Raiders position analysis: Wide Receiver

Young players with upside is the best way to describe the Oakland Raiders wide receivers. That’s great if you are playing Madden, but in the NFL experience counts. Another worrisome point about them is that the group of Chaz Schilens, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Johnnie Lee Higgins, and Louis Murphy has missed a combined 31 games over the last two seasons, which makes it hard to know exactly what the Raiders have in the unit.

Can the Raider wide receivers stay healthy this year and begin to develop their roles in the offense? Perhaps Al Davis needs to bring in someone to guide them along, like assistant wide receivers coach Jerry Rice or Tim Brown. I don’t really know who to put as the starters. According to the TFDS team depth chart, it goes like this:

Starters:

Louis Murphy:

Murphy is a fine young football player from Florida. He has looked really good in his first two years when he wasn’t hampered by a shoulder injury. Last year, he was second only to Zach Miller with 41 receptions. He started really hot as 12th among receivers in yards gained (238) and averaging 15.9 yards per catch with a touchdown in his first 15 catches. He was on pace for 80 catches for 1269 yards, but after his first three games of the season, Murphy had just one more game with five or more catches, the loss at Jacksonville. He would only score one more touchdown over the last 13 games of 2010.

Injuries are a killer and while Murphy only missed two games, he probably should’ve missed more than that. But the kid has a bright future in the NFL. He’s one of those workhorses who is very dedicated and can be relied upon if he can stay healthy. Murphy had a nice start to his career in Oakland and in the absence of Zach Miller, Murphy has been the go-to guy.

He is a team player and has a tremendous on-field presence. Murphy is a two-time NCAA National Champion. I don’t think Al Davis could do much better than this kid in the fourth round.

Darrius Heyward-Bey:

What can I say that hasn’t been said a thousand times already? A lot of people are ready to throw in the towel and call Heyward-Bey a bust. But the growing number of passengers on that bus does not include Heyward-Bey. He worked hard to get where he was last year and ended up having a decent year. One touchdown in 26 catches, 333 yards might be considered a decent NFL season if he weren’t making Calvin Johnson type money… and if he weren’t a starter.

If the Raiders can get DHB to start catching the ball with his hands, he could be very dangerous; much like he was in games against St. Louis (6 catches, 80 yards) and against Seattle (5 catches, 105 yards, TD). Heyward-Bey was on point against the Seachikens on Halloween.

Bottom line is that this dude is a track star trying to fit in as an NFL wide receiver. The best thing the Raiders could do for Heyward-Bey is bring in a veteran presence to guide him and keep giving him playing time in the fourth quarter of games they are winning by three scores.

Depth:

Jacoby Ford:

No first year wide out in the league was hotter down the stretch run than Jacoby Ford of the Raiders. After having no receptions in the first six weeks, Ford had 23 catches and nine rushing attempts for 625 yards and four touchdowns over the next nine weeks. He also added three kickoff returns for touchdowns in the last eight games of the season.

Ford developed into a reliable target for the Raiders and at times played some really great defense on bad throws from his quarterback. Ford has a ton of upside as the Raiders slot receiver and is on the fast track to becoming a dangerous return man.

He was the only Raiders pass catcher with two 100-yard receiving games last year. My impression is that Hue Jackson loves this guy and he will see the field a lot in 2011.

Chaz Schilens:

Made out of glass in Lancaster, CA on November 7th, 1985, comes this 6 foot 4, 225 pound receiver with 4.4 forty speed. Not only is Schilens huge and very fast, but he is as graceful as a gazelle running routes, has amazing hands, and a sick vertical leap. Schilens’ biggest problem is that he can’t show the world how good he is because he is hardly ever on the field.

His best day in 2010 was the final day of the season against Kansas City when he had 3 catches for 24 yards and a touchdown. The best day of his career was in the 2009 finale against Baltimore, when he had 8 catches for 99 yards. He’s only been in the end zone five times in three years. That’s more than Heyward-Bey, but still.

Johnnie Lee Higgins:

Although he is the most veteran receiver of the group, he is not the biggest guy. Higgins once said the reason he sees the end zone so much when he gets the ball is because he is little and he doesn’t want to get hit by those bigger guys.

Unfortunately for his career, he has been taken out by one of those bigger guys — Chargers safety Eric Weddle, on opening night in 2009 — and he hasn’t had the same charisma since then. Since Jacoby Ford is looking like the next Devin Hester in the return game and Higgins is not that valuable as a special teams player otherwise, his days in Oakland could be numbered.

Nick Miller:

This dude is a good athlete, very multidimensional. In my opinion, he should get more time at wide receiver. Not the best route runner at this point, but he is a good player to have as a project player. He reminds some of Wes Welker with his small frame, quickness, and heart. He returned punts for the Raiders for most of the 2010 season.

Positional Breakdown:

Overall, this group is young and needs a lot of work. If the Raiders are bringing in so many assistant coaches, then they seriously need to bring in another assistant coach to help Sanjay Lal. A veteran presence who can still lace up cleats and show them how to be a professional is essential to furthering their development at this point. I’ll talk more about that in Sunday night’s article.

Roster Status: WEAK

Also see position analyses:

Safety   I    Linebacker    I    Cornerback    I    Defensive End    I    Defensive Tackle    I    Special Teams

Quarterback   l   Running Back   l  Tight End   l   Offensive Tackle   l   Guard/Center  

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