Toronto Argonauts: James Wilder Jr. sets sights on CFL dominance

James Wilder Jr. #32 of the Florida State Seminoles during their game at BB&T Field on November 9, 2013 in Winston Salem, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
James Wilder Jr. #32 of the Florida State Seminoles during their game at BB&T Field on November 9, 2013 in Winston Salem, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) /

After taking over as the Toronto Argonauts’ starting running back, James Wilder Jr. is setting his sights on being the most dominant running back in the CFL.

No CFL running back averaged more yards on the ground in 2017 than James Wilder Jr., who helped propel the Toronto Argonauts‘ offence in a dominant way.

Last season, starting running backs in the CFL averaged 157 carries (Edmonton had a running back by committee last season) while Wilder Jr. only had 122, as he sat behind Brandon Whitaker on the Argos depth chart. Let’s say he had 157 carries with the same average yards, this would have made him the leading rusher in 2017 with 1,114 yards.

Now it is tough to maintain an average of 7.1 yards per carry as no other running back averaged more than 6.0, with William Powell averaging 5.9 for the Ottawa RedBlacks. Andrew Harris led the league with 1,035 yards on 189 carries, but was also a dual threat with 857 yards on 105 receptions for an average of 8.2 yards per catch.

While Harris was the most productive running back through the air, Wilder Jr. averaged more yards through the air at 10.5, with around half the number of receptions at 51. If he received a similar number of receptions as Harris, Wilder Jr, would have eclipsed the 1,000 yard mark in receiving yards, giving him the rare 1,000 yards through the air and on the ground.

TSN’s Matthew Scianitti sat down with both running backs, who each said they are motivated to get to 2,000 plus yards. The real question is how both expect to accomplish something that has never been done in the league before.

“It would be a great goal to accomplish and it shows the confidence that I have in our play calling, our receiving team, our running o-line as well,” said Wilder Jr. after practice, on the potential to set the new milestone.

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It won’t be an easy accomplishment and Wilder Jr. is not going to let the ambition get in the way of the Toronto Argonauts’ game plan to get back to the Grey Cup. He pointed out that he did not have his best performance against the Calgary Stampeders, but the team still won and proved his point.

“I always want to put the team first. I would rather rush for one yard, have the team go to the Grey Cup and end up winning, rather than me have 200 yards and losing,” said Wilder Jr.

One area that has him more comfortable is knowing his family is up with him in Toronto and taken care of because he knows it’s tough worrying about them especially as an American player.

"“It was stressful and I can’t talk for every player but I’m family first and family is the biggest thing in my life,” said Wilder Jr. on the struggle of being away from his family.“Being away from them took a mental toll on me and now having them here during breaks between practice where I can go to play with my son in the stands is everything for me. I’ve been doing it all my life and having to stop that last year took a mental toll on me. So to have them up here puts me in a perfect situation.”"

Now that and his contract situation are all settled and his focus on taking his game to the next level should excite Toronto Argonauts fans. It won’t be easy, but Wilder Jr. is certainly confident in his ability to challenge Harris.

Next: Wilder Jr. and Franklin developing family-like bond

So at this point, the question shouldn’t be whether either can get to 2,000 yards. Instead, fans should be wondering which player is going to do it first.