The Raiders opening the season by getting blown out at home to the Bengals had a lot of skeptics thinking this team was heading right back to the bottom five again. They did bounce back and won four of their next six to get to 4-3. Losing three straight essentially knocked them out of the playoff hunt for the year, and it should be noted that they went 1-7 against playoff teams that year. However, for a young team it can be argued it was good that they good for a young team, the Panthers only faced four playoff teams in their regular season, and the breaks should go better next year.
Jack Del Rio did a fine job in 2015. He isn’t the great game planner or anything, but as far as attitude and mentality of a leader he definitely has that, and he has a mindset for this team. Along with Ken Norton Jr. The defense improved from week to week through a time of making over a defense. Bill Musgrave also brought an offense up that went from 30th in the league to 15th in efficiency, mainly through the offensive line with the assistance of Mike Tice. The biggest takeaway however, is that for once we aren’t facing turnover in Oakland. There is a mentality, they have a young core creating an identity, and continuity has proven enormous in the NFL.
Carr had one heck of a sophomore season. He saw improvements across the board and he now a report with a up and coming receiver in Amari Cooper. Carr did throw thirteen interceptions, seven in his last five games, but that seemed to be around when the line was breaking down. Make no doubt there is room for improvement, but if he can ascend again in year three we could be looking at a really good quarterback, and a hell of a draft pick in the second round. Matt McGloin has proven he can maintain in the league, and to draft and develop a back up like McGloin can speak again to continuity in Oakland.
Running Back Play
Latavius Murray had a strong year. The Raiders offensive line definitely helped with a strong power blocking rating, and Murray is a guy who is a storng runner, and fits the power, between the tackles mold, but isn’t dynamic as a runner. How the Raiders feel about him should be known this summer because he has one year on his rookie deal. If they feel a breakout and another big year is coming they will want to tie him down, and unless you can think he is betting on himself you would assume he wants to sign, . With running backs being known as expendable nowadays it will be interesting to see how it goes. The Raiders also have one year left with Roy Helu, who is a fine special teamer and a decent back up runner, but probably will not be back in Oakland after this year. Taiwan Jones fits strong as a third back and is a solid enough runner to make Helu easily expandable, and they should just wait until his contract runs out to draft his replacement.
Wide Receiver and Tight End Play
More impressive (and more surprising) than Amari Cooper’s breakout of a rookie year is the fact that Michael Crabtree had 16 more targets, 13 more catches and three more touchdowns than the rookie of the year candidate. Crabtree, a former first round pick himself saw his best numbers since 2012 and that year and this past one stand out as by far the best of his somewhat disappointing career. Crabtree looked like a former round one talent. He showed footwork, hands and a strong ability to go get the ball at the high point. While Amari Cooper did deal with a lot of drops he still saw 72 catches and was able rack 1,000 yards. You would assume concentration is the key for him this offseason, and if the drops slow down you are looking at a super star in the making. It is not only impressive what he can do after the catch, for his underrated size he can go get balls too. The Raiders currently do not have a number three guy signed and could look to bring Seth Roberts back, but also could have their eyes on a nice slot option in free agency. At tight end the Raiders saw another rookie, Clive Walford take a big step in becoming a talented asset in the offense. While Lee Smith and Mychal Rivera took a lot of snaps from him early, Walford showed his skill set as a receiving tight end late. Smith is the best blocker of the three, but Walford should head into 2016 as the starter, and with Smith being a solid fit in the “12” personnel, tight end will be a position that needs little touching up.
Offensive Line Play
In a contract year for Donald Penn he did a great job in making the Raiders and teams across the league want to spend the big bucks on him. Penn, as well as Austin Howard were outstanding on the edges, and were a top five pass protection team. The Raiders have depth at tackle, but the smart move here would be to pay Penn. It keeps an important position plentiful of depth and it keeps Carr feeling much more protected when dropping back. Rodney Hudson, J’Marcus Webb, and Gabe Jackson all did fine on the interior, but Webb is a free agent, and with a lot of money coming Penn’s way it will be interesting to see if the Raiders will want to put a decent amount of money in Webb’s pocket. Webb may not be a top guard on the market, but if he is not back the Raiders will have to get creative in filling his void.
Defensive Line Play
The key to the entire defense is that in the second round snag of Carr, they hit the parlay of a lifetime by taking Khalil Mack ahead of him. The All-Pro is in his second year and with 15 sacks he is now firmly in the conversation with the best pass rushers in the league. His ability to contain on the edge makes him a great fit for any defense as he can stand up and guard the pass as well as pin his ears and rush. It gives the Raiders a plethora of defensive looks to use and essentially makes everyone else’s life easier. Justin Tuck across from him was great for his development, but with five starts and one sack for Tuck entering free agency, only the league minimum will bring him back. Fortunately even if he is back he would be the fourth in the edge rusher rotation. The Raiders will get Aldon Smith back who looked good before being suspended, as well as rookie Mario Edwards who was a stud against the run as a rookie. With young premier talent on both ends it makes the Raiders defense a unit on the rise for sure. That along with Dan Williams who is a tremendous space eater, and Justin Ellis who is in his second year but started to come on towards the end. The defensive line should be the strength of the team next year, and in losing Tuck, if they wanted to shift some of his money into interior depth, it could only get stronger through the offseason.
The back end of the Raiders defense is what will need to be cleaned up. Almost every who has left Seattle since Pete Carrolls arrival has fared poorly outside of Seattle. Those first to sentences should exclude the play of Malcolm Smith. Smith started 16 games, posted 100 tackles with 4 sacks and 4 takeaways. The former Super Bowl MVP played with the same consistency that got him a pay day in Oakland. Smith only has one more year on his deal and may be a candidate for extension because the Raiders are weak at linebacker elsewhere. Curtis Lofton can stop the run, but isn’t a strong runner, and aside from that the names on the roster are depth players. For a team with young talent emerging at most other spots it puts a clear spotlight on the need at linebacker.
One last time let’s give it up for Charles Woodson. One heck of a career and he will certainly, and I mean majorly be missed on this secondary as he retires. It leaves a huge hole in the safety position. Nate Allen is now the only saftey with real experience, and he isn’t really a prized player. He is signed however, and with needs at linebacker and the other safety position his job security should be intact. The Raiders currently have cap space but some of it should go to extending David Amerson. Amerson was let go by Washington last year, and honestly they really could have used what he gave to Oakland this year. He is their clear best corner and with one year left they will certainly want him to stick around this core. Across from Amerson it will be DJ Hayden and Travis Carrie fighting for time. Hayden the former first round pick probably has hands full trying to even stay on the roster after this year. Carrie outplayed him most of the year, and while Hayden will get his shots, it more than likely will be Carrie moving forward. Still, depth is an issue here and at safety and the back end should be the key for the Raiders in the off season.
Where do they go?
Are the Raiders, like, actually going to be good again? There is no doubt this young core is one of the more exciting in the league. Carr, Cooper, Crabtree, Walford and an offensive line. Mack, Edwards, Smith and Amerson on defense. It still remains to be seen if Del Rio is the guy who can put them over the hump, but again continuity is the key for a team just now crawling out of the cellar. Moving forward evaluation of Del Rio should be major, as well as suring up the backside of the secondary. Other than that depth is the key to free agency. It shouldn’t be flashy, but this offseason is crucial.