The Ottawa Redblacks are good now (at least on paper)

Photo courtesy: Bob Butrym

CFL free agency has slowed substantially since getting underway two weeks ago with most of the top players available now under contract for the 2022 season.

No team was more active this year than the Ottawa Redblacks, which makes sense given how poorly the team performed in 2021. The club signed 20 veterans, including a number of impact players such as Jeremiah Masoli, William Powell, Jaelon Acklin, Darius Ciraco, Kwaku Boateng, and Patrick Levels.

I decided to take a look at how Ottawa could deploy its new-look roster and this is the depth chart I came up with. For clarity, this depth chart is based on the positions at which players have played in the past and the amount of experience they have in the league. It was not made using inside information from the team.

Though the team’s many new pieces will have to gel — games are played on turf, not paper — the Redblacks suddenly look like a football team capable of returning to the playoffs in 2022. Below is a more detailed breakdown of how I view Ottawa’s new roster, starting with the offence.

Photo: John Hodge

Jeremiah Masoli instantly gives Ottawa credibility under centre, which they sorely lacked in 2021. Caleb Evans is a capable backup, though the possible future addition of free agent Chris Streveler would give the Redblacks one of the best quarterbacks rooms in the CFL.

The club has some solid talent in the receiving corps, even if Darvin Adams and B.J. Cunningham are approaching the end of their careers. The real star here is Jaelon Acklin, who will make $175,000 in 2022 after coming over from Hamilton. Notice that Ryan Davis, Nate Behar, and Shaq Johnson aren’t currently listed as starters? That’s a testament to the depth the Redblacks suddenly have at receiver.

William Powell is a capable playmaker out of the backfield, even if he will be 34 by the time training camp gets underway. Canadian backups Brendan Gillanders and Jackson Bennett are capable of rotating as needed, though uncovering a future star should be a priority for Ottawa after last year’s running back group failed to make an impact.

The offensive line still has a question mark at right tackle, but the rest of it is solid. Hunter Steward and Jacob Ruby are consistent veterans at the guard spots, while Darius Ciraco is an up-and-coming centre. Ucambre Williams will solidify the left tackle position after Calgary elected to replace him with veteran Derek Dennis in January.

Photo: John Hodge

The defensive line looks to be improved as well, though that will depend on the extent to which Kwaku Boateng can bounce back from a disappointing 2021 season. Playing under Mike Benevides, his defensive coordinator for two seasons in Edmonton, should help the young Canadian reignite his career.

Shaheed Salmon is unproven at weak-side linebacker, though there seems to be a chance that free agent Micah Awe could still rejoin the team. Patrick Levels is a playmaker at strong-side linebacker who will bring a much-needed spark to a unit that could stand to be a little more vocal on the field.

I’ve listed veteran Antoine Pruneau as the starter at safety, though free agent addition Ty Cranston could win the role in training camp. Regardless, the club has enough Canadian depth in the secondary, which will only improve if former second-round draft pick Alonzo Addae signs with the team before the season gets underway.

Money Hunter and Trumaine Washington have a knack for making interceptions, even if the former got dinged for a number of pass interference penalties in 2021. Notice how veteran Abdul Kanneh isn’t listed as a starter? That just shows how much depth Ottawa now has in its secondary.

Ottawa didn’t make any changes to its special teams units, which makes sense given how well Lewis Ward and Richie Leone have played in recent years. I’ve listed Ryan Davis as the return specialist after DeVonte Dedmon signed with the Miami Dolphins in January.

As stated above, the amount of success Ottawa is able to achieve in 2022 will depend heavily on the speed at which their roster is able to gel. If the team comes together quickly, I see no reason why the Redblacks won’t make the postseason this year for the first time since 2018.