July 19, 2018

CFL Insights: ‘Duke’ ascending to CFL royalty

Trevor Hagan/CFL.ca

EDMONTON — The CFL receiving crown appears to be in good hands.

Months after the departure of 2017 league-leading receiver Brandon Zylstra, the throne has its heir apparent in Eskimos sophomore receiver D’haquille ‘Duke’ Williams.

While much was made over the Esks’ off-season losses of Zylstra (NFL) and Adarius Bowman (Winnipeg), the club has had no shortage of playmakers in 2018, leaning on the likes of Derel Walker, Kenny Stafford and, before getting injured, Vidal Hazelton.

But while many pre-season projections had Walker putting up the big numbers, no one on the Eskimos or in the CFL has made the impact of Williams. Catching passes from the reigning Most Outstanding Player, Williams has compiled a league-best 556 receiving yards heading into the Eskimos’ bye week, putting him on an incredible pace out of the gate.

With 111.2 yards per game, Williams has put himself at a 2,000-yard pace, and in position to threaten the all-time single-season receiving yards record set by Allen Pitts in 1994:

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While the season isn’t even a third over — the Eskimos have only played five of their 18 games — it’s fun to talk about, especially considering only three receivers in history have ever reached the 2,000-yard plateau (Pitts, Terry Greer and Derrell Mitchell).

Of course, in order to accomplish such a feat, Williams would likely have to stay healthy through all 18 games and continue to produce at the same torrid pace over a much longer span.

Whatever happens, Williams’ start to the season has been impressive to say the least. After posting 714 yards and four touchdowns as a true rookie last year at age 24, despite being low in the pecking order behind Zylstra, Bowman and Walker, the Los Angeles native has made the most of his new opportunity, building chemistry with his quarterback and leading the league with 54 targets — 11 clear of the next-closest receiver in Brandon Banks.

Last season Williams earned a reputation as a big, physical body that can win 50-50 balls against defenders almost at will. But at the field wideout position, some questioned whether he was versatile enough to move inside and run all the routes on the tree.

After shedding a few pounds from his 6-foot-3 frame, Williams moved to the slot and the results speak for themselves, quashing any notions that he can’t be a polished CFL receiver.

While the arrow continues to point up, the future has arrived for the CFL’s leading receiver as Duke Williams becomes a household name and one of the league’s brightest stars in 2018.