Friday, June 2, 2023 | 2 a.m. | Friday, June 2, 2023 | 2 a.m.
The ball hardly ever touched the ground when the Raiders’ offense passed during full-team drills in their third offseason practice of the year, on May 25, the first session open to media.
That’s no small feat considering the absence of new starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo—who’s recovering from foot surgery—left journeyman backup Brian Hoyer, rookie draft pick Aidan O’Connell and second-year undrafted player Chase Garbers rotating in to take snaps. That set of reserves therefore became the first players to benefit from what might be the most sure-handed and best route-running pair of top receivers in the upcoming NFL season.
The Raiders signed former New England Patriot Jakobi Meyers this offseason to line up on the other side of superstar Davante Adams, who led the NFL with 14 touchdown receptions last year.
“I didn’t see him featured as much as maybe he should have been based on what I saw when [the Patriots] came here and we practiced against them [last summer], and so far what I’ve seen from him now,” Adams said of Meyers after the practice. “He’s a pro. He’s got a lot of tools on the field, and the way he thinks about the game as a relatively young player is impressive to me, so I’m excited to work alongside him.”
The biggest competition going into training camp a year ago was which receiver would primarily earn the No. 2 spot next to Adams. Mack Hollins was ultimately the answer, but he has since left for the Atlanta Falcons in free agency.
There will be no such question going into training camp this year in late July, after a couple more weeks of voluntary practices and a minicamp from June 6-8. Meyers, a 26-year-old, fifth-year pro, was brought in expressly to fill that role.
Josh McDaniels previously worked with Meyers as his offensive coordinator with the Patriots and jumped at the chance to reunite with him. The coach cited the work ethic of Meyers, a former undrafted free agent out of North Carolina State, as a reason why the Raiders didn’t hesitate to extend a three-year, $33 million deal to him.
“It doesn’t matter how you get somewhere, it just matters what you do once you get there,” McDaniels said. “Jakobi had a great attitude from the moment I was able to work with him … and he’s just continued.”
McDaniels will look for Meyers’ determination and story to influence a locker room that has gotten significantly younger since the last time the Raiders took the field at the end of last season. Las Vegas currently has 20 rookies on its 90-man roster, including 11 who were undrafted.
It’s rare for players—especially at the skill positions—to be immediately impactful as undrafted rookie free agents, but Meyers showed it was possible in 2019 behind McDaniels’ direction in New England. He led the NFL in receiving yards in the preseason to earn a spot on the season-opening official 53-man roster, then became a linchpin for the Patriots over the next four years.
Meyers doesn’t know if he would have excelled as quickly without McDaniels, whom the receiver recently told NFL Network “is the kind of guy that gives you the answers to the test, and it’s up to you if you want to use them or not.”
During a news conference at the Raiders’ headquarters after signing his contract, Meyers said, “When I first met Josh, he was just pushing me. Maybe at the time I wasn’t his biggest fan, but looking back on my career, he helped me grow as a football player and as a man, so it definitely played a big part as far as me choosing to come here.”
Meyers looks like a perfect fit with Garoppolo and Adams. Garoppolo has traditionally been among the least aggressive quarterbacks in the NFL throwing downfield, more often leaning on his accuracy with short passes around the line of scrimmage.
Catching those types of throws is Meyers’ specialty; he’s typically unaffected by traffic and can outmaneuver defensive backs on quick routes even though he lacks elite speed to create significant separation. Adams can do the latter, leaving Meyers to act as a safer option underneath for Garoppolo.
In a similar setup in New England, Meyers led all Patriots receivers in receptions for each of his final three years, with a combined 209 catches.
“Coming out of college, I was still a young kid who thought I had all the answers, who just knew I was going to be a Hall of Famer, didn’t matter what you said to me,” Meyers said. “But I’ve been humbled a lot. I’ve lost a lot. And at the end of the day, I just want to be better. I have to appreciate the people who are trying to get that out of me.”
Ironically, the most trying moment of Meyers’ career came at Allegiant Stadium as a visitor last year. With the Raiders and Patriots tied at 24-24 and no time left on the clock in regulation, Meyers made a decision that will be replayed on NFL blooper reels for decades to come, when he attempted to lateral a ball across the field.
Raiders edge rusher Chandler Jones easily snatched it out of the air and raced 48 yards for a game-winning touchdown. Meyers teared up after committing the blooper, which he still can’t explain, but he was comforted by encouraging words from teammates and at least one opponent—McDaniels.
The bond between McDaniels and Meyers was well-established by then, and now it could be a big reason for optimism in the Raiders’ new-look passing game.
“His thing is just ironing out all the details,” Meyers said of McDaniels. “I feel like if you take care of the little things with Josh, he’ll make sure of the big things.”
This story appeared in Las Vegas Weekly.