Just like hundreds of thousands of Canadians working from home, Ottawa Redblacks’ general manager Marcel Desjardins continues to do his job from quarantine, reshaping his roster following 2019’s disappointing season.
The addition of 27-year-old receiver Jalen Saunders checks a number of boxes. First and foremost, it addresses a glaring need. Despite adding a number of impact free agents in February, the one thing that Ottawa continued to lack was another veteran receiving presence. Many in R-Nation were flummoxed that Desjardins chose not to address the need then, but as I pointed out, there was still plenty of time to do so before training camp opened.
Signing Saunders is a low-risk, high reward situation. From a cap perspective, he likely came cheaper than other big name receivers still on the market (such as Derel Walker, Chris Matthews and Emmanuel Arceneaux). From a football outlook, a delayed start to training camp and the season might not be a bad thing for Saunders, giving him even more time to rest, heal up and be fully healthy.
Even though Saunders hasn’t taken the field since injuring his knee mid-2018, the five-foot-nine, 171-pounder has blazing speed (running a 4.44 at the 2014 NFL Combine) and dynamic athletic ability that allows him to line up at multiple positions. Given that versatility is a trait highly valued by head coach and offensive play-caller Paul LaPolice, Saunders figures to be a matchup nightmare for opposing defences.
When he last played in the CFL, Saunders was stretching the field and averaging 16.4 yards per catch for Hamilton. With the Redblacks, Saunders should slot in as their No. 1 receiver, instantly taking pressure off Brad Sinopoli by opening up space in the middle of the field for him to do his thing.
After 2019’s atrocious performance from the receiving corps, Desjardins and LaPolice have to feel much more comfortable with a starting group that could consist of Saunders, Sinopoli, R.J. Harris and a rotating combination of Anthony Coombs, DeVonte Dedmon, Rafael Araujo-Lopes, Marco Dubois, Wesley Lewis, Jerminic Smith and international Guillermo Villalobos.
From quarterback Nick Arbuckle’s perspective, although his receivers might not be the tallest group in the league, what they lack in size will be made up for in speed. Saunders, like Sinopoli, Coombs, Dedmon and Lopes, boasts serious ability to generate yards after the catch.
As it sits today, the Redblacks’ receiving corps consists of polished route runners and hybrid talents capable of playing multiple positions. Since LaPolice is known for maximizing the offensive talent on his roster with creative schemes, it’s not hard to see him turning a 2019 weakness into a 2020 strength.