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Raiders Free Agency needs: Wide Receiver

2012 Free Agency begins next Tuesday, March 13th at 4pm. The sixth in a series of looks at positions the Raiders may target.

2011 Starters:
Darrius Heyward-Bey
Denarius Moore

Offseason Moves so far: none

On the Roster:
Darrius Heyward-Bey
Denarius Moore
Jacoby Ford
Louis Murphy
Derrick Jones

Practice Squad:
Eddie McGee – signed a reserve/future contract 1/3/12. On practice squad last season.

Restricted Free Agents: None

Unrestricted Free Agents:
TJ Houshmandzadeh
Chaz Schilens

Projected 2012 Starters:
Denarius Moore
Jacoby Ford

Last year at this time it appeared that the Raiders had found a bonafide star in Jacoby Ford and that he and Louis Murphy would be able to team for a potent 1-2 combo based on their potential.

Training camp hit and DHB looked the same – dropping balls and catching with his body when he did catch the ball.  Denarius Moore looked like a find for the 5th round and was the talk of training camp.

Chaz Schilens was once thought of as a great find in the 7th round based on his size and hands.  He has had one injury plagued season after another and, even though he wasn’t known to be hurt last season, he was ineffective in limited duty.  He could be back, but I see no reason to expect it at this time.

TJ Houshmandzadeh was signed as a comfort blanket to assist his friend, Carson Palmer.  He didn’t light the world on fire and as a free agent, I don’t see him likely to return.

Derrick Jones was signed as a Undrafted free agent rookie last season and suffered an injury in training camp that caused the team to put him on IR.  I was surprised to note that, according to Rotoworld, he had signed a 3 year contract that makes him a Raider through 2014, if the team chooses.  I have no idea if he’ll make the team or not – looks like he’ll get a crack this offseason, though. 

This offseason, the WR corps expectations are very different going into the free agency period.

DHB was the Raiders’ most productive receiver last season and I have to respect that even if he still struggles with catching the ball naturally.  At least he’s a hard worker and a good attitude.  The last coaching staff learned to play to his strengths which are that he is much better catching the ball short and running with it than running under a deep ball and coming down with the reception.

DHB still drops too many balls and still catches the ball into his gut or chest which causes the ball to bounce if he doesn’t field it cleanly but he’s much more an impact player than most would have guessed based on his initial two years.

The other big weakness with DHB is that he doesn’t position himself well to win jump balls, which is something that with his height – he’s 6’2″ – should be a strength over many CBs that are under 6’0″.

So, DHB is a work in progress but he is progressing, which is encouraging.

Denarius Moore was also a bright spot for the Raiders – he has looked, from training camp forward, like the team’s best WR.  He is deceptively fast, runs good routes and can get open.  He also has good hands and is able to position himself under a deep ball well.  I expect him to be the first Raider to cross 1,000 yards receiving since Randy Moss had 1005 in 2005.

Jacoby Ford hopefully will regain his confidence and speed.  The three – Ford, Moore and Heyward-Bey – could provide a good tandem if they are healthy and ready to go.

Louis Murphy was a big disappointment last season.  He didn’t show the skills he had in prior years.  He didn’t have good hustle and wasn’t able to get open.  He looks like the teams fourth best WR at best.  In looking at game tape for another article there were multiple times where he ran a route that should have had him digging his foot into the grass and coming back to the ball.  He repeatedly didn’t do this and waited for the ball to arrive to him and when it did the CB was there to break it up.

Eddie McGee was on the practice squad last season and has developed a good repor with Palmer.  Palmer would warm up with him before some games.  There are reports that McGee is one of the receivers that is going to meet with Palmer seperately before training camp.  He has very good size at 6’4″, 210 lbs.  He may take Chaz’s spot on the roster.

In terms of free agent signings, I just don’t see any big names.  There are too many holes on this team to think that signing someone like Marques Colston is going to solve any issues.  As much as I like Colston, this team needs help at CB, LB and both O and D lines more than WR at this point. 

Hopefully another year of familiarity for Palmer with the receivers will help this young group grow into a group with no big stars but a decent amount of skill.  I could see this WR corp servicing like the Eagles or Patriots.  They don’t have to have a star player to feed the ball.  They can instead alter the gameplan based on what the opposing defense is giving them.

Who do you want the Raiders to sign, if anyone, this free agency period?

Ask me questions or tell me what you think on Twitter @AsherMathews