NFL Preview Series: Oakland Raiders

Byron Dixon| Elite Insiders 

The Oakland Raiders have something brewing in the Bay Area. With a franchise QB in Derek Carr, young star linebacker Khalil Mack and potential number one receiver Amari Cooper. New coach Jack Del Rio will help get these young players to take their game to the next level and could sneak up on a lot of people this season.

While We Were Away: Two other new players Carr will be throwing to are third-round rookie tight end Clive Walford and running back Roy Helu. Walford is a physically gifted player who could emerge into a solid target down the road, but he’s probably not ready to contribute. Helu, on the other hand, will provide a big boost as a pass-catching running back on third downs. Helu might also receive some carries behind Latavius Murray, who flashed at the end of last season when he rushed for 112 yards and two touchdowns on just four carries against the Chiefs. Murray will be the starting running back, while Helu figures to be second on the depth chart.Donald Penn and Austin Howard will reprise their roles as the team’s starters. Penn just turned 32, but he was outstanding last year. The same can’t be said for Howard, who performed rather poorly. The only alternative for Howard is 2013 second-rounder Menelik Watson, who has been a major bust thus far. The team signed Michael Crabtree over from the 49ers. Crabtree was dreadful this past season, as he’s never been the same since tearing his Achilles.

The biggest name – and player – general manager Reggie McKenzie acquired was nose tackle Dan Williams. There are some work-ethic issues with Williams, and it’s troublesome that he took the money and ran to a worse team, but if the Raiders can get him to play hard, he’ll be a stout defender against the run. McKenzie was expected to add a player next to Williams in the first round of the draft in Leonard Williams, but he opted for Amari Cooper instead. He didn’t make the wrong choice, as McKenzie then chose Mario Edwards Jr. in the second frame. Edwards, however, has trouble maintaining weight, which is problematic, given that his best position in the NFL is the three-technique spot. The Raiders reportedly want Edwards to rush the passer from the edge, which is a very questionable decision. Rounding out the rest of the defensive line, Justin Tuck was a solid contributor last year, logging five sacks despite seldom having the lead. Justin Ellis, a 2014 fourth-rounder, stopped the run well at the defensive tackle spot, but provided no sort of pass rush.

2015 Season Outlook:  The Raiders hit a home run last year when they selected Khalil Mack with the No. 5 pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. Mack was outstanding as a rookie; in fact, he was one of the league’s best defenders, excelling against the rush and also getting decent pressure on the quarterback. Despite Mack’s terrific play, however, Oakland still surrendered 28.2 points per game, so the front office really needed to build around its young linebacker with some key acquisitions in free agency and the draft. Oakland’s secondary was not very good at covering people until seventh-round rookie T.J. Carrie entered the lineup. Carrie wasn’t great, but he was a big upgrade over the decrepit Carlos Rogers. Carrie figures to open the season as the starter across from D.J. Hayden, who is looking more and more like he’s a sure-fire first-round bust. Perhaps Hayden will improve in his third year, but the Raiders shouldn’t hold their breath. Oakland also shouldn’t expect its safeties to play well. One is Charles Woodson, who turns 39 in October. The other is Nate Allen, who was a reject from Philadelphia’s putrid secondary. Expect every single decent quarterback to have great success against the Raiders’ poor defensive backfield.
The Black Hole seems like an intimidating place to play, but the Raiders are a sub-.500 team (72-88) as hosts since 1995. They were 3-5 at home last year, with four of the defeats being by 11 or more. Sebastian Janikowski was coming off one of his worst years ever in 2013, connecting on just 21-of-30 tries. He bounced back this past season, however, going 19-of-22, including 3-of-5 from 50-plus. Marquette King, who once beat out the controversial Chris Kluwe for the starting punter job, ranked 11th in net yardage last year.
2015 Record: 7-9 

The Raiders have a tough schedule. They open up against two playoff teams (Bengals, Ravens) and then deal with the Broncos, Chargers, Steelers and Lions. Even if they’re competitive, look at their final five foes: Chiefs, Broncos, Packers, Chargers, Chiefs. That record seems tough but they will be in every game and have a shot at surprising a lot o people and will be an improved ball club. The Raiders are headed in the right direction ladies and gentlemen.

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