Riders’ Duke Williams: ‘The last two years I was in the CFL — by far I was the best deep threat’

Photo courtesy: Saskatchewan Roughriders

Just call him Duke ‘deep ball’ Williams.

The prized Saskatchewan Roughriders free agent signing has a quiet confidence about him and his ability to haul in footballs, especially down the field.

“The last two years I was in the CFL — by far I was the best deep threat, I can say that. 2017 and 2018 I was the best deep ball threat, no argument in that,” Williams said.

“It ain’t going nowhere, that’s what I do. I mean that in the most humblest way ever. This year I can’t say that because I haven’t run the deep ball at all.”

Williams has played 31 career CFL games recording 134 receptions for 2,294 yards and 15 touchdowns, averaging an impressive 17.1 yards per catch. During the only full season the six-foot-three, 225-pound pass catcher played north of the border, he recored 88 receptions for a three-down league-leading 1,579 yards and 11 touchdowns in 18 games.

“He’s a committed football player, football is his life, that’s what he lives to do. Three things: commitment to his craft, toughness and being physical in how he plays, you can never go wrong adding a guy like that,” head coach Craig Dickenson said.

“We’re planning on putting him out there and letting him do his thing.”

The Los Angeles native caught a game-winning TD in his NFL debut with the Buffalo Bills and notched a 100-yard receiving day with six catches for 108 yards in Week 16 of the 2019 season. He spent parts of the last three years in the NFL and was waived by the Bills with a hamstring injury in August after earning nearly $700,000 over two seasons in Western New York.

“I was surprised, but I learned that you can’t stress over what you can’t control. Josh [Allen] gave me high praises, he knew what I could do. The coaching staff knew what I could do, but it’s a business decision,” Williams said.

“It had to be a business decision, it wasn’t a no talent situation, it was just a business decision. I’m thankful for the Bills for the opportunity they gave me and it’s no bad mouth about them — they’re a great organization as you can see right now.”

The Riders reached out to Williams immediately following his release from Buffalo. He waited over one month for another NFL contract to come his way, but after it didn’t materialize the green and white became an easy choice because of connections to defensive back Nick Marshall, receiver Ricardo Louis and the most key was offensive coordinator Jason Maas.

“I’ve been keeping up with the Riders since game one, so I was already watching games while I was in mini-camp and I had an idea of where I was going to come to. I already said if the NFL didn’t work out for me, I was going to be a Rider,” Williams said.

“It’s not about money, it’s about actually leaving a legacy and I couldn’t leave a legacy on a practice squad in the NFL. I had to make a business decision to go to where I was loved, where they were actually going to play me and use my talents.”

Maas knows how to deploy Williams and utilize his unique skillset while his new quarterback Cody Fajardo can already see why he was a CFL all-star the last time he was on the field in Canada.

Justin Dunk is a football insider, sports reporter and anchor.