There is no denying that wide receiver is the weakest link of the 2019 Oakland Raiders.
The team has one of the best offensive lines in the game, Josh Jacobs has been better than advertised at running back and both Darren Waller and Foster Moreau have been standouts at the tight end position and while Derek Carr is operating efficiently for the most part, the wide receiver group is undermanned and underwhelming.
The free-agent market is unappealing, so head coach Jon Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock will likely turn to the draft to try to grab the team’s next star pass catcher.
A Pseudo-Number One
The Raiders offense has been overall much better than expected in 2019. There is no reason to beat a dead horse over what happened to the team’s expected number one wide receiver before the season even began. But because of the absence of Antonio Brown, the team has been operating with pseudo-number one receiver Tyrell Williams. Sure, he was one of the most sought-after free-agents this year, but it was really a slim pick.
Overall, Williams only had one productive season with the Los Angeles Chargers and that had a lot to do with his volume. He had 119 targets and 1,059 yards, but his 69 catches were good for a paltry 58 percent catch rate. This year, he is doing a bit better with Oakland and their high-percentage passing game, but he is still only at 62.3 percent. Guess who is right above him?Seth Roberts, who is catching 62.5 percent of passes thrown his way.
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This is isn’t to say Williams is a bad wide receiver, but he isn’t exactly striking fear into the hearts of opposing defenders the same way Michael Thomas, Tyreek Hill, or Davante Adams do.
Only Downhill From There
Once Williams had to step up into the number one role, the team has struggled to find a number two outside; J.J. Nelson and Ryan Grant had their shot earlier in the year and neither of them are with the team anymore. Trevor Davis was added at about the quarter-point of the year. He showed some potential as a gadget guy but was also released last week. Oakland also traded for veteran Bill Zay Jones, who hasn’t necessarily been bad but hasn’t been good either.
The bright spot is everyone’s favorite unlikely hero, Hunter Renfrow, who has been money in the slot. The five-foot-ten, 185-pound rookie has made some clutch grabs this season but isn’t a field-stretcher nor a real game-changer as he only has 36 receptions for 396 yards and three games with over 50 receiving yards. Basically, the Raiders need a feature receiver and there are some routes Oakland can take to get one.
Free Agent Options
In reality, the free-agent market will be as desolate as ever this upcoming offseason. Barring a big name trade or shocking release of a player, the best options will probably be A.J. Green, Amari Cooper, and Josh Gordon. Cooper has reportedly said that he will test free-agency. However, let’s be real, Cooper and the Raiders have no interest in reuniting. Josh Gordon’s flash is fizzling out quickly in 2019 and even if the Raiders had a chance to get him, putting all their chips on him would not be a good idea.
A.J. Green might be the most intriguing option but comes with more risk than the potential reward. The Bengals receiver started his career with five straight 1,000-yard seasons and at one point, he was one of the most explosive wideouts in the league, but he started to have issues with injuries in 2016, he missed six games and after playing all 16 in 2017, injuries once again limited him to just nine games in 2018. So far, he hasn’t played a snap in 2019 in spite of not being placed in injured reserve. At this point, there is basically no reason for him to step on the field for Cincinnati’s lost season.
Green probably still wants to be paid top dollar, but that will be a hard price to pay for a wide receiver who will be 32 before the start of the 2020 season and has just played in nine games in two seasons.
This leaves the best option as the draft and with Mayock coming into his second draft with preliminary results showing a home run for his first one, fans should trust him to choose the right difference maker.
CeeDee Lamb seems to be a trendy prospect right now. The Oklahoma Sooner has 14 touchdowns and over 1,00 receiving yards. He is a problem after the catch and as athletic as they come. He has five games with at least 135 receiving yards, but also five games with under 50 yards. Mock drafts are still all over the place and most still have Lamb as a top-ten pick, meaning he would have to fall a bit for the Raiders to get him.
Jerry Jeudy is also a player similar to Lamb in terms of explosiveness and athleticism. Jeudy doesn’t quite have the stats that Lamb does, but his highlight reel is similar. Some say his floor is higher but his ceiling lower than Lamb’s and because of this, a lot of teams might opt to take Jeudy first. This will make it tough for Oakland to land Jeudy without making some moves in the draft.
If the late Al Davis were still running the team, he’d likely do whatever he had to do to get Jeudy’s teammate Henry Ruggs, who reportedly has 4.2 speed, and fast wide receivers were once synonymous with Raiders football. He still needs to work on his route running, but Ruggs could be an immediate weapon for Oakland in their first season in Las Vegas.
Tyler Johnson out of Minnesota is probably the most intriguing of the top receivers in this year’s draft. He doesn’t have the speed that Ruggs has and that could make his draft stock be volatile until his pro day. Nevertheless, he has great hands and does well and catches the ball in traffic. He plays effectively out of the slot compared to most wideout in the class, which could help his transition into the game.
He’d be an excellent second-round pick for the Raiders. The problem is that the team doesn’t have a second due to their defensive end Khalil Mack trade, but if the team can’t nab one of the top prospects in the first and Johnson is still hanging around in the second, don’t be surprised if Gruden and Mayock find a way to get back in there to take him.