A year ago, Louis Murphy was coming off his best season in the NFL.
In 2010, Murphy caught a team-best 41 passes over 14 games for 609 yards, both career bests for the young wide receiver in his second season in the league.
Now, however, there is speculation that the former fourth-round pick of the Raiders in 2009 out of Florida could be in danger of not making the opening-day roster for the 2012 season.
An injury kept Murphy out of the starting lineup in last season’s opener, and the emergence of rookie Denarius Moore took away some of his opportunities later in the year. Injuries hampered Murphy much of 2011, and he started just one game and caught only 15 passes.
Now, it’s expected that the Raiders’ top three receivers this season will be Moore, Darrius Heyward-Bey and Jacoby Ford, with rookies Juron Criner and Rod Streater also opening eyes during recent workouts. Former undrafted free agent Eddie McGee, who was on the practice squad last season, also has reportedly made big strides in offseason workouts with quarterback Carson Palmer.
With the team expected to carry six wideouts, someone is certain to be squeezed out. And with a new coaching staff and new offensive system in place, head coach Dennis Allen is likely to be open to giving opportunities to the best performers in training camp regardless of previous experience.
Recently, Steve Corkran of the Contra Costa Times wrote that he believes Murphy is now “in a fight” to make the roster.
In addition, though Murphy can be a playmaker when he catches the ball, he’s often had problems dropping passes. Even during his rookie season when he caught 34 passes, Murphy ranked seventh in the NFL in “drop percentage,” mishandling 17 percent of throws to him, according to one study. He did improve that percentage his second season, however.
Recently, when ESPN.com reporter Bill Williamson was asked in an online chat about who he’d take this season – Murphy or undrafted free agent Streater – he responded, “If Streater is good in the preseason, there has to be a spot for him. I could see Murphy being shopped – a la Patrick Crayton – on cut-down weekend. That is not a report, just a hunch.”
So who are Criner and Streater?
Criner, a fifth-round pick out of Arizona, is a big target (6-foot-3, 224 pounds) with a 38-inch vertical leap whose stock dropped in the draft because of a relatively slow 40-yard dash time of 4.68. As an all-Pac-12 receiver with the Wildcats, Criner had 82 catches for 1,233 yards as a junior, with 75 for 956 yards as a senior.
And, in workouts with the Raiders, Criner has consistently shined, with good hands and good instincts. Criner could become an impact player.
Streater, meanwhile, a 6-foot-2, 193-pounder from Temple, had 49 catches over his final two college seasons for seven TDs, and has reportedly played very well in stints with Oakland’s first team. Allen has frequently mentioned Streater’s performance.
“I think he’s earned the right to get the reps,” Allen told reporters recently. “He’s done a nice job.” Added Allen: “He’s really impressive.”
With Streater, Criner and McGee making big strides, Murphy could be in for a very competitive battle to keep his job in training camp and during the exhibition season.