The Raiders 2018 campaign has fallen flat on its face.
The curious off-season moves drew both skepticism and optimism from Raider Nation, headlining with former coach Jon Gruden coming back to Oakland. The splash of trades, draft picks, and free agent moves alike have squandered the fans excitement, for this season at least. The team has become a bit of a patchwork roster on both sides of the ball and it’s given an opportunity for the youth on the roster to showcase their talents. Amidst some aging veterans around them that won’t be there long-term, the time has come for players such as rookie wide receiver Marcell Ateman.
Ateman made his way to Oakland as part of Gruden’s first draft class haul. His selection came at the back-end of the draft, taken in the seventh round out of Oklahoma State. Ateman was a prolific player during his college tenure in a pass-happy offense. Ateman profiles as a large framed WR that can use his physical size to seal off defenders and win high-point contested passes downfield. Ateman was clocked 4.62 at the NFL combine in the 40-yard dash, nothing overwhelming on paper but when his long strides are at full-speed he can get past defenders downfield.
In Oakland, he joined a wide receiver group that was in the process of reinventing itself. Michael Crabtree was swapped-out with veteran Jordy Nelson and Martavis Bryant was traded for, then waived, then re-added as a speedy deep threat. Amari Cooper seemingly was the WR 1 and then he was traded in-season. Between injuries and player movements Ateman has been given his opportunity the last couple of weeks to insert himself in the Raiders struggling offense and begin his development as a pro.
It didn’t take long for Ateman to make his presence known. In his first start during week 11 at Arizona, Ateman came up with a huge catch down the sideline on the game-winning drive. There was only 1:08 left on the game clock and Derek Carr dropped a nice ball to Ateman down the sideline as he beat press coverage, coming up with a critical 32 yard gain. Ateman would catch 4 of his 5 targets that day for 50 yards.
Next week, the Raiders went cross-country to Baltimore to play an impressive Ravens defense. Ateman would receive a wealth of targets that day from Carr (10) but with disappointing results, notching only 3 catches for 16 yards. The results had much more to do with Carr missing Ateman on a couple of big-play opportunities downfield. In one instance, Ateman had beaten his man clean upfield and Carr missed his outstretched arms of what most certainly would have been a huge gain or a touchdown. Then again, Carr fought for extended time in the pocket and rolled left and Ateman found an opening in the defense breaking off his route, Carr failed yet again to connect with a deep touch pass.
In what is certainly a lost season for the Raiders offense, Ateman will have five more games to build chemistry with Carr. Should Carr be the long-term future at QB is left to debate, but Ateman must find success whenever he can on the field. Gruden had praised Ateman in pre-season and now has to build the passing offense around his skill set and size to help star TE Jared Cook continue to produce while stealing defensive attention. One has to wonder with an aging, injured, and expensive Jordy Nelson, this wide receiver room could be wide open entering 2019 free agency and the draft, Ateman has a platform to make his case.