It’s time to catch the wide receivers in part eight of this 10-part series previewing the Raiders’ training camp roster.
The top of the wide receivers group is about as clear as day for the Raiders, who figure to have four spots sealed up. The last spot or so will take some work.
The Raiders have taken an interesting approach with this position. They’ve invested high on two players — No. 4 pick Amari Cooper and last year’s free agent Michael Crabtree. The remaining wide receivers are all undrafted free agents, two of which could already be called success stories.
The Raiders will have basically the same receiving corps in tact. Of the 373 passes they completed last season, players who caught 372 of them are still on the roster. Rod Streater’s one reception is all that departed.
That’s good news for Derek Carr and the offense. It’s not as good news for the seven receivers not named Cooper, Crabtree, Seth Roberts or Andre Holmes who will try to make this roster.
Amari Cooper’s rookie season saw him targeted 130 times and catch 72 passes for 1,070 yards and six touchdowns. He set Raiders’ rookie records and was the first Raiders receiver since Randy Moss in 2005 to top 1,000 yards receiving. He did all that despite a foot injury late in the year that had him relegated to a decoy for the final five games. (It’s no coincidence Carr’s performance tailed off significantly those final five games too).
Expectations are big for Cooper now that he’s healthy and more prepared for the grind of his second NFL season. Early indications show he and Carr to be even more on the same page this year.
Michael Crabtree’s first season in Oakland was enough to get him a four-year extension. He led the team with 85 catches (on 146 targets) and nine touchdowns and added 922 receiving yards. The reception and touchdown totals matched his career highs. The yardage was the second most of Crabtree’s career, which began with the 49ers as the No. 10 pick in 2009.
Crabtree quickly developed a strong relationship with Carr and consistently spews praise his way. The trio of Carr, Cooper and Crabtree (we can’t call them the Killer C’s, can we?) has the makings of a dominant one.
In the case of receivers, the non-starters are more than simply depth. They can decide games.
Seth Roberts caught a pair of game-winning touchdowns last year. Andre Holmes made his 14 receptions count, with four of them going for touchdowns. They both bring something different to the table too.
Roberts, a practice squader in 2014 who caught 32 passes for 480 yards and five scores in his first season, brings speed. He’s also, at a young age, shown a good ability to shake off a mistake and quickly atone for it.
Holmes had to adapt to a new role last year as a No. 3/4 receiver. He led the team the year before with 693 receiving yards. (Right there is an example of how much the receiving corps improved). The benefits are that one of Carr’s secondary options is a guy he spent a ton of time throwing to as a rookie. And Holmes’ 6-foot-5 frame makes him a good red zone option, which is one reason nearly one-third of his catches were touchdowns.
The Raiders figure to keep five wide receivers on the 53-man roster, with another sitting on the practice squad. That means for the seven remaining wide receivers — all UDFAs — on the roster, there are probably one two spots.
In numerical order, let’s look at them:
Joe Hansley, a UDFA from Colorado State, is a slot receiver/returner type at just 5-9, 168. He had 136 career receptions in college for 1,842 yards and 12 touchdowns. But he made his hay as a punt returner, averaging 12.7 per return for his career with three touchdowns. The fifth receiver spot should go to a guy with return value, so he has a shot.
Nathan Palmer is the only non-rookie. The 5-foot-11, 200-pounder desperately needs another NFL reception. He caught one pass in 2012 for the Colts for minus-4 yards. Nobody wants to finish their career in the red. He’s bounced around to too many practice squads to name and at 27, he has to be feeling the pressure to stick with a team.
Johnny Holton averaged 27.1 yards per reception last year, but played in just seven games due to a hamstring injury for Cincinnati and caught only 17 balls. He has a lot of kick return experience, but nothing particularly dynamic (45 returns for 942 yards, 20.9 average).
Marvin Hall is a 5-10, 190-pound speedster who ran a hand-timed 4.28 40-yard dash at Washington’s pro day. He doesn’t have a ton of college numbers, with just 25 catches for 409 yards and one touchdown over four years. He also did some kick and punt return.
Jaydon Mickens was Hall’s teammate at Washington and was productive there, with 203 career receptions for 2,187 yards and 12 scores. He also had three rushing touchdowns and returned kicks as a freshman.
K.J. Brent could almost pass for Rod Streater. He’s wearing the same number (80) and fills the uniform up almost identically. The former South Carolina and Wake Forest receiver caught 42 passes for 583 yards and a touchdown in his senior year at Wake Forest.
Max McCaffrey is the last of the receivers currently competing. He turned down an offer from his dad’s Broncos to join the Raiders because he liked the opportunity here. He was solid in college at Duke, with 117 career catches for 1,341 yards. That includes his 52-catch, 643-yards, 5-touchdown senior season.