The Oakland Raiders have not had two clear starters at the wide receiver position since the duo of Jerry Rice and Tim Brown were wearing the Silver and Black, and this year is no different. In the past however, the Raiders did not have clear starters because, well, their receivers kind of sucked. This year, the Raiders' problem is not a lack of talent, it's choosing which talented young receivers on the roster should be the starters.
The Raiders currently have twelve wide receivers on their roster, but it is doubtful that more than five will make the roster. Those five receivers will be Darrius Heyward-Bey, Denarius Moore, Jacoby Ford, Louis Murphy and rookie Juron Criner. Of those five receivers, the is really only one who does not have a chance at being named a starter this season. While most might guess that would be the rookie, it is actually Louis Murphy. While he had a solid rookie season, Murphy has been unable to improve much and now looks like nothing more than solid depth.
Normally, a fifth round draft pick would obviously not be a starter, but Criner is not an ordinary fifth round pick, and this is not an ordinary situation. Originally thought of as an early round talent, Criner fell deep in the draft because of an incredibly slow 40-yard dash time at the NFL combine. Criner has good hands, runs good routes and has enough speed to get the job done. It is not a matter of if Criner succeeds at the next level, but when. And it could be sooner than most expect. The Raiders are stacked with speed at the receiver position, but have been lacking a big bodied, possession receiver. It just so happens that Criner fits that description. If he has a good off season and pre season, Criner could snag a starting spot simply due to the fact that he plays such a different style than the other receivers.
Two years ago, it looked like Jacoby Ford was the speedy receiver that Al Davis was dreaming of when he drafted DHB. He had a great rookie season and showed the ability to be a game breaking wide out. However, during his sophomore season, Ford began to look like the second best speedster at the position after rookie Denarius Moore. Given the fact that these two are nearly identical, it is highly unlikely that they will start alongside each other this season. While Ford is certainly a good receiver, he just is not as polished as Moore, who I fully expect to be a starter this season.
That only leaves Darrius Heyward-Bey. People were shocked when the Raiders chose DHB with the number six pick in the NFL draft. Over his first two seasons in the NFL, DHB looked like he could be the next big draft bust to wear the Silver and Black. Then, in his third year, DHB shocked everyone and caught 64 passes for 975 yards and 4 touchdowns. What was almost more surprising is that DHB did a lot of his damage on shorter, possession style routes, dispelling thoughts that he was nothing more than a track runner in football pads. His experience and new found versatility makes DHB a very likely candidate to be a starter this year, assuming he does not re-acquire a bad case of the drops.
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