Keon Hatcher

Raiders must use 2019 NFL draft, free agency to overhaul wide receiver corps

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USATSI

Raiders must use 2019 NFL draft, free agency to overhaul wide receiver corps

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.

Raiders notes: Keon Hatcher signed to replace injured Brandon LaFell

Raiders notes: Keon Hatcher signed to replace injured Brandon LaFell

ALAMEDA – Raiders coach Jon Gruden joked he might’ve gotten kicked out of the airplane home from Seattle if he decided to cut wide receiver Keon Hatcher after scoring three touchdowns in a preseason game against the Seahawks.

He didn’t do it right away, but it didn’t take long for Hatcher to get the axe. It formlly swung on Sept. 12 -- Hatcher was notified the night before -- when the Raiders brought back Martavis Bryant.

The Arkansas alum bounced around some after that, and spent the last six weeks on the Green Bay Packers' practice squad.

The Raiders signed him off of it Monday morning, and put him right back on their active roster. The move was required with Brandon LaFell officially placed on injured reserve.

Hatcher’s familiarity with this offense will help him integrate quickly. He’s expected to hit the ground running, and play next week against the Baltimore Ravens.

“I know the playbook inside out,” Hatcher said. “I know every [receiver] position. I think I’ll be out there pretty quick.”

Hatcher had a strong preseason, but was a surprise member of the 53-man roster. There are several reasons to like his game: Namely, he has great speed and is a smooth route-runner with solid hands.

The 24-year-old is coming in to help after LaFell tore his Achilles in the third quarter of Sunday’s 23-21 victory over the Arizona Cardinals. LaFell is a pro’s pro, and signed early this season as a reserve before moving into a larger role following the Amari Cooper trade.

He was on a one-year deal and faces a long recovery, so it’s likely he has played his last down as a Raider.

“He was a good player,” Gruden said. “He beat [top-flight Cardinals cornerback] Patrick Peterson on a touchdown pass yesterday. Went up and got a huge third-down conversion. Touchdown against the Colts. He did a lot of things for us. He played multiple positions. We’re going to miss him. He’s going to be a hard guy to replace.”

Ellis on the way back

The Raiders plan to designate defensive tackle Justin Ellis to return from injured reserve this week. Ellis is expected to practice starting Wednesday, and he would be eligible to play Baltimore if he’s physically ready to go.

That determination will be made later in the week, though the Raiders have an open roster spot should they want to add him. One was created when the team waived Saeed Blacknall Monday afternoon. It’s possible Blacknall will return to the Raiders' practice squad if he clears waivers.

The Raiders could use some help against the run, where they have struggled mightily. Ellis is a nose tackle in the base defense, primarily where Johnathan Hankins has played. Hankins hasn’t been bad, but adding another big body in the middle will be a plus the rest of the season.

Jordy Nelson nearing return

Gruden said there was a chance receiver Jordy Nelson could start practicing this week, after he missed Sunday's game with a bone bruise centered on his knee.

“I visited with Jordy a little bit last night on the airplane,” Gruden said. “I thought he ran pretty good this morning. He’s got a chance. It’s important to him, I think he wants to come back and play no doubt, and he’s getting close to doing that.”

It’s somewhat unusual for players ruled out during the week to make road trips, but Nelson came to Arizona ro aid a young group of wideouts playing much larger roles.

“I asked Jordy if he wanted to stay in Oakland and get extra treatment,” Gruden said. “He said, ‘heck no, I want to come to the game.’ It’s just that kind of attitude we need right now on this team. A veteran presence, being with the receivers, being with Derek on the sideline. It’s a good group of guys, and he is at the head of the list. He’s really a special person to give himself to the team like he has.”

Raiders waive WR Keon Hatcher to make room for Martavis Bryant

Raiders waive WR Keon Hatcher to make room for Martavis Bryant

UPDATE (11:47am PT on Wednesday): The Raiders announced that they have re-signed wide receiver Martavis Bryant and signed long snapper Trent Sieg. To make room on the roster for Bryant, receiver Keon Hatcher was released. Long snapper Andrew DePaola was placed on injured reserve.

***

The NFL can be a cruel world for undrafted rookies.

Wide receiver Keon Hatcher just found out. After making the 53-man roster out of camp, the Arkansas product was informed on Wednesday that the Raiders will be releasing him.

Hatcher's agent, Ken Sarnoff, broke the news on Twitter.

The move likely corresponds with the Raiders intentions to bring recently released wide receiver Martavis Bryant back.

During the preseason, Hatcher caught 10 passes for 162 yards and three touchdowns. Those numbers were good enough two weeks ago. Now, he's a free agent looking for a new team.

To make matters worse, Hatcher just turned 24 on Tuesday.