The Oakland Raiders made a splash this offseason by trading for one of the best wide receivers in the game in Antonio Brown, then doubling down by signing one of the best wide receivers in this year’s free agent class with Tyrell Williams.
And they weren’t done there. Though he’s nowhere near as good as either of the first two, JJ Nelson does one thing that both AB and Williams do: He brings a ton of speed to the Raiders.
But just because they added three speedsters does not mean Jon Gruden is going to be making big changes to his offense.
It’s natural to think that adding three speedy guys means Gruden is going to turn this offense into the type of vertical offense that would make Al Davis smile.
But that’s just not who Jon Gruden is.
Of course the Raiders will take their shots downfield. But that’s nothing new. They did this last season as well (See: Infamous play where Cooper stopped on his route when Carr tried to hit him deep). Gruden isn’t opposed to the deep ball but it’s not the center of his offensive philosophy.
At his core, Gruden is a west coast offense guy. That means timing routes and lots of short passes with the intent of getting more yards after the catch. And if Gruden wasn’t going to change that philosophy to make Al Davis happy, he isn’t changing it because he has speedy receivers on his roster.
Again, it’s not to say that Gruden won’t be taking deep shots. He absolutely will. That’s part of how his offense works. The deep routes will help open underneath routes and taking deep shots often enough to keep defenses honest is vital to succeeding. And hitting on those deep shots requires receivers who are capable of being deep threats.
And that’s not to say it wasn’t smart to go out and get all of that speed despite not running a vertical offense. What’s nice about grabbing three speedsters is that it opens up the possibilities for Gruden. Not because he can take more deep shots but because the offense is more versatile.
Think about last season when Amari Cooper was the only guy you could consider a deep threat. I know Seth Roberts is deceptively fast, but he’s obviously far from reliable and he’s never been a guy who was used a lot to spread the field with his speed.
And we don’t need to discuss why Jordy Nelson wasn’t a deep threat.
That made the offense a little more predictable. You knew Roberts and Nelson would almost always be running shorter, underneath routes and if anyone was going deep, it was likely Cooper.
Obviously, we did see the Raiders send Nelson and Roberts deep at times but imagine being able to send Tyrell Williams, Antonio Brown and JJ Nelson deep. All three have top end speed and can be a deep threat at any moment, or could be used to run an underneath route because there’s always someone else who can run a deep route.
This year, there will be no focus on one receiver as a deep threat and sitting down on receivers who aren’t. Each Raiders wide receiver will have to be seen as a potential to go deep or run an underneath route and that could prove to be very valuable.