|By Shawn Childs, Wednesday, June 17, 2015|
It's pretty disappointing when you look at the Raiders' all-time record compared to their recent history. Heading into 2015, the Raiders franchise has won 53 percent of their games. Yet they have won just 30.8 percent of their games over the past 12 years, and not one of them ended with an above-.500 record. As bad as that looks, it's been even worse over the past three years (11-37, a 22.9 winning percentage). Oakland accumulated the fewest yards per game and the second-fewest points per game last season. The defense finished 21st in total yards allowed and dead last in points allowed. Over the last three years, the Raiders have been outscored by 473 points. Head coach Jack Del Rio was brought in to help save this dying franchise. In his nine seasons as the head coach for the Jacksonville Jaguars, Del Rio went 68-71 with two playoff berths. Jack spent the past three seasons as the defensive coordinator of the Denver Broncos. Bill Musgrave will take over as Oakland's offensive coordinator. He held the quarterbacks coach job with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2014. He ran the Minnesota Vikings' offense from 2011-13 and worked under Del Rio as the offensive coordinator in Jacksonville from 2003-04. Ken Norton Jr. was brought to run the defense. He gets the promotion after spending the last five seasons as the linebackers coach for the Seattle Seahawks.
Oakland lost starting center Stefen Wisniewski to Jacksonville. Stefen has been an above-average player through four pro seasons. He's allowed minimal sacks and has value as a run blocker. Rodney Hudson was added to replace him in the starting lineup. He graded out as a top-three center last season.
Safety Nate Allen was signed, but his skill set is barely above league average, and five touchdowns were scored against him last year. Linebacker Curtis Lofton really struggled in 2014 and he hasn't been an asset on defense since 2011. At best, he's a league-average player with low upside as a pass rusher. Cornerback Tarell Brown remains an unrestricted free agent. He allowed only one passing TD in his 67 pass attempts defended last year. Defensive tackle Dan Williams was added to help upgrade the run defense. He has limited value in the pass rush.
The Raiders signed wide receiver Michael Crabtree, who hasn't been the same player since tearing his Achilles tendon in 2013. He gained more than 1,100 yards in 2012. Crabtree pretty much replaces James Jones, who is still a free agent. Fading WR Denarius Moore moved on to the Cincinnati Bengals. Running back Darren McFadden left to play with the Dallas Cowboys. It's been four years since McFadden was a productive player. Oakland is checking to see if Trent Richardson still has a pulse. Trent has been a disaster over the past two years with the Indianapolis Colts and the Cleveland Browns. RB Roy Helu was also brought in to contribute in the passing game. Blocking tight end Lee Smith was added for depth, as was wide receiver Kris Durham.
The Raiders instantly added more offensive fire power by selecting WR Amari Cooper in the first round. Cooper has a great combination of speed (4.42 40-yard dash at NFL combine), elite quickness and supreme route-running skills. Amari will move right into the starting lineup and gives QB Derek Carr an impact receiver.
In the second round, Oakland drafted DE Mario Edwards Jr. He's a tricky player for the Raiders. He wants to be a pass-rushing defensive end, but he lacks quickness and pass-rushing moves. With more bulk, he projects as a defensive tackle with only rotational value against the run. Overall, Mario has not fulfilled his talent, and his motor and motivation are in question.
Tight end Clive Walford was selected in the third round. He's got good blocking skills and has enough speed to threaten the defense deep. However, his lack of quickness and below-par route-running skills restrict his upside as a receiver.
In the fourth round, Oakland invested in guard Jon Feliciano. Similar to Edwards, Feliciano seems like a reach for the Raiders. His lack of quickness and strength hurts him in both the run and the pass game. His scouting report suggests he is more of a project with his best asset being hit size (6 feet 4, 323 pounds).
Oakland focused on the linebacker position with their next three picks: Ben Heeney, Neiron Ball and Max Valles. Heeney, with his plus speed and quickness, looks intriguing, but he only has value when attacking the line of scrimmage. Ben is a hard-nosed player, but he makes too many mistakes. It's difficult for him to recover if he gets out of position because of his relatively small size (6 feet, 231 pound) and underwhelming strength.
Bell has much more power in his game to support the run and flashes enough speed to add value as a pass rusher or in coverage. Neiron tends to let the play come to him, which leads to him being a tick behind the action too many times.
Valles may develop into a one-dimensional pass rusher if he adds more bulk and strength without losing his speed. He is really limited when playing off the line of scrimmage.
With their three picks in the seventh round, the Raiders selected O-lineman Anthony Morris, WR Andre Debose and CB Dexter McDonald. Morris is another project player with upside once he adds more bulk. He'll compete for a backup job this season. Debose's season is already over; he tore an Achilles tendon during OTAs in early June. McDonald is 6-foot-1, 200 pounds and has 4.42 40 speed. He works best as a press corner and will have more upside once he gains better technique and more strength.
Oakland Raiders WR Amari Cooper
Oakland set league lows in rushing attempts per game (21.1) and rushing yards (1,240) last season. Mostly because of game score, they ran the ball close to 30 percent less than the league average. They scored only four TDs on the ground and averaged 3.7 yards per carry.
Left tackle Donald Penn played extremely well for this poor offense last season. He allowed four sacks, three other QB hits and 29 QB hurries while supplying above-average value in run blocking. Last year represented a major improvement from Penn's 2013 season, in which he allowed 12 sacks.
Third-round rookie Gabe Jackson played well in pass protection at left guard (one sack, two QB hits and 15 QB hurries).
Hudson has shown growth over the past two seasons as a starter for the Kansas City Chiefs. Last year, he allowed only two sacks, two QB hits, seven QB hurries and had plus value as run blocker. His success as a run blocker was helped by the fact that he had the dynamic Jamaal Charles running behind him.
Right guard Khalif Barnes has been a poor player for the past four seasons, and he is getting worse. Last year he allowed four sacks, five QB hits, 18 QB hurries and was a huge negative in run blocking. He'll play only until Feliciano develops into a viable option.
Right tackle Austin Howard was unimpressive in his first season as a starter for the Raiders. He allowed five sacks, four QB hits and 24 QB hurries. However, his game did improve over the final seven games of the year when showed upside as a run blocker.
Oakland allowed only 28 sacks last year, a 16-sack improvement from 2013. It's a testament to Carr, who got the ball out quickly in order to avoid negative plays. The bad news is that Oakland averaged just 5.5 yards per pass attempt, a league-low by a substantial margin. Pro protection is a key area of improvement. The Raiders ranked 26th in passing yards (3,275) with 22 TDs and 16 interceptions.
This line isn't great, but it will be helped by the increased talent at the skill positions. The running lanes will be small for the team's group of non-elite running backs. Despite a below-average front line, Oakland will be much better offensively this year, thanks to the upgrades at wide receiver.
The Raiders will face three teams with solid run defenses: The Baltimore Ravens, the Detroit Lions and the Denver Broncos (twice). But the Lions won't have the same success against the run in 2015. Oakland's five easiest run matchups will come against the Browns and then a pair of matchups against the Chiefs and the San Diego Chargers. Oakland has nine games versus above-average pass defenses. They really have only two favorable matchups in this area: the Chicago Bears and the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Ravens will be improved versus the pass.
Even with the fourth-most passing attempts in the league, the Raiders still fell well below the league average in passing yards. Carr completed 29 percent of his completions to the RB position (106 catches for 744 yards and three TDs). Tight ends accounted for 18.6 percent of the completions while 51 percent of them went to the wideouts.
QB Derek Carr - Super Sleeper (high risk/potential)
I had mixed emotions when I watched some tape on Carr in 2014. He showed a strong, accurate arm when he was able to step into his throws, but he tends to put too much air under his downfield passes, especially when he throws off his back foot, which leads to jump balls and turnovers. Derek has decent speed (4.69 40-yard dash at the combine), but he gained only 190 yards on 164 carries in college. His quickness is just average and he needs to add some bulk. Fresno State used him primarily out of the shotgun, which led to him throwing for 5,083 yards in his senior year with 50 TDs and eight INTs. For his career, he passed for 12,843 yards with 113 TDs and 24 INTs. He is a hard worker with great character and good smarts. Carr went 3-13 as a full-time starter for the Raiders in 2014. He showed patience but averaged only 5.5 yards per play because of his lack of weapons and poor pass protection. His quick release limited his number of sacks taken to just 24. Derek threw for 3,270 yards and 21 TDs with 12 interceptions. However, he had no value as a runner; he gained fewer than 100 yards rushing on 29 carries. He had only one 300-yard game and two performances with three TDs or more. This year, he'll have two WRs with high upside and catching ability. This will allow Carr to post much stronger stat lines. The defense will force the Raiders to come from behind often, so Derek will probably put up 600 or so attempts. He will throw for 4,000 yards this year if he gets his yards-per-attempt average to the 6.8 range. That's not asking for much; 27 teams beat that number in 2014. Carr has a very good chance of being a top-15 QB if he throws at least 27 TDs. Derek will be an undervalued backup in Fantasy drafts.
Oakland Raiders QB Derek Carr
RB Latavius Murray - Gamble (high risk)
In the NFL, a talented running back can make an offensive line look better than it is, but a good line can't make a poor RB great. To that point, McFadden and Maurice Jones-Drew averaged just 3.2 YPC on 198 combined rushes last year. Murray sat behind those guys for most of the season, biding his time until he flashed electric upside in Week 12 as he tore off a 90-yard TD run against the Chiefs. Murray averaged 5.2 yards per rush over his 82 carries in 2014. Without that one run, he would have averaged only 4.1 yards per rush. The Raiders gave him 79 touches over the final last four games of the year. Although he didn't find paydirt, he totaled 366 yards from scrimmage (91.5 per game) and caught 11 passes. In his four seasons at the University of Central Florida, Latavius rushed for 2,424 yards on 453 carries with 43 combined TDs. He also caught 50 passes for 524 yards. Murray has 4.4 40 speed along with some durability issues. For me, it will be really tough to make a big bet on him come draft day if his price point gets too expensive, because he does have job-loss risk with Richardson and Helu on the roster. His talent has upside and his speed will definitely play in this offense. Early in the draft season, Latavius is the 24th RB off the board and has an ADP of 58. I'm going to forecast him for only about 150 touches until I see better reports on him during training camp. As best, Murray is an RB3 gamble who really should be drafted later than his ADP because of his short resume.
Oakland Raiders RB Latavius Murray
RB Roy Helu - Sleeper (undervalued)
Helu has touched the ball fewer than 100 times in each of the past two seasons despite the fact that he's played pretty well when called upon. Last year, Roy averaged 5.4 yards per rush and 11.4 yards per catch on just 82 touches. He was on the field for just 382 plays. By comparison, the Washington Redskins' lead RB, Alfred Morris, saw 616 snaps. In his 2011 rookie season, Roy took 200 touches -- including 49 receptions -- for 1,019 yards with three TDs. A toe injury cost him pretty much the entire 2012 season. Helu will now have a chance to deliver a high volume of catches and fill the role of change-of-pace back in the run game. In a two-man backfield, Roy would have a 150-touch opportunity. But three backs are expected to touch the ball for Oakland, and he looks like the third option right now. In reality, Helu's skill set is probably more advanced than Murray's, and he may emerge as the best option on the team if Richardson arrives to the dance with no juice in his step. Helu is an upside pass catcher who is well worth a late-round flier.
WR Amari Cooper - Quality Backup
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WR Michael Crabtree - Gamble (high risk)
Fantasy owners have been just dying for Crabtree to have his breakout season. Michael missed the first 11 games of the 2013 campaign due to a torn Achilles. He had 19 catches for 284 yards and one score in five games. In three playoff games that year, he caught 15 passes for 203 yards. It was good to see him on the field, but he wasn't ready to make the impact that he showed over his final eight games in 2012 (55 catches, 813 yards and 7 TDs). Last year, the 49ers struggled to get him involved in the offense; Crabtree didn't have one game with more than 100 yards receiving. He finished only two games with double-digit targets. On the year, he caught 68 of 108 targets for 698 yards and four TDs. Michael averaged only 10.2 yards per catch as QB Colin Kaepernick was running for his life (52 sacks). The Raiders will throw the ball far more often than San Fran did in 2014. Crabtree should catch at least 80 passes has an excellent chance of topping his career high in receiving yards (1,105 in 2012). He's a gift in drafts right now (ADP of 149, 56th WR off the board). I expect him to deliver WR2 numbers.
Oakland Raiders WR Michael Crabtree
WR Rod Streater - Low Potential
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WR Andre Holmes - Not Draft Worthy
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TE Mychal Rivera - Bye Week Fill-in
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Oakland Raiders TE Mychal Rivera
PK Sebastian Janikowski - Bye Week Fill-in
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Oakland - Not Draft Worthy
The Raiders played better against the run than expected when you consider that they were trailing often. Although their opponents attempted the fourth-most rushes, Oakland allowed the 11th-most rushing yards per game and a mundane 4.0 YPC. However, they did permit 17 rushing TDs.
Defensive tackle Dan Williams will be a rotational run defender with no value on passing downs. C.J. Wilson will compete with Stacy McGee for the other defensive tackle position. Both players are below average. Defensive end Justin Tuck recorded five sacks, 11 QB hits and 19 QB hurries. However, his value as a pass rusher, while still good, was a step down from when he registered 11 sacks, 12 QB hits and 44 hurries in 2013. Mario Edwards is expected to start as a rookie. I believe he will play on the inside and have value against the run.
LB Khalil Mack had a great rookie season in which he was stout against the run and had four sacks. Linebacker Sio Moore struggled through a hip injury last year and underwent surgery in December. He is expected to be ready for training camp. He proved to be a very strong run stopper as a rookie in 2013. Lofton has some talent, but he is coming off a bad year. He had no value defending the run and didn't record a sack. I can't see him being an asset to this defense.
After being selected 12th overall in 2013, cornerback D.J. Hayden has struggled with multiple injuries through two seasons. Last year, he missed seven games after having surgery on his foot to repair a stress fracture. His injury led to an unproductive 2014 season as opposing receivers caught 39 of 57 passes against him for 475 yards and six TDs. Hayden wasn't much better in his rookie year as a part-time player when he battled a groin issue. Travis Carrie is expected to start at the other cornerback position. He held his own as a part-time player in 2014. Carrie allows a high completion rate (69.1), but he allowed just one touchdown last year. Safety Charles Woodson will start the year as age 38. He played well early last season, but he wore down as the season went on, and opposing offenses picked on him. Woodson plays hard, but his slow legs have led to below-league-average play. Allen has shown growth over the past couple of years, but he isn't anything more than a league-average player.
Oakland Raiders S Charles Woodson
The Raiders ranked 17th in pass defense last season, allowing 238.1 yards per game. Their 22 sacks were the second-fewest in the league. They allowed 29 passing TDs and grabbed only nine INTs. Opposing receivers gained 7.4 yards per pass attempt.
This defense has only one elite player and questionable talent on the front line and in the secondary. Their only hopes for more sacks are Tuck and Mack. They really need Hayden to play like a first-rounder. Del Rio may help this defense's style of play, but I don't believe this unit will have any upside in 2015.