The Redblacks need more out of Diontae Spencer

The Ottawa Redblacks have played five games in 2018, winning three of them. Typically, when they win, on the offensive side of the ball, it’s because players like Trevor Harris, William Powell, Brad Sinopoli and Greg Ellingson have had strong games. 

Conspicuously absent from that list is receiver Diontae Spencer. For a player who garnered NFL interest in the off-season and for one who is being paid to be a game changer, to this point in the season, GM Marcel Desjardins has not gotten a good return on his investment.

Let’s take a deeper dive into how Spencer’s season has unfolded.

You might think that for a number three receiver on the depth chart, 20 catches for 186 yards and a touchdown this early in the year would be considered a solid contribution, but it’s in fact slightly below this year’s league average. Plus, Spencer doesn’t have the skill set of an average number three receiver. Nor is he paid that way. As he demonstrated towards the end of last season, when he’s hot, he’s capable of single-handedly taking over a game.

While there’s some merit to the argument that Spencer provides value simply by drawing away coverage from other receivers, it’s not as if he’s been used as a decoy and is lacking opportunities. 

Spencer has seen 38 targets in 2018, third highest on the team. Of those, he’s caught 20 passes. Put another way, Spencer’s caught 52 per cent of the balls thrown his way. To put that in perspective, Sinopoli has caught 36-of-46 targets (78 per cent) and Ellingson 26-of-44 (59 per cent). Of Spencer’s 38 targets, just 10 have come when he’s been 20 yards (or deeper) down the field. Those 10 targets have resulted in two catches. 

Some of that might simply be a result of how offensive coordinator Jamie Elizondo has chosen to deploy Spencer or how Trevor Harris has been throwing the ball. After all, it’s hard to stretch the field with your fastest player if you’re throwing him the ball before he’s in full stride and taking the top off the defence. In fact, Spencer’s only catch longer than 30 yards this year was his 56-yard touchdown reception in the season opener against Saskatchewan, coming when he burned Duron Carter. 

While there’s something to said about Spencer creating space for other receivers (aka the Buds) as a decoy, the reality is at some point he simply needs to do more with the opportunities he’s given.

Through five games, Spencer has been held to under 40 receiving yards four times, hasn’t had a 100-yard receiving game, found the end zone just once and his only rushing carry went for a loss of five yards. He’s also yet to score a return touchdown and is averaginleague-low low 8.1 yards per punt return.

With all that said, there are positives to Spencer’s play and signs that a breakout game might be on the horizon. Despite being third on the team in receptions, Spencer is second in YAC (yards after catch) with 66.

Also, his three longest returns of the season came last game against B.C. Spencer returned a missed field goal 42 yards, a kickoff 46 yards and a punt 26 yards. 

Furthermore, although Spencer finished 2017 on a tear, it’s easy to forget that he also started last season quietly, with just a single 100 yard receiving game through fifteen weeks, before going off in Week 16 and never looking back. 

As things currently stand, the Redblacks boast a 3-2 record and sit atop the East. If they aspire to be better than just a .500 team and intend to retain their perch atop the division, they’ll need more out of Spencer, a player they’re paying to single-handedly win games. 

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