Swerving away: Kyran Moore turned down offer from Riders for chance to return kicks with Elks

Photo courtesy: Matt Smith/CFL.ca.

The Saskatchewan Roughriders wanted Kyran Moore back for a fifth season in Regina but the 26-year-old receiver turned them down for a chance to make a different type of return.

“We was negotiating, they wanted me back,” Moore said after signing with the Edmonton Elks. “It wasn’t nothing personal. They said the right things, I just felt like it was time for me to see new scenery, see what it’s like on the other side.”

The Bessemer, Ala. native joins a star-studded group of free-agent pass-catchers heading to Edmonton, which includes all-stars Eugene Lewis and Steven Dunbar Jr. However, the offensive opportunity had little to do with his decision to depart Saskatchewan. Instead, it was special teams playing time that Moore was seeking.

“Going into free agency, my main thing was I wanted to go somewhere that I can be a returner,” he explained.

“In Sask, my first year there, I returned two touchdowns. From 2019 on, I really didn’t get a chance to return unless somebody was hurt. I felt like I wanted to get back into the return game and coach [Chris] Jones was really the only team that wanted to let me return and said that I had a chance to return.”

Moore was named a first-team NCAA FCS All-American returner by HERO Sports in college, taking back 62 kickoffs for 1,334 yards and two touchdowns in 40 games at Austin Peay State University. He added 19 punt returns for 131 yards.

After joining the Riders in 2018, Moore spent 10 games as the team’s primary punt returner. He notched 29 returns for 389 yards and two touchdowns as a rookie while receiving three kickoffs for 82 yards.

After returning 22 punts for 213 yards in 2019, Moore’s importance to the offence saw him lose his return duties. He has caught just eight punts and zero kickoffs over the past two seasons, a part of the game he sorely misses.

“Just by returning, I feel like you can be the first play of the game, get that first hit and just see how the game’s gonna flow,” he explained. “After that first hit, everything flows smooth.”

Elks’ head coach and general manager Chris Jones originally recruited Moore as a returner when he held the same title in Saskatchewan. He was content to hand him the role left vacant by the tragic passing of Christian Saulsberry.

While the Elks’ staff believes in the former Riders’ ability in the return game, they might be uniquely equipped to maximize his usage on offence as well. Moore posted his best season in 2019 thanks to the playcalling of offensive coordinator Stephen McAdoo, collecting 78 receptions for 996 yards and six touchdowns. The pair will be reunited in Edmonton.

“I just feel that we had a good relationship and he had a good understanding of my skill set and put me in the best ways possible for me to showcase my skills,” Moore said. “I feel like coach McAdoo knows me well and I know him as well.”

Since McAdoo’s departure, Moore had seen his role in the Riders’ offence diminish and he missed considerable time due to a torn ACL. He caught 64 passes in 2021 for 585 yards and three touchdowns, before hauling in 36 receptions for 295 yards over seven games this past year.

The receiver was not the only player to take a step back without McAdoo, as quarterback Cody Fajardo also struggled to regain his M.O.P. finalist form. Benched to end last season and now with the Montreal Alouettes, Moore believes his former passer has much more to give.

“In the time I’ve played receiver, Cody is definitely the best quarterback I’ve played with. He’s a warrior. He knows how to win, he loves the game, his toughness,” he raved.

“Last year, it wasn’t his best year. It wasn’t really the team’s best year. But I feel like Cody definitely has a lot left in the tank and I’m excited to see what he’s gonna bring to Montreal.”

When he isn’t returning kicks, Moore will instead catch passes from Edmonton’s recently anointed franchise quarterback Taylor Cornelius. It is the 27-year-old’s resemblance to his former teammate that has him most excited.

“He’s shown some exciting stuff and similarities, I think, with Cody,” Moore said. “He’s mobile with his legs. I can say he’s got a bright future and a strong arm. I feel like he can only get better.”

J.C. Abbott is a University of British Columbia graduate and high school football coach. He covers the CFL, B.C. Lions, CFL Draft and the three-down league's Global initiative.