Last weekend, among several post-roster cutdown, the Raiders added a new receiver. He’s 31-year-old Brandon LaFell. The team cut Martavis Bryant, who they had traded a third round pick in last Aprils draft to acquire. The primary criticism from Gruden was that he just wasn’t versatile enough. So, I guess the question is whether he thinks he has that in LaFell.
“Well, he’s a good player. He has played multiple roles and played well when he’s played,” Gruden said of the 6-3, 210-pounder. “Physical guy. We think he can come in and get ready quickly to make a contribution. He’s got size we like, he’s an excellent blocker, high-effort player, detailed, professional wide out. He’s going to give us some versatility and depth, which we need.”
Basically what I am hearing here is Gruden sees in LaFell everything he didn’t see in Bryant. All the things he complained about with Bryant during training camp, aside from his missing a few practices with migraines, was being a one-trick pony and not picking up the offense like he should.
If you listen to Jason Marcum from SB Nation blog Cincy Jungle talk about LaFell about his last two seasons with the Bengals, he looks like he may be the anti-Martavis Bryant in the raw talent and physical abilities category as well.
So, Brandon LaFell is, simply put, a slow possession receiver that struggles mightily to get separation. His best days are behind him, so his best role now is as a slot receiver that draws a lot of off coverage. If he’s pressed at the line, he’s dead meat. He just can’t get away from defenders anymore, but he is good at finding holes in zones and getting open against defenses that sag off him.
That’s doable in an offense that has A.J. Green, and I think it can work in Oakland with Amari Cooper drawing most of the attention. Also, John Gruden and Greg Olson are a major upgrade over Bill Lazor in 2017 and Ken Zampese in 2016. Those are the guys LaFell had to work with, and neither is remotely as good as the Olson/Gruden combo will be for Oakland’s offense, so I expect LaFell to be more productive with the Raiders if given the same opportunities.
That said, you can do a lot better than LaFell, even as the third/fourth receiver. I’d definitely want LaFell as at least fourth behind Cooper, Jordy Nelson and Seth Roberts.
Bryant was known for his ability to take the top off of a defense. That’s why the Raiders wanted him in the first place. But he keeps popping positive for marijuana, presumably to deal with his migraines, and was the only receiver on the Raiders roster who couldn’t play the slot as well as out wide. Even if he could, his suspension would have ended any possibility of him contributing even in his area of expertise.
So, Brandon LaFell it is.