What started with a bang ended with a fizzle. The hiring of Jon Gruden back to the Oakland Raiders, bang. The trading of Khalil Mack to the Chicago Bears. Mack ended the 2018 season with 12.5 sacks, the Raiders entire team finished the season with 13 sacks, fizzle. Then they traded Amari Cooper to the Dallas Cowboys. Cooper finished the season with 53 receptions for 725 yards and six touchdowns. Now departed tight end Jared Cook was the leading receiver for the Raiders with 68 receptions for 896 yards and six touchdowns, fizzle-ish, he’s gone.
Now the Raiders are going into a new season, with new players and a new general manager. Heading towards Vegas with a bang.
Change was necessary. The Raiders’ offense finished the season 28th in points per game. Their defense landed last in the league in allowing the opposition to score, giving up 29.2 points per game. And of course, their defense had a league low 13 sacks.
The Raiders won free agency. Their off-season changes began early and continued. It started with acquiring the services of NFL Network draft guru Mike Mayock as general manager. While Mayock has never been a general manager, he is a great judge of talent. And with the talent the Raiders released the year prior, getting talent in was a priority.
It started fast and furious, the acquisition of offensive tackle Trent Brown, during the legal tampering period of free agency. Brown signed a contract for $66 million with $36.75 million guaranteed. The largest amount for an offensive tackle and specifically for a man whose recent past included a ticket out of San Francisco to New England for a mid round draft pick. They also acquired the services of offensive lineman Jordan Devey, from the Kansas City Chiefs, who started two games before being sidelined with a torn pec muscle. The offensive line needed the help after surrendering 52 sacks last season.
The offensive side also got a pick-me up from the free agent acquisition of wide receiver Antonio Brown. After much speculation and chaos the Raiders acquired the services of Brown from the Pittsburgh Steelers for a third and fifth round draft pick and $30 million guaranteed. After the cold feet and the illegal helmet, it remains to be seen if this is a bang or a fizzle. But they also acquired the services of wide receiver Tyrell Williams as a deep threat and drafted Hunter Renfrow to man the slot.
This is an upgrade to last year’s receiving corps, especially with the loss of tight end Cook and the retirement of Jordy Nelson. Nelson was responsible for 63 receptions for 739 yards and three touchdowns. Brown and Williams eclipse the output of Cook and Nelson. Now the question is can quarterback Derek Carr hook-up with his new receiving corps?
The loss of back-up quarterback AJ McCarron was compensated by acquiring Mike Glennon in free agency. There hasn’t been a question of a quarterback battle, but Carr has no excuse for mediocrity.
The solidification of the offense ended with the drafting of Alabama running back Josh Jacobs in the first round. Jacobs was the first offensive player taken in this year’s draft, and is the complete package. He can block, catch passes out of the backfield and break tackles. His last year at Alabama he broke 17.1 percent of tackle attempts. With the injury of free agent Isaiah Crowell and the “maybe…perhaps…” retirement of Marshawn Lynch, look for Jacobs to surpass Doug Martin and become the Raiders three-down back.
As for replacing Cook, it is a work in progress. The fourth round draft pick Foster Moreou out of LSU is more of a blocking tight end. The free agent acquisition of tight end Luke Wilson gives the Raiders a tight end who hasn’t caught more than 23 receptions in his eight NFL seasons. His highest yardage total came in 2014 with the Seattle Seahawks and that was a paltry 362 yards on 22 receptions and three touchdowns. That’s about 46 receptions and 500 yards to make up for the departure of Cook.
But the Raiders also addressed their defense. How do you make-up for letting Mack go? Well you go to free agency and acquire often maligned linebacker Vontaz Burfict, who played seven games last season ending with 50 combined tackles and no sacks. Or look towards Denver and get the services of linebacker Brandon Marshall, who finished last season with 62 combined tackles and zero sacks. Then there is defensive end Benson Mayowa who finished last season in Arizona with 45 combined tackles and four sacks. Or sign Detroit Lions practice squad defensive end Alex Barrett.
Or you could bank on your nine options in the 2019 NFL draft. The Raiders had nine draft picks, all but three went defense, with a Clemson Tigers influence. The fourth pick of the draft, they selected Clelin Ferrell, defensive end out of Clemson. Ferrell is good. He is the recipient of the Ted Hendricks Award for the nations top defensive end, and he finished his career with 27 sacks. But the eternal question will be is he better than Josh Allen who the Raiders left sitting on the board.
The next step was to upgrade a secondary that only hauled in 10 interceptions and was ranked 31st by Pro Football Focus. It began in free agency with the signing of Lamarcus Joyner. Joyner is a three down player who will switch up where he plays, but most likely will roam the slot. Curtis Riley coming over from the New York Giants, last season had four interceptions and 87 tackles, while Jordon Richards may be playing for a spot, especially with the drafting of Johnathan Abram, from Mississippi State. The hard hitting safety has been getting nothing but adulation. Clemson cornerback Trayvon Mullen drafted in the second round is dealing with an undisclosed injury and has not yet seen the field.
The Raiders upgraded in every area, although when you are 4–12 there is almost nowhere to go but up.
You would think with such a measurable upgrade, there is fantasy glory to be had everywhere?
Carr: even with the upgrade in weapons, Carr is the 24th quarterback off the board. Going as late as 16th round behind the likes of Sam Darnold and Josh Allen. He has all the necessary talent around him. Get him late if you can, he can be the surprise of the season, especially with his current ADP.
Jacobs: Huge upside. He has less mileage on him than most backs coming out of college. He is a decent blocker and can catch passes out of the backfield. And he runs through tackles. The wide receiving weapons will not allow teams to stack the box. Downside can he withstand the punishment of an NFL season. Will Doug Martin cut into his carries and Jalen Richards will most definitely be in for passing downs.
As for the receivers, Brown is still being drafted in the Top 10. It would be a shame if he didn’t produce like a Top 10 wide receiver. Since 2013 Brown has never caught less than 100 passes a game. He has had double digit touchdowns four of those five years. And yet, that was in Pittsburgh with Ben Roethlisberger. Can Carr replicate that?
Williams is a sneaky pick. With teams double teaming Brown, Williams will be open for the long ball. Think Brown and Juju Smith-Schuster. Renfrow waiver wire watch, particularly in PPR leagues.
Tight ends hard pass for now.
The powers to be did not do them any favors with the schedule. According to CBS.com based on last year’s standings, the Raiders have the most difficult strength of schedule. That being said, their upgrades should make them competitive. Hopefully come out .500? But with all the money spent in free agency and nine NFL draft picks, a .500 season seems like a fizzle.
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