Receivers lead the way

Tight end might be a position of need for an Oakland unit that has two soon to be free agents. But the receiver position is stacked and no one expects another down year from Randy Moss. It should come as no surprise that the Raiders were scooping a tight end at the Senior Bowl.

Dominique Byrd got national attention for his work on gameday but it was during the week that he truly shined. His week of Senior Bowl performances outclassed UCLA rival Marcedes Lewis - eyed as a top talent in this year's draft.

The success of Byrd over the week spurred interest from several teams, including the Oakland Raiders. While Oakland kept most of the action private, they did have a front row seat on the tight end and wound up having a private discussion with the former USC Trojan.

TIGHT END: Starter - Courtney Anderson. Backups - Randal Williams, Zeron Flemister, James Adkisson.

Anderson, a seventh-round find out of San Jose State in the 2004 draft, has showed promise but remains prone to false starts and mistakes on blocking assignments. He finished the season on the bench with a knee injury for the second straight season. At 6-foot-6, 270 pounds with good hands, his skills remain intriguing.

Williams, a former wide receiver, bulked up to 235 pounds to become a tight end. In doing so, he lost none of his effectiveness as a special teams player, which is his true value. He caught a career-high 13 passes but had some key drops. Williams is an unrestricted free agent who is interested in returning.

Flemsiter, another free agent, made no discernable impact as either a receiver or blocker.

Adkisson, a converted wide receiver, was promoted to the 53-man roster from the practice squad in the season finale and was inactive.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters - WR Randy Moss, FL Jerry Porter. Backups – Doug Gabriel, Alvis Whitted, Ronald Curry, Johnnie Morant, Carlos Francis.

Moss was averaging 24.5 yards per reception until suffering rib, pelvis and groin injuries against San Diego on Oct. 16. He finished with 60 receptions, 1,005 yards (16.8 yards per catch) and eight touchdowns – far below what the Raiders had hoped for. Moss was ignored for long stretches, and his route-running remained suspect, but a new coach will be charged with getting him more involved.

Porter led the Raiders with 76 receptions for 942 yards and had five touchdowns, but his 12.4 yards per reception average was evidence his role had become that of an underneath target. Porter remains an enigma, prone to spectacular catches as well as conspicuous drops. He tends to put together big games in clusters, then disappears.

No. 3 receiver Gabriel quietly became the Raiders' most reliable third-down target, as 31 of his 37 receptions were for first downs. Gabriel, who can make both the routine and spectacular catch, averaged 15.0 yards per catch but was utilized strictly on the outside, while Moss and Porter took turns in the slot.

Whitted remains one of Oakland's fastest receivers at age 31 and a favorite of the owner - the new James Jett.

With Achilles' tendon surgeries in each of the last two seasons and a cap value of more than $5 million, Curry either will restructure or be waived. Either way, the career of a promising slot receiver is in limbo because of serious injury.

Morant was a preseason standout who was active only once during the regular season. He has good athleticism and size (6-4, 220) for a possession receiver, but his route-running and savvy are issues.

Francis, a former Texas Tech sprinter, missed all of training camp with a hamstring pull but was kept on the roster simply because of his speed. He will need a strong training camp to make the cut in 2006.


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