By Jerry McDonald - NFL Writer
Thursday, February 25th, 2010 at 2:24 pm in Oakland Raiders.
Third in a series analyzing Raiders position groups with scouts and coaches in Indianapolis for the scouting combine:
Starters: Chaz Schilens, Darrius Heyward-Bey. Backups: Louis Murphy, Johnnie Lee Higgins, Todd Watkins, Javon Walker, Nick Miller, Shaun Bodiford, Paul Hubbard, Yamon Figurs.
Review: How does 99 catches for 1,363 yards and seven touchdowns grab you?
Sounds like an off year for Jerry Rice in his prime, given the touchdowns.
Actually, that’s the production of the Raiders entire wide receivers corps over the entire 2009 season.
The good news was a promising rookie season from fourth-round draft pick Murphy (34 receptions, 521 yards, four touchdowns), and a solid half-season from second-year wideout Schilens (29 catches, 365 yards, two touchdowns) after recovering from a broken metatarsal which cost him the first eight games.
The rest of the wide receivers struggled, most notably Heyward-Bey, who had nine catches, 124 yards, one touchdown and missed the last five games with a foot injury. The Raiders stubbornly kept starting him even though his production was minimal. It didn’t help that Heyward-Bey’s absence came once JaMarcus Russell left the lineup as well, because Russell and DHB had zero chemistry.
Higgins wasn’t nearly as effective in Year 2, either as a receiver or return specialist and seemed to be gunshy for weeks after being flattened by San Diego’s Eric Weddle in the opener. Watkins caught eight passes for 90 yards in limited playing time.
Two roster spots were essentially wasted _ Walker was active for only three games and failed to catch pass and Nick Miller remained on the 53-man roster until the tail end of the season before finally going on injured reserve following a broken tibia sustained late in training camp.
Contract status: No free agents at the position. Walker is guaranteed $2.3 million this season whether he’s on the roster or not in the last year of his restructured deal.
What’s next: Schilens was the Raiders best offensive player in training camp before being hurt and the hope is what he showed in his half-season only scratches the surface of what he can accomplish. Murphy turned out to be a much more fluid and natural receiver than Heyward-Bey but must learn to keep his emotions under control.
The hope for Heyward-Bey is he would be a Willie Gault type threat on the outside, a quick-strike artist who would also clear out areas for others. It’s a huge offseason for him to be that player, one of offensive coordinator Hue Jackson’s tasks will be to get him involved in the offense and improve his confidence.
Higgins can be an effective receiver if used on quick throws and bubble screens but was underutilized in that way last season with the coaching staff seemingly losing confidence in him. Watkins is an end-of-the-roster type who probably won’t ever make a big contribution.
Hard to know what the Raiders are thinking for Walker and Miller, although cutting Walker this year with $2.3 million left to pay might be more palatable than doing it last year when he had $4.6 million to go. The Raiders were actually lining Miller up in the backfield and doing some creative things with him before the injury, but only they know why he never went on injured reserve.
This group has enough young wideouts and is in need of an established veteran receiver, but unfortunately, two of the most notable veterans available _ Terrell Owens and Antonio Bryant _ probably aren’t players you’d want serving as mentors to Schilens, Murphy and Heyward-Bey.
One name to watch _ Baltimore’s Derrick Mason is 36 years old but had 73 receptions for 1,028 yards and seven touchdowns. Perhaps Jackson can sell him on being a productive mentor in Oakland. He’s said he’s not interested in a one-year contract with the Ravens.