The Saskatchewan Roughriders will have a new-look receiving corps in 2023 and if quarterback Trevor Harris is to be believed, it could be one of the best in CFL history.
Asked about new top target Derel Walker’s chances to surpass the thousand-yard mark on Thursday, Harris was adamant that the veteran American is not alone in his ability to cross that threshold.
“I think we’ve got five guys that are capable of that,” Harris told the Regina media. “Five or six.”
A CFL team has featured four thousand-yard receivers on just four occasions, with the Montreal Alouettes accomplishing the feat in 2004 and 2005 and the Ottawa Redblacks equalling their achievement in 2015 and 2016. No team has ever fielded more than a quartet of players who have crossed that statistical benchmark.
The Riders, meanwhile, did not have a single thousand-yard receiver in 2022, with Kian Schaffer-Baker leading the team with 960 yards. The Canadian standout is expected to miss the first several weeks of the 2023 season while recovering from offseason hip surgery, leaving the spot open for a new top target in the offence.
Former thousand-yard receiver Jake Wieneke followed Harris to Saskatchewan from Montreal in free agency to fill that void, while long-time Edmonton Elk Derel Walker will provide a renewed threat on the outside. Both players have all-star resumes but are coming off down years, with a chance to recapture past glory in Regina.
Walker, in particular, has risen to the occasion in training camp, rekindling a chemistry first established with Harris during a brief stint together with Edmonton in 2021.
“I think there was a stretch where maybe he had maybe four or five catches out of six or seven plays. You can tell his legs are getting underneath him and that old D-Walk is real pristine and clear,” Harris said. “You can see that he’s doing a great job for us but make no mistake, when he’s open the other guys are doing their job helping him and we’ve got some dudes out there.”
Among the other projected starters helping get Walker separation are Canadians Brayden Lenius and Samuel Emilus, both of whom expect to see expanded roles in Schaffer-Baker’s absence. They are joined by unproven Americans like Shawn Bane Jr. and Tevin Jones who are angling for a crack at an open starting spot, though at least one rookie receiver has caught Harris’ eye as a name worthy of thousand-yard consideration.
Jake Herslow, a former walk-on from the University of Houston, has captured the attention of many onlookers with his performance at training camp in Saskatoon. Harris was so impressed that he was surprised to learn that his new target is a rookie.
“At first, I talked to this guy and I was like, man, this guy has to have been in the league for like five or six years because he just kept talking and talking,” the quarterback chuckled. “I just love the guy. He’s got a great spirit. The dude loves football. And he’s out here competing and you’d think he’s a veteran. I mean, all he does is win.”
The Roughriders have not had a thousand-yard pass catcher since Shaq Evans in 2019 and have not had multiple receivers achieve the feat since Duron Carter, Naaman Roosevelt and Bakari Grant did it in 2017.
Whether from aging veterans recapturing their form or young stars emerging, Harris is banking on this group to turn the franchise’s fortunes around.