Raiders

Tyrell Williams moving more as Raiders enhance playmaking opportunities

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Tyrell Williams moving more as Raiders enhance playmaking opportunities

ALAMEDA -- The Raiders spent most of their offseason and training camp preparing to use Antonio Brown as an offensive focal point. Tyrell Williams was an integral part of the attack but set into a more specific role, operating primarily from the X receiver position with some variation built in.

Every receiver in a Jon Gruden offense is required to know every position, but Williams was honed a bit even when Brown was out dealing with frostbitten feet or throwing temper tantrums over helmet safety.

Brown’s ill-timed exit, J.J. Nelson’s ankle injury and Ryan Grant’s inability to produce in Brown’s old spot put the receiver position into some flux and has fundamentally changed what the Raiders are asking Williams to do.

“It’s different,” quarterback Derek Carr said. “He has got to run some different cuts, he’s got to run some different routes. He’s got to do a lot more for us than originally that was planned.”

The Raiders will move him around the formation in search of favorable matchups and expand the route tree to free up the team’s best receiving talent by far.

Doing so in-season, while game-planning for opponents certainly adds a new wrinkle that doesn’t bother Williams at all.

“I feel like I was playing everywhere through training camp,” Williams said. “I was running all types of routes. I was trying to figure out every position so it was easier if things came up. The transition has been smooth for me.”

Williams definitely has seen increased coverage since Brown left, certainly more than he saw as the L.A. Chargers’ No. 2 option.

“We had Keenan [Allen] out there, so a lot of attention went to him,” Williams said. “We had a really explosive offense. Here, we have a bunch of new guys trying to come into their own. I’m the guy in the position group who has been in the league the longest, and the guys have seen me play. I feel like I’m seeing attention, but that I’m still getting open.”

That has been clear through his totals. He has 14 catches for 180 yards and three touchdowns on 17 targets in three games, though he wasn’t used much in a Week 3 loss to Minnesota. Cornerback Xavier Rhodes did a solid job with Williams, though he often had help in the Vikings' coverage scheme.

Moving Williams around should help, as will Darren Waller’s emergence as a bona fide offensive weapon. Even Nelson and slot man Hunter Renfrow and new guy Trevor Davis must get into the act to round out a receiver corps that isn’t doing well enough to this point.

[RELATED: Raiders trying to incorporate deep ball more]

Coaches are working to scheme Williams open and have him be a true centerpiece of the offense. That has to take hold quickly as the Raiders try to snap a two-game skid Sunday in Indianapolis against the Colts.

“With changes that we’ve made in personnel here in the first three weeks, now he’s taken on that role again of a move guy that we’ll play him at the X, Y, Z and sometimes the F,” offensive coordinator Greg Olson said “Again, we’re constantly trying to find a way to get the ball in the hands of our playmakers and we consider him one of our playmakers. We’ll continue to do that.”

Why Raiders should make Emmanuel Sanders priority in NFL free agency

Why Raiders should make Emmanuel Sanders priority in NFL free agency

So, you want to compete with the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs? Well, you're going to need a lot more firepower.

Jon Gruden knows that.

In what was Year 1 of a true rebuild for the Raiders following the teardown in 2018, the Silver and Black showed a lot of promise, with a historic draft class leading them to a 7-9 record. The building blocks are being put in place for the Raiders to march up the AFC West pecking order. While another draft-day haul is needed, Gruden knows he doesn't yet have the offensive weapons to contend with Patrick Mahomes and Kansas City. 

Yes, the Raiders have a big question mark at quarterback, but this is about a different area of need -- the team's biggest area of need -- other than the black hole at linebacker. The Raiders need wide receivers. Many of them. They need dynamic playmakers who can stretch the field, make people miss and rack up explosive plays. Players who can answer a lightning strike from Mahomes that left the Raiders stunned and wobbling last season.

They'll likely select one early in the 2020 NFL Draft and maybe another in the third round. But that won't be enough. With $54 million in projected cap space, expect the Raiders to look to the free-agent market to add a veteran receiver to help Tyrell Williams, Hunter Renfrow and tight end Darren Waller shoulder the load. 

The Raiders don't seem like a home for A.J. Green and we can cross former Raider Amari Cooper off the list. Robby Anderson might be a fit, and the Raiders reportedly had interest in him at the deadline, but his price tag might be a tad high for a guy that isn't a true No. 1.

Gruden needs only look to the Raiders' now-former Bay Area neighbor for a free agent worth their while. 

Emmanuel Sanders came over to the 49ers in a midseason trade with the Denver Broncos and immediately paid dividends. He was able to lead a young receiver group while being successful running every type of route for coach Kyle Shanahan.

Sanders is most effective in a West Coast type of offense such as the one Gruden runs. The 32-year-old completely transformed his game after tearing his Achilles, reinventing himself as a savvy, veteran playmaker. He's a highly efficient route-runner and has some of the surest hands in the game, only dropping one pass last season.

His arrival in San Francisco took the 49ers' passing game from an attack with puppy teeth to one that could shred defenses in an instant. He played a key role in the development of Deebo Samuel, who became a lethal weapon as the season wore on. Sanders also is a good blocker on the outside, as he showcased during the 49ers' run to the Super Bowl.

Don't let Jimmy Garoppolo's overthrow in Super Bowl LIV taint your opinion of Sanders. With the title on the line, Sanders smoked his man, blew past the safety and was in line to be a Super Bowl hero had the pass been on target.

He's played in three Super Bowls and knows what it takes to get to, and win, the biggest game in sports. His leadership and experience would be as valuable as his on-field production.

Some will argue Sanders' age is a red flag or that the 49ers are destined to re-sign him. Due to the 49ers' cap situation, it seems more likely than not that they will let Sanders walk. At age 32, Sanders is exiting his prime, but he's the perfect veteran receiver to complement Tyrell Williams, mentor Renfrow and the incoming top prospect (s) (CeeDee Lamb or Jerry Jeudy) and provide a reliable target for Derek Carr, Tom Brady or whoever is under center for the Raiders in 2020.

[RELATED: Why Raiders would make sense in Darius Slay trade]

The Raiders need to take their offense to the next level. Their offensive line is stout, running back Josh Jacobs is a star and Renfrow and Waller will be long-term staples of the offensive attack. Gruden will expect more from Williams in Year 2 of his contract after the veteran receiver was hampered by injuries in 2019. 

But they need to get more explosive at receiver. No matter who the quarterback is, Renfrow and Waller can't be the only weapons. If that's the case again in 2020, the results will be the same.

A deep draft class at receiver will help the Raiders stock the arsenal, but they'll need another proven veteran as well.

Sanders, who PFF projects to make around $10 million per season, would give Gruden a do-it-all veteran who has ranked as one of the 25 most valuable receivers in each of the past two seasons. And it also would leave the Raiders with money to spend to improve a defense that needs a lot of work.

An offense with Sanders, Williams, Renfrow, Waller, Jacobs and at least one young star from the draft would give the Raiders' offense the pop Gruden has been missing.

Derek Carr posts photo with Khalil Mack, adding to Bears trade rumors

Derek Carr posts photo with Khalil Mack, adding to Bears trade rumors

The picture of Tom Brady talking to Raiders owner Mark Davis at a UFC fight was burned into Oakland Las Vegas Raiders fans' minds.

What would that mean for Derek Carr? Could he be headed to the Windy City to meet up with an old friend? 

There has been a lot of speculation about Carr getting traded this offseason. Carr had a less than memorable season during the Raiders' last year in Oakland, and a photo on his Instagram just adds to the swirling thoughts.

Carr added a picture of himself and Chicago Bears linebacker Khalil Mack, with no caption.

Naturally, the comments section flooded with speculation. 

The two are former Raiders teammates, and despite Carr's "meh" season, he would be an improvement over current Bears QB Mitch Trubisky -- who could also use a change of scenery. 

[RELATED: One NFL exec sees Raiders as Brady's fallback]

Carr's contract could make a trade hard, but this IG post on top of everything else makes us think.

The quarterback will blow out 29 candles on his birthday cake next month which could only help his cause.