All eyes will be on the Oakland Raiders this upcoming season for several reasons. After nine years as a color analyst for ESPN, Jon Gruden answered Raiders fans’ prayers, returning to the Silver and Black as head coach. The pressure is on him following signing a most-lucrative deal and essentially handed the keys to the franchise. That means fixing the car; quarterback Derek Carr, who looked like a shell of himself in 2017 as he played through injuries. By addressing the receiving core this offseason, Gruden is taking the first step to revitalize the Raiders.
A year out of a Wild Card loss in the 2016 playoffs, the Raiders 6-10 record bears no indication of how bad things went for Oakland in 2017. Carr is without a doubt the anchor for the team, as Oakland continues to be winless over the last two seasons in games that he has not started. Carr has broken leg suffered in week 16 of the 2016 season saw Oakland fall apart, ending a magical season prematurely. The 2017 season saw Carr marred by the mental strain of the injury and the physical anguish of a back injury sustained in week four. Quick releases and flopping before contact signaled Carr’s fear of being injured again, and his receiving core or offensive line did not lend much help.
Since 2015, the Raiders have had at least one receiver in the top-five of drops in the league. In 2017, the team’s three leading receivers – Jared Cook, Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree, all had five or more drops and ranked in the top-ten. To make matters worse, no receiver on the team caught for over 700 yards.
Addressing Carr’s weapons, or lack thereof, have been a priority of Gruden’s since announcing his return to the Silver and Black. It is no secret of Gruden’s infatuation with his new star, singing his praises prior to the 2014 draft. He also advocated for Oakland to draft Amari Cooper for him in 2015.
Starting the offseason off with a bang, the Raiders cut Michael Crabtree and signed former Jordy Nelson. Through the last 9 seasons, Nelson has never caught less than 60 percent of his targets. In last week’s draft, Oakland traded a third round pick for Pittsburgh Steelers talented-but-troubled wideout Martavis Bryant. In addition, in round seven, Oakland selected Oklahoma State star Marcell Ateman.
These three wideouts provide Oakland’s new-look squad with a blend of veteran leadership, and young potential. Ateman excelled as the sidekick to Cowboys’ star James Washington. He broke into the national spotlight after a 1000-plus yard, and eight touchdown 2017 season. At 6’4, Ateman provides Oakland with a major redzone threat and a skyscraper to go up for jump balls. In 2017, Ateman caught for 320 yards on contested passes, ranking No. 9 in the nation.
Bryant was a consistent weapon for Pittsburgh, when he was actually on the field. The league suspended him for the entire 2016 season for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy. Also at 6’4, Bryant is a coach’s dream, a freak athlete that possesses few flaws in his game. In Oakland’s system, Bryant will have the opportunity to move between the slot and outside. In that case, he will force opposing defenses to pick their poison.
While rumors floated that Oakland would look to move Seth Roberts for a draft pick, it never came into fruition. As a result,Roberts remains on the roster. Whether or not that will change is to be determined, but Gruden surely cannot be happy with paying $4.45 million this year to someone who only caught one touchdown in 2017.
The Raiders feature a young group of hungry receivers looking to compete for playing time. Isaac Whitney, Keon Hatcher and newly acquired Ryan Switzer all want snaps.
Going into Gruden’s well-awaited returning season to Oakland, he wanted to revamp the receiving corps. If Carr is going to return to the player that we saw in 2016, he needs reliable targets.