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Why WR may not be as much of a priority for Raiders as it seems

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While I expect Mike Mayock to select a receiver early, that player may not contribute much next season

NFL Combine - Day 3 Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

This is not just a repeat of the article I wrote three weeks ago about Hunter Renfrow and why his expanded role should bear the brunt of available targets next season, but it draws enough from that idea for me to post the link to that piece right up top. There’s plenty of information in there about how next season’s pass attempts could be broken up with maybe only ~50 going to a rookie receiver, at most.

Of course, a lot can and will change between now and whenever next season starts but with the way that Mike Mayock and Jon Gruden have built this offense so far, I don’t even think there will be much room for a rookie to do more than “Wow” us a few times and create sporadic explosive plays.

We may live in a passing league, but many successful NFL teams aren’t relying on elite receivers like we might have expected.

The Baltimore Ravens finished with the top passing offense by DVOA and featured Mark Andrews as the first option, plus tight ends Nick Boyle and Hayden Hurst finishing fourth and fifth in targets. Rookie first rounder Marquise Brown was second in targets, but that was only 71 attempts, same as Renfrow in Oakland.

The Kansas City Chiefs may have the best all-around passing attack and by far the number one option is tight end Travis Kelce. Sammy Watkins fills the role of a “traditional one” but continued to underwhelm in 2019. Tyreek Hill is the player most point to as the key receiver and he doesn’t fit the bill as a “traditional one” — though the very notion of a “traditional one” being the “one” is not very modern.

The New Orleans Saints have that prototype receiver in Michael Thomas, with the second-most targets going to running back Alvin Kamara, then next tight end Jared Cook.

The San Francisco 49ers won the NFC with a highly efficient passing offense led by tight end George Kittle and desperately lacking much in the way of wide receiver talent. I think the Ravens and 49ers may best showcase the model that the Raiders would be looking to emulate and in many ways they already have, as Gruden’s team finished seventh in passing DVOA behind Derek Carr and with little in receiving talent.

The addition of Jason Witten in a year where the tight end draft class could be the worst we’ve ever seen may indicate that Gruden doesn’t plan to pull back on that gameplan is pass-efficient without the need for an elite wide receiver.

As of today, Las Vegas has the productive Darren Waller, free agent signee Witten, veteran Derek Carrier, and 2019 fourth rounder Foster Moreau at tight end, though Moreau’s next campaign will be in doubt as he rehabs from a knee injury. They also recently signed Nick O’Leary, who was somewhat of a regular for the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins from 2016-2018. It seems possible that the Raiders were one of the teams that looked ahead at the draft and figured they wouldn’t get anything out of it at tight end, so they signed Witten and O’Leary because they want a backup plan to the backup plan.

We’ve seen this going around a little bit, as the Seattle Seahawks added Greg Olsen to a somewhat-crowded tight ends room and the Chicago Bears added Jimmy Graham, giving them up to 11 tight ends right now. We also saw Hunter Henry get the franchise tag in spite of injuries, Austin Hooper sign for $42 million, Graham somehow manage a $6 million signing bonus, and the Atlanta Falcons gave up a second for Hurst. Most of these moves may have had extra motivation because of a weak TE class and Mayock got involved with Witten.

Next we should look at the Raiders receiving corps and see what kind of room and need is left there.

As of Sunday, Vegas has Renfrow, Tyrell Williams, Zay Jones, Nelson Agholor, and Keelan Doss representing five guys who’ve at least spent some time in a regular season game and we know a bit about them. Renfrow could become the Marquise Brown of the bunch. Williams was a pricey free agent acquisition a year ago.

Agholor, an unreliable and inconsistent former first rounder whose potential last hope is that Philly was the problem. Jones, a combine hype beast who was remarkably consistent in how many targets he got in 10 games with the Raiders last season (four times he got two targets, five times he got three targets, and once he got four) and in how limited his production was on those plays.

And Doss.

There’s also Rico Gafford, Marcell Ateman, and Anthony Ratliff-Williams.

Put them all together and what do you have? A need at wide receiver. However, that doesn’t mean that Vegas needs a wide receiver to be successful next season and they probably already know that the addition of a significantly valuable receiver in 2020 is unlikely. Nor is it necessary.

If we could reasonably expect 200 or more targets to go to tight ends and 50-60+ going to Josh Jacobs, as they’ve stressed they’d like to see more of him in that regard, there’s less of a need to lean on a big, prototypical number one. Especially if 200 more are going to Renfrow and Williams. Therefore, the team can then weigh their options and select a receiver at 12 or 19 — or maybe even wait until day two, where they have three third round picks. I do expect Mayock to be working plenty of trade opportunities within that framework.

A third option that flies in the face of my entire premise: draft a receiver at 12 and 19.

There are of course other strategies, like that one. Grab Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs, either spreading out the offense with them, Waller, Renfrow, and Williams, hope that Carr’s next level will be opened up by getting him weapons like was intended a year earlier. Or doubling down that if one of these players proves incapable of NFL value for whatever reason, you have another. Especially if you expect a rookie to contribute during the next season which I think carries a whole other set of issues in 2020 because of the ongoing pandemic that has disrupted the draft process and will potentially create a much shorter offseason; a reality that is likely to benefit veterans over young players and new players.

Mayock and Gruden had wanted an elite receiver last year and though that move did not work, I would expect them to still covet a player of that ilk. So not drafting a wideout in the first round would probably be more surprising than drafting one. But do I think that the Raiders need to add an explosive, unstoppable number one receiver to have success in the passing game next season?

I don’t think that’s the plan.