Raiders cut Antonio Brown, so who are Derek Carr's remaining passing game options?
Why you need to know the names Hunter Renfrow and Darren Waller
The Oakland Raiders cut ties with Antonio Brown on Saturday after Brown requested a release from team in an Instagram post. If you want to catch up with all the drama between Brown and the Raiders just click and get yourself informed, then come right back. We'll wait.
OK, so now that you know everything that's going on, it's time to take a look at the rest of the options this Derek Carr-piloted passing game has at its disposal. Fair warning: it's not pretty.
lt's likely that the Raiders will try to work the ball Williams' way simply because, well, they paid him a lot of money. The former Chargers wideout was signed to a four-year, $44.3 million deal to work opposite Brown, and now that it looks like the AB deal is falling apart, Oakland will likely at least attempt to get its money's worth here. The issue is that Williams is just about as poor a fit as possible for Carr.
Over the past three seasons, 24.5 percent of Williams' targets, 40.3 percent of his receiving yards and 11 of his 15 receiving touchdowns came on throws at least 20 yards downfield. As we explored last week in our story on how Brown and Carr would have to, only 10.9% of Carr's career passes have traveled over 20 yards in the air. That's one of the lowest rates in the league. So, either Williams will have to become a different player, Carr will have to become a different quarterback, or someone else will have to emerge as the team's top target with Brown on the sidelines.
Renfrow, a fifth-round pick out of Clemson, stands out as someone who makes for a far better fit with Carr. He's only 5-10 and 185 pounds and ranks in just the 10th percentile for athleticism among NFL receivers, but he's a shifty slot man who is an extremely precise route-runner and has shown the ability to get open quickly on the kinds of short-area routes Carr has tended to favor throughout his career. Despite below-average numbers in other athletic drills, Renfrow graded out extremely well in the three-cone, which has in the past correlated with an ability to work well out of the slot. That's where Renfrow lined up on 22 of his 30 preseason snaps, and he figures to be the Raiders' primary slot target to open the season.
Oakland has been talking up Waller throughout the offseason, and showed a great deal of confidence in him by letting the productive Jared Cook (68 catches for 896 yards and six scores in 2018) leave for a deal with the New Orleans Saints this offseason. Waller had just six grabs for 75 yards last year and did not do much during his time with the Baltimore Ravens earlier in his career, but he has excellent size (6-6, 255 pounds) and was given "obvious starter" treatment in the preseason, playing only 13 snaps in his lone appearance. Throw in the fact that Carr loves to target the tight end (he's targeted the position with 18.5 percent of his career throws, while tight ends have accounted for 20.5 percent of his career touchdowns), and Waller seems like he should have a pretty big role -- especially with the team's No. 1 wideout not in the lineup.
WR J.J. Nelson
Picture a player who is much shorter (5-10 vs. 6-4), much slighter (160 pounds vs. 205 pounds), and even more limited as a receiver than Williams outside of running deep down the field, and that's Nelson. During his tenure in Arizona, Nelson was targeted on 20-plus yard throws 59 times, accounting for nearly a third of the total times quarterbacks fed him the ball. He was, however, extremely inefficient on those throws, catching just 14 of them for 527 yards and five scores. The highest overall catch rate of his career is an absurdly-low 47.5 percent. He's simply not a starter-quality receiver, or really even close.
Richard has been one of Carr's favorite targets over the years. Only five players (Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree, Seth Roberts, Jared Cook, Mychal Rivera) have been targeted by Carr more often, and only three (Cooper, Crabtree, Roberts) have caught more of his passes. Oakland obviously has big plans for rookie running back Josh Jacobs, but there have been a whole lot of changes to this offense and the Raiders could definitely make worse decisions than allowing Carr the comfort of having a familiar target on the field so that he can feel good about where he's going with the ball.
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