Edmonton’s QBs were not ‘the best’: new Riders’ receiver Derel Walker excited to reunite with Trevor Harris

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Receiver Derel Walker has seen his production decline over the past few seasons but believes he will finally get the competent quarterback play he needs to be able to return to form after signing with the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

The Edmonton Elks endured a carousel at the game’s most important position in 2022. Amidst the chaos, Walker finished with 65 catches for 874 yards and one touchdown — disappointing numbers he admits quarterbacking played a role in.

“I wouldn’t say that [Edmonton’s quarterbacks] are the best,” the receiver acknowledged during an appearance on 620 CKRM’s The SportsCage this week. “I feel like even with all that being said, the numbers could have still been a little further along the line of closer to 1,000. But the numbers aren’t too bad and I’m looking to obviously get way above 1,000 yards this year with Trevor [Harris] and the Riders, looking to get back into that prime number and get back on top of the game as far as receiving.”

“I’m really looking forward to it. I definitely dealt with a lot of different quarterbacks over there, wasn’t always the best at times, but it was a learning process and I grew a lot and I’m thankful for it.”

The Elks began the season with Nick Arbuckle as the starter, before eventually trading him to the Ottawa Redblacks. First-round draft pick Tre Ford took over the job in Week 4 but suffered a serious injury the next week, leading starting receiver Kai Locksley to briefly return to his college position. Taylor Cornelius was given the starting job in Week 6 and steered the team the rest of the way, earning a contract extension with the club.

Cornelius completed 205-of-357 passes (57.4 percent) for 2,768 yards, 11 touchdowns and nine interceptions in 12 games. However, his former receiver offered no ringing endorsements of his new franchise quarterback status. Instead, he noted the importance of developing trust between a passer and his favourite target.

“That’s one thing you want to develop with your quarterbacks, being a guy that they can always count on and knowing that you’re going to put them in a position to succeed,” Walker explained. “When you don’t run a good route, the quarterback makes up for that and when the quarterback doesn’t make a good throw, you make up for them. It just goes hand in hand.”

The four-time all-star seemed to earn security blanket status from all of his various quarterbacks, leading the Elks in both receptions and targets, but was no longer the team’s top big-play threat. The 31-year-old was not invited to return ahead of free agency and eventually landed in Saskatchewan, where he believes he can hit the ground running with new quarterback Trevor Harris.

“Chemistry, that takes time sometimes but that’s the beneficial side of me and Trevor. We’re highly familiar with each other and we’re gonna get right back in sync very shortly,” Walker said. “It’s not gonna take us any time. I believe Trevor is a very accurate quarterback, so things like that will help improve my game also.”

The pair briefly played together in Edmonton during the 2021 season, before Harris was unceremoniously shipped out of town by the franchise’s previous leadership group of Jaime Elizondo and Brock Sunderland. Walker posted the worst season of his career, catching 44 passes for 531 yards in 11 games, but had his three best games of the year with Harris at the helm. He struggled when Cornelius took the reins for the first time, crossing the 50-yard receiving mark just once.

“We still have a lot of finishing up to do from the season prior when we were in Edmonton together,” the receiver admitted. “[Harris and I] built a strong bond, we always have very deep conversations and we like to learn each other’s brains here and there. Things that we see in the news and things like that, we send it to each other and give each other thoughts. It’s bigger than just football with me and Trevor; it’s a life thing.”

If all goes according to plan, the two will finally get a full season together in Regina after the Riders paid a pretty penny to bring Harris over from Montreal in free agency. However, both players are in the later stages of their careers and will have something to prove.

Walker has amassed 471 career catches for 6,653 yards and 33 touchdowns in 91 CFL games but has not crossed the thousand-yard mark since he played for the Toronto Argonauts in 2019 — his lone season outside of Edmonton. Wearing new colours could help him return to that level.

“I’m hungry and I’ve got a lot of stuff to prove to myself, a lot of barriers I’ve overcome in the past few years and things like that,” he said. “I’m just looking forward to getting back into the mix of everything and getting back to playing top football and dominating all over again.”