It’s no secret that the Oakland Raiders need offensive playmakers. The expectation is that the Raiders will target a wide receiver in free agency or the draft to give quarterback Derek Carr a fighting chance in 2015.
What kind of receivers fit general manager Reggie McKenzie and new offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave’s profile? If we can identify the type of wide receivers they like, it might help narrow down some of the draft picks and free agents the Raiders may target.
There is a natural link to pending free-agent wide receiver Randall Cobb because McKenzie helped draft him as director of player personnel with the Green Bay Packers in 2011. Cobb fit McKenzie’s profile as a draft pick and has been productive at the NFL level.
Musgrave also has a type of wide receiver he likes. No one got more out of Percy Harvin, but it’s worth noting that the Minnesota Vikings also traded him away prior to Musgrave’s final year as offensive coordinator in Minnesota.
The Vikings then signed Greg Jennings, who is another player McKenzie helped draft in Green Bay.
Wherever there is overlap between what McKenzie and Musgrave like in a prospect, there is potential for consensus. We have relatively small sample sizes—and in many cases incomplete data—but where there is enough data, we can glean something.
To figure out what McKenzie really likes in a wide receiver, we are going to have to reverse engineer his drafts with the Raiders and Packers.
He wasn’t the final decision-maker in Green Bay, but the Packers had success with finding wide receivers, so it’s unlikely an area where McKenzie felt the need to infuse his own philosophy.
Over the last several years, McKenzie has drafted Brice Butler, Juron Criner, Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson, James Jones, Greg Jennings, Terrence Murphy and David Clowney in the draft.
Clowney made it only a year in Green Bay, but latched on with the New York Jets, where Raiders director of player personnel Joey Clinkscales worked as a top scout at the time.
The Packers didn’t really sign free-agent wide receivers, but the Raiders unsurprisingly signed James Jones last offseason. McKenzie obviously has an affinity for ex-Packers because he scouted and helped draft most of them.
Measurable information will have to serve as a proxy for more qualitative information like personality profiles, interviews, medical information and college game film.
NFL teams have all of this information at their disposal, but we latch on to 40-yard dash times.
The difference a few hundredths of a second might make on a football field is highly debatable. To overvalue this data is a mistake, but in this case, we are going to be looking at prospects who fall into a range in hopes of identifying common athletic traits:
|The Athletic Prototype|
|Measurables||Average||Jordy Nelson||Greg Jennings|
After an analysis of the eight draft selections McKenzie was involved in making either directly or indirectly, it’s clear that there is a common athletic profile.
Whether the numbers influence McKenzie’s like or dislike for players or it’s simply a coincidence is unknown.
The average McKenzie pick ran a 4.47-second 40-yard dash, a 4.23-second short shuttle and a 6.98-second three-cone drill. However, the last four McKenzie picks have all had short shuttle times in the 4.3-second range.
Those same prospects also averaged just over 10’1” in the broad jump and about 35.5” in the vertical jump. As far as size goes, McKenzie’s average receiver is 6’1” and 205 pounds.
Essentially, McKenzie’s average receiver is 5’11” or taller and between 190-220 pounds, runs a 4.5-second 40-yard dash, 4.3-second second short shuttle, 7.0-second three-cone drill, broad jumps 10’0" and has a 36” vertical. This is the prototype. Taller, faster, more agile, more explosive is obviously still better.
Surprisingly, Cobb actually doesn’t fit the profile perfectly. He’s on the small side (5'10", 192 lbs) and doesn’t make up for it with amazing agility or explosiveness.
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Maybe Cobb isn’t a true No. 1 receiver, but he’ll certainly be paid like one. That’s obviously the concern with him. Has any true No. 1 receiver without personality warts been allowed to test free agency in the last five years? It’s rare, but even more so in the current climate that puts an emphasis on the passing game.
Jeremy Maclin and Torrey Smith both fit McKenzie’s profile better. Mike Wallace also fits the profile if the Miami Dolphins end up releasing him. NFL Media's Ian Rapoport reported on NFL Total Access (h/t NFL.com) that the Dolphins are looking to deal him away.
That’s not to say they are better than Cobb, but they have been productive in the No. 1 receiver role.
If Cobb ends up back with Green Bay or some team wants to hand out a ridiculous contract, don’t be shocked if the Raiders go hard after Maclin instead. He fits what McKenzie likes and how Musgrave is likely to use his new toys.
Smith and Wallace are also good options for the Raiders because they give Carr a deep threat. The Raiders have Jones and Rod Streater to work short, but bringing in a home run option would require a much different offense than what we saw from Musgrave in Minnesota.
Musgrave values the ability for receivers to run after the catch. He got a lot out of Harvin, Cordarrelle Patterson and Jarius Wright—all receivers who thrive after the catch.
That sounds a lot more like Cobb and Maclin than Wallace and Smith.
If the Raiders want to wait to draft a wide receiver until the second round, like the Packers did so many times successfully, this might not be a bad draft to do so.
The class is deep and relatively flat from a talent perspective.
Of the top options, Kevin White fits the profile perfectly. Amari Cooper’s only blemish is his below-average vertical jump. Sammie Coates also fits McKenzie’s athletic profile.
It’s possible DeVante Parker and Jaelen Strong will also fit the profile once they run the three-cone drill and short shuttle at their respective pro days.
However, when we adjust for the presence of Musgrave, it seems like McKenzie will try to find receivers who aren’t just good at the catch point, but who can take a bubble screen and turn it into a big play.
|Measurable||Prototype||Amari Cooper||Kevin White||DeVante Parker||Jaelen Strong||Sammie Coates|
|Arm||32"||31 1/2||32 5/8||33 1/4||32 1/2||33 3/8|
|Hands||10"||10||9 1/4||9 1/4||9||9 3/8|
|NFL.com (*Not a Fit/No Data)|
From that perspective, White might be the perfect prospect. He’s big, fast and a tough runner after the catch with surprising wiggle for a man his size. He fits what McKenzie is looking for, but also how Musgrave is likely to use him.
However, Cooper still has to be on the radar. He’s so close to being an athletic fit, runs great routes, is younger and superior after the catch to the other top wide receivers.
If the Raiders don’t sign a free-agent wide receiver, they probably have to go wide receiver at No. 4 and find a player who can make can instant impact like Cooper.
If they decide to pass on a receiver in the first round, Tyler Lockett is an interesting player who fits McKenzie’s profile, and he’ll go off the board later. Lance Zierlein of NFL.com compared him to the aforementioned Wright. He’s small, but so was Cobb. Other than his size, he checks all the boxes.
Coates resembles Patterson, who has been disappointing in Minnesota. Musgrave only had Patterson for a year, but it was the more productive of his two seasons in the NFL.
Coates seems like a boom-or-bust pick, but if the Raiders can get him in the second round, he might be worth the risk. He certainly would add an athletic element, and Musgrave would figure out how to get him the ball to make use of it.
McKenzie’s athletic profile and Musgrave’s preferences should steer the Raiders in the direction of speedy players with agility more than big receivers.
That’s especially true in free agency, where true No. 1 receivers are just not available.
In the draft, Cooper and White both make sense for the Raiders in the first round for different reasons. White may be the prospect McKenzie loves, but Musgrave may prefer the more agile Cooper. Whichever prospect they can find more common ground on will likely be the pick at No. 4 if they take a receiver.
If they pass on a wide receiver or trade down, there will be more options on the table, but the need is still there.
Signing a player like Cobb wouldn’t prevent the Raiders from grabbing a big receiver and giving Carr and Musgrave multiple options in the passing game.
It’ll be interesting to see how the Raiders go about filling their needs this offseason, especially at wide receiver with so many different options available and the resources to get virtually any player they want.