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FSM Presents: 2021 Raiders Position Preview- Receivers and Tight Ends

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It’s officially time to take a look at the Raiders wide recevier and tight end groups. With Derek Carr locked in at quarterback, the Raiders will look to a young, but explocive receiving core and their all-world tight end to lead the passing attack.

 

Raiders Preview
Photo Credit: Las Vegas Raiders

Raiders head coach Jon Gruden has tried since taking over to improve the Raiders receiving core. He traded a 3rd round pick for Martavious Bryant. They also traded a 2019 third-round draft pick (No. 66 overall) and a 2019 fifth-round pick (No. 141 overall) to the Pittsburgh Steelers for Antonio Bryant. They have been linked to every big-name receiver that could be available in free agency or via trade, even Julio Jones and Devante Adams this offseason, only to see them not happen or blow up in their faces.

Raiders general manager Mike Mayock and Gruden have done a solid job improving the over depth of the Raiders receiving core. Darren Waller is arguably the NFL’s best tight end and a guy that is the focal point of the passing game.  But the entire tight end group is deep, versatile, and well-rounded. They will look to improve on a very good 2020 season and become one of the NFL’s best groups overall.

The Raiders have a talented group that has the potential to be very productive. While there is no “#1” wide receiver, they do have a group that compliments each other well. He has possession guys in Hunter Renfrow, Willie Snead, Zay Jones, and Trey Quinn. Gruden also has speed guys in Henry Ruggs III, and John Brown, and a big, physical freaks Bryan Edwards, Marcell Ateman, and Keelan Doss.  That is a well-rounded group that competes and seems to has qualities that can make the others around them better.

 

Now let’s look at the Raiders wide receivers entering training camp.

 

Raiders Preview
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Ruggs III is the guy that has the ability to be the biggest weapon and take a huge step in year 2. When the Raiders drafted him in the 2020 NFL Draft and made him the first receiver off the board, the former Alabama Crimson Tide wide-out became the speed guy Gruden craved. Not only does Ruggs possess sub 4.2 speed, but he is also dangerous with the ball in his hands. Many feel Gruden could have used Ruggs better in his rookie year. While Ruggs is in the conversation for the NFL’s fastest man, running deep routes wasn’t something that made Ruggs dangerous while at Alabama and actually hurt the Raiders offense.

This offseason, Ruggs is working with one of the best trainers around who happens to be located in Las Vegas, Deon Hodges. Hodges also trains current Raiders Jonathan Abram, Keisean Nixon, and Rasul Douglas, as well as the Philadelphia Eagles Fletcher Cox and former Raider and current Seahawk Damarious Randall, amongst others. So  Ruggs is working on those facets of his game that will make him even more explosive as well as preventing any nagging injuries that may come up. It also makes you wonder if Gruden has told him that he planned on a different way to get him the ball in his second year in the offense?

Ruggs excels at slants, bubble screens, digs, and running the ball on an end-around. If Gruden can get Ruggs the ball in space, the Raiders offense will become must-see T.V. If Gruden can use Ruggs in a similar fashion as Andy Reid uses Tyreek Hill in the Chiefs offense, the Raiders offense could be downright scary. Defenses already have to account for running back Josh Jacobs, so if they play 8-in-the-box, Gruden can then take Ruggs over the top for a big play, and if defense’s play with a 2-high (with safeties over the top), that leaves the running game wide open. It’s picking your poison for the opposing team’s defenses and something the Raiders would love to have happen on a game-to-game basis.

 

Raiders Preview
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Honestly, I don’t think anybody’s expectations for me are higher than myself,” said Ruggs told the Raiders website during OTAs. “If I’m frustrated with anything, it’s because I didn’t do what I feel like I can do or I am able to achieve. It’s not critics or what other coaches or what the fans around the league may say about me — that doesn’t really do too much for me because I know what I can do, and I am my biggest critic. So, no one else can make me feel bad about that.

“If you ask me any goals, [be] better than last year. That’s the biggest thing, just improvement and improve everything every year. That’s what I want to do. Last year is in the past. I guess it was probably frustrating at times, but like I said, that’s in the past, and we build on it. It’s a fresh start now, and we’re going to work to make it better.”

Renfrow has been everything as advertised and more for the Raiders since drafting him with the 149th overall pick in the fifth round of the 2019 NFL Draft. A natural, fluid receiver who may not look the part physically but does everything well. He has quickly become Carr’s favorite third-down target and earning the nickname “3rd and Renfrow” from Raider Nation. He has caught 105 balls for 1,261 yards and 6 touchdowns in his two-year career. Renfrow also is a reliable punt returner averaging 10.8 yards per return in his career and 11.5 in the 2020 season.

 

Raider Preview
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Edwards is the next guy that is poised to take a huge leap in 2021. He is an athletic freak, possessing size, speed, and strength to make him an elite NFL wide receiver. Standing at 6’3/212, the former South Carolina standout played in 12 games last year. He caught 11 balls for 193 yards and a touchdown in a rookie year he battled through some injuries. On paper, Edwards is the perfect complement to Ruggs as he has the size and physicality to match Ruggs’ speed. If he can stay healthy, Edwards should play a ton of snaps and could become a key player for the offense.

Bleacher Report’s Kristopher Knox recently wrote that Edwards was the player to watch for having a breakout season.

Despite being one of the highlights of Las Vegas Raiders training camp last year, wideout Bryan Edwards had an underwhelming rookie campaign. The third-round pick out of South Carolina suffered an ankle injury in Week 3, missed four games, and did not return to the starting lineup after his recovery. Edwards finished with just 193 yards and a touchdown.” Knox wrote. “Still, Edwards did show promise before the injury, catching five passes for 99 yards in his three starts. With his replacement, Nelson Agholor, departing in free agency, Edwards should be poised to pick up where he left off pre-injury.”

The Raiders went out and got more speed for Carr in John Brown, a productive and underappreciated player. He was a key member of the Buffalo Bills. In the 2019 season, he led the Bills receivers with 72 receptions for 1,060 receiving yards and six receiving, but when Stefon Diggs got traded there, his production dipped in 2020 to 33 receptions for 458 receiving yards and three receiving touchdowns. He will be another weapon with Ruggs that will keep defenses honest. Another former Bill who is in Silver and Black to watch is fan-favorite Zay Jones. Jones has been productive when given the opportunity, but those opportunities are few and far between with this group of pass-catchers.

The rest of the Raiders receiver room rounds out with Willie Snead. The former Ravens receiver can play outside or in the slot and gives the Raiders another explosive threat. Marcell Ateman and Keelan Doss, and Trey Quinn will most likely be battling for the last spot in the room. Doss is the guy that could be the one to watch. He has all the tools to be a very good player, but just to stay available. If he can do that, he could be the backup to Edwards and even play in certain sets with Edwards and Waller, giving the Raiders a big group of pass catchers for Carr to throw to.

 

The Raiders do have a #1 receiver, except it’s not a receiver, it’s Darren Waller, their all-everything tight end.

 

Raiders Preview
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What more can you say about Darren Waller that hasn’t already been said? By now, everyone knows his story and everything he has overcome off the field, and on it, he has quickly become arguably the best tight end in the NFL. Last season Waller led the Raiders in all receiving categories by setting career highs and breaking NFL Hall of Fame receiver Tim Brown’s single-season record in receptions (107) while leading the Raiders in receiving yards (1,196) and touchdowns (9). His 107 receptions ranked fourth in the NFL and first among tight ends, while his yardage ranked tenth overall and second among tight ends (behind Travis Kelce’s 1,416 yards). He also was named to his first Pro Bowl last season.

Waller will be Carr’s favorite and top target once again, and he could but up even better numbers this season if Ruggs, Edwards, Brown, and his running mate in the tight end room, Foster Moreau, can stay healthy.

I mean, his explosiveness just continues to increase every time we come back together as a team,” said Waller to the Raiders website in a recent article. “Just from working with him in the offseason, he’s working hard with me — like he’s even pushing me with the way that he works. With the attention to detail that he’s been working with this offseason, it’s carrying over out here. He looks a lot more fluid and is just continuing on that path to being the player that I know that he can be. He can be an extremely vital component to this offense.

“I can’t wait to see him expand the routes that he runs and the way that the offensive staff continues to challenge him because you can never have too many weapons, and I feel like Foster can really show the world who he’s capable of being this season and can continue to build on top of that. So, I’m really excited for him.

The rest of the tight ends battling for a spot are returning players Derek Carrier and Nick Bowers, who both excel as blocking and red zone threats. The Raiders also brought in Alex Ellis — who most recently played with the Philadelphia Eagles.

The highly-touted BYU undrafted rookie free agent Matt Bushman also has a chance to make the roster and make an impact. Bushman was ranked as one of the top college tight ends after his junior season with 125 career receptions for 1,719 yards and nine touchdowns, but an Achilles injury sidelined him during his senior season and hindered his draft stock.

 

If the Raiders young pass-catchers can make the leap that they expect, Jon Gruden’s offense will be even more explosive and fun to watch. All Derek Carr will need is time, so next up CJ Baldwin will preview the Raiders offensive line in the next installment of our 2021 Raiders Positional Preview series.

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-Joe Arrigo – Franchise Sports Media

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