Updated April 27, 2020 - 6:26 pm
The Raiders have made significant changes at wide receiver, and it potentially puts them in position to attack teams in ways they weren’t able to last season.
Everything is predicated on the newcomers forging roles and delivering on projected production levels. But the addition of rookie wide receivers Henry Ruggs of Alabama and Bryan Edwards of South Carolina and running/receiving weapon Lynn Bowden of Kentucky — along with free agent pickup Nelson Agholor — has certainly changed the dynamic of the position.
They join second-year slot receiver Hunter Renfrow, who emerged last season as the Raiders’ most consistent receiver, and veteran Tyrell Williams, who suffered through an injury plagued season but, if healthy, can be a core piece.
Beyond that, the Raiders have Zay Jones, Marcell Ateman, Rico Gafford, Anthony Ratliff-Williams and Keenan Doss, all of whom will be battling for the one or possibly two remaining roster spots.
To understand how differently Raiders wide receivers might be utilized next season, it’s important to understand how they fit in the game plan last season after the loss of Antonio Brown and the foot injuries suffered by Williams.
Of Derek Carr and Mike Glennon’s 367 completions and 4,110 passing yards, only 145 receptions and 1,858 yards were produced by wide receivers.
To contrast that, Kansas City Chiefs wideouts accounted for 181 catches and 2,696 yards of the 319 completions and 4,690 yards amassed by Patrick Mahomes. Of Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson’s 4,110 passing yards on 341 completions, 196 of them went to wide receivers for 2,873 yards. Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott completed 388 passes for 4,902 yards, of which 224 receptions and 3,475 yards were by wide receivers. And in New Orleans, of the 4,431 yards and 418 pass completions by the Saints, 207 receptions and 2,442 yards were by wide receivers.
All four of those teams averaged more than 25 points per game, and the Cowboys, Saints and Chiefs all averaged at least 27.
The Raiders averaged 19.6 points, the ninth fewest in the NFL, despite producing the 11th most total yards per game at 363.
Clearly, the lack of production from their wide receivers played a role in the struggles to turn yards into points. And it’s why they invested three premium draft picks in players who can improve that dynamic.
Ruggs, in particular, is expected to give the offense an immediate boost with his dynamic speed. The Alabama product burned a 4.2 in the 40 at the NFL scouting combine, the fastest among his position, and coupled with his ability to execute all the necessary pass routes made him the Raiders’ favorite among a group of prospects that included Alabama teammate Jerry Jeudy and Oklahoma’s CeeDee Lamb.
While sharing the field with Jeudy the past three seasons, Ruggs had 98 catches for 1,716 yards and 24 touchdowns.
“The distinguishing factor really was his speed, his explosion and his work ethic,” Raiders general manager Mike Mayock said.
“When you’re in the division we’re in, and you look at Kansas City and at what they have on offense and what their explosion looks like, we needed to get faster, and we think that his addition opens up our entire offense.”
Per a Raiders spokesman, coach Jon Gruden has not conducted a postdraft news conference because he isn’t required to by league rule.
If Williams is healthy, he figures to start ahead of Edwards. But don’t be surprised if Gruden figures out a way to get the 6-foot-3-inch, 215 pounder on the field to take advantage of his size and catch radius.
“He’s a big, physical, tough, fast wide receiver on the opposite side,” Mayock said. “We think he can win one-on-one matchups.”
In four years at South Carolina, Edwards had 234 catches for 3,045 yards and 22 touchdowns.
Bowden brings a completely different dynamic as a versatile weapon who can be deployed in the backfield, out of the slot, out wide and as a wildcat quarterback. Last season, he ranked fifth nationally in all-purpose yards at 160.7 per game.
“Ultimately, he’ll probably be what we call a joker, which is what I love in Jon Gruden’s offense,” Mayock said. “It’s somebody who can do multiple jobs.”