General manager Reggie McKenzie had another busy offseason. However, this time he wasn’t cutting a lot of dead weight off the payroll, he was “shopping for the groceries” so third-year head coach Dennis Allen can try and save his and McKenzie’s jobs that are certainly on the chopping block this season.
Allen has had back-to-back 4-12 records in his first two seasons on the job and needs to show major improvement to stay employed. McKenzie went out and filled needs on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball, especially in the trenches.
McKenzie was focused on improving the OL after a snake-bit 2013 campaign which saw them use many different starting lineups and even reshuffling players to different positions because of injuries.
Donald Penn was brought in to man the left tackle position that was such a problem last season with Jared Veldheer playing just 5 games and a revolving door at the position. Penn might not be a great player or a Pro Bowl player, but he’s a huge upgrade over the players they used last season. He also has never missed a game in his 7 year career so he should provide some stability at the position.
Khalif Barnes will start at right tackle with Menelik Watson injured, but neither is a very strong player and this is main the weakness along the OL. Watson struggled last season at left tackle trying to replace Veldheer.
Former Jet Austin Howard was signed to play right guard and should be an anchor on the right side. Gabe Jackson will be the starter at left guard after a strong pre-season and Kevin Boothe will provide depth and step in if the 3rd round draft pick struggles.
Stefen Wisniewski will start at center and he is a good player, he might have the most upside of any player on the OL.
Mychal Rivera is the TE after a solid rookie season (38 catches, 5 plays of at least 20 yards and 4 TD’s). David Ausberry seems to be chronically injured (he missed all of last season and has just 9 career receptions in 28 games) so the starting job is all Rivera’s. Brian Leonhardt may see action if Ausberry is hurt and Rivera is ineffective. Rivera’s caught just 4 passes in the pre-season so the job could be a platoon situation. Rivera is similar to a young Kellen Winslow II, a decent to good receiver, but a poor blocker.
McKenzie went out and traded a 6th round pick in the 2014 NFL draft for veteran QB Matt Schaub to try and improve the play at one of the most important positions on the field. Allen called Matt Schaub a top 10 QB and that certainly takes a serious set of cojones after the 2013 season Schaub had (61.2%, 231 yards per game, 6.5 yards per attempt, 10 touchdowns to 14 interceptions with a 73 Passer Rating). At 33, there is the belief that last season was just an aberration for Schaub which saw him throw a pick-6 (interception returned for a TD) in five of seven games.
However, he struggled mightily in the pre-season and rookie Derek Carr has earned the starting job in week one against the suspect New York Jets defense. Schaub is starting the season as the emergency QB, falling all the way to 3rd string. Carr was impressive in the pre-season finale against the Seattle Seahawks, he was very efficient, completing 11 of 13 passes for 143 yards, including 3 TD’s.
Schaub sat out the game with a sore elbow. This is the 2nd straight year a younger QB won the starting job after the team traded a veteran starter. Last year Matt Flynn was acquired from the Seattle Seahawks but lost his job to Terrelle Pryor.
Matt McGloin enters his 2nd pro season and will be the backup since he saw action last year in his rookie campaign and showed some upside at times.
This was the strength of the offense last season, mainly due to departed RB Rashad Jennings and the scrambling ability of Pryor, they averaged 125ypg (12th best in the NFL) and 4.6ypc (6th best).
Darren McFadden was surprisingly re-signed to a one-year contract, but it’s incentive laden as it should be with McFadden, 26, being on the sidelines more than on the playing field. He tied his career-low with just 3.3 yards per carry and ran for just 379 yards in 10 games (seven starts). That prompted McKenzie to sign Maurice Jones-Drew and bring him in to provide some competition for McFadden. MJD, 29, has something to prove after averaging a career-low 3.4ypc last season (and just 803 yards in 15 games, all starts) with the Jacksonville Jaguars but played for offensive coordinator Greg Olson when they were both in Jacksonville in 2012 so he knows the offense. The expectation is that they will rotate McFadden and MJD to keep them fresh and may ride whichever player has the hot hand in any given game.
Marcel Reece was re-signed and he gives them a weapon at fullback. Reece is sneaky quick and can make plays with his hands or feet, Jamize Olawale is the backup.
James Jones was the only major free agent signing at WR for the Raiders. Apparently, McKenzie is happy with the youngsters and just wanted to trade for a better QB and an older WR in Jones to mentor the young ones. Jones, 30, is coming off a down season with the Green Bay Packers (he caught 59 passes for 817 yards, 13.8 yards per catch, and three touchdowns, despite Aaron Rodgers missing seven games). Jones best season was in 2012 when he led the league with 14 TD’s.
Jones is a California native, he grew up in San Jose and attended San Jose State so it’s a home-coming of sorts for him. He was the 78th overall pick in the 2007 and he will be reunited with Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie, who worked in the Green Bay personnel department for the first five seasons of Jones career (2007-2011) before taking the GM job with Oakland. McKenzie was targeting him when he became a free agent and feels Jones fits what they are trying to do with the Raiders.
Jones will be the immediate #1 wide receiver for Oakland’s WR corps that include promising youngsters Denarius Moore, Rod Streater, and Andre Holmes.
Moore has been banged up during his career, but when healthy he is capable of stretching the field and making some big plays. Last season, he caught 46 passes (in 86 targets) for 53.5ypg, 15.1ypc, and 9 TD’s in 13 games.
Streater led the team with 60 receptions (in 100 targets), 55.5ypg, 10 plays of at least 20 yards, and 4 TD’s.
Holmes was a revelation after being released by the Cowboys, he played in 10 games, but had 4 games where he was used sparingly. Once, he got some playing time, he caught 24 passes for 398 yards (16.6ypc), and a TD in 6 games. At 6-4 and 210 pounds he is one of the biggest WR’s on the roster.
The defensive line lost their best player when Lamarr Houston (69 tackles, team-high 6 sacks, and 6 tackles for a loss) had a career year and earned a 5 year deal worth 35 million with the Chicago Bears. The Raiders weren’t interested in bringing back a career under-achiever who suddenly had a career best performance in a contract year.
They overhauled this area when they went out and signed Justin Tuck and LaMarr Woodley. Tuck is 31, but he had a solid final year with the New York Giants last season (63 tackles, 11 sacks, and 7 tackles for a loss). Woodley, 29, has endured a few bad seasons, but he is a perfect candidate to bounce back since he is still relatively young. He only played in 11 games last season, but he still managed to record 36 tackles and 5 sacks.
CJ Wilson will be the primary backup DE (another former Packer McKenzie recruited this past offseason), but first round rookie draft pick (selected 5th overall) Khalil Mack will also see some action as a pass rush specialist. Shelby Harris was a 7th round pick, but he played well in the pre-season and cost Jack Crawford his roster spot. Crawford failed to make an impression on management after being a 5th round pick in 2012.
They also added Antonio Smith, formerly of the Houston Texans. Smith (30 tackles, 5 tackles for a loss, and 5 sacks) will start next to holdover Pat Sims at defensive tackle. Sims was a productive player (54 tackles and 2 sacks) that was re-signed and should benefit from having a solid DT next to him and Tuck on the edge rushing the passer.
This area is the strength of the defense. Mack will be given every opportunity to be the starting strongside linebacker with Kevin Burnett being released on July 24th. Burnett was a major contributor for the Raiders last season. He had 105 tackles, 2.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and an interception in 16 starts, but after Mack was drafted and he wasn’t medically cleared the team decided to move on.
Sio Moore will be the weakside LB with Miles Burris backing him up. Moore was a third round draft pick last year and impressed the coaching staff with his performance in part-time duty (50 tackles and 4.5 sacks), but he will be moving to a different position after playing mainly at strongside LB last season.
Middle linebacker Nick Roach led the team with 112 tackles, he also recorded 5.5 sacks, 5 tackles for a loss, and a team-high 4 forced fumbles. Roach is an excellent player and gives the Raiders a solid trio of LB’ers.
Burris and Kaluka Maiava (best known for being WWE superstar and actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s cousin) are the primary backups. Burris played in just 6 games after a rookie season where he registered 96 tackles, but he should provide some nice depth. Maiava played in just 9 games last season, but as a backup he is a nice luxury to have.
Carlos Rogers was signed away from the 49ers across the Bay to help Oakland improve their pass defense that allowed 256ypg (28th) and 33 TD’s (tied for 30th). Rogers, 33, started all 48 games with the 49ers in his 3 seasons with the team and should be a solid upgrade over Mike Jenkins who left as a free agent. Rogers had 47 tackles and 8 passes defended last season along with 2 INT’s last season for SF.
The Raiders also added another former 49er in Tarell Brown and he will probably start the season opposite Rogers. a Second year pro DJ Hayden was slated to start, but he had a stress fracture in his foot during the pre-season and he was put on the PUP (physically unable to perform list) to start the season, meaning he’ll miss the first 6 games.
Brown, 29, started just 10 games (13 games played) but managed to record 32 tackles and had 12 PD with SF. He will open the season as a starter opposite Rogers.
They will replace Shawntae Spencer and Ron Bartell who struggled and were a huge a reason the secondary was torched by opposing QB’s.
The team is hoping Hayden can say healthy and tap into his potential when he was selected 12th overall in the 2013 NFL draft when he returns to the field. He played in just 8 games last season and failed to make much of an impression (just 25 tackles, 2 PD and 1 INT). If he doesn’t show improvement or stay healthy he will be considered a bust.
TJ Carrie, a 7th round draft pick, will be the primary backup to start the season as Chimdi Chekwa is banged up entering the season opener.
Charles Woodson returns for his swan song season. Woodson is no longer an elite player, but he’s still a good option at free safety. He registered a career-high 97 tackles roaming all over the defensive backfield for Oakland. He also had 3 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries, 2 sacks, an 1 INT. Jonathan Dowling was the 247th pick in the 7th round and will backup Woodson.
Tyvon Branch played in just 2 games last season, but he is just 27 and should be able to rebound from last season’s injury. And they need him to if they hope to show considerable improvement because Branch is a tackling beast at strong safety. From 2009-2012, Branch recorded 431 tackles and he is a big-time defender against the run.
Brandian Ross did a capable job last season filling in for Branch (75 tackles and 2 sacks), but he was released when the team made their final cuts to get down to the 53 man limit. Usama Young will be a backup this season and provide an insurance policy in case Branch can’t stay healthy.
Sebastian Janikowski signed a 5 year contract worth almost 19 million last summer, but he converted just 21 of 30 field goals last season (70%), the 2nd fewest of his 14 year career. However, he converted all 37 of his PTA’s. He has been a great weapon for the Raiders over the years but it’s possible he’s getting close to the end of a very good career.
Marquette King signed a 3 year contract in 2012 and needs to show some improvement for the Raiders to consider keeping him past this season. He was pretty much an average punter last season and a let down after Oakland had Shane Lechler for many seasons.
Taiwan Jones averaged 24 yards per return on kickoffs, 11th in the league.
Carrie and Moore will be competing for the job of punt returner.
The Raiders failed to score any TD’s on kickoff or punt returns and that is something that needs to change this season.
Mack was clearly the homerun the organization was trying to hit when they drafted him. Extremely athletic, but a very raw player is the reason they dumped Barnett when his medical status was uncertain.
Carr is the future and after his game against Seattle the starting QB to open the season. He is a very good player who is more athletic than his older brother and he has to get used to a pro offense and playing under center after playing in the shotgun with Fresno State. However, he did enough to impress the decision makers into giving him the opportunity to save their jobs.
Many draft analysts were surprised Jackson fell to the 3rd round, he was one of the better run blocking offensive linemen in the draft.
You might not know who Keith McGill is now, but in a few seasons he could be a household name. He’s a big CB at 6-3 and 211 pounds (similar in size to Seattle’s Richard Sherman) and he’s athletic and a good defender. He needs to stay healthy after fighting injuries at the University of Utah, but he could be a really good player once he acclimates to the NFL. He has experience playing free safety so he could also see some time there if injuries hit the secondary again.
Carr will need to show that he is ahead of the learning curve and can make the leap from Fresno State to the NFL. A young QB’s best friend is an effective running game and MJD and McFadden can combine to give them a top 10 running game in Olson’s power running game.
Defensively, this is a team that has the makings of being a solid group if the additions of Tuck, Woodley, Rogers, Smith, and Mack can provide support to the holdovers the team kept. The defense allowed 28.3ppg last season, but a lot of that was due to a secondary that surrendered a lot of TD’s. The pass rush should help make the secondary’s jobs a lot easier.
They have a very tough schedule, but I believe they can finish 6-10 or 7-9. The offense should be a lot better with the additions to the OL and skill positions and the defense was also upgraded. However, a lot will depend on Carr’s development to read an NFL defense and not make the same mistakes Pryor and McGloin did with turnovers.
David: Rookie QB, and I’m not a huge fan of his offensive line, plus he’s got two backs- one that is used to double digit losses and the other is a huge bust for the past 7 years. On the plus side, I do like the draft, and I think Carr is the better choice over Schaub for the long haul, but this year? He’s gonna get a beating only his brother can understand. The hard part is going to be deciding to stay with Carr over Winston next April. As for the record, The Raiders do have chances to take wins over the Jets, Browns, Bills and Rams. I just can’t see them taking a game in the AFC West, and unless Carr is the MAN, more than 4-12 isn’t going to happen. I’ll go 3-13 this year.
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