Season review -- Raiders WRs

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Season review -- Raiders WRs

The purported strength of the Raiders receiving corps was that there was no clear-cut No. 1 wide receiver. And as such, no divas living in their ranks.

But something happened when quarterback Jason Campbell went down with a broken right clavicle on Oct. 16 and Carson Palmer was acquired two days later. Heyward-Bey emerged as the top target and Jacoby Ford and Louis Murphy, both of whom are standing up in Campbell's wedding next month, became afterthoughts.

Yes, injury had a lot to do with it, but their close off-field relationship with Campbell, at whose house they crashed during the lockout for workouts, might have been a positive for the team before Campbell's injury, a hindrance after it.

And now that it appears fairly certain Campbell will be leaving as a free agent, it will be interesting to see how the young receiving group responds with a full offseason with Palmer as their quarterback.

And despite any rift, real or imagined, the Raiders receivers helped Oakland finish with the No. 11-ranked passing attack in the NFL.

Grade: CWIDE RECEIVERSDarrius Heyward-Bey -- Raise your hand if you predicted before the season began that Heyward-Bey would not only lead the Raiders in receiving but would be within a mere 25 yards of hitting that 1,000-receiving yards threshold? Now give yourself a Barry Horowitz-style slap on the back.
Not bad for a guy that entered his third season on the fast track to Bustville, right? Well, his maturation as a pass catcher has been a sight to behold -- a week after being carried off the field on a stretcher at Minnesota he started against Chicago -- even if he is more of an intermediate route runner than the deep threat Al Davis envisioned when he took him with the No. 7 overall pick in 2009.
He still has his fair share of drops, though no receiver on the Raiders roster works harder off the field to improve. And his work ethic has paid off as quarterbacks have begun to trust him with aplomb -- he was targeted a team-high 115 times, including 17 targets in the season finale -- and his 64 receptions were 27 more than Oakland's second-leading pass catcher, running back Michael Bush.
He had four touchdowns but no reception was as impressive, or important, as the 53-yard long bomb from Carson Palmer on the first play of overtime at Kansas City on Dec. 24 that put the Raiders in field-goal position.Denarius Moore -- The fifth-round rookie revelation turned heads in training camp with ridiculous plays seemingly every day. "I'm not a playmaker," Moore said in ah-shucks fashion. "I just make plays."
That he did, especially at Buffalo (five catches for 146 yards and a TD), at San Diego (five for 123 and two TDs) at Kansas City (four for 94 and a TD) and in the season finale against the Chargers (three for 101).
His five touchdown receptions led the team, even as he missed three games with an injured right foot and ankle suffered at Minnesota on Nov. 10.
Moore's 18.7-yards per catch average on 33 receptions, for 618 yards, led the team.
Yet as explosive as he could be, he would also sometimes disappear. He had a total of five catches in games against Denver, Houston, Cleveland, Kansas City, Minnesota and Detroit.
With experience and more reps, he only figures to get more consistent. "Denarius Moore," coach Hue Jackson said, "I give him an A." He's also considered the Raiders' best pure route runner.Chaz Schilens -- The oft-injured possession receiver stayed relatively healthy in 2011, missing only one game after missing a combined 19 games the previous two seasons.
Schilens tied a career-high with two touchdown catches and his 23 receptions for 271 yards were both second-best in his four-year career. No, Schilens did not have the impact expected of him when the Raiders trumpeted him in a famous (infamous?) press release a few years back.
But that's the issue with proclaiming receivers as game-changers -- they can only do so much when the ball is thrown their way and can do nothing when the ball is not thrown their way.Jacoby Ford -- A broken hand suffered in training camp was followed by a lost fumble the first time he touched the ball in the season opener, ensued by a strained hamstring, and bookended by a sprained foot.
The icing was the, ahem, icy glare Ford received from Palmer when Ford purportedly "slipped" in the season finale and Palmer's throw to the diminutive receiver was picked off.
Not exactly a season to write home about for Ford, who did, however, return another kickoff for a touchdown, in Week 6.
In all, Ford missed half of the season and caught 19 passes for 279 yards and a TD. Not quite the playmaker he was as a rookie in 2010, when he had 25 receptions for 470 yards and two scores while returning three kicks for touchdowns.
He seemed to take especially hard the loss of Campbell and how the arrival of Palmer was handled.Louis Murphy -- An offseason Viagra-related arrest preceded sports hernia surgery and Murphy was not the same player he had been the previous two seasons, when he led the receiving corps in catches and averaged 38 receptions, 565 yards and three TDs in nine starts.
In 2011, Murphy started one of the 11 games in which he played and caught 15 passes for 241 yards and did not have a touchdown catch.
Like Ford, he too seemed to struggle with the transition from Campbell to Palmer and some might say the most interesting nugget we learned about Murphy this season was that he prepares his chicken without washing his hands, courtesy of CSN California's "Raiders Unplugged."T.J. Houshmandzadeh -- The 11-year veteran's mere arrival on Nov. 1 as a free agent raised some hackles in that he was seen as Palmer's personal receiver, what with their prior relationship in Cincinnati.
After all, Houshmandzadeh caught an NFL-high 112 passes in 2007 with Palmer as his QB. Really, though, the 34-year-old Houshmandzadeh was used more as a third-down safety valve.
In eight games, he ended up catching 11 passes for 146 yards and his 13.3-yards per catch average was actually the second-highest of his career. Small sample size, yes, but it was also the same average he had the previous year in Baltimore, when he had 30 catches.Derrick Jones -- An undrafted free-agent rookie who blew out his Achilles' tendon in training camp and spent the season on Injured Reserve.

Mayock: Plenty of draft options to help Raiders' interior pass rush

Mayock: Plenty of draft options to help Raiders' interior pass rush

The Raiders want a better interior pass rush. That’s no secret, especially after they finished 2016 with a league-low 25 sacks despite getting 18 combined from edge rushers Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin.

Head coach Jack Del Rio said that was an issue at season’s end, and general manager Reggie McKenzie mentioned a desire to improve at every level of his defense.

He has a reputation for building a bully up front as he did on the offensive line. He can add players through free agency, but quality veterans cost a pretty penny during a time when prioritizing extensions for Derek Carr and Khalil Mack . The NFL Draft might provide an opportunity to strengthen the interior defensive front.

Respected NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said in a Monday conference call that there are plenty of interior options in a deep defensive draft. He says quality can be found when the Raiders pick first at No. 24 overall, or later in the selection process.

“I think there is really good depth in the first three or four rounds for the interior D-line,” Mayock said.

That’s good news for the Raiders. They’ll get a closer look at interior linemen during this week’s NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, when prospects go under the microscope in workouts and meetings during a pivotal pre-draft gathering.

Florida’s Caleb Brantley and Michigan State’s Malik McDowell have been mentioned as possible late first-round options who might entice the Raiders at No. 24.

Mayock believes Brantley could help the Raiders inside, especially as a pass rusher.

“I think he's intriguing,” Mayock said. “He's a quick, one-gap guy. I don't think you want him playing three downs every snap. But as far as an ability to rush the quarterback and get an edge on interior offensive linemen, I think he's got that burst that you're looking for.”

The Raiders aren’t necessarily looking for a three-down player. They have some run-stopping specialists under contract next season, especially Justin Ellis. It’s possible Dan Williams gets released to create more cap room, but the Raiders could survive adding someone who can get after the passer inside.

McDowell is an intriguing prospect as well. He has immense natural talent and physical size – McKenzie prefers drafting big guys up front – though he needs refinement. Like Raiders 2015 second-round pick Mario Edwards Jr., McDowell was a five-star recruit out of high school who had some injury issues last season. He’s a versatile piece with a high ceiling at just 20 years old, and could work well with the line rotation and create havoc inside.

Edwards Jr. is capable of doing that when healthy. He missed most of last season with a hip injury, which left too much responsibility on raw rookie Jihad Ward and other unfit to getting a steady pass rush.

“I think he's one of those guys that can kick inside in sub packages,” Mayock said. “I think he's got that kind of size and versatility to play inside and out, and they really missed him.”

Mayock also mentioned interior options outside the first round, including Charlotte’s Larry Ogunjobi. He considers Ogunjobi a second-round pick with pass-rush ability and potential in the run game.

“There are some guys out there that can help even through the third round,” Mayock said.

The analyst mentioned UCLA’s Eddie Vanderdoes, Tulane’s Tanzel Smart, Auburn’s Montravius Adams and Iowa’s Jaleel Johnson as options through the third round.

There are other options at No. 24 overall, especially if quality interior defensive linemen are available in later rounds. The Raiders need help at interior linebacker and in the secondary. Latavius Murray could leave in free agency, and while there’s plenty of depth in that position group a Stanford product could interest the Raiders at No. 24.

“Who is going to help them? Is Christian McCaffrey on the clock at that point? Who could help the Oakland Raiders at No. 24?” Mayock said. “I think the running back situation is interesting. I'm not sure there are going to be any tackles at that point. I think they also have to look at linebackers and at 24, I think there are some interesting guys off the line linebackers also.”

Donald Penn: Raiders players trust McKenzie will add right pieces

Donald Penn: Raiders players trust McKenzie will add right pieces

The Raiders were pretty darn good last season. A 12-4 record proved that point. There was plenty of talent on a team with a penchant for high-wire acts in victory that masked the fact there were holes on the roster.

They need to be filled for the Raiders to improve in 2017, and new players will be imported through free agency and the draft.

Left tackle Donald Penn is excited to see who gets added, but said there’s no doubt talent is coming to Oakland. He speaks for Raiders players, who have faith that general manager Reggie McKenzie will make the right moves.

“Things that Reggie has done in past drafts have been great, and we’re looking forward to seeing what he brings back towards us,” Penn said recently during an in-studio appearance on NFL Network. “We can’t wait to get back out there healthy. We’re ready to hit the football world with a storm.”

While new guys are coming, a few might head out. The Raiders have several unrestricted free agents. Penn wants to keep his guys around – he mentioned running back Latavius Murray by name -- though he has some ideas for McKenzie’s checklist.

The Raiders don’t need much with most key players under contract – the Raiders should be less active in free agency over past offseasons – but a few key components could put this team over the top.

“If we stick to Reggie’s plan, we’ll be great,” Penn said. “I know he’s going to have a great draft, add a couple little pieces here and there – maybe somebody in the secondary to help out a little bit.

"On offense, you could always use a weapon. Maybe we get another receiver to take (pressure off Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper), but we have a good nucleus right now.”