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Looking at the receiver talent in this year’s CFL Draft, you could be excused if you missed Mitchell Picton.
Behind the likes of Danny Vandevoort (McMaster), Nate Behar (Carleton) and the since-disqualified Rashaun Simonise (Calgary), the Regina Rams receiver who snuck onto the CFL’s final draft rankings at No. 20 in December was somewhat camouflaged.
But his numbers tell a different story.
The 6-foot-3, 200-pound Picton led the nation in touchdown receptions (11) and finished second in receiving yards (834), ahead of all other ranked USports prospects in both categories.
Along with cousin and Regina quarterback Noah Picton — the 2016 Hec Creighton winner — he helped turn the Rams from 0-8 laughingstock in 2015 to 6-2 regular-season Can-West Champions in 2016.
“I had an incredible group around me on offence, and with Noah slinging it to me, the season as a whole went really well, even though it didn’t end the way we wanted it to,” reflects Picton, whose Rams fell in the Can-West semi final to UBC. “To bounce back from 0-8 the way we did was huge, and I had a great year with stats, so it was all-around an incredible season.”
The unique chemistry between Regina’s star quarterback and top receiver dates back to their days in youth and high school football together.
“Football is something (the two of us) have been doing for a long time, since we started walking basically,” laughs Picton, an accounting major. “I’ve never played on a team where he hasn’t been throwing me the ball, and that chemistry built up over a lot of years playing football, hockey and being in school together.”
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The Picton duo’s success at Regina isn’t their first major triumph on the gridiron: In 2012, with their respective dads coaching, the Pictons led LeBoldus to a Saskatchewan high school championship.
“Growing up playing with Noah and being coached by our dads, we won quite a few championships,” explains Picton. “Playing football’s always been a family affair throughout my life, and that provincial championship in high school is one of my best memories.”
But what kind of player is Mitchell Picton?
According to CFL.ca’s own talent purveyor, Ticats play-by-play man and former McMaster quarterback Marshall Ferguson, the lanky Regina native is a depth pick who will need to prove his versatility to cut it at the next level.
“He’s probably a round three, four or five kind of pick who’s going to have to scratch and claw and fight to be an every-down guy on offence,” admits Ferguson, who likes Picton’s compete. “He doesn’t really play like a guy who knows the size he is, he just gets after it and makes plays.”
Wherever Picton lands, Ferguson argues, he will have to prove his mettle in a training camp before earning a regular season shot with a CFL team.
“I’d love to see him in a training camp environment,” explains Ferguson. “There’s a lot of guys on that secondary market where all you want to do is see them perform, see how they react, in a pro camp situation.”
In all likelihood, Picton will have to prove he’s able to contribute on special teams in order to crack a roster, similar to current Hamilton special-teamer and former Western wideout Matt Uren.
“With depth guys, some quietly fit in super well and others disappear,” says Ferguson. “I see him maybe panning out like a Matt Uren from the Ticats — didn’t really play much, but got in a couple times as a receiver, took a few snaps.”
“I really feel like I can contribute anywhere on the field.”
Needless to say that Picton, who’s been training with Roughriders fullback Levi Steinhauer, feels he can have a larger impact as a rookie.
“I’m working hard to be ready to perform at the combine here at the end of March — getting ready for the L-drill, the shuttle we’ll see at the combine, full workouts,” says Picton. “I’m a really physical player and whenever I get the ball in my hands I can make plays.”
His versatility — he featured on special teams for the Rams since his rookie year — will be key if he is to get regular action as a pro.
“I really feel like I can contribute anywhere on the field,” says Picton. “I’ve played inside receiver, outside receiver and specials, and I’ve shown throughout my career productive whenever the ball’s in the air.”
Marshall Ferguson had the Regina slotback going mid-third round in his first CFL.ca mock draft. Of course, plenty can change between now and the draft on May 7, and Picton’s draft stock could rise or fall depending on his performance at the combine.
“My trainer’s got me in great shape right now and I expect to have an excellent performance,” says a confident Picton. “Everything I’ve put into this game, it’s been towards the goal of professional football — it’s going to be an incredible atmosphere (at the combine) and I anticipate it being a lot of fun.”