Sports

Las Vegas Raiders’ Derek Carr letting young WRs group ‘go make plays’

HENDERSON, Nev. — Looking for a scouting report on the Las Vegas Raiders‘ kinda, sorta revamped wide receivers corps?

Look no further than a member of said unit, as second-year wideout Bryan Edwards talked about the “diversity” of his group.

“We have me,” said the 6-foot-3, 212-pound Edwards, a third-round draft pick out of South Carolina in 2020, “obviously a big-body outside receiver.

“[Henry] Ruggs, extremely fast, can take the top off any defense, can make plays underneath, can do it all.

“Hunter [Renfrow], Third and Renfrow, Swiss Army Knife. Tough as nails.

“And we’ve got Zay Jones, who can play any position. We’ve got a lot of guys — Willie Snead … I feel like we have a very dynamic room.”

One veteran who was supposed to be the speed demon opposite Ruggs was released on Tuesday, though, as John “Smoke” Brown was a cut-down day casualty. On the initial 53-man roster (which had 52 players on it, as Las Vegas waits to announce its trade acquisition of linebacker Denzel Perryman), the Raiders went with five receivers.

Was it really only three years ago when Jordy Nelson and Martavis Bryant were going to be quarterback Derek Carr‘s downfield targets, just two summers ago when Antonio Brown and Tyrell Williams were set to revolutionize the Raiders’ passing game before Brown blew the whole thing up on his way out of town in the preseason?

With a receivers room centered around Ruggs — the No. 12 overall pick last season who had 26 catches for 452 yards and two touchdowns in 13 games — Edwards and Renfrow, a fifth-rounder in 2019, Las Vegas has a young, skilled and hungry, though relatively unproven, group. It also has to replicate the production lost by Nelson Agholor‘s departure in free agency after he had career highs in receiving yards (896), average yards per catch (18.7) and TDs (eight) in his lone year with the Raiders.

So who steps up?

The way Ruggs sees it, he has to become the “go-to guy” for the Raiders and insists he’s more than physically able to withstand the grind after putting on 13 pounds of muscle this offseason without losing any of his 4.2-second-in-the-40 speed.

“Camaraderie is there, unlike last year,” he said. “It’s a man’s game now. I’m not the biggest guy, but I have to get to where I can compete with grown men now.”

And therein lies the rub.

Not so long ago, Carr had the likes of Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree to throw to downfield. Then things went sideways, the WR room was rebuilt and coach Jon Gruden’s tight end- and running back-friendly offense showed up in 2018.

Consider: in 2016, with Crabtree (89 catches) and Cooper (83 catches) leading the way, 63.3% of Carr’s completions were to wide receivers. The numbers under Gruden: 48.0% in 2018, 40.2% in 2019 and 45.1% last season.

Of course, the emergence of Darren Waller as a Pro Bowl tight end, with a combined 197 catches the past two seasons, has had an effect on those figures, but Carr insists a trust has been brokered between himself and these young wideouts.

After all, Renfrow put on a show at a joint practice with the Los Angeles Rams recently: “We’re not going against the Citadel or Furman … this was game day for us,” Renfrow said. “That’s the beauty of it — if I can beat Jalen Ramsey, then I can beat anybody in the NFL. Because he’s one of the best.”

And Edwards, who was limited to 11 catches in 12 games as a rookie, said his ankle is fine now.

“Health is wealth, man,” said Edwards, who was compared to Terrell Owens by Gruden, and to a young Davante Adams by Carr.

“I have a group of wideouts that I trust, that when I drop back, I’m going to throw the ball up to them,” Carr said. “And I told them, ‘It’s up to you if you want to make SportsCenter or not. I’m going to throw it to you because you guys have the talent and the ability to go make these plays.'”

Paging Ruggs, then.

“There was one day I rolled out and totally just chucked one up to Henry, one-on-one, and this man jumps about four feet off the ground and snatches it, lands, gets up and runs,” Carr said. “I said, ‘You keep doing that in practice, I promise you I’ll throw that in a game. But if we don’t see it in practice, I can’t throw it in a game. I can’t do it. I can’t put our team at risk for a turnover or a bad play.’

“But as long as they are making plays, or when I make a bad throw, they are knocking it down to go to second-and-10. Man, we can keep doing that … we still need more work, obviously, but these young guys are getting a chance to gain trust with me.

“In the team drills, there was a couple times the other day I was just like, ‘You know what, I’m going to give a couple guys a chance and watch them go make plays.’ And when they do, you file it away and you’re like, ‘OK, when I get that look, I know he’ll go do it for me.'”

Now that’s a scouting report … as positive and localized as possible. Just make sure to check back in around Week 9.

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