Perhaps no position on this Raiders team got more special attention from Jon Gruden this offseason than wide receiver. Gruden does is work on the offensive side of the ball. Quarterback was set with Derek Carr, running back is set with Marshawn Lynch, tight end stayed relatively the same with Jared Cook and Lee Smith still in-house, and aside from the drafting of the two tackles, the offensive line was relatively untouched as well. Not so for the wide receiver position.
Remember back in early March, while fans were eagerly anticipating the start of free agency? While teams across the league were agreeing to terms with free agents, the Raiders signed street free agent, Griff Whalen. A wide receiver and return man.
For a couple days, it became a fun little joke to suggest the Raiders had solved their problems at every position with his addition. And he may not even make the team. But he was a peek into where Gruden’s head was.
Gruden liked his quarterback and running back. But upgrading his receiving corps was priority number one.
Initially it didn’t appear that way, as the team had decided they were keeping Michael Crabtree for lack of better options. Then Jordy Nelson became a cap casualty in Green Bay and all that changed.
As soon as he was cut, the Raiders were on the phone, pushing hard to get him to Oakland. Derek Carr met him at the airport and gave him a tour of Oakland. Nelson was convinced and signed, while Crabtree – who had fallen out with Derek Carr and the Raiders – was released.
At the same time, the Raiders were adding several mid-tier players at several positions, including another pass catcher in former wide receiver turned tight end Derek Carrier to go along with tight ends Cook and Smith.
A few days later, Gruden traded away Cordarrelle Patterson to the Patriots for a move up from the sixth round to the fifth round in the draft, and half the team’s top four receivers now gone, leaving Amari Cooper, Jordy Nelson, and Seth Roberts as the top three. That too would soon change.
With the very first selection in the draft, the Raiders made a move for a wide receiver. They traded down from 10 to 15 in the first round, picking up a third and fifth round pick in the deal. They then immediately sent that third round pick to Pittsburgh to acquire trouble, but talented wide receiver Martavis Bryant.
“We’ve been looking for a size receiver, a big receiver,” Gruden said of Bryant. “He’s big, he’s 6-foot-4. We’re looking for a fast receiver and he’s fast, he runs sub 4.4. So he has size, he has speed. I’ve seen the Steelers practice in my previous position. The man knows how to practice. The guy knows how to prepare. He’s been through a lot in his life and he’s got something to prove and I think we’re catching him at the right time. Mike Tomlin is a friend of mine. I coached with Mike and I got a lot of confidence in this young man. I think a change of scenery can unleash his greatness and put him in the line up with Jordy Nelson and Amari Cooper and Jared Cook and Derek Carr excites me a lot.”
Just when you thought he was done, Gruden made more moves at wide receiver. With the Raiders’ final pick in the draft, they selected Oklahoma State wide receiver Marcell Ateman, another big red zone target.
And Gruden STILL wasn’t done. With a few picks left in the draft, they struck a deal with the Cowboys to send them former second round pick Jihad Ward in exchange for slot receiver and return man, Ryan Switzer.
“I like Switzer. I liked Switzer a lot at North Carolina,” Gruden said last week. “He’s a fourth-round draft choice. He was Mitch Trubisky’s go-to guy. My brother doesn’t like Switzer. He took an 83-yard punt home against him last year. That’s what he can do. . . Switzer is outstanding and can also return kickoffs. I think he’s got some nasty quickness in the slot. We’ve got a competitive situation here at wide receiver too, so I like that.”
And just like that, the Raiders have almost entirely revamped wide receiver corps. Amari Cooper still sits atop the group, but after that it’s Jordy Nelson and Martavis Bryant at two and three. Seth Roberts has been the team’s third receiver the past couple years, but you’d have to figure the team is looking for a trade partner for him, especially when you add Switzer into the mix as the potential speedy slot target the Raiders have lacked.
I have little doubt Gruden is far more pleased with the talent in this group than when he came in.