When the Raiders open the regular season Monday night against the Broncos in Denver, the absence of Antonio Brown will be the biggest media storyline.
How will the Raiders react, after all the commotion of his departure? Will there be a hangover, just as there was in 2018 when the team lost its best player, Khalil Mack, just before the start of the season, then stumbled to a 4-12 record?
Yet this year may be different.
The loss of Mack left a gaping hole on defense. The loss of Brown – who never played a down for Oakland in a regular-season game – should be far less painful.
Brown’s departure opens the door for others in this deeper, revamped receiving corps.
Sort of lost among all the offseason hype over the addition of Brown was the addition of free-agent ex-Charger Tyrell Williams, who signed a four-year, $44 million deal and is a genuine deep threat.
There’s much more depth in the receiving group for this season, with a pair of veterans in J.J. Nelson and Ryan Grant, fifth-round draft pick Hunter Renfrow out of Clemson and undrafted free agent Keelan Doss, the Alameda native from UC Davis, who was reclaimed by the Raiders from the Jaguars this weekend.
Also, Monday night will be a sort-of debut for tight end Darren Waller, who takes over as a starter from Jared Cook (after backing him up in 2018). Cook, now departed, was the Raiders’ top receiver last season, but the Raiders believe Waller could be something special, coming off a terrific training camp where teammates and coaches raved about his ability. At 6-foot-6, 255 pounds and with terrific speed, the former college wideout has the potential to be a matchup problem for opposing secondaries. And, in 2018, the Broncos defense had trouble shutting down opposing tight ends.
So, on Monday night, players such as Williams and Waller have a chance to help get Jon Gruden’s offense off to a running start. Williams certainly sounds ready to claim his role as the team’s No. 1 receiver.
"I feel like I’m one of the more underrated receivers," Williams said during training camp. "I know I can run every route and obviously I can get better at it, but I know I can run all those routes. I can get open with every route."
Monday night – and for the rest of the season – the Raiders will need he and his teammates to do just that.
Kickoff is set for 7:20 p.m. Oddsmakers have made the Broncos 3-point favorites.