Spotlight: Chaz Schilens

posted by Mike Brown on Jul 28th


Mike Brown's thoughts

For nearly the entire history of the franchise, the Raiders have had big-name wide receivers. And with those big names, big plays followed.

Fred Biletnikoff...Cliff Branch...Tim Brown. Even old man Jerry Rice turned in a couple of 1,000-yard seasons during his cup of coffee in Oakland.

Now? The names Chaz Schilens, Darrius Heyward-Bey, and Louis Murphy don't quite evoke that same sense of excitement as those of the past. Bet you never thought Raider fans would be longing for the good old days of Jerry Porter and Ronald Curry.

The fact is, the Raiders are a team very much in transition. The problem is, that transition has taken way too long. The team's last playoff appearance was in 2002, also the year they lost the Super Bowl to the Bucs. Since then, the wide receiver position has been in a state of flux as they moved from the old veterans to the younger generation. But try as they might, the franchise hasn't been able to find talent in that younger generation.

Since the aforementioned Curry and Porter were unable to hold it down, the team tried the free agent route by bringing in talents like Randy Moss and Javon Walker. Those two promptly combined for the absolute worst seasons of each player's career while in town, fighting injuries and displaying terrible attitudes along the way. With those two gone, the Raiders had a chance to draft a player who just about everyone thought was the next great franchise wide receiver to come out of the college ranks in Michael Crabtree. Instead, the Raiders opted to select the faster stopwatch - I mean, the faster wide receiver - when they took Darrius Heyward-Bey in the 2009 draft. All Crabtree did in his rookie season with the 49ers was put up 625 yards over eleven games. Unlike Crabtree, Heyward-Bey actually signed with his new team in time to start the season. And he promptly caught nine passes. Ok, so I'm not saying that Crabtree is automatically going to be better than Heyward-Bey long-term; just that, well, this is sort of the way things have gone for the Raiders lately.

The last two seasons, tight end Zach Miller has been the team's leading receiver. Miller is a very solid player, and there's nothing wrong with a tight end leading the team in receiving. There is a problem, however, when your leading receiver has just four touchdowns combined over the last two seasons. There's also a problem when there's seemingly no one else on the roster capable of helping the offense stretch the field and getting that tight end a few more open looks. And there's certainly a problem when you've got a logjam of players competing to be on the field, and there probably isn't a single player of the three who would crack the starting lineup for any other team in the league right now.

This past offseason, Oakland made a significant series of moves to upgrade the passing game. First, they dumped former franchise quarterback JaMarcus Russell, closing the book on one of the worst chapters in team history. After briefly flirting with a trade scenario with the Steelers for Ben Roethlisberger, they finally settled on acquiring former Redskins QB Jason Campbell. Campbell was made expendable by Washington's acquisition of Eagles superstar Donovan McNabb.

While some positive strides have been made, the passing game for Oakland has still got a ways to go. It may take some time for the Raiders to wash off the losing stench that Russell left behind, but they at least look to be moving in the right direction for a change.

Positives

  • Shipping out locker room cancer and on-field underachiever JaMarcus Russell should help the Raiders' passing game consistency. Just about anything would be an improvement over what he contributed.
  • Tight end Zach Miller can create mismatches in the secondary and is a very good receiver. While this will ultimately take some looks away from the wide receivers in general, it will also create a lot more single-coverage situations that someone should be able to take advantage of.
  • The Oakland rushing attack should also be much-improved this year with a healthy Darren McFadden and Michael Bush creating a 1-2 punch. As with most things in the NFL, it all starts with the rushing attack. If that's on, it'll open up the passing game.

Negatives

  • None of the three receivers have ever had more than 521 receiving yards or 34 receptions in a single season (both by Murphy in 2009).
  • Jason Campbell's 3,600 yards and twenty touchdowns a year ago were a lot better than Russell, but they were not exactly earth-shattering stats. And Campbell is now joining a team that has been one of the league's worst for nearly a decade. He should help, but let's not pretend the Raiders added Tom Brady this offseason.
  • TE Zach Miller will help take pressure off, which is good. But with the relative inexperience of these three as viable factors in the passing game, it's very unlikely that any one of them can possibly challenge Miller as the team's top receiving option.

Final thoughts

Last year, it looked like Chaz Schilens would be the guy to grab in the Raider WR stable, but a foot injury put his season off the tracks before it ever really began. An injury that was supposed to keep him out until October soon became a major problem, and kept him out for half the season. When he finally did crack the starting lineup, he looked good, culminating in an eight-catch, 99-yard performance in the season's final game. Heading into the offseason, he looked like the de facto number one guy in Oakland. But then came word that he needed a follow-up procedure on the same foot he originally hurt. While it's entirely possible that he'll be healthy and ready to contribute in Week 1, the fact that he had the procedure so late in the offseason means it wasn't an expected event. And the fact that the foot is still not at 100% yet has got to be a concern when you try to project how much he'll contribute. I, for one, don't expect him to play a full 16-game slate, and I've reflected that in his projections. If you could assure me that he'd play even 12 fully healthy games, it would change my opinion of the pecking order quite a bit. When fully healthy, I think he's the most complete receiver of the three right now.

Louis Murphy was the team's leading receiver last year, both in terms of receptions and receiving yards. Of course, those stats look better-suited as the number two or three guy on most rosters. Murphy was extremely up-and-down in 2009 on a game by game basis. In his four best performances, he had 18 receptions for 332 yards and three touchdowns. But in his other twelve games combined, he had just 16 receptions for 189 yards and one touchdown. And it's not like the good games were all bunched together during the same period of time where he saw a lot of extra playing time. The good games occurred in Weeks 1, 7, 13, and 17. That suggests that he's not necessarily someone who can be currently relied upon game-in and game-out from a fantasy perspective. For instance, there were eleven games last year in which he had two receptions or less, and six times where he had zero or one catch.

Which brings us to the player with the highest upside of the three: Darrius Heyward-Bey. Heyward-Bey came into the league a year ago as a very raw talent, someone with good size and speed but lacking a lot of the polish it would take to make him a solid NFL player. It was said that he ran poor routes, that he didn't have great hands, and that he was just another in a long line of track star types - players who graded out well in measurable things like height, weight, and 40-yard dash times. But also players who couldn't haul in a game-winning touchdown pass with a toe-tap in the corner of the end zone. And Heyward-Bey proved all of those conclusions absolutely right when he had nearly as many drops (6) as receptions (9) in his rookie year. However, all of the news this offseason surrounding Heyward-Bey has been positive. Teammate Zach Miller referred to him as 'phenomenal' at one point in minicamp, and he came into training camp in terrific shape after having put on ten pounds of muscle. Rave reviews in the spring don't always translate to production in the fall, but as the one player of the three capable of turning into a superstar, you'd much rather hear these things about him than the others.

If Heyward-Bey hadn't been selected ahead of budding superstar Michael Crabtree, people probably wouldn't be as hard on him as they are. But the fact remains that he was a highly-drafted first round pick and as such, he is supposed to make an impact sooner than later. He had a built-in excuse playing with JaMarcus Russell last season, but there are no more excuses now. Heyward-Bey will be given every opportunity to succeed due to his draft pedigree, and with expectations so low there's a good opportunity for him to surprise some people now.

Of course, the enthusiasm for the potential upside of anyone in this passing game still has to be tempered a bit by the fact that they were so poor last year. It's tough enough to duplicate a 1,000-yard campaign. It's far more difficult to go from being a 200- or 300-yard guy and make the leap all the way to NFL standout in a single offseason. The idea of bringing in Jason Campbell to play quarterback was a shrewd move, because while Campbell is no superstar, he also rarely looks completely lost out on the field (which Russell did at times...lots of times). Campbell should help improve the overall numbers of the passing game, and most importantly he'll make fewer mistakes than Russell did. That should help result in a lot more sustained drives (more receptions) and a lot more scoring chances (more touchdowns). At the same time, the leader of the Raider offense is a player who the Redskins seemingly couldn't wait to get rid of every year - and they're a team that has been something of a laughingstock in its own right for quite some time. So while Campbell will help, this is still a team that is far from becoming an elite unit.

A lot of our experts are still on the fence about who will emerge from this group of three, but eventually everyone is going to have to take a side here. Even if that involves stepping aside and letting someone else get caught up in this mix. To an extent, that is my stance. I'm not going to jump out of my seat to grab any one of the three, but as you'll see from the projections below it's pretty apparent which one I think has the best chance to make a key contribution for fantasy teams in 2010.


Quotations from the message board thread

To view the entire Player Spotlight thread (there's a ton of fantastic commentary in there), click here.

go deep said:

Even if DHB improved, that still doesnt make him good. He was terrible last year, and couldnt get any worse, so pretty much no matter what, he was going to get some praise this offseason if he showed up and caught the ball. He might be an OK stash on a deep dynasty roster, but i wouldnt touch him in redraft. Louis Murphy clearly outplayed him last year, but i dont think he is good enough to be a #1 WR. I think they will both be fighting for the same spot all season, neither ever establishing themselves as the #2 WR.

Chaz Schilens is the real #1 of the bunch, if he can stay healthy, he can put up solid #2 numbers with Campbell at QB.

Schilens 67 rec, 897 yards, 6 TD's
Murphy 32 rec. 455 yards, 3 TD's
DHB 36 rec, 502 yards, 2 TD's

Raiderfan32904 said:

Chaz Schilens was hurt all last last year, and when he got back he was still struggling with his foot. Now he appears to be all healed up. He is a very talented, fast, athletic huge WR in the mold of Vincent Jackson. Murphy is a big play receiver that always seems to get open and really showed his value in some late games last year. If he had hung onto a few more passes earlier in the year, he'd be discussed with M. Crabtree as far as overall rookie WR impact. But DHB was just terrible last year, we all know. This year, I think he is putting his talent on display. I'm thinking a faster version of Hakeem Nicks. He was very raw last year and the Maryland coaches cautioned the Raiders about throwing him into the mix too early. I don't even want to mention last years QB, it goes without saying that his QB today is a huge improvement. I believe that DHB has the talent, football IQ, work ethic, and motivation to get open and receive well timed, well thrown passes from Jason Campbell, and then leave defenders in the dust with his world class speed.

sholditch said:

DHB being a reach made people expect year one production. But that's the only reason for that. Everyone knew he was going to be completely raw and suck his first year. And now that what everyone expected came true, people are down on him? Also heard him interviewed and he seemed to be A) intelligent and B) realistic. He wants to be the best in the league, but realizes that it won't come easy and it will take him giving his absolute all for years to make it happen. I never heard him make a single excuse about his production (even though catching balls from JaMarcus So Fat provided an excellent opportunity to do so) which makes me like his chances to avoid the bust curse of the Raiders.


Chaz Schilens projections

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