By Rob Vanstone
Derel Walker is already celebrating his first completion of 2023.
The veteran CFL pass-catcher is delighted to have applied the finishing touches to a free-agent deal with the Saskatchewan Roughriders, who announced his signing on Thursday.
“Obviously, one of the draws for a receiver is the quarterback, so I have some history with Trevor Harris,” Walker explained from his home in Houston.
“And, as I’ve been around the league, I’ve known that the Roughriders are a very strong organization.”
Walker brings very strong credentials — such as two CFL all-star nominations, four berths on divisional all-star teams, and three 1,000-yard seasons.
In 2015, he was named the league’s top rookie after catching 89 passes for 1,110 yards on behalf of the Grey Cup-champion Edmonton Elks.
He followed up in 2016 by registering career single-season highs in catches (109), receiving yards (1,589) and touchdowns (10).
With Edmonton in 2017, he added 48 catches for 634 yards despite playing in only eight regular-season games following an NFL tryout with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Then came 2018, when Walker made 51 catches for 875 yards and eight TDs despite playing in only 11 of Edmonton’s 18 games due to injury.
He proceeded to join the Toronto Argonauts as a free agent in 2019 and again put up impressive numbers — 65 catches, 1,040 yards and six TDs.
Then it was back to Edmonton for two more seasons, beginning in 2021 in which he and Harris were teammates. (The 2020 CFL season was cancelled due to COVID-19.)
In 16 games in 2022, Walker caught 65 passes for 874 yards and one score.
He now joins a Saskatchewan side that is in makeover mode on offence following a 6-12 season.
Harris and slotback Jake Wieneke both signed with the Roughriders on Feb. 14, in the early hours of the CFL’s free-agency period.
Wieneke (formerly of the Montreal Alouettes) and Walker will play a key role in filling the void created by the departures of three fellow American pass-catchers — Kyran Moore (now with Edmonton), Duke Williams (Hamilton Tiger-Cats) and Shaq Evans (Ottawa REDBLACKS).
“It’s just the opportunity,” explained the 6-foot-2, 187-pound Walker, who turns 32 on June 29. “They’ve lost a lot of receivers over there.
“Trevor helped a lot with the decision, also. He has been around the league and had success, so I’m looking to establish that with him.
“He’s getting better and better, so I’m looking forward to seeing the chemistry we can make and the energy we can create.”
The anticipated energy at Mosaic Stadium also factored into Walker’s decision.
“The fans are amazing in Saskatchewan,” he said. “Even when I used to play at home at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton, there were always a lot of Saskatchewan fans.
“Playing at the stadium (in Saskatchewan) last year, it was a great atmosphere — one of the best atmospheres in Canada, honestly — so the whole set-up was truly awesome.
“Everyone wants to play in front of a crowd that wants to come and support them, whether they’re winning or losing. It’s a very strong fan base and, on the football side of things, they are operated very well.”
The focus in 2023 will be on helping the Roughriders’ offence operate in efficient, explosive fashion.
“I’m looking to add on to the atmosphere that’s already there,” the former Texas A&M standout said. “Obviously, I’m going to follow Trevor’s lead. He’s a great leader and I believe in him.
“I think I bring a lot of energy, a deep threat, and a great player after the catch. I think that those things were missing a bit in Saskatchewan last year, so we’re looking to improve on that.
“We’re going to have some hard-working guys, so I think it’s going to be a great time.”