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Oakland Raiders

Raiders training camp battle preview — Slot and 4th WR position

Ken Murray/Icon Sportswire

Everyone knows the Oakland Raiders are expecting Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree to again form one of the most feared receiver duos in the NFL.

The coaching staff has expressed confidence in slot receiver Seth Roberts, but they have to be a little concerned with how unreliable his hands are. According to PFF, Roberts had an extremely high drop rate of 19.5 percent in 2016. You have to think the coaches are open to having some of the returning youth compete for the position.

The slot position differs from the fourth wide receiver spot because they are asked to do different things. The Raiders mostly use 11 personnel, meaning there is usually one back, one tight end and three receivers on the field.  The slot mostly lines up on the inside and is asked to block, run short to intermediate routes and some option routes. The fourth receiver typically gets on the field only to spell one of the starting two outside receivers or for special plays. Last year, Andre Holmes filled this role well and was even used to expose smaller corners by outmuscling them on fade routes.

Slot

The incumbent starter: Seth Roberts

Roberts does bring value to the team with his excellent blocking and the occasional clutch moments. Also, he knows the playbook inside out and has rapport with Derek Carr. He is a good route runner who benefits from defenses focusing their attention on Cooper and Crabtree. The Raiders might be counting on him to bounce back like Cooper did, but he could be on a short leash if drops continue to plague him in camp.

Roberts delivering in one of the most crucial wins of the Raiders season but at what point does his drops outweigh these moments?

The No. 1 contender: Jaydon Mickens

Mickens set the Twitter-verse ablaze when he posted practice clips of him running explosive routes and showed off some wicked change of direction that left defensive backs in the dust. He made some of the Raiders’ starting defensive backs look helpless in his clips.

Fans shouldn’t get too far ahead of themselves because Mickens has a lot to prove before challenging Roberts. Playing the slot position requires a lot more than athleticism. Mickens has to master the playbook, all the audibles/ checks, option routes, read coverages, find soft spots in zones, show he can block, and earn Carr’s trust. If he can do those things with his ability to beat man-to-man coverage, the Raiders might have another weapon to go with an already dangerous offense.

Dark horse: K.J. Brent

No. 4 WR spot

Veteran in the lead: Cordarrelle Patterson

Patterson is coming in as a free agent from Minnesota, where he didn’t live up to his first-round draft status. He is an athletic specimen who really shines with the ball in his hands as a receiver or punt returner. The problem is how he performs without the ball. He has been a very poor route runner in his time in the league, which is why I’m not looking at him as a true slot.

He has to make some drastic improvements if he wants more downfield targets. Right now, he is an elite gadget player who is capable of turning reverses or screens into long touchdowns. Holmes wasn’t able to do that, but he was a downfield threat. Patterson seems to have a pretty good stranglehold on the fourth spot, but even if he loses it, he is still one of the most dangerous returners in the game and could make an impact there.

X-factorIshmael Zamora (UDFA)

There is no denying Zamora’s talent. He is 6-foot-3, runs a 4.5 40 and has shown on film he could be a very good jump ball receiver. His game needs refinement, but what he could bring is much more similar to what Holmes brought. He doesn’t run many routes, but he’s a threat running fade routes. If Zamora can be a quick study and show he has a bigger route tree than Patterson, he has an outside chance of taking his spot or at least taking some of his snaps.

I might be jumping too far ahead of myself because Zamora might not even make the team, but he’s a physical freak. If his head is in the right place, he should easily make the team. I like the options the Raiders have with Zamora and Patterson. It’s just a matter of who will earn more snaps. When the Raiders play an aggressive man-to-man team which would take away the option of bubble screens, the Raiders can give Zamora more playing time because of the threat he poses running fade routes.

Dark horse: Keon Hatcher (UDFA)

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