2017 NFL Season Preview- Oakland Raiders
If it weren't for some injuries late in the season, Oakland would've been in contention for a Super Bowl appearance.
The Raiders improved on a 7–9 campaign in 2015 and finished with a winning record for the first time since they lost in Super Bowl XXXVII. Oakland finished the season tied with Kansas City for the AFC West division title, but lost the tiebreaker due to a head-to-head sweep. The Raiders were unable to win their first playoff game since 2002, falling to the Houston 27-14.
Quarterback Derek Carr is the rock of the franchise and the team collapsed when he broke his leg in week 16. Matt McGloin started the final game of the regular season but he exited that game with an injured shoulder. Running back Latavius Murray was a great power runner while Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington were two smaller change of pace backs. Tight end was a force as a blocker and he was missed after he broke his ankle in week 4. Clive Walford and Michal Rivera are solid receiving tight ends but neither is a dominant blocker and Walford has an issue with drops. Wide receivers Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree each had over 1,000 yards receiving on the year but both had their struggles. Crabtree was the team's locker room leader but dropped 13 passes on the year. Cooper has dynamic ability but his production tailed off at the end of the season. The offensive line established themselves as one of the best in the league as shown by the team finishing sixth in the league in rushing.
Apart from defensive end Khalil Mack, the defensive line needs a lot of work. Defensive tackles Dan Williams and Justin Ellis are good run stuffers but both struggled to push the pocket consistently. Outside linebacker Malcolm Smith lead the team in tackles for the second straight year but struggled in coverage. Bruce Irvin is the team's second best edge rusher and was a solid free agency acquisition. Cornerbacks David Amerson and Sean Smith got big contracts in the offseason but failed t live up to them. Amerson had issues with tackling and Smith couldn't stay with smaller, faster receivers.
The Raiders produced seven Pro Bowlers in quarterback Derek Carr, wide receiver Amari Cooper, tackle Donald Penn, guard Kelechi Osemele, center Rodney Hudson, defensive end Khalil Mack, and safety Reggie Nelson. Carr was in contention for league MVP before breaking his leg. Cooper made his second Pro Bowl in as many years after recording 83 receptions for 1,153 yards and five touchdowns. Penn allowed only one sack on the year before missing the playoffs with an injured knee. Osemele was a high priced free agent and was named an All-Pro in his first year in Oakland while seeing playing time at tackle and guard. Hudson is a team leader and one of the top centers in the league. Mack had another All-Pro year with 11 sacks and was named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Nelson finished with five interceptions but gave up to many big plays.
The rookie class saw a lot of playing time but no one really stood out. Safety Karl Joseph was slowed by injury but showed flashes as an enforcer. Defensive end Jihad Ward got the most playing time of any rookie on the team but couldn't translate that into sacks. Outside linebacker Shilique Calhoun did little to impress before injuring his knee. Quarterback Connor Cook was the first rookie in the Super Bowl era to make his first career start in a playoff game and struggled with three interceptions. Guard Vadal Alexander saw playing time as an extra tight end in heavy packages and saw playing time at guard but struggled with penalties.
Opponent Passing Yards
Opponent Rushing Yards
NFL Rank- 13th
NFL Rank- 6th
NFL Rank- 24th
NFL Rank- 23rd
NFL Rank- 6th
NFL Rank- 26th
With a 12-4 record in his second season, head coach Jack Del Rio and general manager Reggie McKenzie have to work to maintain playoff success. The team have their cornerstones in franchise quarterback Derek Carr and elite defender Khalil Mack in place for years. McKenzie is a draft and develop GM so there is a lot of hope the 2016 rookie year will develop into key contributors.
On March 27, the league approved the Raiders' relocation to Las Vegas, however team still maintains its lease at the Oakland–Alameda County Coliseum and intends to use the stadium for at least the next two seasons and perhaps 2019.
Notable Additions- QB EJ Manuel, RB Marshawn Lynch, WR/KR Cordarrelle Patterson, TE Jared Cook, T Marshall Newhouse, OLB Jelani Jenkins
Notable Departures- QB Matt McGloin, RB Latavius Murray, WR Andre Holmes, TE Mychal Rivera, T Menelik Watson, LB Malcolm Smith, LB Perry Riley, CB DJ Hayden, S Nate Allen
Raiders 2016 Highlights
2017 NFL Draft
Holding the 24th pick going into the draft, Oakland had to address issues at key defensive spots. Especially at defensive tackle, linebacker, and cornerback.
Despite Khalil Mack's presence, the Raiders finished last in the NFL in sacks. The defensive line needs a three technique tackle who can get pressure up the middle.
Malcolm Smith and Perry Riley are both gone because they were a liability in coverage. The defense needs to fill their whole at weak side linebacker and middle linebacker.
David Amerson and Sean Smith Are both tall, long press corners. The secondary could use a smaller slot corner who can cover smaller, quicker receivers.
On draft day, Oakland decided to select Ohio State cornerback Gareon Conley with the 24th overall pick. Conley has the ideal frame, length, and athleticism but fell late in the first round after it was reported just days prior to the draft, a woman accused Conley of rape, claiming it had occurred earlier in the month in a hotel room in Cleveland. Conley strongly denied the allegations and a grand jury ruled not to charge Conley on July 31.
The Raiders also notably drafted Connecticut safety Obi Melifonwu in the second round. Melifonwu was seen as the top zone coverage safety in the draft but leaves a lot of production on the field due to his marginal ball skills.
Gareon Conley Highlights
What to Expect
With a stellar offense and the most disruptive defensive player in the game, Oakland looks to be a contender for awhile.
If Derek Carr's leg heals properly, he will be back on track as an MVP candidate. Marshawn Lynch has to prove he has something left in the tank after sitting out all of last season. Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree have to take the next step by remaining consistent and avoiding focus drops if the expect to see as one of the top tandems in the league. Jared Cook looks to be the starter at tight end due to being able to both block and catch. The offensive line should remain solid and signing Marshall Newhouse makes them even more tough to go against.
Khalil Mack is pretty much unblockable but the rest of the defensive line has to step up and make plays. Bruce Irvin will get his sacks but the rest of the linebackers have to produce against the run and in coverage. Gareon Conley looks to be the nickel corner the secondary needed and Obi Melifonwu has the size and coverage skills to be Reggie Nelson's future replacement.
The way I see it, the Raiders were a healthy Derek Carr away from an AFC West title and a first round bye. Oakland has the talent, they just have to utilize it and make a long playoff run.
Best record they can hope for: 12-4