The Raiders final season in Oakland has seen not much other than head-scratching moments accompanied with some limited success by most position groups. The wide receiver corps isn’t the exception, and some of its members may not make the trip to Las Vegas.
The team ultimately is doing better than many anticipated, but hopes were the team could make the playoffs. Over the last few weeks though, those opinions have quickly descended into despair and foreboding. You know, normal Raiders stuff. But the team is leaving for greener pastures or at least more grass, and they won’t be taking a lot of the current players with them.
Wide receivers don’t grow on trees. Good ones don’t, anyway, and Oakland has struggled for quite some time finding clutch playmakers and 2019 was no different and it’s been painfully obvious watching the games. Using your tight end corps as pass-catching threats does not speak well for the actual receivers. This isn’t a dissertation on stats but they tell part of the tale. They’ll be referenced below to illustrate part of each receiver’s value.
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Who makes the cut?
The Raiders currently have six wide receivers on the roster who are seeing varying degrees of success. The most dynamic has easily been rookie Hunter Renfrow, who’s faced challenges that have seriously affected his stats. He’s had 36 receptions for just 396 yards in 11 games with two touchdowns, but that doesn’t tell the story of his worth. His hands have been his biggest asset, earning his nickname from college of “Third and Renfrow”. He’s made some stellar catches and is willing to sacrifice himself for the play, as evidenced by his recent broken rib and punctured lung. He’s an easy choice to stay with the team through their move to Las Vegas.
Tyrell Williams was an exciting offseason acquisition for head coach Jon Gruden. He was considered a solid wide receiver to be second behind Antonio Brown, but the entire world knows how that turned out. So Williams was left to float around the WR1 position, which he’s proven isn’t his forte. He’s been targeted 57 times with 36 receptions for a catch percentage of 63.2%. All of this has resulted in five touchdowns and just 524 yards. Good numbers for a tight end, not so much for a featured receiver. Still, he was inked to a multi-year deal, which will likely see him make the move to Vegas. He’s had some minimal input on special teams as well, and Gruden is all for second chances unless it comes to defense.
A midseason pickup was Zay Jones, coming from Buffalo. In seven games, he’s caught 14 of 20 targets for 107 yards. He’s had some flashes but nothing special. Still, he’s a decent stop-gap and seems to have fairly sure hands. Unless a better backup comes along, there’s an outside chance he’ll have a roster spot next year, but anything can happen on the pirate ship. We most likely won’t see him in a Raiders uniform after this season.
Another youngster that is desperately hoping to get his big shot is Rico Gafford. This is the first year he’s set foot on the field and although he’s only played one game and in that, has only had one reception, he ripped off a 49-yard run for a touchdown. He’s young and hungry and Gruden likes that. He’ll have a backup spot on the Vegas Raiders.
A preseason darling, Keelan Doss has had an interesting ride as a Raider. He was released before the Antonio Brown fiasco, then signed from the Jags practice squad to a rookie minimum contract to fill another hole. While his participation has been limited, he’s been a solid addition to the group, with a catch percentage of 83.3%, 10 of 12 receptions for 116 yards. He has yet to make the end zone but Gruden will likely keep him on to mold him into a smaller Darren Waller.
Finally, there’s Marcell Ateman, whose tenure has been up and down. He played a bit in 2018, later ended up on the practice squad this year, and eventually made it to the active roster in week 5. His usage has been sporadic at best and has been targeted a whopping three times, with two receptions for 70 yards. Not bad runs but not enough to turn your head. All in all, he hasn’t proven himself a consistent target. There’s a small handful of decent wide receivers in free agency for 2020 so if the Raiders target someone and land him, expect Ateman’s days in Silver & Black to be numbered.
Another player that might come up is Dwayne Harris, who has been out much of the year due to injury but being a return specialist gives him a leg up. It would be silly to let one of the best return men in the league at the moment go in free agency. Gruden has expressed his appreciation for Harris and he’ll likely keep him on for his talent and experience. There are certainly going to be more newbies to train and show the ropes to; Harris will have an opportunity there.
If the rumors are true and players are calling Gruden about playing for the team, we may see some heavy movement in the offseason in the receiving corps. Depending on who the Raiders quarterback is next year, interest could vary from an upturned nose to jumping on a plane the next day. There aren’t any receivers up for grabs next year that are worth blockbuster contracts, but several are very talented and could improve the team.
Amari Cooper, anyone? No, probably not.
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