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September 1, 2022

Ferguson: A receiver deep-dive ahead of Labour Day Weekend

Kevin Sousa/CFL.ca

As we make the turn to OK Tire Labour Day Weekend the quarterbacks are getting much of the attention with unsettled situations, trades and heightened expectations making the rounds, but the CFL’s top pass-catchers are telling an equally intriguing story this season.

Ahead of the four game slate, I picked one receiver from each team to take a deep-dive on and gain some understanding about their 2022 season.

 

OK TIRE LABOUR DAY WEEKEND
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Nate Behar, Ottawa REDBLACKS

Ottawa REDBLACKS receiver Nate Behar is having a career year to start 2022, setting new highs in receptions, yards and touchdowns (Matt Smith/CFL.ca).

I was tempted to choose Darvin Adams here, the former Bombers playmaker has been one of the most vocal leaders in Ottawa’s locker room and on the practice field this season.

Nate Behar is a leader in his own right, and was named an offensive captain for both the way he carries himself and his influence on the field.

After catching his first career touchdown on the road in Regina earlier this season Behar had his two longest air yard completions of the year last Saturday in Edmonton, going for 21 and 42 yards, while continuing to pummel defences under 10-yards depth with a Brad Sinopoli-esque level of execution.

Eugene Lewis, Montreal Alouettes

Montreal Alouettes playmaker, Eugene Lewis is tied with Edmonton’s Kenny Lawler for second in the league in receiving yards with 849. Lewis is also averaging 15.7 yards per catch and has six receptions of 30 yards or longer (Chris Tanouye/CFL.ca).

This is getting more ridiculous each and every week, and I love it.

Eugene Lewis continues to lead the CFL in targets and despite having just a 58 per cent completion rate. When targeted he is influencing nearly every offensive play, especially when defences are forced to deal with him isolated.

That success rate deep down the right sideline is so lopsided it’s actually skewing the league-wide numbers in that zone when I put together the heat chart for every throw this season.

Rasheed Bailey, Winnipeg Blue Bombers

With three touchdowns this season, Winnipeg receiver Rasheed Bailey needs just two more touchdowns to tie his career-high of five. Bailey is also the second-most targeted Winnipeg receiver through 12 weeks of action (BlueBombers.com).

The only receiver I selected who happens to not have an interception when targeted this season, Rasheed Bailey.

Bailey has been an intriguing study for me this season as what I thought he would be the Robin to Greg Ellingson’s Batman following free agency.

Of course Dalton Schoen appeared out of nowhere and has been consistently making plays for Winnipeg, but Bailey’s season feels like it’s gaining some momentum despite only catching a pair of passes beyond 20 air yards this season.

Kian Schaffer-Baker, Saskatchewan Roughriders

Saskatchewan’s Kian Schaffer-Baker is the teams leading receiver with 614 yards, while also averaging an impressive 14 yards per catch to start the year (Matt Smith/CFL.ca).

A few weeks ago I was confused by how Saskatchewan could go 40 offensive plays before Kian Schaffer-Baker got his first target. This factored into me to selecting him, along with the fact that Duke Williams, Kyran Moore, Shaq Evans and others just have so many fewer targets this year due to injury or suspension.

Schaffer-Baker has been used consistently in the Riders jet-sweep game and – emblematic of the Saskatchewan passing attack this season – he has 27 catches on 29 targets (93.1%) at a depth of five yards or shorter.

Tim White, Hamilton Tiger-Cats

Hamilton’s Tim White leads all Ticats receivers with 759 receiving yards, and is tied with Steven Dunbar Jr. for the team lead with five receiving touchdowns (Thomas Skrlj/CFL.ca).

When Brandon Banks left the youth movement was officially kickstarted in Hamilton, headlined by Steven Dunbar Jr. and Tim White.

I could have chosen either receiver here, both have five touchdowns on the season and eerily, each have 16 score-zone targets. Showing the two man balance the Hamilton passing game has struck despite multiple quarterbacks being employed.

What I see with White is a willingness to push the ball deep vertically, catching one of eight targets to the right side of the field and two targets for two scores to the left. I also see a player whose explosive ability comes in his quickness and yards after the catch on intermediate routes when he gets a clean pass running at full speed across the defence.

Brandon Banks, Toronto Argonauts

Toronto Argonauts receiver Brandon Banks is set to make his sixth appearance on Labour Day Weekend, but his first as a member of the Argos (Thomas Skrlj/CFL.ca).

Speaking of Brandon Banks, he comes back to Hamilton for a real homecoming in their matchup this Monday. Labour Day presents a much larger platform than week 10 on a Friday night when the Ticats gave Speedy a video board tribute.

Despite having an Argos low 46.0 per cent completion rate, Banks continues to get looks in the Boatmen offence, as McLeod Bethel-Thompson told me last week, he’s really working to understand Banks’ body language during routes.

With the deepest average depth of target amongst Toronto receivers, what a sight it would be to see No.16 enter the Black and Gold end zone this week.

Reggie Begelton, Calgary Stampeders

Reggie Begelton’s 239 yards after catch rank him amongst the leagues top 10, the Calgary Stampeders pass-catcher is averaging 11.7 yards per catch  through the first 12 weeks (Thomas Skrlj/CFL.ca).

I have to admit, Reggie Begelton was the inspiration for this entire piece as I’ve increasingly been trying to understand his usage this year. To the eye it feels as though the CFL’s leading receiver from 2019 has been primarily catching bubble routes without anyone having the chance to contest him. Not exactly what I think of when Begelton’s name is brought up.

However, the numbers check out.

Percentage of pass targets behind the line of scrimmage
2019 = 13.4 per cent
2021 = 7.6 per cent
2022 = 24.2 per cent

2022 average depth of target
June/July = 9.7
August = 6.7

Derel Walker, Edmonton Elks

In his last appearance in a Labour Day game, Derel Walker pulled down nine passes for 203 yards and two touchdowns in 2019 as a member of the Toronto Argonauts (GoElks.com).

With the announcement that Kenny Lawler’s ankle injury will force him to take time off the game day roster, the Edmonton Elks passing game takes a huge hit. Now they will have to lean on Derel Walker more which led me to this pick.

I’ve long found Walker a difficult player to analyze after early-career success, the strange year in Toronto and quiet return to Edmonton.

What I see is a lot of weak-side slants (cluster between five and 10 yards on left) and a deep ball catcher who hasn’t had consistent quarterback play to maximize his value ( two catches on 16  targets 15 air yards in depth). That will have to chance for the Elks to avoid finishing dead last in the West with seven games left to play.

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