Elks' Mitchell looking to become just fourth CFL receiver to hit 2,000 yards

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EDMONTON — There have only been three players in CFL history who have amassed 2,000 or more receiving yards in a season.

Edmonton Elks wideout Dillon Mitchell believes he will be the fourth, and the first to do it since Derrell Mitchell went for exactly 2,000 yards in 1998 with the Toronto Argonauts.

Dillon Mitchell, who was a Minnesota Vikings draft pick in 2019, was a mid-season signing in 2022 who became one of the bright spots in another lost Elks season. He had 637 receiving yards in just nine games and established himself as the team’s primary deep threat.

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Now that knows the playbook “like the back of my hand” and he’ll hit the ground running in 2023, he’s bullish about his chances to help turn the Elks around and become one of the league’s receiving greats.

“I’ve told a couple of coaches this year that my goals are set high,” Mitchell said during Elks training camp this week. “If I reach 2K, that’ll be something I’ll be happy with. My goal is to have 2,000 yards this season. I’m not sure what the record is, but I want to have a dominant season.

“I’ve always held high expectations for myself. I definitely feel that now, being more of a leader in the Elks group, there’s a bigger weight on my shoulders to prove myself.”

The record is 2,036, set in 1994 by Calgary Stampeders star Allen Pitts.

“D-Mitch is in tremendous shape,” said Elks general manager and coach Chris Jones. “You’ve seen him. He averaged 18 yards per catch last year, and we expect the same thing from him this year.”

Actually, it was 18.2 yards per catch.

“It’s something I thrive in doing,” said Mitchell “I want to make the big plays. I always want to do something that people have not seen before. I want to always keep the crowd entertained, that’s a big part of my game.

"We are playing a game to entertain people, so being able to work on releases, work on getting open, to catch the ball, I feel the special ability that I have will definitely be shown this year."

Mitchell may have big individual goals, but he’s now part of a new-look receiving corps bolstered by the free-agent acquisitions of Geno Lewis, Kyran Moore and Steven Dunbar Jr.

The Elks have not won a home game in each of the previous two seasons and have been nowhere close to the playoff race. But Jones has given quarterback Taylor Cornelius a slew of new weapons to utilize.

“We’ve got some good players there at the receiving position, there’s no doubt,” said Jones. “We went out in free agency and we added three guys to the guys that we had, and we feel very strongly that we can compete.”

Lewis amassed 1,303 yards last season in Montreal. Dunbar went for 1,000 yards in Hamilton. Moore, who comes to Edmonton from Saskatchewan, has missed a lot of time in the previous two seasons, but had 996 yards in 2019

“It’s exciting,” said Lewis. “We’ve got a lot of firepower. We’ve got a lot of guys at the receiver position who can make all types of plays. For the quarterbacks, we just need them to put it in the area for us. We’re going to go out there and make them look good, too.”

Lewis wasn’t promising a 2,000-yard season.

“My personal goals are to beat the goals I had last season,” he said. “And if I do that, that’s all I’m happy with. Honestly, the main goal is the Grey Cup. If you think about the Grey Cup, everything else comes with it.”

A strong running game makes the passing game more effective, as defences have to respect the ground game, leaving more gaps for the receivers. The Elks did not have that in the first half of 2022, until they signed Kevin Brown.

In seven games, Brown rushed for 486 yards on 73 carries (6.6 average) and one touchdown. Pro rate those numbers, and he’s a 1,000-yard rusher.

Brown has already impressed Jones with his early training-camp rushes.

“I thought our little running back, KB, I thought he did a real nice job today in the run game,” said Jones. “He busted out two of them. He doesn’t need a crease. But you give him a crease, he’s got that innate ability to get through the hole and get into the secondary.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 18, 2023.

Steven Sandor, The Canadian Press