After tackling the running backs over the weekend, Just Blog Baby continues its pre training camp breakdown of the Oakland Raiders roster with a review of another position the Raiders added depth to on offense over the offseason with the wide receivers.
Dropping Darrius Heyward-Bey the Raiders have added the services of Josh Cribbs and Brice Butler in addition to getting speedster Jacoby Ford back after losing him for an entire season last year.
Those three, in addition to a boatload of undrafted free agents and first year players trying to battle their way into the roster, will make for a training camp and preseason where everyone will be fighting for a role in Greg Olsen’s offense.
That depth will more than make up for the cut of Heyward-Bey, a speedster with potential that never really panned out as anything more than a sometimes home run threat. Dropping catches and not rounding out into a complete package, Heyward-Bey will easily be replaced by Denarius Moore who is a more complete route runner and possession receiver. The return of Jacoby Ford and the addition of Josh Cribbs also means that Bey’s speed and home run ability will not be needed nor missed as Ford and Cribbs give the Raiders more than enough playmakers in the open field.
The hope is that a deeper pool of receivers will rejuvenate a Raiders offense that was left for dead under Carson Palmer last season. With the addition of Cribbs and the return of Jacoby Ford as well as a wide list of rookies the Raiders list of primary options at wide receiver goes from this
Darrius Heyward-Bey, Denarius Moore, Rod Streater, Derek Hagan, Juron Criner
To this in 2013
Denarius Moore, Jacoby Ford, Rod Streater, Josh Cribbs, Juron Criner, Brice Butler, Conner Vernon
Denarius Moore, Rod Streater and Juron Criner all return while Derek Hagan was pushed out of the door for better talent and Heyward-Bey was cut, but that new depth is still glaring as the Raiders may have lost two wideouts but added two huge playmakers in Cribbs and Ford that make for a much more explosive set of pass catchers on paper.
2012 Stats: 15 games, 51 receptions, 741 yards (14.5 yards per catch), 7 touchdowns, 3 fumbles
Dennis Allen has Denarius Moore pegged as his “Number One” receiver in 2013, but that nametag doesn’t carry much weight as Moore is far from being a dominant pass catcher in the NFL and the Raiders top receiver on Sundays this fall will likely change from week to week, making Moore just the best receiver out of a bunch of decent ones.
So what can we expect from Moore? Well based on 2012 he could very well be a 1,000 yard, 10 touchdown receiver with a better offense and bigger role in 2013. Moore showed big play ability with seven touchdowns and twelve catches for 20+ yards in 2012 as well as the ability to move the chains with 33 of his 51 catches coming for first downs.
Showing improvement in each of his two NFL seasons, Moore will be needed as a short threat for Matt Flynn (or Terrelle Pryor/Tyler Wilson) in an offense that will likely be tailored around eating up the field piece by piece. A steady target for Palmer last season, expect Moore to shine with more of a load on his shoulders this season in what is assumed to be a much better situation for the Raiders passing attack. 1, 000 yards in his third NFL season is not too much to expect out of the two year pro.
If there is anything that is going to make the Raiders 2013 offense an explosive unit, it will be the return of a healthy Jacoby Ford. Ford, regarded as one of the fastest players in the NFL has been grounded since his breakout in 2010.
Ford played just eight games in 2011, before being placed on the injured reserve for all of 2012, so it is easy to forget that for a time, Ford was a weapon for the Raiders that could return kicks and passes for huge touchdowns.
Getting an explosive version of Jacoby Ford back into the fold could very well be one of the X-Factors for the Raiders being a surprise team in 2013. Last year it was apparent the Raiders were grounded after building a roster around the athleticism of Darren McFadden, Heyward-Bey and Ford and missing both Ford and DMC for most of 2012, if those two can stay healthy this season, the Raiders will be a team that has the potential to create big plays all over the field come the regular season. If Ford can get back to his old self and avoid the injured reserve, the loss of Heyward-Bey will be a non issue for Greg Olsen as a more than suitable downfield threat will be ready to take his place.
2012 Stats (With Cleveland) 7 catches, 63 yards (1,178 kick return yards, 457 punt return yards)
After failing to find the endzone in 2012, Josh Cribbs is headed to Oakland at a crossroads in his career at the age of 30. With his days as a kick return specialist numbered, Cribbs saw his production as a receiver dip from 41 catches in 2011 to just seven in 2012.
Cribbs still posted 1,000 plus kick return yards for the sixth time in his career and likely still has some fuel in the jets left for Oakland, but his massive dropoff in catches is a red flag that he just might not be the same Josh Cribbs in Oakland as he was with the Browns.
Return guys have shelf lives and even the greatest special teams guys saw their burst of speed dwindle with the years. Jacoby Ford could likely be the Raiders return guy if he is healthy, which would leave Cribbs to strictly receiving duties for the first time in his career.
After a subpar 2012 the writing is on the wall that Cribbs needs to become a much better route runner and all around receiver to stay in the NFL. A move to the Raiders gives him a chance to carve out a new identity and the potential to hone his craft in the passing game, with his time as a special teams specialist winding down, 2013 is an important season in Josh Cribbs’ career, expect some big plays to make the experiment worthwhile as Cribbs likely still has something to prove and enough talent to prove Cleveland made a mistake in letting him walk to Oakland. Just don’t expect a lot of receptions.
2012 Stats: 16 games (Two starts), 39 receptions, 584 yards (15 yards per catch), three touchdowns
Rod Streater’s rookie season with the Raiders earned him a starting spot in 2013 as the Temple product made the most of his chances in a rookie season that saw him just get two starts. Streater still managed to put up numbers that have many believing that he could be a breakout player with the Raiders in a heightened role.
39 catches, 500+ yards and three touchdowns nearly put him on par with Heyward-Bey in 2012 and with Bey and Derek Hagan out of the picture Streater along with fellow returning sophomore Juron Criner have a good chance of being potentially the third or fourth receiver for the Raiders behind Moore/Cribbs/Ford.
Streater produced when given the chance in 2012, in 2013 his season will depend on if when given more chances will he be able to continue to match production with opportunity? If Streater can do that, he will be a huge asset to whichever quarterback that is running the Raiders offense this season.
Like Streater, Juron Criner was given limited opportunity as a rookie with the Raiders. The 168th pick out of Arizona, Criner didn’t start a single game for the Raiders as a rookie and saw the endzone just once. Still, with the exit of Hagan and Heyward-Bey and a new head coach and offensive coordinator, Criner has an outside chance of being a featured receiver for Oakland this year.
A big target at 6 3′, Criner could be a red zone option for Greg Olsen as well as someone who could pair nicely with Matt Flynn, a weaker armed quarterback who could use a big target like Criner to chew up yardage and move the chains. Not getting a lot of playing time in his rookie season, it is hard to accurately critique Criner’s game, but with Hagan out of the picture and a new chance to impress we could get more of a look of the young wideout this season.
If Criner can impress in the preseason we should see more of what this prospect can do for the Raiders. If not, it will be another year of waiting in the wings for the Arizona prospect.
Competing with Streater and Criner will be seventh round pick Brice Butler out of San Diego State. Butler was regarded as one of the top wide receiver talents in his high school class and was signed to USC before transferring to San Diego State and being regarded as a bust.
Still Reggie McKenzie saw enough potential in Butler that he snagged him in the final round of the draft, giving Butler the chance to compete with Streater, Criner, and undrafted free agent Conner Vernon from Duke for a roster spot with the Raiders.
Butler did play three years at one of the best programs in the nation before transferring to SDSU and posted a 4.37 40 time along with a highlight reel at USC that shows that he has some decent hands.
Butler will likely be sitting in the position that Criner and Streater were in last season, still having a guy like Butler waiting in the wings to get some valuable experience in case of an injury is a way better situation than having a veteran like Derek Hagan as your sixth receiver at training camp. If Butler can expect the learning curve of the NFL and learn the ropes while being a depth player, he could be a steal as a seventh round pick.
Rounding out the notable receivers competing for a role and a roster spot is undrafted free agent signing Conner Vernon out of Duke University, who was a standout at OTA’s and minicamp that could land a role with the Raiders if he can keep impressing Dennis Allen.
At Duke, Vernon was a beast catching 283 passes for 3,749 yards, and 21 touchdown. He holds the ACC record for catches and reception yardage and could factor in to be a solid slot receiver in the NFL based on those numbers and his highlight reel with the Blue Devils.
ESPN Scouts Inc., and NFL.com, rated Vernon as a solid slot receiver prospect heading into this years draft pointing to him having quick feet to shake defenders, and the fact that he wastes little time in his movement.
Furthermore, he knows how to get open, can eat up cushion, he has good field awareness, and good catch ability along the sideline. He will likely need some time to adjust to the speed of the NFL game, but the guy’s talent is undeniable after what he did at Duke and he could be a steal if he can mold himself into a slot guy in the frame of Wes Welker.
Given Jacoby Ford’s injury history, Vernon could see himself stepping in as a slot target this season, a player who knows how to get open and shows a great knowledge of the game and the art of route running could be a change of pace for the Raiders from their typical strategy of drafting the fastest guy on the board.
Going into camp alongside Butler, Vernon will be a guy to watch in the preseason as he could be a surprise if he is utilized as a slotback alongside Flynn’s short passing style. At the least he is a rookie to watch heading into training camp as he will be one of the guys hovering near the cut line as the Raiders have a long list of receivers to choose from.
What to Expect at Training Camp
Options is the key word when it comes to the Raiders at wide receiver heading into camp. Reggie McKenzie has given Dennis Allen and Greg Olsen a long and intriguing list of receivers to choose from when compiling their 53 man roster for the 2013 season. Denarius Moore will likely be the #1 guy, but this year’s cast is built on quantity rather than one elite receiver. Jacoby Ford and Josh Cribbs will be counted on to have bounce back years as Cribbs looks towards life after 30 as a special teams guy looking for a second life in Oakland and Ford looks to stay healthy after playing just eight games over two seasons.
After Moore, Cribbs and Ford comes a long list of young prospects looking to breakout as everyday NFL players. Rod Streater will likely get a look as the #2 guy alongside Moore after getting just two starts as a rookie in 2012 while Juron Criner will also look to get more chances in his second year in the NFL amongst deeper intenral competition.
Rookies Brice Butler and Conner Vernon will be the favorites to crack the team as the final receivers as Butler looks to prove that he can play in the big time after leaving USC for his senior year to go to SDSU and Conner Vernon looks to take his strong play at OTA’s and his ACC records at Duke to a roster spot and a role as a slotback with the Raiders as Dennis Allen and Greg Olsen have some tough choices in a training camp that will have eight talented receivers without much separation in terms of talent.
The Raiders won’t have a primary target that will guarantee them success every week that defensive coordinators will have to focus their attentions to, but what they do have is a group of relatively young and explosive receivers that have the potential to be dangerous as a unit. Health is a key like at running back as the return of Jacoby Ford is being counted on, but overall the Raiders have a much better group of pass catchers heading into training camp this year.