For most analysts, a receiving corps needs to be full of high-round draft picks or expensive free-agent pickups. Since the Oakland Raiders have neither of these, they have often be thought to be inexperienced and ranked by many to be as the worst in the league. After watching the team from top to bottom compete in their first preseason game, I am willing to believe the Raiders’ receivers will step it up this season and greatly improve the Raiders’ offense from last year. Here’s a stab at my projected depth chart, along with a little bit of a background on why I believe that Reggie McKenzie may be the best GM in the league at finding wide receiver talent.
1. Rod Streater – An undrafted free agent out of Temple last season, Streater enjoyed a successful rookie campaign under Palmer. After starting off slow, Streater averaged over 70 yards a game in the month of December. Such a talent at receiver went undrafted mostly due to a lack of college stats, but Reggie found one stat that made Streater a high-priority player: Streater averaged over 21 yards a catch in college, very solid numbers since he only had 19 catches all year. This kind of big-play potential carried over into the NFL, as he averaged 19.3 yards per catch in his big-month December. Training camp and OTA news has shown that Streater should be the top target this year for the Raiders, even surpassing Moore, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see Streater as a breakout candidate for this season.
2. Denarius Moore – Moore was drafted in the fifth round of Al Davis’ final draft, so this one is actually thanks to Mr. Davis moreso than Reggie. After a stellar rookie season, including a 123-yard, 2 TD game against the Bills in just his second game, Moore seemed to struggle a bit in his second year. His target-to-catch ratio was a bit concerning, as Moore didn’t have a single game all season with over five receptions, and he seemed to run a lot more incorrect routes than in his first season. Still, Moore is the most well-known, and arguably the biggest-play, receiver that the Raiders have. McKenzie believed in him over DHB and let the former first-round pick walk to the Colts, and it seems like he has responded well. Developments throughout camp have been mostly positive, although Moore had been called out by DA early in camp, and he opened the preseason with a solid 19-yard catch from Flynn. Keep an eye on Moore throughout the preseason, but I believe he will iron out some of his inconsistencies and be a very strong deep-threat receiver.
3. Brice Butler – This is a projection, but I believe that the Raiders’ first-game preseason star may have earned himself a very solid roster spot. Butler is a prime example of Reggie’s drafting expertise at the receiver position. He got buried in the USC depth chart in 2009-2011, with his strongest season being a 20-catch, 292-yard rookie season, before moving to San Diego State. The move didn’t prove to help his draft stock much as he caught 24 passes for 347 yards and 4 TD’s, but Reggie still saw a big-play receiving threat. At 6’3”, 205 lbs, Butler is one of the biggest receivers that the Raiders has. He has enjoyed perhaps one of the best training camps of any of the young and unproven Raiders, and his play showed with a dominant drive in the preseason game against the Cowboys. After a strong 40-yard catch, Butler laid out for perhaps the best catch of the preseason on a finger-tip dive into the endzone from Matt McGloin. Although it’s hard to project a raw receiver such as Butler, it has to be a pleasant surprise for a 7th-round flier to be so ready to play. Reggie needs his first full draft class to be successful, and if Butler’s play is any indication, it is incredibly possible that he can contribute to some degree in the upcoming season.
4. Juron Criner – Reggie’s 5th-round pick last year (see a trend with this receiving corps?), Criner was perhaps the best example of unfulfilled training camp hype. He made acrobatic catch after acrobatic catch in camp, but was limited to just six games with about 20 receiving yards, one TD, and one two-point conversion in a blowout loss to the Saints. At this point, it may be safe to project Criner as a #4 receiver used mostly in the redzone, as he is still a 6’3”, 220 lb receiver with very soft hands and solid short-range ability. He is perhaps the slowest receiver on the Raiders, though, which means that his yards after catch is much more limited than any other receiver on the roster. However, this isn’t to say that he is incapable of big plays; just watch last season’s preseason matchup with Pryor at QB, where Criner pulled in a 39-yard TD bomb and a 76-yard TD on his only two catches. The talent is there, and his number will be called in the season.
5. Jacoby Ford – Jacoby is the first receiver on the depth chart that stands a legitimate chance of being cut before the regular season. Memories of his 4 kickoff returns for TD’s and his 148-yard dominance of the Chiefs still ring in most Raiders’ fans ears, but it is hard to ignore that he missed half of the following season and all of last season to injury. He hasn’t been able to practice much this offseason, albeit with different injuries, but he obviously can still be a weapon if he returns to form. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Ford start the season primarily as a kick returner before eventually sliding back into the receiving corps, but he still has to get healthy first. He can be a valuable weapon, but he has missed a lot of development time throughout the years because of his injury. He is perhaps the biggest question mark on the Raiders’ roster.
6. Andre Holmes – Holmes is the first receiver on this depth chart that has been on any other team, further showing Reggie’s ability to handcraft his own team. On raw ability, Holmes could perhaps pass Criner as the 4th best receiver on the team, but his 4-game suspension for PED’s puts his roster spot in serious question. In spite of the suspension, though, Holmes has been making a very good impression on the Raiders. He has been a very consistent and very tough receiver, but unfortunately, he just hasn’t made enough of a lasting impact to stay with any team. His suspension seems to be the main thing standing between him and a roster spot, so more solid preseason action and acrobatic training camp catches could solidify him a spot on the roster. If he makes it, the 6’4” receiving monster could make an impact on the field.
7. Connor Vernon – Vernon is a legitimate threat to Jacoby Ford’s role as the slot receiver for the Raiders. He is the ACC all-time career receptions leader and is an incredibly strong underneath option. He earned recognition right away in OTA’s, despite being another undrafted free agent, and has since pushed into competition for a roster spot. He isn’t particularly flashy at all, but on a roster full of flashy, huge receivers, a solid underneath option could do the Raiders wonders. His huge college success should at least translate in some degree to the NFL, but unless he has a strong preseason to distinguish himself, he may be a roster cut.
With Cribbs listed exclusively at kick and punt returner for the Raiders, I believe it is unlikely that he sees the field at receiver except in select situations. I included a sixth and seventh receiver spot to show that Ford does indeed have competition for his spot in all aspects of the game. While he may have a hold on that fifth spot so far, it is possible that his spot on the roster isn’t completely secure.