The Raiders still have work to do shoring up their receiver corps and little salary-cap space to add veteran talent beyond Nelson Agholor. Don’t fret just yet.
They have significant NFL draft assets to add a top-tier pass catcher, maybe two, in this year’s draft. The Raiders enter April with the Nos. 12 and 19 overall selections, nothing in the second round and three in third. That’s three in the top 91, enough to make five impact selections or use them as trade assets to move around the board and get guys they really want.
There are quality options available early and later in what’s considered an extraordinary NFL draft class.
Fully expect the Raiders to mine it in late April.
NBC Sports Bay Area’s latest mock draft, from Josh Schrock and Dalton Johnson, has the Raiders using their first pick on a receiver. Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy was the selection, with the New York Jets nabbing Oklahoma’s CeeDee Lamb a selection earlier at No. 11. NFL.com’s latest mock draft has Lamb and Jeudy going in the same order.
Those two receivers are considered the draft’s top options -- Lamb's typically rated higher -- with Alabama's Henry Ruggs, LSU's Justin Jefferson, Arizona State's Brandon Aiyuk and Clemson's Tee Higgins often considered first-round-type talents.
If the Raiders draft plays as recent mocks suggest, the Raiders receiver corps would look like this:
Starters: Jerry Juedy, Tyrell Williams
Slot: Hunter Renfrow
Reserves: Nelson Agholor, Zay Jones [or Marcel Ateman]
That’s not too shabby, especially with Tyrell Williams back to full health and Renfrow proving a savvy option inside. Agholor and Jones have experience in reserve, which is key with younger players in the starting lineup. Jones didn’t build chemistry with Derek Carr following an in-season trade but should have another shot at it during the offseason program and training camp.
Juedy's a do-everything standout who has been universally praised during the pre-draft process.
This also assumes the Raiders don’t snag another receiver in later rounds, which they certainly could. Notre Dame’s Chase Claypool, USC’s Michael Pittman or Ohio State’s K.J. Hill could be options in the third round.
That looks like a solid depth chart on paper, but Raiders general manager Mike Mayock has been around the NFL draft long enough to know that even the best college receivers often don’t pan out in the pros. Even some that do struggle in their rookie seasons.
Receiver life can be hard in Jon Gruden’s offense especially, where they’re required to learn all three receiver spots.
Mayock gave three main reasons why receivers often struggle transitioning to the NFL game during a press conference at the NFL Scouting Combine. The full quote’s super long so we’ll paraphrase a bit, but Mayock cited the lack of quality press coverage in college and the fact receivers must adjust mentally after the snap in the pros, something they didn’t have to do in school.
“Why do guys not look as quick as they were in college? That’s the biggest telltale [of a tough NFL transition], because they’re confused,” Mayock said. “They don’t know where they’re going.”
Mayock's third reason is all mental.
“It’s just how much offense you have to absorb,” the GM said. “I’ve met with some of the college wideouts already this year, and what they’re doing, half of them are doing this (turning his head) pre-snap. They look over to the sideline, and they have their own individual coach telling them what route to run. Jon Gruden’s head would explode.
"You better get in there and get in the huddle, and you better learn three positions, not one. What he’s asking you to learn is mind-boggling, so those are the three main reasons why rookie wide receiver production isn’t where it should be in the NFL.”
That’s why signing Agholor was important, even if it was largely jeered by the fan base. The Raiders added a first-round talent, albeit with some drop issues and inconsistency, who knows the pro game and has experience required to play and start right away should a top receiving talent develop slower than the Raiders and their fans would like.
Free agency can glean impact, high-priced starters, fill out depth charts and form contingency plans that create freedom in the NFL draft. That last aim allows teams to follow their board and take the best players available without having to reach for needs.
Receiver is a glaring need that will be addressed in the draft when it fits best.
While skepticism is fair regarding unproven receivers in the draft, Mayock acknowledged that this draft class is super deep.
“The average over the last five years for wide receivers going in the first three rounds is between 12 and 13 a year,” Mayock said at the combine. “You can easily make an argument, from a grade perspective, that they’re 20-25 of those guys out there this year, and that’s from a grade perspective. I’m not saying 20-25 are going.
"So there’s depth throughout, and there’s quality up top. That’s what you’re looking for in class, and on paper today, in February, that’s what we see.”
If the Raiders mine gold from the receiver class, their offense should be as dynamic as any. They'd feature Williams, Renfrow and a draft pick, elite tight end Darren Waller and future Hall-of-Famer Jason Witten [who is well past his prime] and Josh Jacobs in the backfield.
That could make the Raiders an exciting group during their first season in Las Vegas.