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Oakland Raiders: Next man up in the receiver room

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It’s been a turbulent few weeks for the Oakland Raiders receiver room. Of course, the focus has mainly been on one man, Antonio Brown. From frostbitten feet to helmet hysterics, frustration at fines, a meltdown at Mike Mayock, and finally his release from the Raiders, Brown has dominated the Raiders off-season storyline.

In an off-season that had been focused on surrounding Derek Carr with the pieces to succeed, Brown was the key piece. However, now that Brown has been released and has signed with the New England Patriots, the focus now shifts to the next man up. Who is going to step up and be Carr’s go-to receiving threat in 2019? 

Before the roster was cut down to 53 players, the Raiders carried 12-13 wide receivers on the 90 man roster. Obviously, not all of those were going to make the team. The main surprise roster cut was Keelan Doss. He’d impressed in pre-season and looked set to make the team in Oakland. The rookie out of U.C. Davis was picked up by the Jacksonville Jaguars for their practice squad, and in the wake of the Brown’s release, the Raiders made an unsuccessful attempt to re-sign Doss. 

In making their final cuts, Mayock and Gruden decided to run with six wide receivers. While there’s not been any official announcement as to who fills his roster spot, I look at who’s left and how they can contribute on Monday night.

Tyrell Williams

Tyrell Williams would be the most natural replacement for Brown. He could instantly step up into the WR1 role. He was one of the big free agency pickups for the Raiders in 2019. His contract is worth $44 million over four years. It represented a big payday for the former undrafted free agent.

He’ll now be tasked with earning it as the leading wide receiver for this season. For Williams, that will mean replicating his 2016 season for the then-named San Diego Chargers. That year he snagged over 1000 yards and had seven touchdowns. Crucially, his success that year came after he was forced into the limelight with an injury to Keenan Allen.

His skill set is similar to Brown, which again lends itself to him being the natural WR1 replacement. He has fantastic speed, making him the ideal deep threat for Carr and he is taller than Brown at 6’4, which gives him an advantage.

J.J. Nelson

I actually had J.J. Nelson as a cut candidate only a couple of weeks ago. His career resume isn’t exactly prolific. In four years with the Arizona Cardinals, Nelson gathered less receiving yards than some wide receivers do in a season. Like Williams, his best career season came in 2016, when he had six touchdowns in six starts.

In his last season for Arizona, he only made two starts and had just seven receptions for 64 yards. They’re hardly statistics that jump off the page.

Similar to Williams, Nelson’s speed makes him a threat. This looks set to be the hallmark of the Raiders in 2019. He has already forged a connection with Carr, and this connection has caught Gruden’s eye. He also was a standout special teams contributor during his college career at UAB, so you can expect him to feature there too.

He may not feature much on Monday night, however, as he is currently questionable with an ankle injury.

Hunter Renfrow

Reliable, resilient, hard-working.

Hunter Renfrow is the polar opposite of everything that Brown represented during his short stint with the Raiders. He was a legend at Clemson, and his character is putting him in the best possible place to continue that in the NFL. He is precisely the type of influence that Mayock wanted to bring to the locker room.

He brings a winning mentality from his time at Clemson too. That was another big focus of Mayock’s rebuild over the summer.

Renfrow should see more on-field opportunities now that Brown is no longer with the Raiders, although his primary use in the slot shouldn’t alter. He’ll provide a reliable pair of hands underneath if the likes of Williams and Nelson can’t create separation downfield.

Dwayne Harris

At 32, Dwayne Harris is one of the oldest members of the team. His place on the roster is predominantly based on special teams. He has made a career out of being a return specialist. When the season kicks off, he will have accrued 5860 in kick off and punt return yardage combined. Harris also has five kick off and punt return touchdowns.

His most successful campaign in the NFL came for the New York Giants in 2015. That year he was used out of the backfield as well as lining up at wide receiver. He accounted for 400+ yards from scrimmage and four touchdowns.

That season in New York could offer the Raiders a blueprint of how to use Harris more should they need to.

Ryan Grant

Ryan Grant, a 2014 5th round pick of the Washington Redskins, quietly had good pre-season. He made some big plays, including a touchdown against the Arizona Cardinals, and his performance secured his spot on the roster. Gruden was familiar with Grant before he landed in Oakland, having spent time around him when Jay Gruden coached him in Washington.

In that time his highlight was the 2017 season where he accounted for 573 yards and four touchdowns.

He played predominantly as an outside receiver in Washington, and it was anticipated that he would compete with Renfrow for the slot receiver role. With Brown in New England, Grant could likely see some time playing outside, leaving Renfrow to take the majority of slot reps.

The key to success for Grant will be keeping healthy. He failed a physical for the Baltimore Ravens last year before signing for the Indianapolis Colts. He went on to miss time for the Colts, including missing out on playoff football with turf toe.

Darren Waller

Although not a wide receiver, I fully expect that Darren Waller is going to step up and be a receiving threat from the tight end position. He has already climbed the TE depth chart to be the outright number 1 at the position. This came after several impressive performances during pre-season. He also impressed off the field as one of the focal points of the “Hard Knocks” series.

Waller is one of the players that spoke to the media about Brown’s departure saying:

I loved him when he was here. He was right next to me at my locker. Positive dude. But if he’s not here anymore, we don’t hate him, we just have to move on and handle business. It’s as simple as that.

In a world where opinion is quickly given, and freely available, it was a sensible and mature approach to the issue. It is precisely the approach that the Raiders need to take as an organization.

They’ve handled the business, and now it’s time to move on to Denver.

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