Today on, "Working toward the 53-man Roster" we take a look at the very young, very raw, but very talented receiving corps and tight ends of the Oakland Raiders. Who are the best candidates to start at receiver, who will be the best candidate for the #2 tight end spot, and can Oakland wide receivers be more consistent this year? The answers to these questions lie within.
Oakland's receiving corps of 08 were inconsistent at best. Not just with the talent level, the lineups were as well. Every receiver on roster last year started at least one game other than Watkins (and the obvious IR Shields and Carter) with none of the lineups being very effective other than the late season Schilens-Higgins tandem. The position would see a massive overhaul in the offseason with the departure of Lelie, Carter, and Curry; and the additions of rookies Darrius Heyward-Bey, Louis Murphy, Nick Miller, second year man Will Franklin, and veteran Samie Parker.
7th. round pick turned starter towards the end of last year, Schilens is probably the closest thing the Raiders have to a possession receiver. Though stats won't show with Schilens only having 15 receptions. But he turned a mere 15 receptions into 226 yards and 2 touchdowns making him a reliable playmaker. That was last year, let's talk about this year.
This year, Schilens has been tearing up training camp catching everything in sight and showing off that 4.3 speed. The one thing that stands out to me about Schilens, he's very physical. Now that doesn't just mean he's physical in separation, he thrives on going after the tough catches in traffic, shoving guys at the line of scrimmage, and is actually a good run blocker amongst the receivers. That's a very rare talent to find amongst this group of receivers, and that coupled in with amazing size-speed-hands combo makes him a starter on this team at receiver. I can guarantee it.
Johnnie Lee Higgins
My favorite receiver on the team, Johnnie Lee "Blue-Suede Shoes" Higgins would make the team for his punt return prowess alone. But Higgins is more than just a punt returner. 22 receptions for 366 yards and 4 touchdowns made Higgins the team's leading receiver last year, and probably the most consistent throughout.
What does Higgins bring to the table, a big-play receiver. Not just in the fact he's incredibly fast, but he's very maneuverable and elusive when he gets the ball in his hands. He can make catches underneath and do some of those fancy punt returner moves to turn a 5-yard pass into potentially a 15 yard catch-and-run.
It's my belief, and I think the Raiders' belief as well, that Higgins should be in the slot as the #3 receiver. Higgins struggles against some of the better corners in the league, and this would put him up against nickel corners and safeties where he should have a better matchup. With Higgins's speed and evasiveness, he could be a huge mismatch for opposing defenses and would create a big-play opportunity for Russell.
The big thing though, he woudn't be starting, which means he'd be more likely to be healthy for punt returns.
Signed to be a Oakland's great #1 receiver last year, Walker would never live up anywhere near expectations only getting 15 receptions for 196 yards and a single touchdown. What could have gone wrong? Well he didn't look 100% healthy for one thing, losing a lot of the speed he was none for. He couldn't get any separation and dropped a lot of passes. He would eventually go down in Week 10 against the Panthers with a knee injury that landed him on IR.
A year after wanting to retire, Walker's knee has underwent some sort of mystery surgery which has got him "feeling better than he has in a long time" And if his work in drills is any indication, he's playing much better. I'm aware these are mere drills, but he was horrible in drill last year. Now he's running fast, running crisp routes, making spectacular catches, and the big thing; he's catching the ball consistently.
I doubt anybody here expects Javon to be another speed threat in this offense, but if he keeps catching consistently and does so in preseason, Walker might be able to revitalize his career in Oakland has a possession receiver. It's definitely something that would be nice to see. Personally I'm a little skeptical on this group of speed threat receivers who struggle catching consistently. Russell needs receivers that he can trust to catch the ball when he really needs them too, i.e. third and short situations.
If Walker can get back some of that speed from his Green Bay years, then that's just icing on the cake. Walker might be able to push for a starting job. If not, his job is safe because Cable seems to really like him, and he still has two years on his contract.
The Raiders first-round pick, Heyward-Bey, is a long-term project but may have a bigger impact this year then we originally think. Darrius is fast, easily our fastest receiver (and that's saying something with this group) though he's definitely shaky with his catching ability. However, one criticism towards Bey was his route-running, though I've yet to see or hear of any problems with his route-running.
Now then, what was this immediate impact I spoke of? Whether or not Bey starts in unknown this early on, but if he does or if he doesn't, DHB absolutely must get on the field several times a game. His presence alone will draw double teams because a Russell-Heyward-Bey connection is extremely dangerous for opposing teams. That extra attention alone open up things in the running game and will even make things easier for Schilens and the other wide receivers. Even Miller and the backs would be able to make some big plays underneath. If Bey can actually get about 20-25 catches this year and get a couple touchdowns, that would be icing on the cake.
Heyward-Bey's playing time should increase more and more as the season goes on and Bey develops. So if he isn't getting much action early on, I wouldn't get discouraged.
Murphy is going to bring an immediate impact to this football team. He's fast, already running very nice routes, catches the ball well, so on and so forth. But there's two things that really make me want this kid to possibly start.
- He shares a lot of that physicality Schilens has. He will make the tough catches against defenders, go for catches in traffic, and isn't afraid of the jump ball. He'll put his body at risk if it means a completion for the offense
- No Raider rookie hamstring issues. I don't believe Murphy's missed a single practice, something that can't be said about Mitchell or Bey (even without Mitchell's academic inability to participate in several practices) That shows great conditioning and good stamina. Something this team's going to need at WR.
Murphy's a lock to make the team and could very well start. He's been the second best receiver so far in my opinion.
Competing to make the team at the sixth receiver spot, Franklin spent his rookie year with Kansas City but didn't see much action. That's not a good thing with how thin Kansas City's receiving corps was a year ago. Snagging 7 receptions for 83 yards and zero touchdowns, Franklin didn't do much with that limited time. He is young and might be a decent receiver down the road, but I doubt he'll make the team.
Parker, who was out of football last year, previously spent 4 years with Kansas City and had some moments racking up 119 receptions for 1529 yards, and 7 touchdowns. Basically one year's worth of stats for Brandon Marshall.
I've heard good things about his chances to make the team. he's one of the small, fast receivers who can do things in the return game. And that's the big thing, if he can prove he's good in the return game and be a competent backup receiver, he has a chance of making the team.
In the same position this year as last, Holland is trying to get a spot on this team. Last year he managed to get on the practice squad and was on the active roster for three games, but this year he'll have an extremely tough time cracking roster. With the receiving corps loaded with a ton of youthful talent and much better than last year's group, I think we'll see Holland on the practice squad again, if he even makes that. He really has to step it up in camp.
Last year's hot camp receiver, Watkins seems to have lost his edge from last year to this year. He was catching everything, making freakish catches, he looked to be a great possession receiver. But something went wrong in preseason, he couldn't separate, ran sloppy routes, so on and so forth. Now this year, Watkins hasn't been impressing at all and really needs to step up if he wants that last receiver spot. At this point, I think it unlikely he makes the team.
Undrafted free agent who I honestly couldn't tell you anything about. All I know is that he hasn't been raising any eyebrows in camp and was brought in purely because he's one of those bullet receivers (small but fast) I really don't see him even making practice squad.
What do all the above receivers after Murphy have in common? They're all being pushed aside by Nick Miller. A bullet-type receiver who's catching just about everything and making epic catches. He's also very versatile. Able to return kicks, play receiver, and even take some handoffs from the tailback position. Barring injury or a major drop-off in performance, I'd say Miller is a lock to take the 6th. receiver spot.
KA1Z3R's Projected WR depth chart
#1- Chaz Schilens
#2- Javon Walker
#3- Johnnie Lee Higgins
#4- Louis Murphy
#5- Darrius Heyward-Bey
#6- Nick Miller
Tight end really hasn't changed that much from last year. But the search for the #2 tight end to play beside the incredible Zach Miller in two tight end sets is getting intense with the drafting a Brandon Myers and signing of John Paul Foschi to add to the already heated battle between Tony Stewart and Darrell Strong.
Not much to say about Miller you don't already know. The Raiders best receiving target, great hands, strong, fast for his size, and a good blocker. The key thing for Miller this year, is getting a good blocking tight end to free him up to make more plays in the passing game. I firmly believe Miller is both a Pro Bowl caliber tight end, and the next great Raiders tight end.
I'd be lying if I said Stewart might not make the roster. I think there's a very good chance he will. He's been showing off some good receiving ability in camp, though his blocking is still inconsistent. With only 11 receptions last year, an improvement in his receiving skills was probably Tony's top priority. But if he still isn't a good blocker has he should be, he'll probably be the #3 tight end, if Oakland will even carry that many active tight ends. But with two tight end sets becoming a major part of this offense, there should be a spot as a #3 for him.
If you asked me right now who I think is the best choice for the #2 tight end spot, without delay I'd say Brandon Myers. I watched a lot of Iowa football (my favorite Big 10 team) and this guy is practically an extra offensive tackle. Myers is a phenomenal blocker and I've yet to hear anything negative about him in camp. Drafted in the sixth round, many teams passed on him because they thought he was lacking in receiving ability. Though he has been showing some potential as a receiving tight end in camp. Whether or not that transitions into games isn't a very big deal, all that matters is that he can be a good enough blocker that Miller doesn't have to stay in. If he can be a decent receiving option to throw defenses off is just icing on the cake. I think he's got a very good shot as the #2 tight end.
Put on the practice squad and active for one game last year, Strong's history may be doomed to repeat. He's more of a receiver than a blocker, and that hasn't really changed. If he wants a chance to play, he has to become a better blocker. Look for him to spend another year on the practice squad and come back to compete next year.
John Paul Foschi
Couldn't tell you much about the former Raider other than he can play tight end and fullback though both positions are stacked as is. He's done virtually nothing in camp and I highly doubt makes the team.
KA1Z3R'S Projected TE Depth Chart
#1- Zach Miller
#2- Brandon Myers
Backup: Tony Stewart
Well Raiders fans, your thoughts on the wide receiver and tight end situations?