Our own Hayden Nadolny is back with latest series: a look at the Raiders current roster by position. Nadolny will explore positions of need for the team heading into the Jon Gruden era and 2018 season. His first post explores the current state of the Raiders Wide Receivers and how the team may address it in free agency.
Going into 2017, the Raiders’ group of wide receivers were expected to take off. Plenty of reports out of OTAs and training camp had Amari Cooper in for a monster year, while Michael Crabtree and Seth Roberts would form the other two parts of a lethal passing attack. Instead, the offense as a whole sputtered and this positional group was a let down. A shakeup in personnel is not unexpected.
Let’s take a look at the current Raiders receiving corps and where they could address the gaps in both free agency and the draft:
Cooper gained some muscle last off-season to help him against the bigger corners in one on one matchups. It looked to be paying dividends on the opening drive of the season where he used that strength to push his way (with some offensive line assistance) into the end zone. At times, one could have asked whether Cooper was even on the field, such was his lack of production at receiver this season. Former offensive coordinator Todd Downing misused Cooper, not dissimilar to Tom Walsh’s utilization of receiver Randy Moss in the bed and breakfast offense of 2006. Cooper was largely used as a clearout and decoy, and wasn’t the primary receiver nearly enough. Cooper’s best night statistically was against Kansas City in Oakland, where he featured in the slot throughout. Downing seldom used Cooper in the slot the rest of the season though. Drops also became an issue, though this was rather systemic throughout the entire receiver group. Cooper’s talent is undeniable and he will be counted on by Gruden to return to his best form in 2018.
Three touchdowns against the Jets in week 2 saw Crabtree explode out of the gates to start the season. That, and his game winning score on Thursday Night Football against the Chiefs was where his season highlight reel ended. By December, Crabtree was a different receiver – evidently taking himself out of games and had become difficult to work with and was a distraction in the locker room. Sources close to Las Vegas Raiders Report have said that Crabtree will more than likely be released, saving over $7.7 Million on the salary cap.
After signing a contract extension prior to the start of the season, Roberts was expected to thrive with the added job security as the Raiders third receiver. Like the rest of receivers, he regressed and was much of a non-factor in 2017. His worst game was by far against the Patriots in Mexico City, where he had a drop, a fumble lost and a penalty negating a big play all in the first half when the game was still competitive. Above all, Roberts has never truly been a reliable possession receiver, which will not make it surprise if he is cut by the new regime. Cutting Roberts would save $2.5 million with a dead money hit of $2 million on the cap.
Patterson Delivered more than expected on offense as a receiver, though had the receivers above him on the depth chart produced, his opportunities may have been considerably less. Patterson showed up as a gadget player in 2017 and had a knack for some big plays, including a touchdown against the Jets after lining up in the backfield, and a deep pass on third down which secured the win against the Giants. Patterson was also a threat on kick returns, and had some nice gains. At a price of just $3.25 million in 2018, Patterson is well worth keeping in the same spot for 2018.
When Holton wasn’t doing the stanky leg touchdown celebration, he wasn’t doing a whole lot as a receiver. Be it unnecessary penalties, drops at crucial times leading to interceptions, or fumbles after securing the catch, Holton had a sub-par year all round. He was a liability on the field and made enough errors that it was somewhat surprising that he wasn’t released during the year to provide opportunities for others.
Given the situation with Crabtree, it’s likely the Raiders are going to need to find a starting wideout to pair opposite Amari Cooper. If the Raiders go the free agency route to replace Crabtree, the following players would fit in nicely:
Authors note: Allen Robinson and Sammy Watkins will most likely be franchised and hence weren’t considered for this article. Neither was Jarvis Landry, who will be out of the Raiders’ price range considering he’s asking for a contract averaging nearly 14 million per year.
Immense size – 6-foot-3, 210lbs, and plays up to it. Matthews doesn’t have blazing speed, but he is an underrated route runner. Matthews has had drop issues though his catching technique is sound. He has shown the ability to play both outside and from the slot, and is not afraid to run routes and catch contested balls over the middle. A knee injury put him on injured reserve limiting him to just ten games last season. If his medical report pencils out, Matthews would be my priority wideout choice for the Raiders in free agency.
Lee also has good size at receiver – he plays bigger than his listed six-foot height. Lee isn’t afraid to fight defenders in and out of breaks, and when going for the football. He had some solid years in Jacksonville, receiving more opportunities this year due to Allen Robinson’s injury. He did however lead the league’s receivers in drops this season with eight, though he only had three drops in 2016. With an upgrade in quarterback from Blake Bortles to Derek Carr, Lee’s production could very well skyrocket and is worth a long look at receiver for the Raiders.
With Richarson, the buyer will be paying for potential more than production to date. Richardson’s highest season catch total is 44 in 2017, though this was his first season as a starter. He has a knack for making spectacular catches, and looks great on any highlight reel. He is listed as the same height as Marqise Lee, albeit 10 pounds lighter. On tape, Richardson looks to have a vastly thinner frame and plays closer in style to a wily slot receiver than a bigger bodied wideout. The biggest negative on Richardson is that he caught just over 55% of targets this season, and had the six drops. Richardson will be worth a look, but shouldn’t be considered until the aforementioned receivers above are off the market.
Note: For the purpose of this article (and articles going forward), the following players are listed as potential free agency signings based on:
• Expected salary cap price
• Fit within current personnel group
• Schematic fit within the offense