After spending seven weeks waiting in the wings, Derel Walker has almost certainly spent his last day on the Edmonton Eskimos’ practice roster.
Activated in time for the Esks’ week eight showdown versus Montreal, the rookie wide receiver has been a spectacular surprise for the Green and Gold, amassing an absurd 24 receptions for 308 yards in only two games.
Walker, a product of Texas A&M University, is making the very most of a big opportunity that presented itself after Adarius Bowman was injured in week seven action. After witnessing Walker torch the Saskatchewan Roughriders for 99 yards and a touchdown back in the preseason, Head Coach Chris Jones promoted the rookie to the active roster; a move that paid major dividends in his team’s 15-12 victory over the Alouettes.
All the Hillsboro, Texas native did in his CFL debut was connect with multiple Eskimo quarterbacks on 10 passes for a total of 125 yards.
He followed that up with a dominant 14 catch, 183-yard performance against Hamilton. It was, albeit, in a losing effort, as the 5-3 Eskimos were dominated at home in a 49-20 loss. With Bowman back healthy and Walker fresh off his stellar debut, the 24-year old remained in the lineup, taking the place of a healthy Wallace Miles, who isn’t expected to reclaim that spot from the scorching-hot rookie pass-catcher anytime soon.
Walker perfectly fits the bill for a receiver in offensive coordinator Stephen McAdoo’s system. Standing 6’2″ tall, he has all the physical traits to fit in with Bowman (6’3″), Kenny Stafford (6’3″) and four other Eskimo receivers that measure at or above Walker’s height. And like Bowman and Stafford, who’s been another great addition to the receiving corps, Walker uses his size well and excels at running the routes McAdoo likes to call; digs, posts, corners, etc.
He’s also a solid deep threat, as shown from his college highlight package with Johnny Manziel at quarterback:
But where Walker differentiates himself from the others is after the ball is thrown, where he’s consistently provided what no other Eskimo receiver has this year: reliable hands and yards-after-catch. He’s caught a team-high 72.7 percent of the passes thrown his way, while also picking up an additional 84 yards after the fact with the ball in his hands. By contrast, Bowman and Stafford have only hauled in 52.2 and 56.9 percent of their targets, respectively, which is not particularly good. While Walker’s versatility makes him more than solely a possession receiver, he does bring that to the table, and it makes him extremely valuable to an offence that has struggled with drops.
If what we’re seeing isn’t a fluke, Walker’s also a dream fit for McAdoo in what is primarily a short-side wide receiver position. Although every receiver position in his system will line up in numerous different spots pending the formation, Walker’s is one that draws a lot of one-on-one coverage. He’s so far taken advantage of the isolation, proving to be a match-up nightmare through two games as defences key in on other Eskimos such as Bowman, Stafford and Kendial Lawrence. McAdoo and the Esks are likely drooling over the thought of having a receiver like Walker fulfill such an important position in the offence at, hopefully, a high level.
Essentially, Walker and his sure handedness has resembled an even better version of Bowman, who, as we know, is one the CFL’s premiere receivers. And while it’s ridiculous to suggest he’s better than a league All-Star after only two games- and none as the primary receiver, lining up against elite defensive backs and drawing double teams- he appears to have many of the tools needed to also, one day, reach elite status. And if teams start to focus their attention away from Bowman or Stafford and direct it at Edmonton’s newest weapon, we can expect the more established two to put up the huge numbers on the stats sheet.
The Eskimos suddenly have a scary trio of tall, import pass-catchers to terrorize defences. It just so happens the third member has been around on the practice roster the entire time.