Next up in the Raiders.com Position Battle series, the wide receivers.
We all know that Jon Gruden is an offensive mastermind, but as clever as he is, one can never have too many tools.
If there's one group that was completely overhauled, it was the wide receiving corps. None – I repeat – none of the starting wide receivers from the 2018 Raiders are on the roster currently. Amari Cooper, traded. Jordy Nelson retired. Seth Roberts, left in free agency. The Silver and Black have an all-new unit of receivers to work with and it will be fun to watch them go to work.
So, without further ado, let's take a look at the roster prior to Training Camp.
Previewing the Raiders' new-look wide receiver corps heading into 2019 Training Camp. The group will feature seven-time Pro Bowler Antonio Brown, free agent signing Tyrell Williams and fifth-round pick Hunter Renfrow.
Battle to watch:
EP: The fight to be the third wide receiver.
I feel pretty confident sitting here in early-July saying that Antonio Brown aka Mr. Big Chest, will be the top wide receiver on the Raiders roster this season.
I know, I know, it sounds crazy, but I have a feeling that this dude from Central Michigan is going to be pretty solid working with Derek Carr and Jon Gruden.
All kidding aside, we know that AB is an absolute stud, and his presence on the Raiders roster is going to give the Silver and Black the type of elite playmaker that they simply haven't had in recent years, and I personally cannot wait to see him carve up AFC West secondaries all 2019.
Antonio Brown aside, the Raiders now also have the services of Tyrell Williams, another dynamic wideout who I think is going to feast with all the attention that AB is going to rightfully garner, but behind those two, I'm not quite sure who the third wide receiver will be.
With 13 receivers currently on the roster, there aren't a lack of options for Jon Gruden and Offensive Coordinator Greg Olson, and seeing all those dudes battle it out for reps in Napa is going to be a lot of fun to watch.
Let's see who rises up and earns the gig.
KM: Typically, Gruden likes to move his receivers around the field, but if we're looking at the depth chart from a traditional standpoint we can expect Antonio Brown and Tyrell Williams to be your starting receivers out wide.
With that said, who will be the man in the slot?
This will be the position that intrigues me the most. Following the start of the free agency window, the Raiders signed J.J. Nelson, a smaller speedy, streaky receiver, and Ryan Grant, who shares a similar skill set. These were the two I had pegged to somehow weasel their way into the slot position, but after the 2019 NFL Draft, there's a chance fifth-round pick Hunter Renfrow claims it as his own.
When I think of a slot receiver, I think of a crafty player that knows how to leverage his skill set against his opponent, and that's exactly what Renfrow does. The former Clemson Tiger fits the mold, but he's gone on record saying he's more than just a slot receiver, so we'll see how he competes for other roles.
Brown and Williams aside, the rest of the receivers will be scratching and clawing for reps.
Storyline To Follow:
EP: I kind of alluded to it just a bit ago, but I really think the big story for this group – AB aside – is how the bottom portion of the position group works itself out.
We know what we're going to get in Antonio Brown – seven Pro Bowl nods, four All-Pro selections, yada yada yada – and we're also pretty sure what we're going to get from Tyrell Williams as well.
(As I said earlier, I expect 2019 to be a banner year for Mr. Williams, but I digress)
Behind the tandem of Brown and Williams, there are 11 players – yes, eleven – all battling for a spot on the Raiders receiving corps, and I feel as though each of them brings something a little bit different to the mix.
The big names from that group are Marcell Ateman, J.J. Nelson, Hunter Renfrow, and Dwayne "Gucci" Harris, but I wouldn't be surprised in the least if someone else from a little lower on the roster made a play for a roster spot throughout training camp.
Coach Gruden continually preaches the importance of competition, and the wide receivers group is going to be one of the most competitive ones on the roster over the coming months.
KM: As I mentioned previously, Gruden likes to keep defenses guessing, and both AB and Williams will line up at different spots, which is why I anticipate their knowledge of Gruden's system to be a storyline all throughout training camp.
Both are dynamic veteran wide receivers with the ability to enter GameBreaker mode – shout out to the people that immediately understood the NFL Street reference – and tear the roof off a game, but understanding Gruden's offense doesn't come easy to everyone.
As players of their caliber, however, I think they'll do just fine, but as the 2019 regular season approaches, I'm curious how Gruden utilizes the pair of playmakers.
Keep an eye on:
EP: Hunter Renfrow.
It seems like no matter where Renfrow lines up, or what jersey he's wearing, the dude makes plays.
The former Clemson Tiger might not be the most physically imposing wide receiver on the roster, but size aside, Renfrow just has an uncanny ability to get open and come down with the football, particularly in the biggest moments when his team needs him the most.
Now, I'm not sitting here today saying that Renfrow is going to catch the game winner to send the Raiders to the Super Bowl this year, but I am saying that I fully anticipate him being a productive piece on the Silver and Black's defense as a rookie.
Keep an eye on this young fella once the team touches down in Napa.
KM: He grew up with the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum in his backyard, he went to college just over an hour away at UC Davis, and now he's ready to make his dream of becoming an Oakland Raider a reality.
Keelan Doss, the Alameda native, is prepared to put his best foot forward during training camp this year, and he's already got a foot in the door with the Raiders coaching staff.
If you recall, Doss was a member of the Senior Bowl North roster, which was coached by Jon Gruden and the Raiders. After making a strong impression during the week in Mobile, Ala., the team signed him as an undrafted free agent. Jim Nagy, Executive Director of the Reese's Senior Bowl, had nothing but high praise for Doss when he spoke the Raiders' Upon Further Review podcast, shocked that Doss wasn't selected somewhere in the fourth to fifth round.
Doss will have plenty of time to prove all the naysayers wrong, but first, he has to piece together a strong training camp performance.
The question you want answered by the end of training camp:
EP: With so many wide receivers on the roster I have a two-part question: 1. How many does Jon Gruden elect to carry on the 53-man roster 2. Which guys towards the bottom of the position group step up and earn one of the final spots in the wide receivers room?
KM: It's not the sexiest question, but how does this young group of wide receivers establish their role on special teams?
Every unit needs gunner and there are plenty of speedy receivers worthy of the job. We saw Dwayne Harris make some savvy plays as the return man for the Silver and Black last year, but I wonder if there's a player in this new batch that'll give him a run for his money as the kick returner, or take over ownership of the punt return role.
Assistant Head Coach/Special Teams Coordinator Rich Bisaccia has a lot of speed and youth at his disposal.