Raiders

NFL rumors: Patriots players, coaches would welcome Antonio Brown back

NFL rumors: Patriots players, coaches would welcome Antonio Brown back

In the NFL, as long as you can play, you will be welcomed back no matter your past transgressions (unless you're Colin Kaepernick). It appears that rule, one as old as time, also applies to Antonio Brown.

The former Raiders and Patriots receiver has been out of the NFL since New England released him prior to Week 3, but the star receiver's time in New England might not be over, as players and coaches would welcome the four-time All-Pro back to New England, CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora reported Sunday morning, citing league sources. 

Per La Canfora, the decision ultimately will be made by owner Robert Kraft, who Brown insulted following his release. The six-time Pro Bowler later apologized to Kraft and the Patriots in a tweet, but it's unclear how that message was received. 

Brown's former trained Britney Taylor filed a federal civil lawsuit against the receiver alleging he sexually assaulted her on three separate occasions. Brown also sent threatening text messages to an anonymous woman who told Sports Illustrated the receiver made unwanted sexual advances towards her. After those texts came to light, the Patriots cut ties with Brown. 

The NFL still is investigating Brown's misconduct and while no team is prohibited from signing him, most clubs would like to wait until a decision on Brown's future has been made before bringing him into the building.

[RELATED: AB's swift release highlights true nature of Patriot Way]

From a Patriots perspective, Brady and the offense have struggled in recent weeks. Julian Edelman, Mohamed Sanu and Phillip Dorsett have been banged up, while Josh Gordon was released and later signed with the Seahawks.

Brown and Brady were on the same page during his lone game with the Patriots, and there's no doubt the 42-year-old would like to have a dynamic weapon as he looks to win his seventh Super Bowl.

Even if Brown returns to the NFL this season, it won't be to wear Silver and Black after he burned every bridge imaginable on his way out and then asked quarterback Derek Carr to send the Rolex Brown gave him to Brady.

NFL Draft 2020: Fifteen Prospects for Raiders to watch at Senior Bowl

NFL Draft 2020: Fifteen Prospects for Raiders to watch at Senior Bowl

Last year, Jon Gruden, Mike Mayock and the Raiders' coaching staff got a close look at a number of prospects who eventually would don silver and black while coaching at the Reese's Senior Bowl.

The Raiders won't be coaching this year, with their 7-9 record keeping them from the not-so-prestigious honor that is given to the Cincinnati Bengals and the Detroit Lions this season.

After hitting a home run with the 2019 draft class, Gruden and Mayock are looking to stack classes and fill some of their gaping holes via the 2020 NFL Draft. 

While they won't be coaching in Mobile, Ala., this week, the Raiders still will be hyper-focused on the talent at the Senior Bowl, of which there is a lot that could help the Raiders next season.

Yes, probable high draft picks Justin Herbert (QB, Oregon), Terrell Lewis (EDGE/LB, Alabama), Kristian Fulton (CB, LSU) and Javon Kinlaw (DT, South Carolina) all will be present at the Senior Bowl. And yes, all could intrigue the Raiders. But since the smart money is on Gruden selecting a wide receiver and a linebacker in the first round, we will spend this time focusing on some likely Day 2 and Day 3 guys.

Wide receivers

The Raiders need to select multiple receivers in the 2020 draft. I expect they'll grab either Clemson's Tee Higgins or Alabama's Henry Ruggs in Round 1 (CeeDee Lamb would be nice, but I don't expect he'll be available.) One receiver won't do it, though, and the Senior Bowl has a number of veteran pass-catchers who figure to be available later in the draft.

Michael Pittman Jr., USC: At 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, Pittman is a big-body receiver with bear paws for hands. He's a physical receiver and uses that to his advantage. Pittman has got a good catch radius and is a sufficient route-runner, but he lacks the ability to separate at the top of the route and isn't a dynamic catch-and-run guy. He'd be a solid Day 2 grab.

Brandon Aiyuk, Arizona State: He'll likely start to shoot up draft boards (we have him mocked to the 49ers with the last pick in the first round), but Aiyuk brings all the tools you want in a wide receiver. He has good hands with great after-the-catch ability. Likely won't be there, but he's one to watch.

Chase Claypool, Notre Dame: As my colleague Dalton Johnson noted, Claypool is a touchdown machine. The 6-foot-4, 229-pound athletic marvel has great hands, is an efficient route-runner and is great in contested catch situations. Drafting him would give the Raiders a jump-ball threat if they choose to move on from Tyrell Williams. 

Jauan Jennings, Tennessee: At 6-foot-3, 208 pounds, Jennings has prototypical NFL size. He led the Volunteers with 57 catches for 942 yards and nine scores. Questions about his character likely will make him slide, but a good showing in Mobile will help his case. 

Collin Johnson, Texas: Size, size, size. Johnson is 6-foot-6, 220 pounds and a lethal red-zone threat. Great at attacking the ball at the high point while maintaining control of his body.

K.J. Hill, Ohio State: Hill doesn't have the breakaway speed you'd like, but he's solid sub package wide receiver with great hands and polished route-running ability. Definitely, someone for the Raiders to watch.


Edge rushers

Marlon Davidson, Auburn: A Day 2 pick with a specific skill set, Davidson has impressive strength and uses his hands well which allows him to win at the point of attack. Great at keeping runs inside. Not a game-changing rusher, but someone to watch.

Jabari Zuniga, Florida: Zuniga is a versatile edge defender who has a powerful first step and strong hands that have destroyed tackles at the collegiate level. His lateral quickness and wingspan make him a good run defender as well.

Kenny Willekes, Michigan State: Willekes has an insanely high motor and is ultra-competitive. He's the type of player Gruden would love to add to the DL rotation. He is a good run defender and has a solid array of pass-rush moves. Needs to get stronger, but has a high-floor.

Bradlee Anae, Utah: Anae is quick and has good hands. He's a versatile guy who can rush the passer from an up or down position.

Secondary

K'Von Wallace, Clemson: Another Clemson guy? Why not? The Raiders need another safety alongside Johnathan Abram, and Wallace comes from the winning-factory in Death Valley. Wallace is a high-IQ player who played all over the secondary at Clemson. He's most successful as a roamer. At 5-foot-11 his lack of size could be an issue covering downfield at the NFL level, but I wouldn't be shocked to see the Raiders go here.

Linebacker

Malik Harrison, Ohio State: The Raiders need an answer at middle linebacker and Harrison might be the guy. He's a physical thumper in the run game. Coverage ability needs some work, but Harrison should intrigue Mayock and Gruden.

[RELATED: Raiders should follow draft blueprint, raid LSU-Clemson]

Defensive tackle

Leki Fotu, Utah: A late Day 2/early Day 3 guy, Fotu is perfect for a team that needs to create more pressure up the middle. He's an explosive player with great hands. At the moment. he's a rotational piece but could become a starter in time.

Davon Hamilton, Ohio State: At 6-foot-4, 310 pounds, Hamilton is a mountain of a man. He's a smart player who was productive even when facing constant double teams at Ohio State. To beef up the defensive line, the Raiders should look at Hamilton.

Kicker

Rodrigo Blankenship, Georgia: The Raiders almost certainly won't move on from Daniel Carlson, but if they do, Blankenship could be an option in the late rounds or as an undrafted rookie. He has a big leg and was very reliable during his time at Georgia.

Raiders’ Senior Bowl experience was vital to excellent 2019 NFL draft

Raiders’ Senior Bowl experience was vital to excellent 2019 NFL draft

The Raiders took their entire football operation down south this time last year to coach the Senior Bowl’s North squad.

That’s a luxury afforded to terrible teams from the NFL season that just concluded, and the 4-12 Raiders certainly were one. The provided an up-close look at some of the NFL draft’s finest prospects available throughout the selection process.

The Raiders got to see how players work in practice and pay attention in meetings, with an opportunity to swap squads – the 49ers coached the South – on the practice week’s final day.

Head coach Jon Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock got a great evaluation of every Senior Bowl prospect.

That week in Mobile, Ala., turned out to be an information gold mine. They learned to love a lot of those prospects and capitalized on opportunities to acquire them in the NFL draft or shortly after.

The Raiders drafted four Senior Bowl participants and signed three more after the amateur selection process.

“Coaching and being there really helped us a lot,” general manager Mike Mayock said after the NFL draft. “It really is a big deal to be involved in that game.”

The Raiders certainly hope this Senior Bowl week bears fruit, albeit with a lot less access to the prospects. They’ll send a slightly smaller contingent to this important evaluation week, though the Silver and Black still will canvas this group from stands over the sidelines. Practices start Tuesday, beginning a three-day stretch that’s more important than the All-Star Game itself.

Last year’s close-up look ended up putting several participants in silver and black.

The Raiders got Mississippi State safety Johnathan Abram in the first round, LSU tight end Foster Moreau and Houston cornerback Isaiah Johnson in the fourth and Clemson receiver Hunter Renfrow in the fifth. Then, they signed Wisconsin fullback Alec Ingold, Notre Dame linebacker Te’von Coney and UC Davis receiver Keelan Doss as undrafted free agents.

Everyone save Coney spent most of the year on the 53-man roster and many of them made a major impact on the 2019 Raiders.

Those guys should be an even greater part of the 2020 squad, with Abram expected to rejoin the starting lineup after he underwent season-ending shoulder after Week 1, and optimism is high after what was essentially a lost season for Johnson after he suffered a preseason facial fracture.

Renfrow developed into a major player, and even Ingold became a reliable blocker and short-yardage back. Moreau was a touchdown machine in his first season, forming a promising tight-end duo with breakout star Darren Waller.

The Raiders preferred Senior Bowl participants last year, and this practice week is something vital to pre-NFL draft evaluation. The Raiders have five selections in the top 92, broken down into two first-round picks and three more in the third down.

[RELATED: Raiders' Gruden, Mayock at East-West Shrine Bowl practice]

Last year the Raiders favored players from either championship college programs or Senior Bowl participants, with rare exceptions. There’s no telling if that’ll be the case again this year, but Senior Bowl game and practice film is a vital piece of the evaluation process.

“Everybody will tell you they look at the Senior Bowl practice tape, the Senior Bowl game film over and over and over,” Gruden said last year. “You watch the matchups over and over and over.

“I remember doing it with [late Raiders owner/GM Al Davis]. He would put the Senior Bowl on for the 44th time and I would say, ‘how many more times are we going to watch that game?’ There’s tremendous value in it. It’s a great tool and provides great matchups you would never see if you didn’t come here.”