Raiders QB Derek Carr has few excuses with rebuilt receiver corps

LAS VEGAS -- No excuses, right?

A year ago, Raiders quarterback Derek Carr was essentially playing with (Las Vegas reference warning) house money when it came to his battered and broken receivers corps, a sorry situation exacerbated by Antonio Brown's training-camp meltdown and eventual release.

As coach Jon Gruden said later, "We felt we added one of the best receivers in the league a year ago, and he had frozen feet."

Gruden was, of course, talking about Brown showing up to camp with frostbite after a cryotherapy mishap. Before his helmet issues. And his going AWOL a couple of times. And his practice run-in with general manager Mike Mayock that led to his release.

Then there was Tyrell Williams.

"And then we thought we had the best free-agent receiver," Gruden mused, "and he had fried feet from plantar fasciitis. So, the feet were a problem for us last year.

"It's hard to play when your feet are on fire, and his feet were hurting bad."

Now? The Brown escapades are just a bad memory, even if the offense was geared toward Brown's immense talents in 2019. And Williams' feet have cooled off, by all accounts. Also, remember that Williams caught a TD pass in each of his first four games as a member of the Raiders last season before finishing with six on the year.

In addition to a healthy Williams, the Raiders selected the fastest guy in the draft in Alabama's Henry Ruggs III and another red zone target in South Carolina's Bryan Edwards, while adding veteran Nelson Agholor in free agency. Second-year slot man Hunter Renfrow returns, as do youngsters Rico Gafford and Keelan Doss and ripening vets Zay Jones and Marcell Ateman.

It should be a more athletic and well-rounded wideout room for Carr than a year ago. Which begs the question: How will the Raiders divvy up the targets? And no, we're not suggesting there is suddenly an embarrassment of riches at the position. There's more talent on paper, sure, but it still needs to shine through and prove itself.

Consider: The Raiders' leading pass-catcher last season was a tight end in Darren Waller, who had 90 receptions. Renfrow was second with 49 catches in 13 games, and Williams had 42 receptions in 14 games (his 15.5 yards-per-catch average last season was the second lowest of his career).

A year earlier, in Gruden's first season back on the sidelines after nine years in ESPN's Monday Night Football booth, running back Jalen Richard tied with tight end Jared Cook for the team lead with 68 catches.

In fact, the last wideout to lead the Raiders in receiving yards was Amari Cooper with 1,153 yards in 2016. Not only did Carr play at an NFL MVP level that year, it is also the only time since 2003 the Raiders have had a winning record and gone to the playoffs.


Then there's this: Raiders receivers had the third-fewest receptions (145) and fourth-fewest receiving yards (1,858) combined by any wideout group in the league last season, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

So yeah, there's room for improvement.

Especially for Carr to use those deep threats a year after he averaged a league-low 6.2 air yards per pass attempt in 2019, and he threw the third-most passes to running backs and tight ends in the NFL at 275.

In drafting the fleet-of-foot Ruggs, who blazed to a 4.27-second 40-yard time at the combine, the Raiders showed they had a need. A need for speed.

So no, that was not Carr recreating the beach volleyball scene from "Top Gun" on his YouTube page last month. Rather, that was a shirtless Carr organizing pandemic passing drills in a Las Vegas park with several teammates.

Among the receivers in attendance -- Agholor, Edwards, Jones and Renfrow.

Carr, keep in mind, is coming off career highs in passing yards (4,054) and completion percentage (70.4). And now he is entering, for the first time in his seven-year career, the same offensive system for the third straight season.

So, excuses? Yeah, not so much anymore.

Issues, though? Sure. But having to divvy up targets to an improved receiver corps would be a good problem for Carr and the Raiders to have in 2020.