One story in a series, looking at position
breakdowns for the Oakland Raiders, who arrive for training camp in Napa, CA, on
July 24. Today – a look at wide receivers:
Can Jerry Rice and Tim Brown play forever? No, it just seems that way.
Rice is entering his 19th NFL season while Brown is going into
his 16th campaign. Despite their advancing ages of 40 and 36
respectively, they continue to be productive receivers even though they may lack
the ability to get deep as they once did.
Their continued production is
directly correlated with their maniacal work ethic. Can they keep fighting off
“Father Time?” With aging players a sudden decline always looms but there’s no
reason to think they can’t maintain their productivity.
Rice continued to silence the
critics who said he was done after San Francisco released him two years ago and
has become the go-to man in Oakland. Rice caught 92 passes for 1,211 yards and
seven touchdowns. That output was his most productive season since 1996
Brown failed to crack the
1,000-yard mark for the first time since 1992. Brown caught 81 passes for 930
yards but only two touchdowns. While that production is a down year by his lofty
standards, most players would crave such a year – except for the touchdowns.
Third-year man Jerry Porter
started every game last season with Brown and Rice in the three-receiver sets.
Some people, however, may be inclined to believe Porter would start opposite
Rice and nudge Brown to the No. 3 receiver role if Oakland were to go the more
conventional two-receiver route. The latter formation, however, is not likely to
happen since Oakland had so much success with three receivers.
After showing flashes of
brilliance for two years, Porter enjoyed a breakout campaign. He caught 51
passes for 688 yards and a team-leading nine touchdowns. Porter combines an
impressive package of size, speed and strength to make teams pay for
double-teaming Rice or Brown.
Beyond this impressive trio,
however, the depth dwindles. Marcus Knight, who made the team as an undrafted
free agent in 2000, impressed in exhibition seasons and NFL Europe. Knight has
been mostly a valuable special teams performer for Oakland. He has the skills to
become a decent receiver but is unlikely to get that chance as long as Rice,
Brown and Porter remain.
While Knight would be considered
the favorite for the No. 4 receiver, the question becomes – who gets No. 5 and
perhaps 6. That leaves holdover Alvis Whitted along with draft picks Doug
Gabriel (fifth-round, Central Florida) and Ryan Hoag (seventh-round, Gustavus
Adolphus) to fight it out for those spots.
Vince D’Adamo can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com