As the Raiders coaching staff was overhauled heading into the 2018 season, so too was the wide receivers room. Head coach Jon Gruden made a point to surround Derek Carr with weapons by adding Jordy Nelson, Martavis Bryant, and Ryan Switzer to an offense that already boasts Amari Cooper as the top weapon. With exception to one, these receivers have shown off their toughness and versatility in camp, and that is exactly what Gruden wants to see from them.
Those qualities were what Gruden saw in Switzer that made him trade Raiders former secon round pick Jihad Ward for him this offseason.
“Incredible start and stop quickness, and he’s a courageous, tough guy,” Gruden said after Saturday’s training camp session. “He’s a little guy, but he’s not afraid of playing and going inside. I like that. He has the qualities that I’m looking for in a slot receiver.”
While the second-year receiver will primarily be used in the slot, he has experience playing on the outside in college where his excellent route running and ball skills helped him become North Carolina’s all-time leader in receptions and receiving yards.
Jordy Nelson and Amari Cooper are also receivers that have the skill set to succeed both on the outside or in the slot. While Nelson was often used on the boundary in Green Bay, he was very productive from the slot and averaged 1.94 yards per route run from 2015-2017 which ranked 15th in the NFL.
Cooper is in a similar boat. Despite running just 17.9 percent of his routes from the slot, he has averaged 2.81 yards per route run from the inside throughout his three-year NFL career.
To put that into perspective, his yards per route run from the slot would rank fourth since Pro Football Focus started measuring the stat in 2006.
With Seth Roberts having experience playing from both the inside and outside, the one experienced receiver on the Raiders roster that has seemingly lacked the versatility Gruden covets is Martavis Bryant.
“He’s gotta get out here and play better,” Gruden said of Bryant. “He’s gotta get out here. He’s in a competitive situation and right now a lot of the other receivers have had a nice camp. He’s just gotta learn the offense, he’s gotta stay out here. He’s had some illnesses, he’s gotta get on the field, he’s gotta master the offense and become more versatile. That’s the key to making this team better.”
After trading a third round pick for the fourth-year receiver, Gruden is expecting more from the explosive receiver. But for a coach who prides versatility in his receivers, there is some irony that Gruden would send such a high pick for the one-dimensional Bryant.
With rare size and speed, the 26-year-old receiver has made his money as a deep threat, but don’t expect him to line up in the slot. In fact, his route tree has been so limited throughout his NFL career, that 43 percent of his routes have come from go and post routes according to Pro Football Focus.
So it should not come as a shock that thus far, Bryant has been the lone receiver unable to show the ability to run routes across the middle while also excelling on the boundaries.
Still, Gruden expects Bryant to become more multifaceted. In an offense where Gruden has emphasized versatility from his skill players, Bryant clearly has some catching up to do.