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Does Michael Crabtree Give Raiders Flexibility at No. 4 in 2015 NFL Draft?

Christopher Hansen@ChrisHansenNFLNFL AnalystApril 16, 2015

San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree catches a 32-yard touchdown pass against the Oakland Raiders in the third quarter of an NFL football game in San Francisco, Sunday, Oct. 17, 2010. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

Until recently, most experts agreed that the Oakland Raiders would take either Amari Cooper or Kevin White with the fourth overall pick of the 2015 NFL draft. The Raiders had otherwise failed to add a wide receiver for quarterback Derek Carr in free agency, so it was only natural to assume that finding one early in the draft was a priority.

Maybe it still is, but the signing of former San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree may have given the Raiders flexibility at No. 4 to go in another direction. Crabtree isn’t a No. 1 receiver, but by adding another quality pair of hands to go with Rod Streater, James Jones and Andre Holmes, the Raiders suddenly have a crowded group.

Streater, Crabtree and Holmes will all be playing one-year deals, and James Jones is 31 with no guaranteed money on the remaining two years of his three-year contract, so it’s still highly likely that they will address the position early in the draft. Signing Crabtree did little to change general manager Reggie McKenzie’s plan, but it may have revealed part of it to the masses.

When McKenzie was with the Green Bay Packers, they often selected defensive players and offensive tackles in the first round and wide receivers in the second round with good success. Given the depth at wide receiver in the 2015 class, waiting until Round 2 to select one makes sense.

As general manager of the Raiders, McKenzie has so far focused on defense in the first round and offense in the second round. He also desperately needs an edge-rusher to help a defensive unit that finished 30th in sack percentage last year.

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Comparing Crabtree

Given his career production, Crabtree might be the most talked-about receiver to average fewer than 60 yards per game in his career. Crabtree’s 54.8 yards-per-game average is comparable to that of Kendall Wright, Eric Decker, Torrey Smith and Stevie Johnson since he entered the league in 2009.

Crabtree has also averaged just 12.5 yards per reception, which is comparable to Jones’ 12.8 yards per reception over the same time span. Based on this information, signing Crabtree was clearly for the purposes of adding competition among relative equals.

2013-2014 WR Comparison
PlayerGamesRecYardsYards/RecYards/Game
Rod Streater196997214.151.2
James Jones30132148311.249.4
Michael Crabtree218798211.346.8
Andre Holmes164769314.743.3
Pro-Football-Reference.com

Although Crabtree’s status as a former first-round pick gives him name recognition over the players he is competing against for playing time, it won’t get him far with the coaching staff. As was the case with the 49ers last year, Crabtree will actually have to perform to stay on the field over other options.

Crabtree will certainly have incentives to perform. According to Joel Corry of CBS Sports, Crabtree’s one-year, $3.2 million contract includes per-game roster bonuses totaling $250,000, and he can earn another $1.8 million in (not likely to be earned) incentives.

If Crabtree reaches 70 catches or 900 yards, he gets another $400,000. If he reaches 100 catches or 1,400 yards and therefore proves he’s a No. 1 receiver, he can earn an additional $1.4 million, per Corry.

Joel Corry @corryjoel

$400k for 70 catches or 900 yards is Michael Crabtree's lowest incentive threshold. Highest is worth $1.4M with 100 catches or 1,400 yards.

In 2014, Jones became the first Oakland wide receiver to catch more than 70 passes since Jerry Porter in 2005. The last player to go over 900 yards receiving was Darrius Heyward-Bey with 975 in 2011. Prior to that, it was Porter and Randy Moss in 2005.

Hall of Fame wide receiver Tim Brown is the only receiver in Raiders history to catch 100 passes or go over 1,400 receiving yards, doing both in 1997. In other words, if Crabtree even gets close to achieving his incentives, it will be a massive surprise since he’s never caught over 85 passes, and he’s eclipsed 1,000 yards only once in his career.

Spreading the Love

Crabtree’s talent isn’t going to keep the Raiders from drafting a wide receiver, but they will want to get some return on their investment. They will also want to work Streater back into the rotation, get Jones on the field in important situations and throw some deep balls to Holmes.

Doing all that and still finding targets for a No. 4 overall pick could be difficult. Working an elite talent into the rotation would obviously be a priority, but it would come at the expense of someone else’s role.

Finding Opportunity
PlayerYearReceptions/Game
Rod Streater20133.8
James Jones2012-20144.3
Michael CrabtreeCareer4.4
Andre Holmes20142.8
Total2015?15.3
As % of Carr's Completions201470.3%
AVG Rookie 1st Rounder20145.1
AVG Rookie 2nd Rounder20143.2
AVG Rookie 3rd Rounder20141.8
Pro-Football-Reference.com

The deep balls to Holmes are already a relatively small part of the offense. By giving Holmes the low tender for restricted free agents, the Raiders made it clear how unimportant he is to the offense.

The Raiders could cut Holmes out of the offense and not really have a lot to shift toward Cooper or White. Winning jump balls is something White can do, but it’s still not anything approaching the kind of volume that would need to be shifted to a No. 4 overall pick.

Taking opportunities away from Streater doesn’t make sense, as he’s probably the team’s best receiver if he’s fully healthy. The Raiders gave him the second-round restricted tender to keep an opposing team from trying to steal him.

If the Raiders were to draft a wide receiver at No. 4, one of Jones or Crabtree would likely be competing to be the team’s third receiver. It just doesn’t make a lot of sense to bring in Crabtree if there’s a possibility he’s not going to play.

The Raiders do have money to burn, but McKenzie isn’t going to make a habit of signing players for $3.2 million who might have a limited role. After signing Crabtree, what makes a lot more sense is bringing in a receiver in the second round or later who can work his way into a larger role as the season progresses.

The Alternatives

If the Raiders decide to pass on Cooper or White at No. 4, they can go with one of USC defensive tackle Leonard Williams, defensive end Dante Fowler Jr., pass-rusher Vic Beasley, pass-rusher Shane Ray or they could trade down to accumulate more picks. 

The Raiders have been in this situation before. In 2014, Khalil Mack fell into their laps at No. 5, and they didn't hesitate to turn in their draft card. The same thing could happen with Williams in 2015, although the Raiders' offseason plans indicate they don't believe that will happen. The Raiders added defensive tackle Dan Williams and re-signed defensive end C.J. Wilson to bolster the run defense. 

In 2013, a much weaker draft, the Raiders moved from No. 3 to No. 12, picked up a second-round pick and drafted cornerback D.J. Hayden. In that draft, the Raiders opted for Hayden over pass-rushers Dion Jordan, Barkevious Mingo and Ezekiel Ansah.

Only Ansah has become a great player. Mingo has been solid, but Jordan, the player the Miami Dolphins traded up with the Raiders to get, has been a bust. The jury is still out on Hayden, who has missed a lot of time with injuries. 

If the Raiders were to move down, it opens up a host of other possibilities. The Raiders could draft an offensive tackle to eventually replace Donald Penn. They could take inside linebacker Eric Kendricks depending on how far they move down to give them another versatile three-down player in the front seven.

They could also still take a wide receiver or pass-rusher, but they could use the additional picks to help elsewhere. A pass-rusher like Ray or wide receivers like Breshad Perriman and Jaelen Strong would make sense in a trade-down scenario. 

Signing Crabtree likely didn't change the draft plan, but it may have revealed that the Raiders aren't as locked in on a wide receiver at No. 4 as the media has been. The Raiders have more options to get the best possible player if they don't limit their selection to Cooper or White. Even if Cooper or White still end up being the pick at No. 4, it's never a bad idea to have options going into draft day. 

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