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Raiders Outlook: Need For Speed

Can Tyron Johnson fill the field-stretching wide receiver role for las Vegas?

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers at Las Vegas Raiders
Tryon Johnson is currently the fastest wide receiver on the Raiders roster. That could change during the draft or shortly after it.
Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

In terms of pure speed, there’s only one wide receiver on the Las Vegas Raiders roster — currently — that fits the bill: Tyron Johnson. Suffice it to say, but the Silver & Black has a need for speed as having one lone burner isn’t ideal.

Not in today’s pass-happy NFL. Now, don’t get it twisted.

The Dave Zielger and Josh McDaniels wide receiver room in Henderson, Nevada is an impressive group, especially with the addition of bona fide No. 1 wide receiver Davante Adams. Adams along with slot dynamo Hunter Renfrow give the Raiders supreme route technicians who leave defenders shook with their precise ability to get in and out of breaks moving both diagonally and vertically with little wasted motion.

Youngster Bryan Edwards is still trying to find his footing but he profiles as more of a physical receiver who uses his body to box out defenders for the ball, having run a 4.53 40 at the 2020 NFL Combine. Then there’s Demarcus Robinson who’s billed as a deep threat but didn’t quite post the most eye-popping 40-yard dash time at 4.59 during his combine performance. While he’s separated from defenders and gotten open on intermediate and deep routes, no one is going to mistake Robinson for a Tyreek Hill-type speedster.

AFC Wild Card Playoffs - Pittsburgh Steelers v Kansas City Chiefs
Wide receiver Demarcus Robinson didn’t display the fleetest of feet during the NFL combine but he’s looked at as a deep threat.
Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images

Which brings us to the fleet-footed Johnson. No other receiver on the Raiders roster comes close to the 4.36 40-yard dash speed the LSU product galloped at his pro day back in 2019. He’s the closest thing the Raiders currently have to a Hill or even former Raiders wide receiver Henry Ruggs III-type wideout. To keep defenses honest, the Raiders need a pure speed athlete at wide receiver and currently, Johnson is lone wolf in that department. Ruggs was the scintillating speed option at the position that not only made defensive coordinators and defenders alike with his ability to run swiftly, track the ball, and catch it, but also provided the Raiders with the clear-out option that drew a corner and a safety which opened things up for other receivers.

In the instances Johnson was given a shot at being a deep threat wide receiver, he’s shown well enough to merit a Raiders look-see. In fact, he torched the Silver & Black as a member of the Los Angeles Chargers back in 2020 when he caught one pass for 50 yards in the Bolts’ 31-26 loss to the Raiders. That was Johnson’s most-involved season as a wide receiver where he caught 20 passes for 398 yards and three touchdowns. He sported a robust 19.9 yards per catch average and a 76.9 percent catch rate while playing a total of 264 snaps (31 percent of the Chargers’ total offensive snaps).

What Ruggs provided that Johnson cannot, however, is the trust and hands built over numerous repetitions with quarterback Derek Carr. That, of course, can be built between Johnson and Carr, but, will the former be the solo speed receiver?

Redundancy is a good thing, especially for a Vegas team lacking another fast wide receiver and with the NFL Draft coming up, post-draft free agency and even the post-June 1 cuts, perhaps the 26-year-old Johnson won’t be lone wolf for long.

The draft, in particular, has intriguing prospects based on pure speed alone. A total of eight wide receivers in this class clocked the 40-yard dash in under 4.40 seconds. The top times go:

  1. Tyquan Thornton, Baylor: 4.28
  2. Velus Jones, Tennessee: 4.31
  3. Calvin Austin III, Memphis: 4.32
  4. Danny Gray, SMU: 4.33
  5. Bo Melton, Rutgers: 4.34
  6. Christian Watson, North Dakota State: 4.36
  7. Garrett Wilson, Ohio State: 4,38
  8. Chris Olave, Ohio State: 4.39
NCAA Football: Oklahoma at Baylor
Baylor’s Tyquan Thornton clocked in the top 40-yard dash time of 4.28 seconds at the wide receiver position during the NFL Combine.
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

An additional seven broke the 4.45 second mark in the sprint, too.

  1. Alec Pierce, Cincinnati: 4.41
  2. Skyy Moore, Western Michigan: 4.41
  3. Isaiah Weston, Northern Iowa: 4.42
  4. Jahan Dotson, Penn State: 4.43
  5. Khalil Shakir, Boise State: 4.43
  6. Kevin Austin Jr., Notre Dame: 4.43
  7. Wan’Dale Robinson, Kentucky: 4.44

So as far as straight-line speed goes, there’s options aplenty.

One could argue tight end Darren Waller is a deep threat element. The 4.46 40 speed to go along with his 6-foot-6, 255-pound frame surely supports that argument. And Waller has shown the ability to go vertical and beat defenders (of all varieties) to haul in passes from Carr and ex-Raiders quarterback Marcus Mariota.

But in terms of pure separation generated by unabated speed and leaving defenders in the dust on deep routes, Johnson is the Raiders best bet. And the Silver & Black can never go wrong by adding another fast wide receiver to the mix.