Argonauts believe Kurleigh Gittens Jr. is the best Canadian receiver in the CFL: ‘His contract might say the same thing’

Photo: Bob Butrym/3DownNation. All rights reserved.

The Toronto Argonauts opened up their chequebook this offseason to keep Kurleigh Gittens Jr. in the fold, but team management believes the player they’ve secured for the next two seasons is the best Canadian receiver in the CFL.

“I might be a little biased but I’d say so,” Argos assistant general manager Vince Magri told 3DownNation. “I think his contract might say the same thing.”

Gittens Jr.’s new deal is valued at $200,000 in hard money next season, making him the highest-paid National pass-catcher in the league. That number jumps to $210,000 in 2024.

It was a well-deserved raise for the former Laurier Golden Hawk following his starring turn in the 2022 campaign. Both coaches and management see the move as money well spent, with the third-year pro now entrenched as the top homegrown talent at his position.

“I would think so,” Argos’ head coach Ryan Dinwiddie when asked if Gittens was at the top of the Canadian receiver rankings. “He does everything right, keeps getting better and continues to work hard.”

The 25-year-old went from a solid contributor in 2021 to a budding superstar in 2022, nearly doubling his previous career receiving yards mark. He caught 81 passes for 1,101 yards and added five touchdowns en route to being named a league all-star for the first time. He was also voted as the East Division nominee for Most Outstanding Canadian, losing to B.C. Lions’ quarterback Nathan Rourke.

Originally selected 23rd overall in the third round of the 2019 CFL Draft, Gittens Jr. caught just a single pass for 10 yards during his rookie season with the double blue. Despite the forgettable production, his 13 games on the active roster that year answered many of the team’s questions about him as a prospect and laid the foundation for future success.

“We were really high on him at the time (of the draft), and we just didn’t know, could he play special teams?” Magri recalled. “He never played special teams in college other than as a returner.”

“We had some injuries (in 2019) and he had to get on the field and play teams. Now he’s a blocker on punt return, a gunner on kickoffs, things that he never did in college. The way Kurleigh is wired, you know he’s going to give it everything he’s got. He threw a key block that sprung Chris Rainey on a punt return touchdown and the rest of the year, Kurleigh never came off the roster.”

The five-foot-11, 191-pounder’s role on offence increased immensely in his second CFL season in 2021, going from a single catch to 50 receptions for 605 yards and four touchdowns. He has been called upon to carry the load offensively for a team that has finished first in the East Division the past two seasons and won the Grey Cup last November.

That was exactly the player that the Argos’ front office saw when they put on the film ahead of the 2019 draft.

“When you watched him at Laurier, you saw how smooth he was, that he never wasted a movement. He had great feet, caught everything, but the biggest thing that stood out was his competitiveness, how hard he did every drill every time he touched the ball,” Magri said.

That tenacity has led to him becoming the team’s leading receiver and blossoming into one of the league’s premier pass catchers, regardless of passport.

“The work ethic is there,” said Dinwiddie. “But the physical, mental toughness, there’s no one better than Kurleigh.”

With a hefty new contract already secured, it should be no surprise if Gittens Jr. eclipses his career-best totals once again in 2023.

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.