Probably the most lasting memory Raiders fans have of Willie Snead is not a pleasant one. Entering his third season, and second as a starter for the Saints, Snead had the best game of his career against the Raiders.
It was the 2016 season opener and Snead shocked the Raiders, catching all nine passes thrown his way for 172 yards and a touchdown.
Despite this performance, however, the Raiders would go on to win that game 35-34 on a late two-point conversion to lead out their only winning season (12-4) the past 18 seasons.
That game, Snead made an impression on the Raiders and Derek Carr and the Raiders made an impression on him. Leading, in part to him joining the team today on a one-year deal.
“All I remember was those guys were scoring fast,” Snead said Friday over video conference. “They had a great offense. Derek Carr was…slinging that thing around like it was nothing. He was just starting to emerge as a quarterback in this league and I just got to see the versatility of the offense. When we talk about Crabtree, Amari Cooper, Seth Roberts, those guys were being used during that time. That’s why those guys went to the playoffs that year because they were so great on offense and were able to do so many great things.
“When I looked at that offense, they were explosive, they were fast, they could score points, and that’s what I see now with this team. Just watching from afar last year, they were right there. Just to be part of that now, it’s exciting, because I know what I can do, what I bring to the table, and just hearing what Jon Gruden said about me and the offense going forward, you can’t help but be excited.”
Snead spent the past three seasons in Baltimore, where he saw his numbers go down from the ones he was putting up in New Orleans. Making it a priority for him to find a team that ran an offense in which he felt like he had a good chance of returning to the same kind of role he had with the Saints.
“Just the vision that [Gruden] has for this offense and I’m pretty familiar from my time with the Saints, just with scheme and everything that they do,” Snead said.
“Back when I was in New Orleans, that was more of that West Coast spread type of deal, and I was just able to move around to a whole bunch of different places. I was a versatile player during that time and in this type of offense the more you can do the more they’ll keep you on the field. That’s what I prided myself on when I first came in the league was just trying to learn every position, whether it’s the slot, whether it’s outside. I just wanted to learn it all and be able to go out there and execute. Just getting that trust from the coaches knowing that I can do it, that they can put me anywhere out there and I can be successful. That’s the same mentality I have coming here.”
It’s clear the Raiders and Snead are on the same page; both sides would like to see him return to his 2015-16 form. Those two seasons were his best as an NFL receiver, in which he averaged over 70 catches for 940 yards and a combined 7 touchdowns. In his four seasons since, he’s averaged a fraction of those numbers per season.
What Snead *has* enjoyed throughout his career, however, is playing in the postseason. Ironically, it’s the past four seasons of his career that he’s been part of a playoff team — one season in New Orleans, three seasons in Baltimore.
He’s hoping he can bring that playoff experience to the Raiders and be the final piece to them getting back to the playoffs.