The wide receiver room for the Las Vegas Raiders has seen quite a few changes this offseason, even just in the last week. The Raiders signed veteran wideout Keelan Cole last Thursday, then traded away Bryan Edwards on Friday and waived Tré Turner — who had just signed a $40,000 guaranteed contract as an undrafted free agent — on Monday.
Adding one pass-catcher to the mix while subtracting two suggests that Cole could be in line for a decent-sized role in Las Vegas this season. It’s probably safe to assume he won’t be supplanting Davnate Adams or Hunter Renfrow — I know, I’m going out on a limb here — but there is a starting spot on the depth chart that’s up for grabs as the No. 3 wide receiver.
So, how does Cole stack up to the likes of Demarcus Robinson, Mack Hollins, DJ Turner, Dillon Stoner, Tyron Johnson and Justin Hall? And what role could the veteran wideout play on the team? Or where does he have an advantage over the competition, and where does the competition have an advantage over him?
[All stats and grades below are courtesy of Pro Football Focus.]
Two years ago, Cole took 68.7 percent of his total snaps from the slot and led the Jaguars with 50 slot targets for 34 receptions, 384 yards, two touchdowns and 19 first downs. However, he wasn’t very efficient with just 0.96 yards per route (YPR) and a 95.8 passer rating when targeted.
Cole signed with the Jets for the following season but was only used on the inside 16.3 percent of the time and thus, only hauled in two passes on seven targets. It’s not as if he wasn’t productive, he had 28 catches and 449 yards overall, but New York had Jameson Crowder and Braxton Berrios already on the roster. The former has built a career as a slot specialist while the latter has been an emerging slot receiver over the last couple of years, so it’s hard to hold Cole’s low 2021 numbers from that alignment against him.
As for the tenured veterans — Robinson, Hollins and Johnson — neither of them have been much of a factor on the inside. Robinson has the most targets in a single season with just 10 in 2020 and Hollins has the most yards in one year with a whopping 82, so we’ll glance over them for this section.
Moving on to the rookie — Hall — and who I’ll refer to as the “super rookies” — Turner and Stoner — since they barely played during the regular season last year, is where Cole’s competition heats up.
Hall basically lived in the slot at Ball State as that’s where 66.7 percent of his total snaps came from and for good reason. In 2020, he caught 28 of 36 targets for 406 yards, three touchdowns, 17 first downs and a 141.1 passer rating when targeted. Expect for passer rating, which ranked fourth, all of those figures were within the top two among MAC wide receivers, and he was efficient with the third-highest YPR at 3.08.
However, the following year he saw a dip in his efficiency and volume numbers despite playing in more games and taking almost 100 more reps on the inside.
In 2021, the Cardinal had 35 catches on 49 targets with 326 yards, four scores, 18 firsts and a 108.0 rating. All but the touchdown and passer rating figures at best ranked tied for eighth in the conference, while the other two were somewhat surprisingly good enough to tie for second and fourth, respectively. Efficiency-wise, Hall had a 1.22-yard dip in YPR to 1.86 which ranked 11th out of 14 qualifiers.
Turning the clock back two years, to Turner’s last full season of play, the Pittsburgh product managed to be a relatively average slot receiver in the ACC. He ranked tied for 16th with 20 catches (33 targets) and 17th in yards with just 275 while failing to cross the goal line from the inside. His standing did improve to 12th, out of 24, for YPR (2.12) but even so, those numbers don’t exactly jump off the page.
Stoner did take about 50 percent of his snaps from the slot as a senior at Oklahoma State, but his numbers were rather underwhelming. On 30 targets, he managed 21 receptions, 177 yards, zero touchdowns, six first downs and an 85.0 passer rating. His targets and receptions were good enough to tie for 10th out of 22 qualifying Big 12 receivers, but the other figures came in around the 17 to 20 range. Also, the Cowboy’s 1.35 YPR was tied for 15th, so he was below average in just about every category.
In summary, it looks like Cole and Hall will be leaders to backup Renfrow heading into training camp.
Cole has shown some potential as a deep threat, most notably catching 54- and 40-yard bombs from Zach Wilson last season — but the wideout’s numbers in this area are underwhelming.
In 2020, he caught only five of 15 targets for 153 yards, one touchdown and an 88.8 passer rating on throws 20 or more yards past the line of scrimmage. That three-to-one target-to-catch ratio played a large role in an incredibly inefficient 9.56 YPR that ranked 75th out of 96 qualifying wide receivers. Granted, the quarterback play was unstable in Jacksonville but Cole’s lack of productivity continued into the following season as well.
With five deep receptions, he tied with the recently-traded Edwards for 44th among wideouts, ranked 54th in yards with 156, didn’t find the endzone and garnered only a 56.3 rating that was 72nd out of 90. For those curious, all of this came on 10 targets.
On the bright side, he did bring his YPR up to 15.6 (ranked 27th) and earned a 96.3 receiving grade (29th), so he was more efficient but still not very noteworthy.
Robinson is an interesting case study when it comes to deep threats. He hasn’t been able to draw many targets, just 16 in the last two seasons combined for six catches, but five have gone for touchdowns and he’s posted passer ratings of 106.0 and 128.6.
That’s an uncanny ability to score, however, he’s still not efficient with an 8.78 YPR (tied for 77th) and 91.3 receiving grade (75th) two years ago, and 12.29 (49th) and 94.5 (50th) this past season. And that’s all while playing with one of the best deep-ball throwers in the league. Who knows what to make of the former Chief as a down-field threat, but I’d argue some of those scores were more luck than skill based on the other figures.
Despite getting zero deep targets last year, Johnson was statistically one of the NFL’s best in 2020, just on a smaller sample size. He caught six of 11 targets for 263 yards, two touchdowns and a 139.2 rating. That earned him a 99.4 grade which was the fifth-best among wideouts and the third-highest YPR at 23.91.
Impressive numbers for someone who was potentially underutilized a year ago.
As for Hollins, he’s only managed nine deep targets, four catches, 162 yards and one score on deep balls in the last two seasons combined, so I wouldn’t expect him to have much of an impact in that department.
Moving on to the super rookies, Turner was a slightly above-average deep as a senior. His 19 targets and 10 catches were tied for seventh and tied for third among ACC receivers, while his 380 yards and three touchdowns were fourth and tied for fifth. However, that somewhat surprisingly only generated the 17th-best passer rating at 115.7.
The Pittsburgh product did manage to record the 10th-highest YPR with an even 20.00 and earn a 97.2 grade, the seventh-highest mark out of 48 qualifiers.
Stoner didn’t have quite as much volume — 13 targets, seven catches — and thus fewer yards — 247 — and one less touchdown, but did rank fairly high among Big 12 wide receivers. Those figures were good enough to tie for 10th, tie for third, fifth, and tie for seventh, respectively. He also posted a 138.6 passer rating when targeted which ranked second.
However, Turner had more competition as Stoner’s YPR and grade were lower — 19.07 and 97.0 — but the latter still managed to rank third and second in those two categories in his conference. The Cowboy also had the benefit of being one of eight qualifying receivers to play in 11 or more games in 2020, while the Panther was one of 19.
At Ball State, Hall wasn’t much of a deep threat. He didn’t get enough targets to qualify for any rankings two years ago, and last year he ranked tied for 21st in deep receptions (four) and 19th in yards (165) among MAC wideouts, so this hasn’t been a big part of his game.
Long story short, Johnson appears to be the favorite to be the field stretcher, but the competition is wide open.
Yards After Catch
Wide receivers creating yards after the catch has always been a key element of Josh McDaniels’ offense and is one area where Cole can stand out among his comrades.
In 2020, about 28.0 percent of his total yards (180) came with the ball in his hands, and he managed to put up 3.3 YAC per reception and force four missed tackles (MTF). The following year, the former Jet’s percentage, yardage and MTF dipped significantly — 18.7 percent, 84 and zero — but his average only fell to an even three.
Robinson was more impressive two years ago, with numbers of 38.2 percent, 178, 4.0 and six, but saw a bigger drop-off in 2021. That season, 64 or 24.2 percent of his yards were after the catch for a 2.6 YAC average and he only made one defender miss.
The running theme here is that Hollins doesn’t seem to stack up to the competition production-wise and that’s no different here. In the last two seasons respectively, 19.9 percent of his yards have been after the catch (35) with a 2.2 YAC per catch and zero missed tackles in one, and 19.3 percent, 64, 3.2 and three in the other.
Johnson hasn’t been much of a YAC threat either, since he wasn’t used much last year and only had 64 yards after the catch with the Chargers. Granted, he did force three missed tackles and average 3.2 YAC per reception in 2020.
The super rookies and rookies were different stories though as they did a lot of work after the catch in college.
Turner had 293 or 46 percent of his total yards come after the catch for a 6.7-yard average and nine MTF. The three latter figures ranked 12th, tied for 11th and tied for ninth among ACC wideouts two seasons ago.
While he wasn’t quite as successful, Stoner still managed to finish seventh in the Big 12 with 206 YAC. However, only about 36.0 percent of his total was with the ball in his hands and his 4.9-yard average ranked 21st while he also tied for 21st with just two MTF.
Then there’s Hall, who was a YAC King in the MAC. About 75.5 percent of his yards were after the catch in 2020, which gave him the most YAC in the conference (506) and the second-highest average (10.3). He also made 21 defenders miss which led MAC by 10.
For those curious, the Ball State product’s numbers above ranked fourth, fifth and tied for fourth, respectively, among all qualifying FBS wide receivers.
The next campaign wasn’t quite as impressive, but he still managed to post about a 63.7 percentage for 386 yards, 6.3 YAC per catch and 12 MTF, finishing seventh, eighth and tied for second in the last three categories.
This might be the biggest opportunity for the young bucks to make name for themselves.
Player Name: two-year contested-catch success rate
Keelan Cole: 12/25 (48%)
Demarcus Robinson: 3/9 (33.3%)
Mack Hollins: 6/11 (54.5%)
Tyron Johnson: 3/5 (60%)
To speed things along, we’ll keep the stats simple since winning and losing is the most significant stat that is specific to contested opportunities.
Finally, an area where Hollins has a leg up on the competition. He’ll especially have a chance to carve out a role as a 50/50 ball target with Edwards no longer in the picture this season. It was a little surprising to see Cole sit around the .500 mark but this could be another way in which he establishes himself as the No. 3 receiver. As for Johnson, could contested targets be yet another area he needs to see more action in?
Player Name: 2020 contested-catch success rate, rank in conference
DJ Turner: 5/15 (33.3%) t-36th
Dillon Stoner: 7/15 (46.7%) 13th
There’s a chance Stoner could fill a role here, but those numbers aren’t exactly eye-popping to suggest he’ll be fighting for jump balls as a pro. Turner is just 5’9” so it’s pretty reasonable to expect him not to be much of a contest catch threat.
Player Name: two-year contested-catch success rate
Justin Hall: 5/14 (35.7%)
Much like Turner, Hall is just a little guy who you can’t expect much from physically. His game is to create separation and be shifty after the catch.