In the third edition of the 2021 positional review series, the receivers for the Raiders take the spotlight. Arguably no position for the Raiders went through as much turmoil as the pass catchers did in 2021. With the off-field incident and subsequent release of Henry Ruggs III, as well as a plethora of injuries throughout the season, the Raiders needed their depth to step up in a big way. Let’s take a look at who stepped up when the team needed them to.
Receivers: Bryan Edwards, DeSean Jackson, Tyron Johnson, Zay Jones, Hunter Renfrow
Tight Ends: Nick Bowers, Derek Carrier, Foster Moreau, Darren Waller
For the receivers of Las Vegas, the mantra “next man up” was the embedded theme of 2021. Injuries and off field incidents wreaked havoc on the team’s depth and the Raiders needed someone to become quarterback Derek Carr’s go-to target. No other player on the team took that more to heart than Hunter Renfrow. The former Clemson wideout recorded 103 receptions for 1,038 yards and nine touchdowns, all career highs, en route to his first career Pro Bowl.
The fifth-round pick in 2019 was never seen as more than a slot receiver with solid hands but 2021 saw Renfrow prove he was much more than that. Catching more than 80% of all passes thrown his way, the 5’11, 185 pound receiver became a true difference maker with sure hands and quickly earned the confidence of Derek Carr. Renfrow recorded three-straight 100 yard outings in 2021 (Weeks 12-14) and proved that he could be the focal point of the Raiders’ passing attack.
“I’ve never really gauged my success off of yards or catches or anything like that, but I’m not gonna lie to you that did seem like something out of the realm of possibility,” Renfrow said about surpassing 1,000 yards following a Week 17 victory over the Indianapolis Colts.
“Coming in as a rookie and I never even had 600 yards in college. I just want to go out there and be the best receiver I can be.” Renfrow proved in 2021 that he can be not just the best receiver that he can be, but one of the best receivers in the league.
Another receiver, Zay Jones, also stepped up when needed most. Though the stat sheet won’t show it, Jones proved to be a big-bodied deep threat that defense always had to account for. Jones totaled totaling 47 receptions for 546 yards and a touchdown, that lone touchdown being the game winning touchdown in Week 1 over the Baltimore Ravens. Following the Week 8 bye, Jones exploded over the second half of the season to the tune of 41 receptions for 431 yards.
Bryan Edwards, like most other Raiders receivers, saw a substantial uptick in targets in 2021. The increased targets led to career highs in receptions (34), yards (571) and touchdowns (three) for the second-year wideout. The big-bodied third round pick out of South Carolina was expected to be a key cog in the Raiders’ passing attack in 2021 and while his numbers were far from eye-popping, Edwards’s upward trend is reason for hope for Las Vegas moving forward.
Following the release of Henry Ruggs III, veteran DeSean Jackson was brought in to fill the void and become a deep threat for Las Vegas. Beginning the year with the Los Angeles Rams, Jackson requested and was granted his release from the team due to a lack of targets. Days later, Jackson donned the Silver and Black.
Jackson was a high-profile signing that showed he still had plenty speed left to burn, as shown on a 56-yard touchdown during the Thanksgiving showdown against the Dallas Cowboys. Jackson would end the year with 12 receptions for 233 yards and a touchdown. However, the veteran presence and leadership that Jackson brought with him was arguably more critical than what he did on the field. A mentor to the young Las Vegas receivers, the 36-year-old Jackson brought with him a wealth of knowledge.
Darren Waller, who is seen as one of the most dynamic tight ends in the league, went into 2021 with high hopes. In Week 1 against his former team, the Baltimore Ravens, Waller looked like he would continue to build upon his historic 2020 season. Catching 10 receptions for 105 yards and a touchdown, the Week 1 showing would prove to be Waller’s high water mark. Injuries would plague the playmaking tight end for the rest of the season and Waller would go on to manage 55 receptions for 665 yards and two touchdowns.
Though he had a disappointing season by his own high standards, Waller would continue to look forward to 2022.
“In the process of growing, we do need to face the things that we need to get better at individually and collectively in order to take that next step,” Waller said after the Raiders’ 26-19 playoff loss to Cincinnati.
“We’ve got to be able to start from square one and know we have what it takes to weather any kind of storm and take that into next year.” Getting healthy and ready for the new season will certainly be Waller’s focus going into the offseason.
With Waller in and out of the lineup due to injuries, the Raiders had to rely more on their depth. That allowed their top backup tight end Foster Moreau to have a career year. Registering 30 receptions for 373 yards and three touchdowns, Moreau showed off his versatility and playmaking skills.
While not on the level of Darren Waller, Moreau proved to be a key playmaker for the Raiders and a quality backup. Tight end Derek Carrier was the team’s third tight end and played mostly on special teams. Dealing with a pectoral injury for most of the season, Carrier did not see much game time action.
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