Raiders receivers finally finding stability after substantial changes

Raiders receivers finally finding stability after substantial changes

ALAMEDA -- Hunter Renfrow made the Raiders' initial 53-man roster with five other receivers. Only two of them remain.

Tyrell Williams and Dwayne Harris, primarily a return man, have been with the Clemson product this whole season, but have missed a combined six games dealing with injuries.

Renfrow is the only Raiders receiver who has played every game this season, seeing his position group turn over significantly. The primary slot receiver has lined with myriad combinations flanking him as the Raiders have cycled through options.

The Raiders cut Antonio Brown for insubordination, Ryan Grant for ineffectiveness and J.J. Nelson for unavailability. They re-signed Keelan Doss and promoted Marcell Ateman from the practice squad to account for injuries and transactional losses. They then traded for Trevor Davis and Zay Jones in an attempt to remodel the position in-season.

The receivers have found some stability after all that chaos. Williams is healthy again, Davis and Jones are generally up to speed and Renfrow is growing into a reliable target.

“There has been so much turnover, starting with all the AB here and all the stuff that transpired with that,” Renfrow said earlier this week. “We had a whole different receiver room this offseason. For me, it has been cool because I have been able to learn from so many different people. I try to take a little bit from everybody.

“But I’m excited about this group. We may not all be well known, but I think we have a great chance to go prove ourselves and show that we can be steadily productive. I love that type of challenge. I expect us to rise to the occasion.”

Renfrow’s right. The group is unheralded but can be effective with a diversity of talent all looking for something to prove.

Williams is the big body wanting to show he’s a true No. 1. Jones is shifty, wanting to prove efficient and reliable. Davis is the track star trying to show he's worthy of steady play and increased targets. Renfrow’s the possession guy, showing he’s more than just a college-level star.

There’s drive within the group. Time will tell if it’s good enough to complete an offense that is solid up front, with excellent tight ends and a star running back.

At this point, there is competition among the receivers as everyone battles to make an impact. The Raiders were trotting out a skeleton crew during the transition to this group. Now, it’s deep enough where guys must earn their role.

“Every day we’re fighting,” Davis said. “We have a lot of guys here who have played and contributed in games. Every week we’re competing to get those reps and those game-day opportunities. That just makes our team better.”

Receivers coach Edgar Bennett deserves some credit for getting this group back on its feet. While head coach Jon Gruden and offensive coordinator Greg Olson play a role getting new receivers ready, Bennett and quality control coach Nick Holz spent countless hours getting Davis and Jones prepared to play within the Raiders' scheme.

Davis was the first to go through the crash course, regularly showing up in pre-dawn hours for individual tutoring sessions before the team reported for the day’s work.

“He’s keen on details,” Davis said of Bennett. “Right when I got here, he was right there with me before the sun came up, teaching me all the details of this playbook. That’s how he is. If I ever want to come in early, he’ll be there. 6 a.m. or 6 p.m., it doesn’t matter. He has been instrumental to getting us through this period with new guys coming in.”

The Raiders have moved the ball well despite receiver turnover, with Carr often throwing to guys he had barely met or rarely targeted to before a given game. That reached a head last week against the Green Bay Packers when Davis and Renfrow were primary targets and Doss and Ateman were called into the action.

Williams’ return to health and the Jones trade has raised the talent level and brought stability to the group that should remain intact -- the Raiders passed on the chance to claim Josh Gordon off waivers Friday -- as they traverse the season’s second half.

[RELATED: Incognito among Raiders to watch, no matter where he plays]

Being strapped can be viewed as a positive now, with greater experience and depth to weather future storms should they come.

“It was good for us as a team and the receiver group especially,” Renfrow said. “It’s not like we didn’t have enough bodies. We were just running out young, unproven guys. That experience helps with depth so, if somebody goes down later in the year, we’re ready and have no dropoff.”

NFL rumors: Donald Trump says season should start on time despite coronavirus

NFL rumors: Donald Trump says season should start on time despite coronavirus

President Donald Trump held a call with the commissioners of major American sports leagues Saturday, and offered a prediction for the upcoming NFL season.

Trump told NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and the other members on the call that the NFL season should start on time despite the coronavirus outbreak, ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski and Adam Schefter reported. Trump reportedly told the commissioners that he expects arenas and stadiums to be filled come August and September, according to Wojnarowski and Schefter.

However, it's currently unclear if public health officials agree with Trump's prediction. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases as well as a lead member of the White House's coronavirus taskforce, told Warriors star Steph Curry that sports only can return once the country as a whole has turned the corner with the outbreak and the medical system no longer is under strain. Then it will be easier to identify cases, and the cities won't be overwhelmed.

It is unknown when sports will return and how it will look when they do.

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While Trump's optimism might lift some spirits, it will be up to public health officials to determine when it is safe for sports to begin and be held with fans in attendance. With many epidemiologists expecting the virus to surge in the fall, the NFL's season could be in jeopardy.

While all major sports currently are on pause, the NFL is planning to start the season on schedule and hold games as normal with fans in attendance.

The NBA suspended its season indefinitely after Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19 on March 11. The NHL, MLB, PGA Tour and MLS all followed suit, with the NCAA choosing to cancel the men's and women's tournaments altogether.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver reportedly said on the call that his league would love to "lead the way" in jumpstarting the economy but they only can do so once they are told by public health officials that it is safe.

[RELATED: Raiders reportedly eyeing DT at No. 19 in draft]

Trump reportedly also brought up the idea of the leagues lobbying for a tax credit that used to exist for fans. This credit would allow fans to deduct concessions and ticket prices from their taxes, according to Schefter and Wojnarowski.

The call included commissioners and top executives from the NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, MLS, WNBA, WWE, PGA Tour, LPGA, UFC, IndyCar and Breeders' Cup, according to a White House pool report.

As of Saturday, there were more than 270,000 cases of coronavirus in the United States and more than 7,000 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and NBC News reporting.

NFL draft rumors: Raiders expected to take defensive tackle in Round 1

NFL draft rumors: Raiders expected to take defensive tackle in Round 1

The Raiders stocked up in free agency, spending big to fix a defense that was leaky at best in 2019.

Coach Jon Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock now must turn their attention to hitting another home run in the NFL draft. With the No. 12 and No. 19 overall picks, most expect the Raiders, who have glaring needs at wide receiver and cornerback, to address those holes in some manner with their first two picks. That might not be where Gruden and Mayock are planning to go, though.

Bleacher Report's Matt Miller reported Friday, citing league sources, that most around the league expect the Silver and Black to draft a top wide receiver with the No. 12 pick, but use their second pick on a "middle-of-the-field" defender since the Raiders would like to make an upgrade at defensive tackle.

The middle of the field was a massive problem for the Raiders' defense in 2019. But they went out and added defensive tackle Maliek Collins and linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski to lead the unit. They also lucked into signing safety Damarious Randall, upgrading the middle of the field at all three levels.

However, the Raiders do still need some help in the middle of their defensive line. Collins is young and thrives beating double teams, but he only signed a one-year deal. Maurice Hurst had a nice 2019 but he still needs to improve and Johnathan Hankins, while great against the run, doesn't move the needle rushing the passer.

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If the Raiders do want to draft a defensive tackle -- it might not be the best use of a first-round pick -- there are a few elite talents they could look at.

Derrick Brown leads this year's defensive tackle class. The 6-foot-5, 318-pound Auburn product might be the most complete defensive tackle to enter the draft since Aaron Donald. He has powerful hands, an unreal motor and can play in odd and even fronts. He's a Day 1 plug-and-play starter with All-Pro potential. Brown is expected to be a top-10 pick so the likelihood of him donning and Silver and Black is low.

Second on the list is South Carolina's Javon Kinlaw. The 6-foot-5, 315-pound Gamecock is an elite pass-rusher with all the tools and the strength of a bull. He has a great first step and unreal explosiveness. Kinlaw might be a shade below Brown but he appears to have Pro Bowler written all over him. He could be available for the Raiders at No. 12, but it's doubtful he slips to No. 19.

The next two players are end of Day 1-beginning of Day 2 guys, which means the Raiders must be sure they can contribute right away to take them at No. 19 or must trade down to make the pick lineup with the talent.

Next up is TCU's Ross Blacklock, a 6-foot-4, 305-pound load who has all the goods to be a star at the NFL level. Blacklock has the size, length, power and athleticism to be a dynamic playmaker at the NFL level. While some evaluators believe it might take him some time to adjust to the NFL game, he has all the tools you want in a three-down interior defensive lineman.

The last high-end interior defensive lineman is Oklahoma's Neville Gallimore. The rare defensive tackle that is defined by his speed, the 6-foot-2, 302-pound Gallimore has all the looks of a Day 1 NFL starter who can collapse the pocket and put the quarterback on his heels. His quickness, motor and power are traits that leap off the tape.

[RELATED: McKinney headlines top DB prospects for Raiders to target]

Now a middle-of-the-field defender could mean a safety like Alabama's Xavier McKinney, which would mean the Raiders would shift Randall to corner where they have a huge hole after Eli Apple's contract couldn't get finalized.

If Kinlaw or Brown falls to the Raiders, Gruden and Mayock should snap them up. Both would be a powerful inside presence who could open up rushing lanes for Clelin Ferrell and Maxx Crosby.

But if both are off the board and corner like Florida's C.J. Henderson or even LSU's Kristian Fulton still are available, it might be wise to address to cornerback need first and see if a defensive tackle like Davon Hamilton,  Raekwon Davis or Justin Madubuike falls to them in the third round.