slot. Another free agent, Caleb Holley (Roughriders) will give the REDBLACKS a physical presence from the slot. Fifth-round pick Wesley Lewis (6-foot-6) has a good opportunity to break camp with the team.
The REDBLACKS forced 41 turnovers last season and ranked third in the league in fewest majors allowed (44). Ottawa also recorded 33 sacks and could see that total rise with Avery Ellis and Jonathan Newsome anchoring a deep set of ends. Linebackers Kevin Brown and Avery Williams each had strong 2018 campaigns and could form into potential All-Stars.
Ottawa made a big splash in free agency by adding veteran safety Chris Randle from the Blue Bombers. Randle, who has 17 career interceptions, also has a knack for scoring, having recorded four touchdowns.