One story in a series, looking at position breakdowns for the Oakland Raiders, who arrive for training camp in Napa, CA, on July 24. Today – a look at wide receivers:
Can Jerry Rice and Tim Brown play forever? No, it just seems that way.
Rice is entering his 19th NFL season while Brown is going into his 16th campaign. Despite their advancing ages of 40 and 36 respectively, they continue to be productive receivers even though they may lack the ability to get deep as they once did.
Their continued production is directly correlated with their maniacal work ethic. Can they keep fighting off "Father Time?" With aging players a sudden decline always looms but there's no reason to think they can't maintain their productivity.
Rice continued to silence the critics who said he was done after San Francisco released him two years ago and has become the go-to man in Oakland. Rice caught 92 passes for 1,211 yards and seven touchdowns. That output was his most productive season since 1996 (108-1,254-8).
Brown failed to crack the 1,000-yard mark for the first time since 1992. Brown caught 81 passes for 930 yards but only two touchdowns. While that production is a down year by his lofty standards, most players would crave such a year – except for the touchdowns.
Third-year man Jerry Porter started every game last season with Brown and Rice in the three-receiver sets. Some people, however, may be inclined to believe Porter would start opposite Rice and nudge Brown to the No. 3 receiver role if Oakland were to go the more conventional two-receiver route. The latter formation, however, is not likely to happen since Oakland had so much success with three receivers.
After showing flashes of brilliance for two years, Porter enjoyed a breakout campaign. He caught 51 passes for 688 yards and a team-leading nine touchdowns. Porter combines an impressive package of size, speed and strength to make teams pay for double-teaming Rice or Brown.
Beyond this impressive trio, however, the depth dwindles. Marcus Knight, who made the team as an undrafted free agent in 2000, impressed in exhibition seasons and NFL Europe. Knight has been mostly a valuable special teams performer for Oakland. He has the skills to become a decent receiver but is unlikely to get that chance as long as Rice, Brown and Porter remain.
While Knight would be considered the favorite for the No. 4 receiver, the question becomes – who gets No. 5 and perhaps 6. That leaves holdover Alvis Whitted along with draft picks Doug Gabriel (fifth-round, Central Florida) and Ryan Hoag (seventh-round, Gustavus Adolphus) to fight it out for those spots.