It isn’t too often an entire receiving corps is turned over from one year to the next. In the case of the Oakland Raiders, it was a must after last season’s disastrous showing. Basically a year after Jon Gruden said Amari Cooper would be a focal point of his offense, only to trade him a handful of months later, the real focus of Gruden’s 2019 offense will be Antonio Brown.
Oakland beefed up its offensive line, and running back Josh Jacobs should provide respectability in the ground game after being one of the Raiders’ three first-round picks. Balance and stability will help keep defenses off of Derek Carr’s back every snap, which (obviously) helps out the entire receiving corps.
Brown was traded from the Pittsburgh Steelers following a contentious but highly productive 2018 campaign. He should be content in Oakland, at least for a year, with Gruden coddling him at every turn.
AB turns 31 years old on July 10. There is an elevated risk of injury, but he still has his quickness and is a hard worker away from the spotlight. In the last six seasons, Brown has registered at least 154 targets in Pittsburgh. Looking back at all of Gruden’s most-targeted receivers, the average is 126 looks. Removing two pathetic seasons in Tampa, where the top wideout saw 80 or fewer targets in each year, the average increases to 143. Tim Brown saw 153 targets in 1998 to lead the way, and Joey Galloway racked up 152 in 2005.
Looking at Brown’s six-year run of being the star we’ve come to expect, the stats average out to be 170 targets, 114 receptions, 1,524 yards (13.3/rec) and 11 scores. He set a career best with 15 touchdowns last year, and approaching his averages in his first year with the Raiders should be considered a major win. Using Brown’s data over this time at the 143 targets Gruden’s offenses have averaged, we’d be looking at a line of 96-1,274-9 … not too shabby, and well worthy of his current ADP (mid-Round 2 in both main scoring systems).
That is not to say regression from his averages aren’t ahead, but there’s little reason to believe he will take a major step backward. The offense will feature Brown, and the volume should remain high. Mind you, even that average-based projection is still a 15 percent decline in fantasy production from last year, and it assumes he plays one more game.
The No. 2 receiver in this offense will be former Los Angeles Charger Tyrell Williams. He brings a downfield presence in a 6-foot-4 frame. Gamers witnessed Williams stand out in 2016 when Keenan Allen went down early in the year. That season, Williams landed 69 of his 119 targets for 1,059 yards and seven scores in his first full season (played two games in 2015). In a lesser role, his final totals were remarkably consistent in each of the past two years, posting lines of 43-729-4 and 41-653-5, respectively, even if getting there was not evenly distributed.
Players of his nature tend to be streaky, and Williams’ history is no different. In 2016, he scored twice in the first eight games before rattling off a TD in four straight outings, only to score once in the final month of the season. Williams sprinkled three of his four TDs in ’17 over the last six contests. Last year, after finding the end zone in the Chargers’ season-opener, he scored his four other touchdowns in three consecutive games before going scoreless from Week 10 on.
Gruden has tried to incorporate a downfield asset in all of his offenses through the years. We’ve seen guys, like Galloway and James Jett, have relatively productive seasons as WR2 targets. Williams is among the best deep threats in the game right now, averaging at least 15.3 yards per grab in each of the past three years. The volume of targets won’t be special, barring an injury to Brown, so it will be incumbent on Williams to make the most out of each reception to achieve maximum fantasy returns.
Speedy deep threat J.J. Nelson comes from Arizona and will contend for the primary slot job. His main competition is rookie Hunter Renfrow and veteran Ryan Grant, whose one-year stopgap in Indy didn’t exactly parlay into a prominent role after a few flashes with the Washington Redskins. Nelson’s best year was 2016 (34-568-6), but he landed only seven balls in 2018 after failing to endear himself to the new coaching staff. At 5-foot-10 and just 160 pounds, Nelson is not built for consistent use in the slot. Grant is built more like a running back and has the most game experience, although it hasn’t translated into on-field production. He’s not explosive but offers mostly reliable hands. Renfrow is the wild card of the trio. While he was clutch for Clemson, he is still a rookie.
Fantasy football outlook
Brown is a rock-solid WR1 in any format, albeit with a little more risk given the new quarterback, offensive system and his age. He’s a transcendent talent whose game fits any offense or era.
Williams is a popular sleeper of late, and he’s going in middle of Round 13 of non-PPR leagues, which is where gamers will find his optimal worth. The PPR counterparts have chosen him, on average, a more than round earlier, with the 12:01 pick. Inconsistency could be a factor for those in weekly matchup leagues; he’s a fine target in best-ball formats.
None of the other receivers are worth drafting in typical league designs but could offer something off of the waiver wire with a break in their favor.
Carr is good enough to keep AB afloat in fantasy, and his arm is lively enough to take advantage of Williams’ wheels. The lack of a defense suggests Oakland will be slinging the ball often in 2019.