It has been a long time coming for the Raiders with regards to their receiving corps. After every season, they are faced with a dearth of talent and depth at the position. But for the first time in ten years, they look to have a solid group with which to work.
The last time the Raiders could boast about their group of wide receivers, they were led by Hall of Famer Jerry Rice and likely future Hall of Famer Tim Brown. Those two had All Pro quarterback Rich Gannon throwing to them as well. It has been nearly a decade since that trio took the field in Silver and Black.
In the eight seasons between then and now, it has not been a pretty picture. Jerry Rice left in 2003 nearing the end of his storied career. The seven years between that season and this season looked like this:
One season with Jerry Porter out of the doghouse in which he just missed 1000 yards. One season of non-cancerous behavior from Randy Moss before he was back to whining, taking plays off, and tearing his own team down. Two seasons with Ronald Curry putting up lackluster numbers as the leading receiver. Equally unimpressive is the list of number two wide receivers, less than household names like Doug Gabriel, Alvis Whitted, Jonnie Lee Higgins, and Ashlie Lelie. Not to mention the epic failure that was the monstrous contract given to Javon Walker.
In the last three seasons the receivers were so bad, they took a backseat to the tight end.
The first season in which Zach Miller was the Raiders’ leading receiver (2008), the team drafted Chaz Schilens in the seventh round. He played in every game that season and looked as if he had the potential to be the next star receiver for the Raiders. But the next two seasons he could not stay healthy, appearing in just 13 games over that time.
The next season, the Raiders decided to go on the offensive in regards to their receiver position and drafted Darrius Heyward-Bey with the seventh overall pick.
During Heyward-Bey’s first two seasons, Zach Miller continued to be the Raiders’ leading receiver, while DHB was looking as if he may never become a player worthy of being drafted at all, let alone drafted at #7 overall. He was outplayed by rookies both seasons. First it was fourth round pick in the same draft, Louis Murphy, then it was fourth round pick Jacoby Ford the next season.
Now Darrius Heyward-Bey has developed. After amassing just 490 yards receiving over his first two seasons combined, he has emerged as a deserving starter and it resulted in him just missing a 1000 yard season by 25 yards. Additionally, Schilens had the first healthy season since he was a rookie.
But even with solid if not at times spectacular receivers in Louis Murphy and Jacoby Ford, the team managed to find yet another rookie steal in Denarius Moore. After being the talk of camp, he broke out in just his second game in the NFL with five catches for 146 yards and a touchdown against the Bills in week two. He had five healthy games with Carson Palmer at the helm and he averaged over 78 yards per game during that time. That comes to 1254 yards for an entire season. He also led all Raider wide receivers with five touchdown catches and was second on the team with six combined touchdowns in 10 rookie starts.
Moore may just be the best of the whole group. Being the Raiders best receiver didn’t used to mean much. But with a group of proven commodities like Murphy, Ford, and DHB along with the potential of Chaz Schilens, being the best of this group is making a statement.
Coming into this season, the need on this squad was for a veteran presence at receiver. That role was initially filled by Derek Hagan. Then Hagan was released to make room for another veteran receiver in TJ Houshmandzadeh. But even when the Raiders’ receivers were stretched thin with injuries, Houshmandzadeh didn’t receive a great deal of the load. The team still relied mainly on the rest of the young receivers on the team.
Now what was a weak point as recent as last offseason, is such a strong point that there are not enough balls to go around and we hear talk of trading a member of this talented group. The thinking is that there is value in a guy like Jacoby Ford that could bring in talent at a position in more need of an upgrade.
The problem with that idea is Ford excels at two positions, receiver and kick returner. He had three kick returns last season and had he not been injured he may have run a couple back this season as well. There is no one currently on the roster who can replace him and play at such a high level in both areas. But just the fact that such an idea would seem logical is very telling of how far this group has come.
The wide receivers are young and talented and should be a strength for a few years to come. They will give Carson Palmer a lot of great targets and help him to put up good numbers. This will also allow the team to focus its efforts to improve the team in other areas, be it via free agency or the draft. Not to mention giving opponents matchup nightmares.