Sometimes you just need the right opportunity to show what you can do, and that's exactly what Derel Walker did.
Wide receiver Derel Walker started his college career at Trinity Valley Community College, the same place linebacker P.J. Dawson played before transferring to TCU. Walker transferred to Texas A&M for his final two collegiate seasons. When he arrived at A&M, he was stuck behind future top-10 pick Mike Evans at wide receiver, but still managed to total 818 yards and five touchdowns as a senior.
At the Texas A&M pro-day in 2014 Walker measured in at 6’1" and 188 pounds. He didn’t help his stock with a disappointing 4.65 time in the 40 yard dash, although his 20 yard shuttle (4.36) and 3-cone drill (6.82) times, and 37.5" vertical were all better than top wide receiver Sammy Watkins’ numbers.
Unable to emerge from Evans’ shadow, and unable to wow with great workout numbers, Walker went undrafted. He was signed by the Tennessee Titans as an undrafted free agent in 2014, but had the deck again stacked against him, as he failed to get any targets or receptions in the Titans' preseason games, and was cut at the end of training camp.
Walker then worked out at an Edmonton Eskimos’ tryout, winning a spot on their practice roster. Eight weeks into the 2015 season, an injury gave Walker a chance to make the Eskimos’ active roster. And all Walker did, once given a chance, was tear up the CFL. He recorded 31 receptions and 472 in his first three games, and finished fifth in the league with 1,110 receiving yards, despite only playing the final 12 games of the season. In total, Walker accumulated 89 receptions for 1110 yards and 6 touchdowns as a rookie, and at season’s end he was named the recent recipient of the CFL’s Most Outstanding Rookie Award.
Also, it wasn’t as if Walker stepped into a loaded offensive passing attack where any player could just step in and thrive. Consider that in a game against Hamilton, Walker’s quarterbacks went 7 for 22 for 49 yard and an interception - that’s Akili Smith territory. Walker's Eskimos had to resort to using three different starting quarterbacks during the season. Ultimately, Edmonton went on to win the CFL’s Grey Cup with Walker’s 181 post-season yards leading the team..
With 4.65 speed, and 6'1", it's not like Walker would be expected to come in and burn NFL-level cornerbacks on deep routes. But a reasonable upside projection would be something like what Mohamed Sanu provided the Bengals as a third wide receiver, able to work the middle of the the field. Both Sanu and Walker have similar speed and athletic attributes. And while Sanu was a bigger bodied receiver, Walker has shown that he can be a very productive receiver if given the opportunity.
I'm not entirely sure how Walker's contract works with the Eskimos, or if he could even make it south of the border for the 2016 season, but if it's possible, I'd like to see him given an opportunity in Bengals training camp. Outside of A.J. Green, the Bengals' depth chart at wide receiver is wide open, and Walker could be someone who could thrive in such an opportunity. It wouldn't be the first time the Bengals have brought a player from the CFL, and it could work to their advantage.