The Las Vegas Raiders are now looking into the belly of the beast. With the 2023 NFL Scouting Combine in the books, the real work for the Raiders begins in a little over a week’s time. Many concerns swirl around the Raiders’ QB situation and what will be done in Free Agency and the NFL Draft to bolster the defense, however, there is a glaring weakness–who will the Raiders line up as the Z-receiver?
WR Mack Hollins stepped up as the Raiders Z-receiver for the majority of the 2022 season, after signing a 1-year deal worth $2M, according to Spotrac, so re-signing the special teams guru at a market value of $2.4M/year is a viable option. However, the Raiders may be tempted to look elsewhere in Free Agency and take a flier on WR Parris Campbell, with a market value of $2.5M/year or coin up and bring in the likes of WRs Allen Lazard and DJ Chark, with market values ranging around the $10-12M/year range, according to Spotrac.
Another option the Raiders may be tempted to look for their Z-receiver is in the NFL Draft, particularly in the mid to late rounds. Such a move will be a risk, yet a calculated one, due to the loaded WR class in this draft. In addition, doing so would save the Raiders millions of dollars, which can be allocated to the defense, who has underperformed for far too long.
So, who would be these prospects that the Raiders should consider for their currently vacant Z-receiver position? First, let’s discuss the criteria for the position: speedy, a big catch radius, able to go up in 50/50 situations, a solid blocker and versatile (able to be used effectively in end-arounds and jet sweeps). In saying that, here are the four prospects the Raiders should consider in the mid to late rounds at WR:
BRYCE FORD-WHEATON, WEST VIRGINIA
Ford-Wheaton, standing at 6’4″ and around 220, ran an official time 4.38 40-yard sprint at the combine,along with a 41″ vertical jump–very impressive. In the field, he possesses the ability to blow past defenders and win in 50/50 ball situations, with exceptional physicality at the top of routes. Additionally, at 6’4″, he contains the ability to have a large catch radius, which is a treat for QBs.
Ford-Wheaton, however, must clean up his route-running as he rounds off his routes, which allows DBs to undercut many throws. He must also work on diversifying his route tree. These issues are fixable and can be seen as a possible overreaction. After all, they said the same thing about Seahawks WR DK Metcalf coming out. Stay tuned.
ANDREI IOSIVAS, PRINCETON
Iosivas, an elite athletic specimen, ran an official 4.43 40-yard sprint, jumped a 39″ vertical, and powered out 19 reps on the bench press at 225 lbs at the combine. Standing at 6’3″ and 205lbs, he is very reminiscent physically and athletically of Mack Hollins. Iosivas, was known as a serious threat vs. zone coverage at Princeton, showing quick transition from catch to run against such coverage. He is also a threat vertically and in 50/50 situations.
His weakness, however, is that he has a bad tendency to catch the ball with his body and lacks intensity in run-after-catch situations. If the Raiders do acquire the Princeton WR, those issues will likely be a thing of the past, as veterans Davante Adams and Hunter Renfrow will take the youngster under their wings and shape him into the proper professional. Nothing a Jugs Machine and a proper mindset can’t fix. He is a diamond-in-the-rough type prospect.
MATT LANDERS, ARKANSAS
Landers is a spectacular athlete. At 6’4″ and 200 lbs, he clocked in a 40 time of 4.37, with a broad jump at a whopping 10’10”. Considered by many as “raw and unrefined” at the position, has displayed throughout his college career the ability to be a game breaker, consistently making numerous big plays. He also has the ability to win in 50/50 situations.
There are glaring weaknesses, however. Landers struggled to win vs. elite competition, particularly against Alabama, where contested catches became a challenge. He also lacks the lower body strength to win in yards after the catch. If the Raiders consider Landers, a strict conditioning regimen, along with the utmost dedication from the prospect, is an absolute must. The ball is in Landers’ court.
TREY PALMER, NEBRASKA
Palmer, standing at 6’0″ and just under 200 lbs., is a tad bit undersized, but contains the athletic prowess to be a successful Z-receiver in the league, with the correct tooling. At the combine, Palmer ran an astounding 4.33 official 40-yard sprint time and displayed elite athleticism in the field drills.
An intriguing prospect–shows incredible grit against press coverage and shows elite leaping ability, making him a prime candidate in 50/50 situations. With the 4.33 40 speed, he can be used in end-arounds and jet sweeps, which is ideal for offensive coordinators in the NFL.
His weaknesses are that he is “green”– a receiver who often uses just his athleticism to get by, as well as showing lackadaisical effort on certain routes. However, if placed into the right situation, a work ethic can be instilled from the get-go, prioritizing sharpening his craft, as opposed to relying on that elite athletic pedigree. The correct fit for Landers is paramount, and the Raiders are a prime candidate to sharpen up the youngster.
**HONORABLE MENTION**– MICHAEL WILSON, STANFORD
I would not be doing my due diligence if I did not include Michael Wilson on this list. Compared by many to Mack Hollins, Wilson ran an official 4.58 40-yard sprint, which is not wowing, however, plays the game with extreme energy, speed, and urgency. Wilson also shows interest in being a formidable run blocker and shows the potential to be an elite talent in the league. Also, Wilson is an excellent gunner in special teams, comparable to the aforementioned Hollins. The Raiders must consider adding the prospect if they would like to replicate the services of Mack Hollins, but at a reduced price and a higher upside.
(Scouting reports credited to NFL.com)