When the Raiders landed Martavis Bryant via a 3rd round pick acquired in a trade down from pick 10 to 15, fans sat stunned. Dez, not Martavis Bryant became a player Raider faithful salivated over. Ultimately he would be too expensive for the Silver and Black. Instead, the Raiders landed the embattled Pittsburgh Steeler in a move that has added some luster to a “disappointing” first round.
For all of his incredible talent, Martavis Bryant became available because his own substance control issues and chafing coaches. He is the kind of chance only coaches in Jon Gruden’s position can afford to take. Plus, Bryant represents a stark change in the Raider way. Whereas in the past, Reggie McKenzie avoided a player with such a complicated history. Gruden clearly believes enough in his own influence to make this deal a steal.
Last season, it was clear that the Raiders receiving corps struggled. Fan favorite Michael Crabtree struggled to separate, Seth Roberts often disappeared, and Amari Cooper struggled through injuries and drops. At 6’4” and still only 26 years old, Martavis Bryant could bring an explosive element that the Raiders offense has missed since Jacoby Ford. Bryant has never averaged fewer than 12 yards a catch. Additionally, with 4.4 speed, he is a threat to score any time he touches the ball. After losing snaps to rookie JuJu Smith-Schuster due to a season long suspension and difference with the staff, Bryant most certainly motivated to put up big numbers this season.
Schematically, he fits best as an outside wide receiver that can play alone, either with slot help, or even tight to the formation outside the tight end. His presence frees up Cooper and allows him to play all over the field. One bonus,Cooper can play the slot, where he may be at his best. Additionally, because Jordy Nelson also works well from the slot position, there will be plays where he and Bryant line up on the same side. This gives the Raiders an element they have not had since Derek Carr’s ascension. The ability to actively dictate the coverage teams can play is a game changer.
If all of Martavis Bryant’s talent had been realized, he’s still call the Steelers home. Due to public feuds, lack of cohesion with staff, and attitude, Bryant did not make friends friends. That does not even acknowledged the elephant in the room, substance control issues that have already cost him a full season. While marijuana is becoming more popular nationally as the decriminalize movement gains steam, the NFL has a very clear stance. They are indifferent to test studies, testimonials, and changing laws. Bryant will need to adjust accordingly if he wants a chance to have full career.
After receiving suspensions in successive seasons, he is on his final strike whereby a blown drug test earns him a two-year suspension and ends professional football for him. However, one may feel about marijuana is ancillary to the larger concern of his capacity for self-control. This is of even greater concern when considering he now will play in a city at the forefront of California’s “legalize it” movement this season. Plus, Bryant could spend many seasons with the team after, in Las Vegas.
If Gruden and McKenzie really believe Martavis Bryant matured to handle playing in a weed friendly state, the trade works. With great speed, jump ball skills, and body control, Bryant stacks up as the most freakish receiver in years. Moreover, Bryant will have to buy in to an “all-for-one and one-for-all” team culture. Gruden has already stated that Amari Cooper and Marshawn Lynch will be the focus of the offense. Having spent time-sharing the field, and football, with Antonio Brown, Bryant is no stranger to sharing. Yet, there is concern about the long term pairing. Bryant will speak his mind if he feels like he is being frozen out of the offense or treated unfairly.
Gruden likely will not be in any mood to hear a wide receiver complaining. However, it provides some comfort that typically Bryant responds well to challenge. Overall, this is a clear gamble that could turn into a massive coup or a wasted pick. Yet, it could not be clearer that this was a Gruden move. If Gruden can get the best out of Bryant, he will join a long and (mostly) successfully lineage of players who came to the Silver and Black capitalizing on a second chance.