The Raiders needed a receiver heading into the 2014 season but didn’t even blink taking Khalil Mack at No. 5 overall. They nailed the pick, bringing in an elite edge rusher that gave them four excellent seasons and then two first-round picks in trade with the Chicago Bears.
They were also sky-high on Texas A&M’s Mike Evans back then, and that would’ve been a solid alternative option should that draft have gone differently. In fact, it was hard to miss on first-round receivers in 2014, a gold mine for the position that gleaned some truly elite talents.
Sammy Watkins was the first receiver gone at No. 4, and while his career in Buffalo never took off, he found his way in Kansas City. Evans was next at No. 7, with Odell Beckham at No. 12 and Brandin Cooks at No. 20. Kelvin Benjamin was the first round’s last receiver at No. 28, and while he has been so-so lately, he had nearly 2,000 in his first two seasons.
That group has proven excellent, with Evans, Beckham and Cooks currently ranking among the league’s best.
Taking receivers early, however, hasn’t played out well since. Raiders general manager Mike Mayock was NFL Network’s preeminent draft analyst prior to taking his current gig and knows 2014 was an outlier compared to recent years.
“I would argue there are just as many misses up top at wide receiver as there are at quarterback,” Mayock said at the NFL Scouting Combine, “if you look at the numbers and look at the first-round picks.”
Outside the Raiders taking Amari Cooper fourth overall in 2015, the first-round receiver choices have mostly all been mistakes. It’s hard to find a true No. 1 receiver in the group (you can see the full list below). Cooper’s the only first-round receiver in the last five drafts to reach the Pro Bowl, though Carolina’s D.J. Moore (No. 28 overall in 2018) has been really good his first two professional seasons.
Top tier receivers have come later, with Michael Thomas (New Orleans Saints) a second-round pick in 2016, JuJu Smith-Schuster (Pittsburgh Steelers) a second-rounder in 2017 and Cooper Kupp (Los Angeles Rams) a third-rounder that same year. Tyreek Hill was a 2016 fifth-round pick by Kansas City, through baggage dropped his stock.
Even last year’s most productive rookie receivers, Deebo Samuel (49ers), A.J. Brown (Tenessee Titans), D.K. Metcalf (Seattle Seahawks) and Terry McLaurin (Washington) came after the first round.
The point in saying all that is to say this: There’s a buyer beware element to taking a receiver in the first round. The Raiders understand that well. They’ve taken Cooper and Hall of Famer Tim Brown in the first round. That’s also where they selected Darrius Heyward-Bey.
There’s no telling exactly what Mayock and head coach Jon Gruden will do in this draft, but receiver is the Raiders' most glaring need and the position’s 2020 draft class has great talent and depth. It’s expected the Silver and Black will take at least one receiver in this draft, likely with one of two first-round picks.
We outlined the receiver prospects extensively on Tuesday, with prospect breakdowns and options for the Raiders picks at Nos. 12 and 19. We went over possibilities on the draft’s second and third days.
The recent past shouldn’t be held against this draft’s top tier, with CeeDee Lamb and Jerry Jeudy viewed as sure things and Henry Ruggs a truly explosive talent. Justin Jefferson has hands like glue and the tightly grouped first-/second-round tweeners have a lot to like about them.
We won’t know for a while if this group turns out like 2014 or the five years since, though the potential for steady production’s certainly there.
“The average over the last five years for wide receivers going in the first three rounds is 12, between 12 and 13 a year,” Mayock said. “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.”
Ultimately, though, it’s about the individual selected and the scheme fit and chemistry with the quarterback that will determine if the Raiders make the right choice when taking a receiver.
Ruggs has great upside and unmatched physical gifts but might be the biggest risk-reward selection of the elite trio. Jefferson doesn’t seem to make sense for the Raiders, considering his best years were in the slot and Hunter Renfrow already mans that post for the Silver and Black. Recent injury history could also be troubling and easily avoided in a class this deep.
While we can look at tape and see who fared well in school, football smarts are also vital in Gruden’s offense and could help with an often-difficult transition to the pros from receivers often schemed open and told what to do pre-snap by college coaches.
If the Raiders go receiver in the first round as expected, can they buck recent trends and find a top-tier guy early? That will be key to shoring up a position that needs an instant impact player from this draft.
Here’s the complete list of first-round receivers from the last five years. It’s not an inspiring group:
No. 25: Marquise Brown, Oklahoma (Ravens)
No. 32 N’Keal Harry, Arizona State (Patriots)
No. 24: D.J. Moore, Maryland (Panthers)
No. 26: Calvin Ridley, Alabama (Falcons)
No. 5: Corey Davis, Western Michigan (Titans)
No. 7: Mike Williams, Clemson (Chargers)
No. 9: John Ross, Washington (Bengals)
No. 15: Corey Coleman, Baylor (Browns)
No. 21: Will Fuller, Notre Dame (Texans)
No. 22: Josh Doctson, TCU (Washington)
No. 23: Laquon Treadwell, Mississippi (Vikings)
No. 4: Amari Cooper, Alabama (Raiders)
No. 7: Kevin White, West Virginia (Bears)
No. 14: DeVante Parker, Louisville (Dolphins)
No. 20: Nelson Agholor, USC (Eagles)
No. 26: Breshad Perriman, Central Florida (Ravens)
No. 29: Philip Dorsett, Miami (Colts)