While casual fans in R-Nation may roll their eyes at the idea that anyone on Ottawa’s roster deserved a special nod for recognition of their play, the reality is despite how off the rails the season has gone, every team, every year, must submit a list of players to be nominated for the various awards given out.
Award winners are selected by voting members of the Football Reporters of Canada (FRC) and by each head coach for their team. Think beat writers, colour guys and other media members close to the team.
Some of those selected as award winners in the nation’s capital make sense. Others not so much.
Let’s take a closer look at the Redblacks’ list.
Most Outstanding Player: Avery Williams, LB
It may seem odd that on a team that’s given up the second-most points in the league (522), a defensive player was named Ottawa’s most outstanding player, but when you consider that the Redblacks’ offence has been historically bad, it doesn’t seem so strange after all.
Despite missing seven games due to injury, Williams leads all Redblacks with 69 total tackles. He’s also notched one sack, forced a fumble and recovered three fumbles.
Although Williams is deserving, J.R. Tavai should’ve received more consideration. With 50 tackles, eight sacks, three forced fumbles and six tackles for loss, Tavai was a force all season long. Perhaps more importantly, Tavai didn’t fade down the stretch, notching sacks in five of Ottawa’s last six games.
Furthermore, even with the playoffs long out of reach, Tavai’s motor never stalled. Quarterback pressures, keeping contain and being in the right gap on a run play don’t show up on the stat sheet but are important aspects of playing defence. Tavai consistently did those things at a high level.
As for those who argue that receiver Dominique Rhymes should’ve been in the conversation for this award due to his 1,000-plus yard campaign again. Contrary to what his gaudy numbers might imply, Rhymes wasn’t a consistent threat for the Redblacks. He was often undone by untimely drops and sloppy route running, which is reflected by the fact that he only caught 57 percent of his targets (65-of-114).
Most Outstanding Defensive Player: Avery Williams, LB
If you make a defensive player your Most Outstanding Player, by default he’s got to be your best defensive player. As mentioned above, there’s nothing wrong with Williams’ selection per se, but there’s a strong argument to be made that Tavai was just as deserving.
Most Outstanding Canadian Player: Nolan MacMillan, OL
Since joining the Redblacks’ in 2013 as the franchise’s first ever draft pick, MacMillan has been a staple on Ottawa’s offensive line, when he’s healthy. The problem is MacMillan hasn’t played a full season since 2015. In 2019, MacMillan started 14 games for the Redblacks, but has been on the six-game injured list since early October.
Granted it’s not as if the Redblacks had a ton of candidates for this award, but giving it to a guy who plays in a unit that’s allowed the third most sacks in the league and managed the second fewest rushing first downs is a head-scratcher.
In a normal year, Brad Sinopoli would be a shoo-in for this award. But criminal mis-use by the Redblacks’ offensive committee has resulted in a five-year low for catches, yards, touchdowns and YAC (yards after the catch).
Personally, I would’ve gone with Lewis Ward for this award, in recognition of his historic 69 consecutive regular season field goals streak, his successful Ottawa pro football record 56 yard kick and 87 percent field goal rating on the year. Ward has made 40 of the 46 field goals he’s lined up to attempt, nailing 18-of-20 from 40-plus yards and 6-of-7 from 50-plus yards.
Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman: Nolan MacMillan, OL
In their press release announcing their player awards, part of the justification for choosing MacMillan as the team’s Most Outstanding lineman is that “MacMillan tied his career high with 2 defensive tackles”. Odd thing to say as that’s more a reflection of poor quarterback play than solid offensive line play.
Given that Alex Mateas has not only played every offensive snap this season but also anchored the line, setting up protection schemes from his centre position, he might have been a more deserving choice. The best thing that can be said about Mateas’ play in 2019 is that most games he was invisible, and as an offensive lineman, that’s a good thing. Because if you’re noticeable to the fans, it’s normally because you’re screwing up.
Most Outstanding Special Teams: Richie Leone, K
The voters nailed this pick. For most games in 2019, Leone was Ottawa’s busiest player, called upon after each failed offensive possession (of which there were countless).
Through 17 games, Leone has punted 128 times for 6230 yards, averaging 48.7 yards per kick and a net field position flip of 39.5 yards. That’s money in the bank in the field position battle and in theory, should’ve set up his team for success. Leone also handled kick off duties, in which he averaged 62.1 yards per kick.
Most Outstanding Rookie: Jerod Fernandez, LB
Another highly deserving pick. Fernandez missed multiple games due to injuries but when on the field, showcased good lateral mobility and demonstrated a mean-streak in the form of frequently jarring collisions with the ball carrier. Through ten games Fernandez has made 46 tackles, forced two fumbles and knocked down a pair of passes.
If he had stayed healthy, running back John Crockett could’ve easily been in contention for this award, as he was averaging 5.4 yards per carry and 9.3 per reception went he went down with a leg injury.