The Raiders receiver corps has undergone an overhaul. It started back in mid-March, when the Silver and Black acquired Jordy Nelson and cut Michael Crabtree the same day.
Head coach Jon Gruden didn’t stop there. He sought upgrades throughout the depth chart in a relentless pursuit -- Eric Decker and Ryan Grant made Alameda free-agent visits -- that continued through the NFL draft.
That's when he shipped a third-round pick to Pittsburgh for Martavis Bryant. Then he drafted Oklahoma State’s Marcel Ateman in the seventh. Ryan Switzer came west from Dallas just after that pick, acquired for defensive tackle Jihad Ward.
And, just like that, Gruden shook up the entire position group. It’s possible only Amari Cooper will be the only member of last year’s crew to survive this twister. A few more incumbents could make the cut, but nothing’s given now.
“We’ve got a competitive situation here at wide receiver,” Gruden said. “So I like that.”
Gruden loves the newest front-line addition. Bryant brings a new dimension to the Raiders offense, with raw speed to scare opposing defenses. He’s a big target who can be effective at all depths, and should draw attention that creates space for Cooper and Nelson.
Gruden knew that after covering Bryant in Pittsburgh many times as a broadcaster. Those facts are being reinforced over the last week working directly with him.
“Let me tell you, he brings a different dynamic,’ Gruden said.” He’s 6-foot-4 and he plays it. He’s 4.4- (second 40-yard dash) fast and he plays it. We just have to get him wired into the offense and Jordy Nelson’s experience and versatility has really been impressive that it’s allowed us to do some things in just a few days that is pretty cool. We like our receivers, and we think Martavis will make you think twice about doing some things.”
Barring injury, Cooper, Nelson and Bryant will be primary targets. That pushes Seth Roberts into a different role, and he’ll be challenged there, too. Switzer was an impactful college slot receiver, a major reason why Dallas used a fourth round pick on him last year. He was primarily a returner as a rookie, and never fit into Dallas’ offensive plans.
He’ll get a chance to earn an offensive role while working for a return job.
“I liked Switzer a lot at North Carolina,” Gruden said. “He’s a fourth-round draft choice. He was Mitch Trubisky’s go-to guy. (Washington head coach Jay Gruden) doesn’t like Switzer. He took an 83-yard punt home against him last year. That’s what he can do. We want a lot of competition for the punt returner job. Dwayne Harris is very good at it. Jalen Richard has done it before. Switzer is outstanding and can also return kickoffs. I think he’s got some nasty quickness in the slot.”
Harris should be part of the receiver corps, though primary focus will be on special teams. Ateman will battle for an offensive role with Roberts, Johnny Holton and Isaac Whitney, guys who played some last year. No spots are certain beyond the top three, and guys must be sure-handed, disciplined route runners to earn a remaining spot on this team.