A Dissertation: The Oakland Raiders

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A Dissertation: The Oakland Raiders

“Oakland Raiders” and “the Playoffs”. Sounds a bit unnatural, doesn’t it?

Since the 2002-2003 NFL season, the Raiders have failed to rise above .500 over the course of a full NFL season. It’s been 13 years since the franchise’s last playoff appearance. This long stretch has been one of the most brutal periods for any franchise in the history of professional sports. The Raiders have been, and to some extent still are, a joke of an organization. The dysfunction stemming from the ownership, the constant failures in the draft, annual four win seasons and glaring issues due to our worn-down facilities were the full extent of a culture of losing for what once was a mighty, revered franchise.

It hurts to admit all that. It’s not fun seeing your favorite team in such disarray while knowing that there is no relief in sight. Being referred to by other teams as an additional bye-week is about as bad as it gets. This suffering is not unique to the nationwide and international fan-base of the Raiders, but the pain of this struggle has been deep and felt by all with an attachment to the club.

But, there is light at the end of the tunnel. And it’s getting closer.

The franchise is trending upward. The sources of our struggle, for the most part, can be tied to the abundance of bad decisions made by NFL legend and Raiders Owner Al Davis in the final years of his life. As his health declined, the urgency to bring another Lombardi trophy back to Oakland steadily ramped up. This directly caused a multitude of rash decisions that banked on the short-term success of a barren roster over the long term success of the franchise. Short term success (contending for a Super Bowl) with this barren roster was not possible, but Al Davis (and Hue Jackson) made moves that jeopardized the future of the club in a long-shot attempt merely for a winning season. Coupled with perennial failure in the draft, the roster was deprived of any semblance of young talent, and over-paid veterans were heavily relied upon to carry the weight of the franchise.

This is no more. Thanks to the solid, yet inconsistent, work of Reggie McKenzie, the roster has been purged of unhealthy contracts. The era of Al Davis trading a 1st round pick for Richard Seymour and giving Tommy Kelly a contract for 7 year, $50 Million is over. The Raiders finally have a group of young talent that they can build a team around.

But, how do we bridge the gap between our 3-13 record last year?

Before I leave in July to serve my two year mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (aka the Mormon Church), I want to spell out my vision for this Raiders team, and my personal philosophies and beliefs also regarding this team, and how they should continue to build. While I’m gone, this article should be a reference as to where I stand on certain issues. In no particular order, I’m gonna get out these #takes as they come to me.

  1. Derek Carr can be a Franchise Quarterback

This seems to be a widely debated topic on the national scene. There’s certainly a sizable camp that doesn’t believe Carr is the answer to Oakland’s woes.

I am of the opinion that Carr *can be* a Franchise QB. I say that conservatively, but it sums up my feelings adequately.

I have my reservations about him. He was very limited as a rookie, his aDot (average depth of target) ranked 25th among QB’s that played at least 25% of their team’s snaps last year (H/T to Chris Trapasso). The offensive scheme that Greg Olson cooked up was uber conservative, designed to get the ball out of Carr’s hands quickly, sometimes at the expense of efficiency. Though it doesn’t make sense to blame Carr for the conservative playcalling, it’s worth noting that Carr has never been asked/allowed to open it up and air it out. At Fresno State, under Dave “I hate throwing downfield” Schramm, Carr was pretty limited in a scheme that lived and died by bubble screens, tunnel screens, swing passes to the RB, slants, and the occasional back-shoulder fade that Carr threw so beautifully. Watch Carr’s 2013 game vs Rutgers and you’ll see what I mean (http://draftbreakdown.com/video/derek-carr-vs-rutgers-2013/).

Sadly, Greg Olson’s scheme wasn’t too different. The bread and butter of our lackluster offense were slants, some limited screens, back-shoulder fades and short crossing routes. Carr and Fresno State got away with their scheme in college because they had (relatively) dynamic receivers that could generate yards after the catch, like Davante Adams, Isaiah Burse and Josh Harper (YAC). That group could, generally speaking, make defenders miss often enough to move the chains. That does not ring true for James Jones and Andre Holmes, Carr’s top two receivers last year. Carr had no dynamic targets that could generate YAC consistently, yet Olson tried running this same YAC-reliant scheme regardless.

This is another part of the argument that cannot be overlooked. Carr’s supporting cast last year was terrible. awful. egregious. When Rod Streater went down with injury, James Jones effectively became Carr’s go-to-guy. Andre Holmes lined up opposite of him. In a perfect world, James Jones is the 3rd/4th WR on a team’s depth chart. In the real world, Oakland slapped RFA  Andre Holmes with the lowest possible tender for a RFA, and no other teams attempted to claim him. Holmes had almost 700 yards receiving last season, and he may not make the roster this year.

Couple Oakland’s woes at WR with our boneheaded offensive coaches (Once again, staring at you Olson) refusing to feed Latavius Murray until he ultimately forced their hand on that fateful Thursday Night game vs the Chiefs. We were content with slamming Maurice Jones-Drew and Darren McFadden up the middle for a gain of two nearly every down for the majority of the season. We failed to establish the run more often than not, but when we did, Carr played well.

The offensive line was good in general; both Donald Penn and Gabe Jackson anchored the left side in what turned out to be a very good year for them. But, the importance of the offensive line was somewhat neutralized by the quick passing attack Olson favored. Carr’s constant 3-step drop backs, protection did not have to hold very long. This tactic is commonly used to hide and minimize the damages that weakness along the offensive line can bring. Austin Howard struggled at RG throughout the year, and RT quickly became a mess as well. But as a unit, the line was good overall.

All of the above are reasons Carr deserves patience. He still has flaws, and his growing pains as a rookie were evident. He has kinks to work out still, most notably improving his decision making (more notably on 3rd downs), ball placement and throwing in the face of pressure.

But he deserves patience. His pocket presence improved from his final year at Fresno State. He can climb up in the pocket and step into his throws. He has tremendous arm talent. He can make difficult throws. He can throw from different platforms. He can fit the ball into tight windows (back-shoulder fades to slow targets). He can read a defense and dissect coverages. He has the demeanor of a veteran. He assumed leadership in the locker room immediately. He has the tools to become a franchise quarterback, and the Raiders are wise to invest in him as their signal caller going forward.

Often, prospects are given a “floor” and a “ceiling” in regards to their level of ability and how they’ll translate to the NFL. The “floor” being the worst case scenario for their development (or lack thereof), the “ceiling” being the best case scenario. Personally, I see Carr’s floor as a perennial back-up. If he regresses, and does not improve whatsoever, his long term viability as a starter might not be feasible. If he stays stuck in an ultra-conservative mindset, does not learn to make smarter decisions, and/or continues to struggle heavily when rushed, this could certainly happen. But this is the worst case scenario. I have every confidence that he’ll improve, and take a step forward, rather than regressing.

I see Carr’s ceiling as an upper tier QB, in the same tier with the likes of Matt Ryan, (good) Joe Flacco and Ryan Tannehill. I don’t see Carr ever becoming elite, but he does not need to for the Raiders to be successful. If Carr develops properly and takes a step forward each year, he can end up in this tier of young successful franchise QB’s. When it all comes down to it, the crucial question regarding QB play is “Can a Super Bowl be won with this QB?”. With a QB in this tier, the answer is an emphatic yes. If Carr becomes this caliber of a QB, the Raiders should have no problem reaching the playoffs in the next few years.

  1. Derek Carr has all that he needs to succeed

As stated before, Carr had very little to work with in his rookie season. As evidenced by our offseason moves, our coaching staff and front office agree that to some degree, Carr was on his own as a rookie. But no longer.

Over the course of the offseason, the front office catered to Carr’s needs, slowly but surely. To begin free agency, Rodney Hudson, widely considered to be in the upper-echelon of centers, was signed to replace Stefen Wisniewski. This was far and away my favorite free agent signing. Hudson is a clear upgrade over Wisniewski, and next to Gabe Jackson, our interior OL should be solid. Donald Penn had a very good year at LT, and seems to be our solution there for now.

The situation at RG is still a mess, but the OL as a unit should be good once again. The OL does not have to be great or even above average for a QB to succeed, and many QB’s have performed admirably with very poor protection, but Oakland’s OL should be good enough to help foster the growth of a young QB.

The biggest additions to the offense were skill players. Most notably, Amari Cooper was selected with the 4th overall pick, giving Carr a true #1 target with game changing ability. Amari was my #5 overall player in the 2015 Draft class, and my #1 WR. I have high hopes for him and I trust he’ll be productive immediately, with Carr likely leaning on him early and often. His crisp routes and ability to separate from opposing DB’s stand out to me, because this was not a strength shared with Carr’s targets last season. James Jones and Andre Holmes struggled to separate last year, and it made things much harder on Carr.

Michael Crabtree was added via free agency as well, though his signing came later in the process. We really don’t know what to expect from him at this point in his career. He had a fantastic year in 2012, and has struggled ever since. I have high hopes for Rod Streater, who will be returning from injury and should be in the prime of his career. He’s been receiving heaps of praise for his performance at OTAs. Between the pair of Streater and Crabtree, I’d be surprised if one of them didn’t step up and become a reliable #2 target across from Amari.

The selection of Clive Walford in the 3rd round was a surprise to me, but a pleasant one. I was stunned to hear that we selected a Tight End when we had holes at so many positions, and a steadily improving receiving-threat already on the roster in Mychal Rivera. But I can’t complain, I had Clive Walford as a 2nd round pick, and the thought of having two capable young TE’s for our young QB to lean on was intriguing. I imagine we’ll run a lot of two TE sets, especially with Musgrave at the helm of the offense.

Other signings of less significance were made, but the over-arching point I wanted to make was about the offensive overhaul from last year. Our skill positions (Non-OL/QB) have significantly improved from the barren wasteland of 2014.

Year to Year WR1 WR2 WR3 TE1 TE2 RB
2014 Starters James Jones Andre Holmes Brice Butler Mychal Rivera Nick Kasa Darren McFadden
2015 Starters Amari Cooper Rod Streater Michael Crabtree Mychal Rivera Clive Walford Latavius Murray

Oakland has put together a solid young group for Carr to work with. All in all, Carr has at his disposal: A stellar young #1 receiver, two potential #2 targets, two young developing tight ends, a highly athletic young running back and a decent offensive line. This is more than enough for Carr to work with, and it should create an environment where he can develop into the Franchise QB that we have all been hoping for.

  1. Why building Defense is our best shot at winning a Super Bowl

We’ve overhauled the offense. Taking a WR with the fourth overall pick and a TE in the 3rd round are both considerable investments in Carr’s future. As stated above, Carr now has enough to work with to succeed. So now what do we do?

Focus all of our attention on defense.

It’s time to start pouring our resources into our defense. Our offense now has a nucleus of young talent talent that should allow us to invest the majority of our draft picks towards bolstering the defense, assuming that our offense doesn’t crash and burn. I wouldn’t put it past our organization, but I’m confident we’ll be fine there.

I’m a firm believer in the “defense wins championships” mantra, with the caveat that we add “when offense cannot”. Super Bowl winning teams like the 2011 Packers and the 2013 Seahawks model what I believe to be the two quickest paths to winning a Super Bowl: Through a dominant offense, or through an even more dominant defense. This sounds like common sense, but my main point lies in my belief that it’s almost unfeasible to build a team with both a Top 10 offense and defense. Rather, it’s easier to build a team to be somewhat unbalanced, with one side of the ball dominant (ranking in the Top 5 units league-wide), while the other remains fairly average (ranking from 11th through 19th league wide).

The 2014 Patriots and 2012 Ravens do not fit this trend, with the (total) offenses and defenses of both teams ranging from 11th in the league to 16th in the league. I’d personally argue that both these teams got “hot” at the right time, which is the subject of another debate that I dare not venture into.

The Packers 2011 and 2013 Seahawks represent both sides of my philosophy. The Packers offense led by Aaron Rodgers ranked #3 league-wide in Total yards gained and ranked #1 in points scored (by the team). The defense that same year, however, ranked 19th in points allowed, 32nd in yards allowed, 30th in First downs allowed, 32nd in passing yards allowed and gave up the 26th highest yards per rushing attempt. Dominant offense carried a team with a rather mediocre defense, and the Packers won another Super Bowl, this time by the brilliance of Rodgers.

The 2013 Seahawks tell a different tale, with the same end result. Seattle’s defense led the league with the lowest points allowed (231), and also ranked 1st in Turnovers created (39) and yards allowed (2739). Nobody does (or should) doubt Seattle’s defensive dominance that year. The offense, on the other hand, was average to below average in most major statistical categories. The offense ranked 17th in yards gained, 20th in First downs, and 26th in passing yards. It should be noted that they established the run well, they finished 2nd in rushing attempts and 4th in rushing yards. The team had the 8th most points scored, though it would be unfair to attribute that solely to the offense, because of the ridiculous 39 turnovers created by the defense.

Both Super Bowl winning teams had one dominant side of the ball, paired with a fairly average squad on the other side of the ball. This mold is the path I would personally choose for the Raiders.

As stated before, I believe Derek Carr’s ceiling is to be a fairly good quarterback, in the same tier as signal-callers like Matt Ryan and Ryan Tannehill. I do believe Carr can be a franchise quarterback, but I do not believe that he possesses what it takes to command a Top 10 offense over the next few years. Because of this, the Raiders offense will not be “elite” in the near future, unless we surround Carr with elite talent. This would involve finding upgrades over some of our current starters that aren’t necessarily bad (Streater, Penn, Rivera/Walford, etc). Spending resources to find upgrades at positions that don’t necessarily need an upgrade is not the way I would go about rebuilding a franchise.

Instead, our potential path to a Super Bowl (or playoff appearance really), would be to build a Top 10 defense. Building a top 10 unit is easier said than done, but I believe it would be easier and faster to build a top 10 defense over a top 10 offense with the personnel we have in place. Khalil Mack was a Top 10 defender league-wide as a rookie, and he’s only going to get better. Justin Ellis, Dan Williams, Sio Moore, and potentially DJ Hayden are young pieces we can build around. With the addition of new quality starters at CB, MLB, Edge and FS (when Woodson retires), I believe that this unit, coached by Ken Norton Jr, can be a Top 10 unit, two or three years down the road. I doubt we could build a Top 10 offense that quickly, hence me preferring to spend resources and picks on defense.

  1. Reggie McKenzie (or new GM) must be more aggressive and successful in Free Agency

Reggie McKenzie has had a bumpy ride as a GM with some significant highs and lows. He comes from the Ted Thompson tree established in Green Bay, and he seems to have inherited some of his philosophies, especially regarding free agency.

In general, Ted Thompson does not dabble much in free agency, and prefers to keep his own home-grown/drafted players under contract in Green Bay. Reggie seems to have taken elements from this approach, including just being generally conservative. But Reggie had to tweak this philosophy to accommodate for the general lack of talent on Oakland’s roster.

With the apparent need for talent and the ideal of generally being inactive in free agency, Reggie paved a new way, seemingly between the two opposite sides. Over the last few years, Reggie has seemingly opted for cheap upgrades and band-aid replacements over spending money on young talent. We’ve been burned by this strategy for the most part, with players like Lamar Woodley, Tarell Brown, Maurice Jones-Drew, Carlos Rogers, Antonio Smith, etc all falling flat.

Though we didn’t invest much in that bunch, the issue of improving the roster and adding young talent still remains. Reggie has struck gold with the signings of Donald Penn, Charles Woodson and Justin Tuck, but all these players are on the wrong side of 30, and will mean little to the long term success of the team.

Instead, we need more signings like Rodney Hudson, who Reggie signed to a 4 year deal in March. Hudson is only 26, and is already one of the best players in the league at his position. While it’s true that we gave Hudson a significant deal, which now makes Hudson the 2nd highest paid center in the league (Mike Pouncey’s total deal edges out Hudson’s by $250,000), this investment will help the long term success of the team far more than spending it’s financial equivalent on multiple cheap veterans past their prime. Personally, I’d rather overpay for a high quality player under 27 than acquire 2-3 half-decent Veterans at the same cost. This sounds like common sense, but this has been Reggie’s strategy/pattern thus far. He needs to target younger players that can contribute for years to come, even if he has to overpay slightly.

There is a lot that should be said about Reggie’s situation and how it effects his success in Free Agency. Many players have turned down Reggie when he was the highest bidder, simply because they do not want to play in Oakland. The messy stadium situation and poor practice facilities certainly don’t help his appeal. For this, Reggie can’t be held accountable. He’s been following his conservative approach with the odds already stacked against him. We can’t hold him accountable for the ones that got away due to circumstance, but we’d all like to see him target younger players that can have a future with the team, and end the constant ferris wheel of aging veterans.

  1. Khalil Mack has the tools to become elite

Simply put, Khalil Mack is a monster. Anybody with a functional set of eyes can see the great potential he has. He was incredibly well rounded as a rookie, but set himself apart as a top tier edge defender with his play vs the run. Mack was Pro Football Focus’ highest graded Edge defender against the run. I could go on an on about his accolades, but that’s pretty much what my tweets were dedicated to throughout this last year.

Mack is fantastic, and there’s no doubt in my mind that he can be a franchise changing player. He’s very good now, but he’s not quite there yet. It’s crucial that Mack becomes the star defender that we’ve so badly needed for years now. But how can he get there?

Khalil was filthy vs the run last year, I won’t touch on that anymore. I doubt that aspect of his game regresses much, if at all, so no need to worry. If Mack is gonna take that next step, it’s with his pass rushing.

We throw around the word “tools” a lot when it comes to pass rushers, and I feel like it’s somewhat overused to the point where we don’t give credence to it anymore, but Mack has all the “tools” to become a star pass rusher. Mack has a nice first step off the line. He’s explosive and can convert speed to power. He’s shown that he can explode and bend through contact, a rare trait that is possessed by few, but possessed by most of the truly elite edge rushers around the league. He has tremendous functional strength. He has good situational awareness, and knows when/how to counter an OT’s movements. He’s a ridiculous athlete. He’s an adept hand fighter. He has a growing arsenal of pass rush moves that he can rely on (anybody catch that spin move that left Nate Solder on his stomach?). Mack has perfect size. He’s 6’3, 265 now after gaining 15 pounds of muscle this offseason. Mack has it all. But what can he do better to capitalize on all these traits, and to realize his potential?

I had a good conversation with Derrik Klassen about Mack and he came to the conclusion that Mack needs to be more physical and aggressive when pass rushing. After thinking about what Derrik said, and after watching Mack in great detail this last season, I realized that I completely agree. Too often last year, Mack tried to be a finesse rusher that won with minimal contact by bending through contact or shooting a gap. Mack is athletic enough to win occasionally this way, and he generated a lot of pressure doing this, but his potential as a pass rusher cannot be fulfilled through this alone.

Mack is a dense, strong, explosive athlete who was known for his strength as a rookie. Now that he’s been through a full NFL offseason strength and conditioning program and added 15 lbs of muscle to his frame, it would be silly for him to continue to be a finesse rusher. He should absolutely incorporate bending the edge into his arsenal, but he should embrace contact more. If Mack focuses on converting speed to power, winning with leverage and improves his hand technique, I think we will witness him growing to be the star defender that he has the potential to be. We just need him to be a little more violent when he’s getting after the QB, which shouldn’t be a problem for a LB playing for Ken Norton Jr. I fully believe that Mack can be a Top 5 defensive player in the league, and the type of edge rusher that can achieve 10+ sacks per year. Just a little fine tuning and he’s gonna have a remarkable career.

  1. The 4 Pivotal players for our re-build

The key word is “pivotal”. I believe these four players could either flop on the big stage, or help fuel the Raiders to their first playoff appearance in over a decade. Note that “Pivotal” does NOT mean “Most important”. Though, for those curious, I would say that the four most important players for our re-build are Derek Carr, Khalil Mack, Amari Cooper, and Gabe Jackson.

  1. Derek Carr
  • Floor: Career Backup QB
  • Ceiling: Thriving Franchise QB

Derek Carr is both the most important player to our rebuild, and one of the more pivotal. Though I personally believe that Carr will develop and fulfill his potential, I can see it going either way, for better or worse. Carr’s successful development would be a saving grace, while his failure would be a devastating setback to the organization. I believe, but I don’t think we’re out of the woods yet.

  1. Mario Edwards Jr
  • Floor: Average Depth
  • Ceiling: Productive Starter

The selection of Edwards in the 2nd round really surprised me, and to this day, I’m a bit disappointed by it. Edwards was the #1 overall recruit in the nation coming out of Denton Guyer HS in Denton, TX but has failed to justify his original hype. He got severely out of shape at times, and on film doesn’t appear to be the    athlete he was once touted to be.

He’s not a bad football player by any means, he’s decently well rounded. He’s an odd scheme fit, and it will be interesting to see how he’s used in our 4-3 Under front. I imagine that Jack Del Rio and Ken Norton Jr will move him around, from LEO (weakside DE), to 5T and 3T.

My optimism for him is primarily because he is now in the best shape of his life. If his best football is indeed ahead of him, there’s a decent chance he becomes a productive run-stuffing defensive end that can contribute 4-5 sacks a year. Not ideal for an early 2nd round pick, but if Edwards develops into the stout run defender that we need across from Khalil Mack, he’ll do wonders for this young defense.

  1. DJ Hayden
  • Floor: 4th/5th DB
  • Ceiling: Above Average Starter

Hayden has been a disappointment since he was selected 12th overall in 2013. His play has been sub-par, and multiple injuries held him back.

Up until this last year. Where we got a good glimpse at a fully-healthy Hayden, though he was essentially a rookie most of the year. Hayden’s change of direction and closing speed are rare, and flashes the occasional instinct of a very good cover corner (See the dropped Pick-6 vs Seattle).

Hayden is at a cross-roads in his career. He’s still young, and while I don’t expect anything fantastic from him, I still have hope that he can develop into a solid starter. If he does not improve, it’s an indictment on Reggie McKenzie and a devastating blow to a depleted secondary that needs someone to step up.

  1. Latavius Murray
  • Floor: RB Depth
  • Ceiling: Top 15 RB league-wide

When our boneheaded offensive staff decided that MJD and Darren McFadden runs for 2 yards weren’t enough (Week 10), Murray shined. He’s a freakish  athlete (closest comparison is Adrian Peterson) with the potential to be a game changing RB.

However, we haven’t seen him for more than half of a season, so we don’t know what to expect if he’s given 250+ carries, as he likely will under Bill Musgrave. I’m optimistic as always, but I’m concerned about his health long term. He’s struggled to stay healthy thus far in his career, and a few strokes of bad luck could de-rail his career. Only time will tell.

  1. Thoughts on Reggie McKenzie

Out of all the Raiders talking points, this is the toughest for me to write openly about. In truth, I’m not exactly sure how I feel about Reggie McKenzie. There’s a pull for me on both sides. So lets look at the pro’s and con’s of keeping him vs letting his contract expire after this season.

On the positive side of things, the roster overhaul performed by Reggie has been impressive, albeit lengthy. Reggie has had success on Day 3 of the draft, finding gems like Latavius Murray, Mychal Rivera, TJ Carrie and Justin Ellis in his tenure. His 2014 Draft class was, and is, the best class of any team in the NFL. He found a potentially elite defender, a potential Franchise Quarterback, a stout left guard with pro bowl potential, a solid nose tackle and at worst, 2 good nickel DB’s. That’s incredibly rare.

McKenzie has also been a master accountant, and has kept the books straight in Oakland. He got us out of a Salary Cap nightmare by shedding unhealthy contracts and being conservative in free agency. For the next three seasons, we can expect to have upwards of $30 Million to spend each offseason. The roster is now young, healthy (fiscally and physically) and the transformation is almost complete. We’re one “very good” offseason from being a playoff threat. Do we trust that Reggie can deliver us that kind of offseason?

On the negative side, the rebuild has seemingly taken far longer than expected. Considering he started in 2012, has the roster improved enough to consider the last 3 years of futility “worth it”? Although his first pick was at the end of the 3rd round, Reggie’s 2012 draft was incredibly poor. The jury is still out on the 2013 draft class, but the selection of DJ Hayden over Sheldon Richardson, Star Lotuleiei, Xavier Rhodes and Desmond Truant still stings. Menelik Watson has had more than two years now to impress coaches and inspire hope that spending our 2nd round pick on him was not a poor investment, but he has failed to do so.

2014 was great, and we have to give him credit for that, but his 2015 Draft class has some head-scratchers too.

Mario Edwards Jr over Preston Smith? Or Eric Kendricks? Or Eric Rowe? Jon Feliciano was a projected Undrafted Free Agent by many (including NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein), yet we spent a 4th round pick on him. One of the biggest holes on our roster was our defensive back group, and we waited until the 7th round to take a flyer on one. Aside from his inconsistent drafts, his free agency approach has been incredibly frustrating.

Investing in Austin Howard appears to be a mistake. Many of his free agent signings, including Matt Schaub, Lamar Woodley, Maurice Jones-Drew, and others have already failed miserably and been removed from the roster. I’m not sure that his free agent approach is helping the roster as much as it should be, as discussed earlier.

So is he worth keeping? My answer is a big, emphatic, heartfelt “I really don’t know”.

I don’t feel strongly enough either way to take a firm position. Is he a suitable GM? Yeah. Could we do better? Maybe. I won’t argue either way. If we decide to retain Reggie, I’ll support Mark’s decision and hope for the best. If not, I really hope Mark has a (sensible) plan to replace him with somebody better. I’m fine either way, I won’t object to either. My only fear would be realized if Mark chooses to let Reggie walk, and then replace him with someone less than impressive/qualified. Sadly, I think there’s a decent chance that this will happen, but I’m gonna hope for the best.

  1. My favorite 2016 prospects for Oakland

As of now (Yes, it’s 10-11 months before the draft), there are only a handful of offensive prospects that we should consider taking in the 1st round, considering our many needs on defense. If you haven’t read talking point #3, do so now.

I can only see a few scenarios in which we take an offensive prospect in the 1st round. I expect us to be picking somewhere from 7th to 15th overall, which should give us plenty of options regardless of our needs. Our potential needs on offense (IMO), could include Offensive Tackle, Guard, Wide Receiver, and Running Back.

Offensive Tackle is likely only a need if we do not re-sign Donald Penn after this season. In which case, I think taking an OT in the 1st is absolutely justified. Right now, both Laremy Tunsil and Ronnie Stanley appear to be blue-chip OT prospects, and I’d be thrilled upon hearing that we selected either one. I wont get in to the nitty-gritty on who they are as prospects, but both appear to be incredibly well rounded and possess the upside to become Top 10 NFL OT’s. Protecting Carr has to be a priority, and investing in the O-Line is never unwise.

At this point in the process (pretty much before the process begins), there’s only one wide receiver I’d advocate Oakland taking in the first round, and that’s Ole Miss WR Laquon Treadwell (under the assumption that he returns to form after his broken leg). It’s been said by many of my favorite #RaiderBruhs, but he reminds me of Dez Bryant. We already invested the #4 overall pick in 2014 on a WR, which is why I think it would be unwise to spend another 1st rounder on another unless this WR projects to become a Top 10 WR league-wide. If Treadwell is healthy and plays like he did pre-injury, I wouldn’t be mad at taking him in the 1st. But WR production can be manufactured easily, and I’d much rather find a #2 WR to Cooper on Day 2 of the draft, if not in Free Agency. Keep an eye out for Mike Williams (Clemson) and Marquez North (Tennessee) as two potential options on Day 2 of the draft.

Both Guard and Running Back are potential needs, but I doubt we’d spend a Top 15 pick on either position. I stated that “Investing in the OL is never unwise”, but I would be surprised if we took a guard this early, considering the usual depth of the position on Day 2 of the draft. I do think that Latavius Murray is the answer at RB, but if he flops, we’ll likely find a replacement in Free agency or later in the draft.

I’m aware that I keep suggesting that we (if needed) should just “find help on Day 2 of the draft”, and we only have two picks on Day 2, so it might not be realistic. The point is that we should not be spending a Top 15 pick (where we will likely be drafting) on a position of lesser importance, and not of dire need. Free agency would be suitable too, depending on the situation.

Now that I’ve thrown out a few offensive prospects I like, it’s time for the fun part. We have defensive needs everywhere, and I honestly couldn’t argue against us finding help at any position, except for maybe weak side linebacker (unless Sio’s play/health collapse). Everything else is wide open.

Starting up front, we need an edge presence opposite of Khalil Mack. I don’t have much faith in Mario Edwards Jr, and I’m not sure that he’ll even be playing on the edge for most of his snaps, so I’ll pencil this in as a need. Joey Bosa (Ohio State) is the clear #1 Edge prospect in the draft, and if he falls to us, I’d be thrilled. Watch out for Dadi Nicolas (Virginia Tech), as he could rise into the 1st round.

If we need interior DL help (1T, 3T or 5T), AShawn Robinson (Alabama) would be a great fit, and I expect him to be a Top 20 pick. I am NOT a big fan of Robert Nkemdiche (Ole Miss) in the first round at all, and I think his film this year is gonna the holes in his game that I’ve been seeing as I’ve watched his film from last year. I expect his stock to drop at some point in the year.

I couldn’t argue against adding a new starter at linebacker. Mack is going to play almost exclusively on the edge, and depending on the play/longevity of Curtis Lofton, we could use an upgrade at Mike LB. Enter Myles Jack (UCLA), one of my absolute favorite prospects. Jack is a highly athletic, instinctive 3 down-linebacker with potential to be a game-changer. I can imagine Ken Norton Jr falling in love with both Jack and Jaylon Smith (Notre Dame), who has been rightly compared to Lavonte David (S/O to @BenNatanFS). Jaylon Smith is most likely a weakside linebacker at the next level, so I don’t know about taking him to start over Sio Moore, but I love Smith as a prospect.

Our weakest position group is easily our Defensive Backs. Unless DJ Hayden, TJ Carrie and Keith McGill all have a great 2015-16 season, Corner is going to be a huge need to be filled in free agency and/or the draft. Even if the the unthinkable happens and our three young starters at corner drastically improve, we’ll likely need to address Safety, as Charles Woodson is very close to retirement and we have little else to be optimistic about at that position.

There are several defensive backs worthy of a top 15 pick that would suit us perfectly. Jalen Ramsey (Florida State) looked like a top 10 pick at Safety last year as a sophomore, and early reports say that he will be playing corner this year for the Seminoles. When all is said and done, he should be a Top 10 pick, and an elite defensive back prospect with his versatility would be a fantastic addition.

Both Vernon Hargreaves III (Florida) and Kendall Fuller (Virginia Tech) both appear to be worthy of a top 15 selection. Hargreaves has been dominating since he entered the college football sphere, and was named to the 1st All-SEC Team as a True Freshman. His body of work is incredibly impressive to this point, and I’m excited about his pro potential. Fuller is the younger brother of former Virginia Tech DB and 1st round pick Kyle Fuller (Bears). Kendall is so smooth in his movements, and has quick feet and flexible hips. Kendall has a knack for playing the ball at the perfect time, placing his hand perfectly between the receiver’s right as the ball arrives. Both Fuller and Hargreaves should be excellent corners at the next level, and it will be interesting to see which the national media (as well as #DraftTwitter) prefers.

As I emphasized earlier, I’d like to focus on defense in the draft (if the opportunity is afforded to us). I think taking a DB with one of our first two picks would be wise, as it will likely be a huge need. I wouldn’t be mad at all if we took a safety and then a corner, or vice versa, and double dipped at DB to begin the draft. If the best player available is a defensive back, pull the trigger.

Those are my early submissions for the Raiders 1st round pick, but please remember that this is projecting the 2016 draft from June of 2015. Injury, character issues, or just overall poor play could (and will) change the draft landscape. Some of these projections will likely look silly in a few months, as many of our June/July draft opinions are. So be it.

  1. 2015-2016 Season Expectations

I try to apply “cautious optimism” when setting my expectations for the Raiders, and yet I still feel disappointed often. This year, I am slightly more optimistic than usual, for a number of reasons.

We finally have a solid group of young talent that we can build with, and most of them can be impact starters immediately. From this rookie class, I expect both Amari Cooper and Clive Walford to be difference makers. Mario Edwards Jr could as well, but I’m a bit less hopeful.

My final record prediction for the season would be 6-10, with wins against the Browns, Bears, Titans, Chiefs, Jets and Chargers (wild guess). I could see this swinging 2 games in either direction. I can’t imagine us winning less than 4, or more than 8, barring some disaster/miracle. I think the 2016 season will likely be our best shot at pushing for the playoffs, as Peyton could be gone, and I feel that we’re one good offseason away from having a talented roster without any major holes. I do not expect the Raiders to make the playoffs in 2015, but I’d love for them to prove me wrong.

I expect somewhere around 33-34 team sacks from the Raiders, with 10+ coming from Khalil Mack. The defense should take a step forward, though we don’t know what to expect from our defensive backs. The offense should also improve marginally as well, I expect a stat line around 3600 yards-26 TD’s-15 INT’s for Carr. Just my projections, I’ll eat my crow when I get back if I’m way off.

  1. Parting shots and Thank yous
  • Amari Cooper will have 1,000 yards his rookie season. Maybe even 80+ catches. Book it (As Allbright would say).
  • Robert Nkemdiche is badly overrated. I expect him to fall out of the 1st round unless he drastically improves. As of now, he is not a 1st round prospect.
  • When it comes to the Raiders stadium struggle, I want whatever is best for the team. In my very uninformed opinion, right now, that seems to be Los Angeles. I have a personal tie to the Bay area (where I was born/raised for the first 12 years of my life), but I want whatever is best for the team. If Oakland can get it’s stuff together, I’d be happy, but at this point, I don’t see it happening.
  • My Super Bowl pick for this year: Cowboys over the Colts, 33-28
  • Quick Shoutout to my fellow #HitSquad members: Derrik Klassen, Ben Natan, Dylan Bishop, Justis Mosqueda, Nate Manickavasagam, Charles McDonald, Spencer, tylerjwarriner and even Mike LaChance. Love you all brehs
  • Shoutout to all the #RaiderBruhs, you know who you are. Gonna miss y’all
  • A huge thank you to everyone who helped get me to where I am now. All those that I looked up to and helped teach me what I needed to know. To those that I got really close with outside of the HitSquad and RaiderBruhs, I can’t thank you enough. I’ve met some amazing people and I’ll truly miss you all over these next two years.

I’ll be back in July of 2017. Until then, I’m signing off. I love y’all and Go Raiders.

#JustWinBaby, Chandler Miller



NFL Draft Analyst. Born in the Bay, raised in Texas. BYU Student and life-long Raiders fan.


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