As veteran and former Houston Texans quarterback Matt Schaub tries to revive his career, he enters the Oakland Raiders preseason with a mix of veteran receivers and those possibly on the cusp of breakout years. After Oakland acquired Schaub for a sixth-round pick, the 33-year-old is trying to erase the memory of his dreadful 2013. He became the first passer in NFL history to throw a pick-six in four straight games, and Houston dropped to 2-14 after several years atop of the AFC South.
But when Schaub was on top of his game and earned two Pro-Bowl berths, he had top receivers like Andre Johnson on the other end of his throws. Schaub might not have a receiver of Johnson’s caliber in Oakland, but he can certainly improve a passing game that ranked 25th in the NFL last season.
How Schaub, who’s always played as a pocket passer, fits into offensive coordinator Greg Olson’s power-running scheme will also be a factor in how the Raiders and their receivers develop this season. Hoping to get running back Darren McFadden’s production back on track, Olson was hired because of his successful stints in Tampa Bay and St. Louis. His first year in St. Louis Steven Jackson rushed for a career-high 1,528 yards and 13 touchdowns, and LeGarrette Blount surpassed the 1,000-yard mark in his rookie season under Olson. Blount hasn’t replicated that success ever since. McFadden once again struggled through injuries in Olson’s first year, but he’s still expected to spearhead the Raiders rushing game.
However that’s not to say McFadden, and veteran back Maurice Jones-Drew will get most of the play calls. That 2006 Rams squad under Olson attempted the third most passes in the league, and receivers Tory Holt and Isaac Bruce each posted 1,000-yard seasons. In 2010 Olson also helped then-Bucs starter Josh Freeman generate the best year of his career with 25 touchdowns to six interceptions.
As the Raiders prepare for their first preseason game against Minnesota Friday, third-year receiver Rod Streater sits atop the team’s unofficial depth chart. Streater led the team with 60 receptions for 888 yards and four touchdowns, nearly doubling his output in 2012 in both yards and catches.
Andre Holmes is next up, a surprising turn given the Raiders signed eight-year veteran James Jones away from the Green Bay Packers in the offseason. The 26-year-old Holmes is coming off his best season as pro, when he hauled in 25 receptions for 431 yards and one score while leading the team with 17.2 yards per catch. And in the early days of training camp, reports suggest Holmes, who was an undrafted free agent and spent two years on Dallas’s practice squad, has become Schaub’s favored target.
Despite signing a three-year, $10 million deal in the offseason, Jones has taken his reps with the second team, though that could bode well for his future with the team. Back in 2012 Jones became the darling of the league after he caught 14 touchdowns, but in his follow up season Green Bay missed quarterback Aaron Rodgers for seven games due to injury. Jones managed to snare 59 receptions for 817 yards and only three touchdowns, but he’s the most experienced member of the Raiders receiving corps, and playing on the second team has afforded him time with second-round rookie quarterback Derek Carr. The Raiders will eventually turn the offense over to Carr, so Jones is arguably in the best position of any receiver on the team as he builds an on-field rapport with the former Fresno State star.
After three years in Cleveland, receiver Greg Little is beside Jones on the second team for now. He racked up 155 receptions for 1,821 yards and eight touchdowns for a Browns team that ran through seven different starting quarterbacks during his tenure. More consistency under center could mean better overall production from Little.
Denarius Moore slid back to third on depth chart, which may have been more surprising than Jones’s relegation. Last year Moore was second on the team in receptions and yards, and first with five touchdowns. He’ll certainly make the team, but Moore might have to prove again how effective he can be in Olson’s scheme before he moves up the chart.
Another surprise was Juron Criner listed above Mychal Rivera. Criner’s impressive workouts during the offseason in June were apparently enough to move him up the chart. Criner was limited to one game due to a shoulder injury that sent him to injured reserve in 2013, so he didn’t have enough time to show what he can do during a game. Still Rivera, who posted 38 receptions for 407 yards and four touchdowns in his rookie year, already has a better track record. Criner has 19 catches in 13 career starts with one touchdown in two seasons.