Throw on the film, television copy or otherwise of the Edmonton Elks over the last three seasons and it’s clear who jumps off the screen at you.
Jake Ceresna is only 29 and is theoretically entering his prime after recording career-highs with 12 sacks and 48 defensive tackles over a full 18-game season. He was also named Edmonton’s Most Outstanding Defensive Player for the second season in a row.
A 2022 CFL All-Star, Ceresna consistently pushes the pocket into uncomfortable directions for opposing quarterbacks while holding up blockers well enough to change running back plans on a down in, down out basis.
To see Ceresna on the move is surprising but not shocking when you piece together where he was sent and what came back the other direction. To send a player of Ceresna’s level and potential you’d better be getting, at minimum, the same back the other direction and Edmonton did.
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Kurleigh Gittens Jr. now tags into a receiving room where Eugene Lewis, Dillon Mitchell and Kyran Moore call home. After a mind-bending collegiate career at Wilfrid Laurier, Gittens Jr. had been plotting his breakout performance for a few years, sharpening his skills and ready for the opportunity to put the CFL on notice.
In 2022, while helping his now former team in Toronto win the Grey Cup, Gittens Jr. splashed onto the scene in a way that instantly sent him into the ‘best Canadian receiver’ discussion until further notice. Amassing 1,101 yards receiving and finishing first in the league in YAC (Yards After Catch) with 483, Kurleigh was named a CFL All-Star for the first time and if it weren’t for a generational season as a Canadian quarterback, Gittens Jr. would have been the 2022 Most Outstanding Canadian award winner.
After being sidelined for 10 games in 2023 due to a hip injury Gittens Jr. is primed and mentally fuelled for a comeback campaign, Geroy Simon and Chris Jones clearly see the upside in Edmonton as the team attempts to claw their way out of the standings basement.
For the Argonauts, it’s a chance to enhance their pass rush and likely eliminate the ‘run specialist’ or ‘pass rusher’ decisions they juggled at defensive tackle for much of the 2023 season based on the strength of their opponents. Ceresna also brings a no nonsense attitude a quiet peace with violent movements that are few and far between in professional football. He adds to Toronto’s versatility, explosion and consistency between rush ends for a team which will likely have trouble maintaining the status quo across the defensive line for much longer.
An evolution was required, and the Argos saw the opportunity to make what they’ll view as a positive step forward while also hating to say goodbye to one of their most successful CFL Draft value picks of the last five years in Gittens Jr.
Speaking of evolution, Kurleigh will have every opportunity to shine in the green and gold uniform with my expectation that he moves into the field side slot creating a horizontal pull for defences away from the boundary wideout in game breaker Eugene Lewis.
The key to this equation, of course, is Edmonton acquiring quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson, whom Gittens Jr. worked so seamlessly with in his best CFL season to date.
“Kurleigh is an explosive player who’s had great success up to this point in his career. A team player, a leader with high football IQ and is familiar with McLeod Bethel-Thompson,” said Elks assistant general manager Geroy Simon.
When Geroy sees your game and understands the quality and depth of potential you have, nothing else really needs to be said.
The Elks saw a natural connection between Gittens Jr. and Bethel-Thompson, and decided they needed it to be in their colours. With two shrewd moves they pulled it off. Toronto saw an opportunity to elevate their interior defence and pulled the trigger to improve their roster and fill a need despite where the heart strings likely pulled.
It’s only January and we’re a month out from free agency, yet the shape of rosters, team identities, and storylines are already coming together with no bigger player for player move to date than Kurleigh Gittens Jr. for Jake Ceresna.