The good folks at Football Outsiders have answered several questions for us here at Silver and Black Pride, and two of the questions/answers were posted on Monday and Tuesday. Those questions dealt with the coaching staff, but from here on out they will deal with the players.
Today’s question focuses on the Raiders’ upgraded receiving unit. Look for more Football Outsiders questions on Thursday and Friday.
S&BP: The Raiders have added plenty in the wide receiver corps this offseason. They now have Jordy Nelson, Martavis Bryant, Ryan Switzer and Marcell Ateman. How do you see these players fitting in this year and which do you believe will have the most impact and why?
FO: I think Nelson can still be an effective complement to Amari Cooper at this point. Martavis wasn’t very good last year, and we are already hearing grumblings about his ability to learn a playbook. Switzer is a capable punt returner but was a big zero at receiver for a team that needed receivers last year, and I think it’s telling that the Cowboys let Switzer go but then turned around and added Tavon Austin. Ateman was a high-effort, high-character possession guy in college who may be too slow and lack the quickness to be more than a special teamer. The name-recognition-to-actual-upgrade ratio here is not exactly optimal. But I will say this: if everyone rebounds or plays up to their billing, their roles (veteran #2 guy, lid lifter, Slotty McTryhard, special teams stalwart) are easy to assign.
I say, if “Slotty McTryhard” isn’t the funniest thing I’ve heard all day, I don’t know what is. For more examples of Slotty McTryhards, see the New England Patriots, who utilize about four of them every year.
Plenty of NFL experts are pessimistic about Jordy Nelson, given his age and the fact that he had a pretty awful year in Green Bay last season. But camp reports have been stellar, and Football Outsiders seems to believe in Nelson’s ability to become a major part of the Raider offense. We’ll find out more on Friday, with the starters playing extended minutes against Nelson’s old team, the Packers.
As for Bryant, Jon Gruden was not pleased with his grasp of the playbook nor his lack of consistent availability to practice, so his time with the Raiders got started off on a bad note. But he had a pretty good game against the Lions and will get more chances to shine against the Packers, who have elected to play the season without any cornerbacks.
It’s puzzling to me now and was puzzling to me last year why the Cowboys didn’t use Ryan Switzer more in the passing game, but I am not privy to Cowboys practice tape and I will defer to Jason Garrett on this one. I’m not sure the Cowboys offense had a plan or an identity of any kind last year. What I do know is that Switzer caught a diving TD against the Lions and is currently battling Griff Whalen to be our Slotty McTryhard.
The Raiders may keep six wide receivers, and Marcell Ateman has a good shot to be the sixth guy. He’s showed flashes this preseason and he has the size to be a legitimate red zone threat. It’s true that he will have to make his mark on special teams because he just won’t get enough offensive reps to be worth the roster spot otherwise.
Of course, all this is dependent on Amari Cooper being that bona fide number one receiver. It is he who will get the bulk of the attention from opposing defenses, and he who will enable these other wideouts to get advantageous matchups. In a four-wide set you’d have a linebacker or a safety on one of these guys, and Derek Carr will eat that coverage for lunch. There is so much more talent now than last year at the receiver position, as long as they all fulfill their potential.