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2016 NFL Team Previews: Oakland Raiders

July 25, 2016 • Jon Lowe • AFC, AFC West, Front Page, Oakland Raiders, Predictions, Preview, Team Previews

General Manager Reggie McKenzie has had a busy offseason trying to build this team into a contender, and he’s on the verge of getting them there. As uncertainty grows as if whether or not this team will leave Oakland for a place such Las Vegas, San Antonio or back to Los Angeles, the local fan base is growing more and more anxious about getting a Super Bowl title back to the Black Hole. Despite being a trendy pick to return to the playoffs, head coach Jack Del Rio and the Oakland Raiders are in the most crowded division in football.

Draft Recap

I don’t understand the selection of QB Connor Cook unless they want him as a lifetime backup, because they don’t plan on moving on from Derek Carr anytime soon. He was taken in the fourth round though, so it could have been worse. The first round pick they did take was safety Karl Joseph, although he is questionable to start the regular season. They aren’t really in a rush to bring him back, as they already have Nate Allen and Reggie Nelson, but he was a high selection and would definitely be a boost in the secondary. The Raiders also took two defensive ends prior to Cook, and although they have DE Khalil Mack on the other side, taking DEs Jihad Ward and Shilique Calhoun were good selections to fortify the line until Aldon Smith returns from suspension. Calhoun was projected in the past to be a first rounder, so the Raiders may have gotten a steal there.

Free Agency

This offseason was a busy one, but I still think the spending frenzy of the year award belongs to the Jacksonville Jaguars. That said, the Raiders threw out a lot of money to these players, starting with guard Kelechi Osemele from Baltimore, and he will be getting over $11 million a season. They also stole a rival team’s starting cornerback, in Sean Smith from Kansas City. He should be an immediate starter and a massive help in the secondary. The other help they brought in through free agency is free safety Reggie Nelson from the Bengals, and for some reason the Bengals moved on from a guy who is coming off an eight interception season. The Raiders also brought in outside linebacker Bruce Irvin, as he followed his teammate Malcolm Smith from Seattle. Both are projected to start at OLB.

Players Lost

Defensive back Charles Woodson retired, and he was one of the all time greats. He’ll be standing next to QB Peyton Manning in Canton in five short years for the Pro Football Hall of Fame induction. The Raiders also let two offensive linemen walk, right tackle J’Marcus Webb (Seattle) and center Tony Bergstrom (Houston). They are set on the offensive line even without these guys, so they are acceptable losses. The Raiders also don’t have DE/LB Aldon Smith for the first half of the season, as he received a one-year suspension from the NFL last November. With Mack, Calhoun, Ward and Denico Autry, the Raiders should be more than fine without him.

Strongest Position

I like the wide receivers here, a group that is led by second year player Amari Cooper. The Raiders have depth at the position, but a sophomore slump is not something they can afford. Depth at a position is only useful if the stars and/or starters are playing well. Otherwise, it disappears. The rest of the receiving corps contains Michael Crabtree, who has found himself again in Oakland, recording 900 yards and 9 touchdowns last season. Third and fourth receivers Seth Roberts and Andre Holmes both caught at least four touchdowns each last season, and are capable of giving Cooper and Crabtree rest on the sideline, when necessary.

Weakest Position

I’m not crazy about the tight ends, as Mychal Rivera and Clive Walford are underwhelming. However, with all of the wide receivers on the team, having a great tight end isn’t a necessity, but it would be a welcomed boost to the offense. I’m also not a big fan of the middle of the Raiders’ front seven on the defensive side of the ball (DT/ILB), but they aren’t terrible players either. Overall, this Raiders team is pretty set to make a playoff run this season.

Five Most Important Players to the Raiders Success

QB Derek Carr

WR Amari Cooper

DE Khalil Mack

OLB Malcolm Smith

FS Reggie Nelson

Carr and Cooper are perfectly set up to be all over SportsCenter for the next decade for touchdown receptions, but they mean more to the team than that. Carr needs to be a leader and get everybody involved on offense, and Cooper needs to be able to beat the double coverage he may start to see this season. Defensive end Khalil Mack is another great defensive weapon, and he is up for the running for best pass-rusher in the NFL outside of J.J. Watt. Outside linebacker Malcolm Smith led the team in tackles last season, and will need to do that again with the lack of a star at middle linebacker. It may be easier though, as veteran safety Reggie Nelson joined the team coming off a 77 tackle, 8 interception season in Cincy. The Raiders hope he can do that again.

Prediction

I said recently that I like the Chiefs to win the division, but the Raiders have a real shot too. So do the Denver Broncos. And the San Diego Chargers are not as bad as the record showed last season, although they appear on the outside looking in. I do think the Raiders make the playoffs, so they’ll need to go 10-6 or 11-5 to do so.

Photo: Brian Bahr/Getty Images

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