EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first of an occasional series previewing the Raiders’ NFL draft and free agency.
Forty-six NFL wide receivers had 50 or more receptions in 2019. Forty-two finished with 700 or more receiving yards.
Not one Raider was among that group.
In fact, the team’s leader in receptions (90) and yards (1,145) was tight end Darren Waller. Among their wide receivers, rookie Hunter Renfrow had the most receptions, 49, and Tyrell Williams the most yards, 651.
The Raiders did not have an explosive, dynamic wide receiver capable of stretching the field, drawing double teams and being a go-to weapon in the red zone.
For the Raiders’ offense to be more explosive and give quarterback Derek Carr a fair chance to elevate his game, it is imperative they add a No. 1 receiver.
In the draft, the Raiders have their eye on two Alabama wide receivers and another from Oklahoma. And in free agency, the targets are Robby Anderson of the Jets and A.J. Green of the Bengals.
Here is a closer look at the Raiders’ wide receiver group, followed by an assessment of the draft and free-agent possibilities.
Hunter Renfrow: A fifth-round pick out of Clemson last April, Renfrow likely would have eclipsed 50 receptions had he not missed three games late in the season with a rib injury. He returned for the last two games and surpassed 100 yards in receiving yards in both games.
The last game against the Denver Broncos was telling. On his six receptions, Renfrow averaged 13.5 yards at the point of the catch, or more than double the 6.2 yards he averaged in that category across 13 games. It was a clear sign the Raiders were deploying him on longer patterns rather than just using as a short-pattern receiver out of the slot.
Expect that trend to continue in 2020, with the Raiders carving out a Julian Edelman-type role for him.
Tyrell Williams: The Raiders signed Williams as a free agent last year after trading for Antonio Brown. The hope was that his ability to stretch the field, as evidenced by the 16.3 yards he averaged per catch over the first four years of his career, would complement Brown’s explosive playmaking. Brown’s antics derailed that plan, and the seasonlong foot issues Williams dealt with severely limited his effectiveness.
The Raiders seem willing to give Williams another shot in 2020, provided they can get his foot issues resolved.
Still a chance
Zay Jones: The Raiders acquired the Buffalo Bills veteran at the trade deadline for a fifth-round pick, but he finished with just 20 catches for 147 yards over the 10 games he played for the Raiders.
Jones is under contract for 2020 for a modest $1,389,522, and at 24 years old, there is still upside and time to realize it. As recently as last season, the former second-round pick had a team-high 56 receptions with Buffalo for 652 yards and seven touchdowns.
On the bubble: Rico Gafford. Keelan Doss. Marcell Ateman.
Armed with the 12th and 19th picks in the first round and five picks within the first 90 selections, the Raiders are well positioned to add a dynamic receiver from a deep draft pool.
Here are three to keep an eye on:
Jerry Jeudy, Alabama: At 6-1 Jeudy is a big target with an advanced understanding of the wide receiver position. As a result, he is expected to be a day one impact starter, regardless of which team drafts him. The only question is whether he’ll be there for the Raiders at No. 12.
CeeDee Lamb, Oklahoma: Lamb isn’t as polished a route runner as Jeudy, but he can immediately elevate an offense — and quarterback — with his ability to catch the ball and then make things happen after the catch. He is also an excellent and willing blocker.
Henry Ruggs, Alabama: The Raiders are long known for prioritizing speed, and Ruggs is a pure speedster with a documented 4.25 40-yard dash time at Alabama’s junior pro day.
Others: Tee Higgins, Clemson. Justin Jefferson, LSU. Brandon Aiyuk, Arizona State. Laviska Shenault, Colorado. Jalen Reagor, TCU.
Possible free agents
Robby Anderson, New York Jets: If Anderson hits the open market, expect the Raiders to aggressively pursue him. Despite quarterback instability during his four years in New York, Anderson has 207 receptions for 3,059 yards and has averaged 15 yards per reception the last two seasons.
His size, speed and ability to stretch the field and be a red-zone weapon are attributes the Raiders covet. Spotrac.com has Anderson’s market value at four years, $48,152,18, with an average annual salary of $12,038,045. That is well within the Raiders’ projected $70 million in cap space.
A.J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals: Green didn’t play in 2019 while recovering from an ankle injury and has played in just nine games over the last two seasons. He’s 32 years old and injury prone, having played a full 16-game schedule just four times in nine NFL seasons.
However, if he’s fully recovered from the ankle injury, the Raiders could be getting a well-rested bargain should the Bengals decide against bringing him back. When healthy, Green has produced six seasons of more than 1,000 yards receiving.
Spotrac.com has Green’s market value at two years, $18,249,548, with an average salary of $9,124,774. Given Green’s recent health history, that might be more than the Raiders are willing to pay. But if that price begins to fall, they could be interested.
Contact Vincent Bonsignore at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @VinnyBonsignore on Twitter.