What a fun year it will be for the fans in Oakland. With a fun team and great personalities, there will be many smiling faces all around. Some have said 12-4; some say 9-7 due to the defense. Let’s quickly look at each position and get a better understanding of the 2017-18 Oakland Raiders.
Quarterback: (Derek Carr, EJ Manuel, Connor Cook)
It’s nice for the Raiders to be set at QB. Derek Carr was the best protected QB in the NFL last year and he sliced and diced his way to a great season. Carr struggles at times if he’s rushed, but as long as their OL protects him the way they have, he should have another stellar year and will wow the NFL.
Even with today’s rules making passing so easy, the QB position has never been worse in the NFL. That means an excellent QB like Carr’s value is huge. EJ Manuel and Connor Cook are not waving around a Super Bowl trophy any time soon so Carr’s health is obviously imperative. No team can win without their starting QB.
Running Backs: Marshawn Lynch, Jamize Olawale, DeAndre Washington, Jalen Richard)
I think the Raiders have the best set of running backs in the NFL. If Marshawn Lynch can find some life left in a body that has taken a lot of punishment, the Raiders running game should be excellent. Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington can do it all at a smaller level. They can run, catch, and are the best pass blockers against the blitz in the NFL. Add an underrated fullback like Jamize Olawale and this crew is as good as it gets for 2017.
Offensive Line: (LT Donald Penn, LG Kelechi Osemele, C Rodney Hudson, RG Gabe Jackson, RT Marshall Lawson; T Jylan Ware, G Denver Kirkland, T Vadal Alexander, G-C Jon Feliciano, T David Sharpe)
Donald Penn did what many players used to do in the NFL. He took training camp off with a hold out. With him back the Raiders OL is intact. I’ve seen some on Sports Illustrated and Fox Sports say the Raiders OL is overrated and that’s laughable. This is a top 3 line in today’s football. Carr was the best protected QB in the NFL and the Raiders were solid on the ground and they will again be a top 10 offense; maybe even top 5. This group is the engine and driving force of the Raiders. This group HAS to stay healthy.
Wide Receivers: (Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree, Cordarrelle Patterson, Johnny Holton)
The Raiders have an excellent core of WR (maybe the best) with the addition of speedster Cordarelle Patterson. This is a huge upgrade to Seth Roberts who the Raiders are infatuated with. Johnnie Holton is solid and plays a key role in special teams.
Tight Ends: (Jared Cook, Lee Smith, Clive Walford)
Bill Musgrave gave me a headache. His WR heavy and at times conservative offense has been replaced with new offensive coordinator Todd Downing. So far I like what I’ve seen. The Raiders tight ends were near the bottom in attempts thrown to them last year. Can’t have good TE if you don’t throw to them. Lee Smith is the best blocking TE in the NFL and can catch the ball when needed. The Raiders are excited about the addition of Jared Cook from Green Bay. Clive Walford is set at #3 but should see more time in obvious passing downs. Walford has been a bust so far and he needs to show he belongs.
Defensive Line: (DE Khalil Mack, DT Eddie Vanderdoes, DT Justin Ellis, DE Mario Edwards Jr.; DE/LB James Cowser, DT Darius Latham, DT Treyvon Hester, DL Denico Autry, DL Jihad Ward)
The Raiders were last in sacks in the NFL last year and 26th in overall defense. Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin are fine but then what? Justin Ellis looks good at times but he hasn’t had a sack in 3 years and is inconsistent. Jihad Ward started 13 games last year and played in all 16. In those games he only had 16 tackles, 14 assists and no sacks and was invisible at times. If he can’t step it up this year, it may be another draft bust.
To bolster the DT position the Raiders drafted Eddie Vanderdoes out of UCLA. He was hard working and tough against the run, but not a good pass rusher. He had 4 sacks in 4 years. Mario Edwards Jr. comes back for a key year but it remains to be seen if he’s the answer. A bright spot this pre-season has been Treyvon Hester out of Toledo. He has been a quality pass rusher with a big motor. He had 5 sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss his senior year at Toledo and was a great pick at #7 this year.
Linebackers: (SLB Bruce Irvin, MLB Marquel Lee, WLB Cory James, Tyrell Adams, Nicholas Morrow, DL/LB James Cowser)
Jack Del Rio has told the media several times that the Raiders haven’t put as much into LB’s than they were able to. “When you have only so much money, you can’t fix everything”. Many times Irvin rushes the passer so he’s kind of a hybrid LB/DL. A couple of publications have said the Raiders linebackers are the worst in football. The biggest knock on this group is that they play passively and are more finesse than physical. To be fair, these guys give huge effort, but it’s obvious there needs to be improvement. Cory James has had his moments and the hopes are that he’ll keep improving. Free agent Jelani Jenkins is now out for the year on injured reserve. Rookie Marquel Lee has good mechanics and he may start but he lacks speed and coverage skills. Shalique Calhoun; the 75th player taken in last years draft; was recently cut and signed to the practice squad. A wasted pick.
Defensive Backs: (LCB Davis Amerson, RCB Sean Smith. Backups–Gareon Conley, TJ Carrie, Antonio Hamilton, Dexter McDonald)
For several years the Raiders have tried to fix their pass defense by constantly drafting and signing DB’s. It hasn’t worked & it’s a bad philosophy. I think if they spent the same money and drafts on pass rushing DT’s and tough LB’s, things would be a lot better on defense. I’ll take a great front 7 over stud DB’s any and every day. With today’s rules making it so easy to pass, DB’s have no chance if there isn’t a pass rush in front of them.
It took teams a year to realize David Amerson struggles against the deep ball. It took teams a week to find out high priced CB Sean Smith was a lot better with Chiefs safety Eric Berry and the Kansas City Pass rush in front of him. TJ Carrie has really struggled. Gareon Conley was drafted out of Ohio St. but missed all of training camp and pre-season. To get a rookie corner to jump in with out much preparation and expect him to excel is a bit much. He’s a straight cover guy and isn’t a good run tackler but people are excited about his potential in coverage. With all of the money and picks the Raiders have spent on this group, it’s been a big disappointment. The hopes are Conley will be a mainstay. Raider fans on social media have also pointed out that it’s hard watching 49er’s rookie LB Reuben Foster look like a one man wrecking crew as well.
Safety: (FS Reggie Nelson, SS Karl Joseph, S Erik Harris, S Shalom Luani, S Keith McGill)
Obi Melifonwu has been placed on IR today and the Raiders have signed veteran Erik Harris. Karl Joseph is a tough player and has looked good against the run, but he’s struggled in coverage. He seems more passive and has to improve his positioning on tight ends. Reggie Nelson is good for interceptions every year but he’s far from great. Draft pick Obi Melifonwu is a physical specimen and a great athlete. He’s a good tackler but lacks instinct in coverage and is a project. I like Shalom Luani a lot. He has good size but also has amazing instinct and a nose for the ball, something that seems to be getting rare in the NFL. With the NFL so obsessed with size and athleticism, the Raiders think that they got a huge steal getting Luani who was a great player at Washington St. Look for Luani to get more playing time as the season progresses & maybe even take over for Nelson. I’d like to see him and Joseph play together.
The Raiders are set with Marquette King but the Raiders want Sebastian Janikowski to rework his contract & he said no. The Raiders are worried about his bad back and age (he already looks to be out for week 1) and they have been working kickers out. He’s getting 4 million in this, his final year of his contract. I give you permission to slap all of the Monday morning quarterbacks in the back of the head who say that players should honor their contracts when 90% of the contracts in the NFL are NOT honored by the teams.
Grade: A (for now)
The Raiders have a solid coaching staff lead by Jack Del Rio. With the defense lacking talent in areas, look for Ken Norton Jr. to be on the hot seat all year with fans. They say change the scheme. WHAT SCHEME? If the Raiders blitz, now their DB’s who struggle in coverage are playing man to man and they will be exposed. If they play zone, the Raiders have a poor pass rush so the QB has too much time to throw and will pick them apart.
And with DB’s getting penalties for being anywhere near WR in today’s NFL, no DB is going to be able to cover for that long of a time. If you take out the 2014 draft, the Raiders have had a ton of busts with signings and draft picks. Hayden, Calhoun, Ward, Woodley, Schaub, Walford, Smith, Amerson, Lofton, Allen and many other names are adding to the list of busts. I defended Reggie when few would and here is part of his history. Some good, some bad.
The State of the AFC West:
While Philip Rivers is being lauded by many in the press, they forget how bad he was in the 4th quarter last year and that he lead the NFL in interceptions with 21. The Broncos still don’t have a QB & have questions at OL. On defense they have to rely on the health of often unhealthy Shane Ray and Derek Wolfe for their defense to thrive. The Chiefs have an aging defense (pass rusher Tamba Hali literally has no cartilage in his knees) and a conservative offense that is built, “not to lose”. It took them this long to see Alex Smith will never win anything? They also lost their starting RB to a season ending injury. What this means is that the Raiders are prime to take over the AFC West. If they don’t, this will be a disappointing season.
Detractors to Defenders:
I think it’s ridiculous for some writers to say the Raiders are overrated. Larry Kreuger of KNBR had them going 9-7 and missing the playoffs and some have them 10-6. Not a chance. With teams struggling to score at times, and with the QB position so bad in the NFL, (Matthew Stafford gets 27 million and he’s 5-46 in his career against teams with winning records) the Raiders offense will shine and be the key to their quality season. They will flat out beat teams with their offense. That style though doesn’t work in the post season.
Now I get the detractors. The Raiders will have some good moments, but overall this looks like a really bad defense. I get that the Raiders won close games against some bad teams last year and that their schedule is much tougher (4th hardest) but their offense is better and they are more balanced.
They start off the year with 3 very winnable games that could get them on a roll. The first 9 games are a lot easier than the second half and they should go 7-2 or 8-1 (again, no win is for sure). In the last 7 games though they play New England in Mexico and host Denver, Dallas and the NY Giants. They have to play 2 cold December games, at Kansas City and then on Christmas at Philadelphia before ending the season in San Diego. Christmas in Philly? That’s a rough second half.
My Prediction: 11-5; AFC West Champs; losing in AFC Championship game
Calm down non-Raider fans; I’m not saying Derek Carr is as good as Dan Marino, but the Raiders remind me somewhat of the 80’s-90’s Miami Dolphin’s. This defense is no where close to being a championship defense. Offense excites the fans and puts butts in the seats, but defense wins championships. If the Patriots defense doesn’t completely shut down Atlanta in the second half, Tom Brady doesn’t get the chance for a come back. And as Matt Millen said several times, the Raiders defenses dominated in all 3 Super Bowl wins. In the future they have to get a pass rushing DT, a physical LB and to a lesser extent another CB before they can get to the next level. If somehow a DT comes out of the ashes this year to have an amazing year putting pressure on the QB, then something magical can happen. I don’t see it but crazier things have happened.
With the Raiders ability to score, even with the tougher schedule I don’t see them losing anything more than 5 games. If the AFC West tanks, then a 12-4 season is possible. Getting home field advantage is vital because winning in New England or Pittsburgh in the Winter is near impossible.
With the Raiders in full lame duck mode before their move to Las Vegas, this will be a wild ride, so hang on. And loyal Raider fans of all ages, keep your wits about you. If you thought Bay Area millennials jumped on the Warriors bandwagon, you ain’t seen nothing yet. So move over and let people on because NOTHING about this NFL season will be boring in the city of Oakland.