In 2009, the Oakland Raiders wide receivers struggled due to unstable quarterback play, an inconsistent offensive line, a case of the dropsies, and overall lack of experience.
But, they grew up.
When you look at the core of Oakland's wide receivers—Louis Murphy, Darrius Heyward-Bey, and Chaz Schilens—each took their lumps while experiencing substantial growing pains.
Murphy definitely showed that he is capable of being a reliable receiver. Whether or not he is a number one option is still the question, but his clutch performances showed that he is not afraid to step up in key situations.
Heyward-Bey took the majority of the lumps in his rookie year. But what I can say is he definitely learned that physical talent isn't enough in the NFL. It has been good to see him to continue to perfect his craft in this offseason. Hopefully, that hard work will translate to the regular season.
For Schilens, health is still his biggest enemy. But, what I can respect about his 2009 campaign is that he played injured. I think that lets us fans know that this guy truly cares about helping the Raiders win. Playing hurt when you have the reputation of being fragile is a big thing. I definitely respect it.
But, after those guys, things get shaky.
Let's take a look at the receivers, both starters and reserves.
Schilens: Coming off of injury, Schilens is showing no signs of pain or favoritism toward his injured foot. His triumph will be staying healthy for all 16 weeks. When healthy, Schilens is the Raiders most polished receiver, and both Heyward-Bey and Murphy understand his importance to this offense.
Murphy: Murphy is going to continue to progress and may be one of the league's most prolific draft steals. Murphy, I think is going to play a lot in the slot, keeping all three receivers on the field at the same time. This tells us that Murphy is versatile and can play anywhere on the field.
Heyward-Bey: There is no way Heyward-Bey sits in 2010. The Raiders are itching to prove all draft skeptics wrong. Now, whether or not he delivers is still in question and ultimately up to him. But it seems that he is doing what he can to build a chemistry with his quarterbacks.
Jhonnie Lee Higgins: Higgins has a lot to prove. He has shown that his overall focus is a concern. He has regressed as a receiver, and was a disappointment at punt returner. He may stay on the team mainly because wide receiver is still a shallow position for Oakland as the organization don't seem to want to invest in a veteran.
Jacoby Ford: Ford makes this team as a fourth round investment and special teams threat. He has the number one Raider trait: speed. Ford will see a lot of time at wide receiver, but mainly as a specialty type weapon.
On The Cutting Block
Nick Miller: Miller was a fan favorite in the 2009 preseason, but was injured for the entire regular season with shin splints. What is more alarming, is that he still isn't 100 percent healthy. He needs to have a outstanding training camp, and he still may only make the practice squad.
Yamon Figurs: A special teams player, but not really a threat at wide receiver. With Ford and Higgins battling it out for punt returned, Figurs may just be a camp body.
Todd Watkins: Watkins has decent measurables, but nothing really stands out. He's fast but not blazing like the others. He gets open, but is not the best route runner. He struggles to make the team every year, barely making the cut. But this year, there is a little to much to overcome.
Adenjii Damola: There isn't a whole lot of info on this undrafted free agent. However, one of his big assets, other than his measurables, is his special teams skills. He is not as much a returner, but a defender of punts. Damola has the measurables the Raiders want at 6'3" and 215 pounds.
I don't think Damola will make the team, however. At least not as a wide receiver, but maybe on special teams. The reason I put him down as a surprise player is because if he has a quality training camp, and makes some big plays in preseason, Damola can at least make the practice squad and hone his skills.
Then in 2011, he may be able to be a legit back up. Losing Schilens last year really hurt in the red zone, and having a 6-foot-3 back up could really help if it happens again.
The Raiders may not have the best starters at wide receiver, but I do see our starters surprising in 2010. But if anyone of them get hurt, they could be in real trouble.
I don't have a lot of faith in Higgins to be honest, and even though Oakland found a steal in Murphy in 2009, it doesn't want to ask to much of Ford in 2010.
A veteran wide receiver could help, but it seems the Raiders are heading in a different direction.
Let's hope they are right.