The CFL vs. The NFL
I know some of you look at the Canadian Football League (CFL) as something of a lower level, and it’s not because of the play on the field but because the salaries in the CFL can’t compete with the NFL ones. There was a time when the salaries were equal, and players like Joe Theismann and Raghib “Rocket” Ismail chose to play in the CFL before the NFL.
A majority of players now in the CFL are players that hope to one day be in the NFL. The Edmonton Eskimos had one of the best quarterbacks in the CFL’s history in Warren Moon when the NFL wouldn’t sign him. The same goes for Duke Williams. He came to the CFL trying to live to the dream all players have: one day to be in the NFL.
Duke’s Path to the NFL
Duke’s college career was short-lived at Auburn, as he was dismissed for team rule violations. Even though he left Auburn, he always had the makings of a top receiver. He flashed brilliantly at times in junior college and at Auburn. The Los Angeles Rams came calling to give him a three year UDFA contract, but was let go before the season started.
He then signed with the Edmonton Eskimos of the CFL before the 2017 season. He wanted to show that he was as skilled as anybody else in his position. Williams also wanted to prove that he was maturing as an individual inside and outside of football.
He started the 2017 season strong and ended with a decent 715 yards receiving and four touchdowns on forty six receptions. It was not until the 2018 season that we saw the Duke Williams we are all used to seeing. He was a highlight reel every game he was playing. He led the league in receiving yards in 2018 with 1,579 yards receiving and also hauled in eleven touchdowns on eighty eight receptions. The 6’3″ 225 lb. lengthy receiver used his big frame to become one of the best receivers in the CFL. To top it off, he was named as a CFL All-star that year.
Teams in the NFL took notice of the lengthy receiver and coveted him. Williams eventually signed with the Buffalo Bills and began his journey to fulfill his dream to play into the NFL. We have seen his highlights in the CFL and his play in preseason for the Bills. We all know there is something there. I thought I would dive more on what type of player the Bills are getting.
Edmonton Sports Analyst
In comes Dave Campbell. He is the color analyst for the Edmonton Eskimos on local 630 CHED radio since 2006. He is also the producer of the evening sports show called Inside Sports with Reid Wilkins on the same radio station which airs weeknights at 6pm-8pm MST. I asked him a few questions on Duke Williams and here is what he had to say.
Manny: What is Duke Williams like in the dressing room, what kind of presence does he bring?
Dave: Wasn’t in the locker room much but from what I’m told Duke could be somewhat temperamental. What hurt the Eskimos in 2018 was not having true leader in the receiving corps. Duke has a very big personality which can be a blessing and a curse.
I heard about his temperamental times in Edmonton. He has a lot of emotion. When he celebrated a touchdown, he celebrated it like it was his first one. He is hard on himself, as I believe he feels like he needs to continue to prove his worth.
Manny: What are his strengths and weaknesses as a receiver?
Dave: Tons of strengths. Size, toughness, he can catch the 50-50 ball, and learned the waggle quickly in the CFL, which isn’t a factor in the NFL. He can also play multiple positions in the receiving corps. Weakness is his route running at times isn’t smooth enough, and he has a penchant for dropping the football.
His size and toughness is what I saw watching him in Edmonton. He was a force on the 50-50 ball. It was him or no one who would catch that ball. I have seen the route running that at times when watching reels of training camp or with Edmonton were not always crisp.
Manny: What kind of player did you see in practices, was he willing to learn?
Dave: He was a very good practice player. Worked hard and learned quickly, especially the waggle which I mentioned earlier. In 2017, at training camp, he would make at least one catch a day that would turn heads.
Something that I stated earlier, he was a highlight machine when playing in Edmonton. We also saw this in the videos of practice where he is making highlight reel catches every week.
Manny: Many highlights on the internet of Duke are his one on one catches. What makes him so special when it comes to those one on one contested catches?
Dave: His size and strength. He out muscles so many DB’s and he positions himself very well. He’s very good at boxing out the defender.
If you go on the internet and watch his highlights, be it in Edmonton, preseason games this year for the Bills, or at practice, there is no one better on those teams that can win that one on one battle. If you watch him closely on those catches, he boxes out like a basketball player really well.
Manny: What were your thoughts when he first signed with the Bills and his chances of success in the NFL? What do you think he would bring to a team like the Bills?
Dave: I thought the Bills was a good fit for him, who don’t have a lot of receivers with length. Thought he would bring size and physicality but unfortunately CFL players are treated like undrafted free-agents. Team draft picks and signings during the free-agent period take priority so Duke like so many other CFL players get passed over. Glad he made their practice squad.
This is very true, often CFL players are assessed equally to the undrafted free agents and often get overlooked for that reason. One of the things the Bills are clearly missing is length and physicality at the receiver position. The last time they had someone with size that was somewhat a success was Justin Hunter, and he had four touchdowns that year he played for the Bills in 2016.
Manny: Finally, how was your interactions like with Duke during his time on the Eskimos? Any cool stories?
Dave: Overall my interactions with Duke were good. He told the story of his Auburn experience and how he wasn’t the most mature player. He came as a humble guy and left as one. Like I said earlier, he can be temperamental, so, at times, he was a tough interview especially when the season went south on the Eskimos. Overall it was a pleasure to cover Duke for two seasons.
Duke Williams has a lot of strengths that the Bills can use, especially in the end zone. I am not saying that he will heal everything that’s wrong with the Bills, but after talking to Dave Campbell, I kind of see it more where he can help the Bills now. Even though the CFL is a different game the art of catching the ball is still the same. People like Dave Campbell and I are witnesses here in Edmonton. I hope he gets to show that to the Bills Mafia soon as well. I think what the Buffalo Bills will get is a player who is motivated and always has shown why people should never doubt him.
I would like to thank Dave Campbell for his insights and making the time to answer my questions. If you’re a CFL fan, or generally a sports fan please follow Dave on twitter @Dave_CHED .