The Buffalo Bills are in full off-season mode now, and signed a CFL standout this week to try and bolster their wide-receiver corps. Naturally, Bills fans are wondering if there is precedent for a Canadian Football League player being successful in the NFL and if D’haquille Williams aka Duke Williams can follow in their footsteps.
“Do you recall any CFL players who successfully transitioned to the NFL? Do you think that he will be successful in Buffalo, and if yes, whether it will affect their free agent and draft planning?”
Mike from Suffolk County, New York
This is a great question and one we haven’t addressed yet on the blog following the signing of one of the most prolific players from the CFL. The Buffalo Bills added him, but it should not change their approach to free agency or the 2019 NFL Draft.
Williams was an undrafted free agent a few years ago with the Los Angeles Rams. While 2016 was the final year of Jeff Fisher and his inept offense, Williams still flushed out of the league and received no chances as a practice-squad player in 2016 before signing with the Edmonton Eskimos in 2017. Yeah, he was great for the Eskimos, but he shouldn’t be counted on to contribute like that for Buffalo.
For one, the CFL field has different dimensions than an NFL field. It’s wider and longer; 150 yards long with 110 yards between end zones, and 65 yards wide (as opposed to the NFL’s 50). There are only three downs to make a first down in the CFL, as opposed to four, so teams pass more and need to gain more yards to stay ahead of the sticks.
For receivers, the biggest difference is that they can be moving toward the line of scrimmage when the ball is snapped and every back and receiver can be moving at the snap, two things NFL players can’t do that allow for more separation.
With all of those things designed to help receivers in the CFL, plus the higher level of cornerback competition, it’s unfair to expect a 1-to-1 transition for Williams to the NFL. It’s why you haven’t seen a ton of players make the jump.
In recent memory, the best example is Miami Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake. In ten years since leaving the CFL, he’s been a force in Miami, earning five Pro Bowl nods and an All-Pro selection while accumulating 98 sacks.
But the rules for defensive ends are the same in the CFL and NFL, so there is no adjustment. Beat your man, get to the passer.
Looking a little further back, quarterbacks Warren Moon, Joe Theismann, Doug Flutie, and Jeff Garcia all got their start in the CFL. Cornerback Brandon Browner was an NFL Pro Bowler after honing his skills in Calgary.
For wide receivers, the list is mostly limited to players who finished their careers in the CFL, rather than started. One exception is Joe Horn, who took a very nontraditional path to the NFL, spending two years at community college, then sitting out for two years when he couldn’t get into a D-I school. He worked his way onto a practice squad during the CFL’s expansion into the United States and had one good season on an actual CFL roster before being drafted into the NFL in 1996. Four Pro Bowls and a ton of receiving yards later, he’s in the New Orleans Saints Hall of Fame.
Williams was kicked off his Auburn team and ultimately went undrafted not because of a lack of talent, but immaturity that led to off-field problems. If he’s learned his lesson off the field, and learned how to put in the work to be successful, it’s a low-risk, high-reward situation for the Bills.
We also answer questions about trading for Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown, picking up the fifth-year option for defensive end Shaq Lawson, Leslie Frazier’s high approval rating, and Sean McDermott’s skills in the octagon.
Here are some related links.
On trading for Antonio Brown:
- Behind the Steel Curtain: It sure sounds like Antonio Brown and the Steelers are headed toward a divorce
- Behind the Steel Curtain: Salary cap ramifications of moving on from Antonio Brown
Fifth-year option and Shaq Lawson:
- Option salary figures for 2015 draftees (2016 draftee figures not yet released)
- Fifth-year option explained
- Shaq Lawson stats at Pro Football Reference
Leslie Frazier and the Bills defense:
- January 2019 Leslie Frazier Approval poll sits at 91%
- Sean McDermott takes over calling plays for Buffalo Bills defense from Leslie Frazier against Chargers
NFL head coaches:
You can call and leave your question at 716-508-0405 any time day or night, tweet us @RumblingsQandA, email us at BuffaloRumblings@SBNation.com, or leave a comment in the comments section below. Shows drop on Wednesday every week during the offseason.