CINCINNATI -- The Raiders started 2018 with an excellent receiver corps. On paper, anyway.
Amari Cooper was the No. 1 guy. Jordy Nelson added experience, leadership and just maybe more speed than people thought. Martavis Bryant was going to stretch the field. Ryan Switzer would be an ideal slot man. Seth Roberts was available in reserve.
Then the season began, and the whole thing fell apart.
Raiders coach Jon Gruden quickly grew tired of Switzer and shipped him to Pittsburgh. Bryant was cut before the regular season and then brought back, but he never got into the flow of Gruden’s offense.
Cooper controversially was traded to Dallas. Nelson’s knee got bruised.
The Raiders scrambled to fill spots, with weapons constantly rotating in and out around quarterback Derek Carr.
Gruden isn’t attached to any receiver still on the roster, meaning a complete reconstruction could be in store. They certainly need a new No. 1 receiver, and some help at most positions as the Raiders try to improve Carr’s supporting cast.
This offense can be dynamic with Gruden and Carr working well together, especially with weapons on the outside and in the slot.
Players likely to stay in 2019
Marcell Ateman: The seventh-round draft pick has had some big moments since being forced into action after the Amari Cooper trade. He hasn’t been great, and has a ton to learn about how to function in Gruden’s system, but there’s potential there. The Oklahoma State alum could be a productive red-zone target and someone who can make plays without blazing speed.
Dwayne Harris: He's an unrestricted free agent, but he could come back reasonably priced next year. He’s a solid return man. That’s valuable, even with so many kickoffs becoming touchbacks.
Keon Hatcher: He could stick around -- for training camp, at least -- and fight for a place on the 2019 53-man roster.
Players likely to go
Jordy Nelson: The veteran receiver is set to make $7.2 million in base salary and roster bonuses next season, though it isn’t guaranteed and there’s no dead money attached if he were to be cut.
Carr and Gruden have lauded Nelson’s locker-room presence, but they could get a younger, more dynamic receiver for that freight. They also have money to spare, so the Raiders could keep him around as a mentor and reliable presence in the clutch. It’s not a mortal lock, but it’s certainly possible Nelson will spend just one year in Silver and Black. Time will tell on this one.
Martavis Bryant: The talented receiver has ideal size and speed, but he never fit with Gruden or his offense. Gruden often criticized him in public and dubbed Bryant the “white tiger” for rarely being available on the practice field.
None of that matters more than Friday’s development, in which Bryant was suspended indefinitely by the NFL for violating the terms of his conditional reinstatement from a one-year ban as a repeat offender of the league’s substance abuse policy.
Gruden gave up a third-round pick for Bryant, a high price for a failed experiment.
Seth Roberts: He might not be here now, if not for having a guaranteed salary in 2018. Roberts was down on the depth chart until attrition brought him back. He still isn’t a heavily targeted option despite all these injuries, which is something to note. Roberts is set to make $4.45 million next year, but he could be cut free and clear. That contract might be too pricey for him to stick around, though Carr could use some continuity in the receiver room.
Brandon LaFell: The Raiders loved having LaFell around. He’s a consummate pro, someone with reliable hands who does all the little things right. I believe they would’ve brought him back, if not for him suffering a ruptured Achilles tendon in Week 11. It generally takes 11 calendar months to recover from such an injury, meaning he wouldn’t be ready until midseason 2019 at the earliest.
That puts him out of the running for an offseason deal.
Raiders potential offseason plan
Free agency: The Raiders have money to burn on this position, and should import at least one veteran presence to the group. A slot receiver couldn’t hurt, either.
One problem: The 2019 free agent receiver class stinks. There’s no truly dominant options available because teams don’t let dominant No. 1's walk. They don’t trade them either (cough, cough).
There should be some veteran options with high production potential, though. Golden Tate might be the biggest fish, even at age 30. He has several 1,000-yard seasons to his credit, is durable as heck and would step off the plane as the Raiders’ No. 1 receiver. His price will be high, but the contract length might not be that long.
Larry Fitzgerald seems like a player Gruden would simply love -- think of a post-49ers Jerry Rice in Silver and Black -- but Fitzgerald said this summer he’ll only play for the Cardinals.
The Raiders could use some funds on Donte Moncrief or Qunicy Enunwa, guys who could thrive with an accurate quarterback. Geronimo Allison is an intriguing young player, but he'll be a restricted free agent. It might not be worth overpaying to get him.
Draft: Unlike the free agent crop, the 2019 NFL draft class is loaded with quality receivers. There are so many good ones, value could be had outside the first round, where the Raiders could find a future No. 1 or a speed demon to stretch the field.
There’s some discrepancy among draft analysts about positional rankings, but Mississippi’s A.J. Brown often is considered the top talent.
The Raiders might be interested in N.C. State’s Kelvin Harmon, a tough receiver with quality hands and solid route running ability.
Stanford’s J.J. Arcega-Whiteside sounds like a Gruden-type receiver, a big-bodied player drawing Mike Evans comparisons.
Oklahoma’s Marquise Brown isn’t very big, but is a speed demon who can stretch the field and make dynamic plays. Opinions vary on N’Keal Harry, but he’s a big, reliable target who could be worth a high pick.
Bottom line: If the Raiders let most of their current receivers go as expected, they’ll need to retool the group with diverse skill sets to help Derek Carr move the chains and the ball downfield. They should sign a veteran, even if they keep Nelson, and draft one or two to improve a group that has fallen on hard times.