Before there was Jacoby Ford there was Johnnie Lee Higgins. Hard to believe we’re talking about Higgins as if he were some fan favorite from a decade ago. Higgins was a return ace and budding talent at slot receiver for the silver and black just a few years ago.
Like Ford, Higgins ran a blazing 40-yard dash at the scouting combine which naturally got him on the Al Davis radar. Of course since neither Higgins nor Ford had the size of a Darrius Heyward-Bey both became Raiders much later in the draft with Higgins being the last pick of the third round in ’07 and Ford going in the 4th round of 2010.
But draft stock means nothing once you put pads on and Higgins wasted no time introducing himself to Raider Nation with a house call on a punt return in the preseason. That would set the stage for what was to come in the following years.
In Higgins’ second season he became a dangerous weapon returning 3 punts for TDs while also scoring 4 more receiving. In ’08 Higgins became the best option in the passing game outside of Zach Millerleading all Raider wide receivers in both receptions and yards.
Higgins seemed well on his way to becoming an asset in Oakland’s attack for years to come. But just as soon as he arrived JLH was on his way out of not only the East Bay but football all together.
After his career year in ’08 Higgins never found the end zone again. He was hesitant on punt returns, indifferent in his route running and suddenly slacking on going across the middle – the latter being an absolute sin for a slot receiver.
By 2010 Higgins was completely out of the receiver rotation and returned just 17 punts in 13 games. The Raiders opted not to give him a new contract and after failing to make the cut coming out of camp in Philadelphia Higgins was gone from the game.
Now here we sit with Jacoby Ford seemingly already at the crossroads after just two years in the NFL. Like Higgins, Ford burst onto the scene thanks to his dynamic kick returns yet became a true weapon as a playmaker at receiver.
However also like Higgins, Ford has been unable to reproduce his career year. Foot injuries have claimed plenty of what Ford is able to do with his latest looking likely to rob him of more regular season games. But beyond the injury issue what little we did see of Ford in the preseason was uninspired. He dropped catches you’d expect him to easily make and just didn’t seem at all interested in giving maximum effort.
Also like Higgins, Ford’s role as a slot receiver could be gone if he gets lost in the shuffle. Already rookies Rod Streater and Juron Criner have made a push for an expended role. Louis Murphy became a causality of the emerging talent the Raiders have at wide receiver so it’s not too crazy to think the same fate awaits Ford.
Only time will tell if Jacoby Ford is walking the path blazed by Johnnie Lee Higgins both in and out of Oakland. While Higgins saw his pro career take an odd turn as the result of his effort Ford at least has the injury issues as his reason for declined production. Either way though, if you’re not on the field contributing than someone else is in your place. No matter the circumstances, without Ford in the rotation the Raiders are going to have to move on. Whether or not that means eventually moving away from Ford remains to be seen.