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2016 Team Report: Oakland Raiders

Quarterbacks

Starter: Derek Carr Derek Carr
Backup(s): Connor Cook (R), Matt McGloin, Garrett Gilbert

Starting QB: Derek Carr was one of the NFL's most-improved players in 2015. He emerged as one of the league's top young passers and gives the Raiders a true franchise quarterback for the first time in more than a decade. Carr threw for 3,987 yards and 32 touchdowns with just 13 interceptions. He improved his yards per attempt from 5.5 as a rookie to 7.0 as a second-year player. With growth expected from second-year targets Amari Cooper and Clive Walford, it is likely we see further improvement in this key stat in 2016. Carr has above-average arm strength and accuracy. He also showed off an incredible ability to throw darts while on the run. While not much of a running threat, Carr shows nice athleticism to avoid the rush and extend plays. Carr is right on the cusp of becoming a perennial QB1 and should be a prime target for those who wait to select a quarterback until the mid-rounds of their draft.

Backup QB: The Raiders surprised many when they traded up near the top of the fourth round to snag Connor Cook. The gunslinger out of Michigan State was expected by most to go in the first or second round of the draft, but unexpectedly slid due to concerns about his accuracy and leadership ability. The Raiders were excited to add a guy with Cook's physical traits on the third day of the draft. He is big (6'4, 217 pounds), athletic and has an above-average arm. Cook will have to improve his accuracy and decision-making if he wants to be viewed as a starter. The Raiders have to hope he is able to prove himself worthy of the top backup role as a rookie so they do not have to keep three quarterbacks on the roster. For Cook to do so, he will have to beat out veteran Matt McGloin. While McGloin does not have Cook's physical skills (just 6'1 with mediocre arm strength), he is a savvy fourth-year veteran who has performed admirably as a fill-in when called upon.

Running Backs

Starter: Latavius Murray
Backup(s): DeAndre Washington (R), Taiwan Jones, George Atkinson, Jalen Richard (R)
Fullback(s): Marcel Reece, Jamize Olawale

Starting RB: Latavius Murray led the AFC in rushing yards (1,066) in his first season as a starter. Murray proved durable, playing in all 16 games despite a few nagging injuries suffered midseason. He was the exceedingly rare 300-touch workhorse back, logging 266 carries and notching 41 receptions. Murray is a size/speed freak who is a load in the open field when he can build up a head of steam. He is less effective when forced to operate in tight quarters. At nearly 6'3, he runs too high at times and often fails to generate forward momentum through first contact. With the addition of another top free agent offensive lineman (Kelechi Osemele), the Raiders offensive line is loaded and should open big holes for Murray. He should again thrive in the Oakland power-rushing scheme. Fifth-round rookie DeAndre Washington has a chance to steal some third-down snaps from Murray and it's possible we see Murray a bit less involved in the passing game in 2016 than he has been previously. Murray projects as a strong RB2 with a high weekly floor due to his steady diet of touches on an emerging young offense.

Backup RBs: The Raiders entered the offseason badly in need of an upgrade behind Latavius Murray. They hope that upgrade has arrived in the form of fifth-round rookie DeAndre Washington. Washington is an ultra-quick, undersized (5'8, 205 pounds) back out of Texas Tech who should push quickly for the role of primary third-down back. He was heavily involved in the passing game in college (124 career receptions) and is considered one of the top backs in his class in terms of pass protection. Taiwan Jones is another sixth-year veteran battling for a backup spot. He has explosive speed, but has had trouble holding onto the ball. He looked to be emerging as a viable change-of-pace back early in 2015, but fumbling issues caused him to fall out of favor. Jones had just three touches in the second half of the season. George Atkinson has spent most of the past two seasons on the Raiders practice squad and the speedy back out of Notre Dame may push for a spot on the roster in his third season.

Fullback: Marcel Reece is not a prototypical run-blocking fullback; he played 78% of his 262 snaps in 2015 on passing downs. The Raiders move Reece all over the formation. He lines up in the backfield, inline as a tight end, in the slot and even split out wide. He provides the Raiders with real mismatches in the passing game. Reece caught an impressive 81% of his 37 targets last season (30 catches for 269 yards and three touchdowns). The eighth-year veteran turns 31-years old in June and is nearing the end of his career. Jamize Olawale is a fifth-year veteran who got limited carries as a short-yardage specialist in 2015. He finished with 110 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries. He also caught nine passes for 85 yards.

Wide Receivers

Starters: Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree
Backups: Seth Roberts, Andre Holmes, Andre Debose, Maxwell McCaffrey (R), Johnny Holton (R), KJ Brent (R), Jaydon Mickens (R), Joe Hansley (R)

Starting WRs: Amari Cooper lived up to all of the rookie hype that came with being drafted fourth overall and breaking SEC records at Alabama. He caught 72 passes for 1,070 yards and six touchdowns. His impact on the offense was felt immediately. Cooper is a well-rounded receiver with excellent quickness and route-running ability. He showed special ability in the open field as a rookie and also proved surprisingly adept winning contested balls deep down the field. He should make a leap as a sophomore and become a legitimate fantasy WR1. Michael Crabtree rewarded the Raiders faith in him with a bounce-back 2015 campaign after a pair of down years in San Francisco. He caught 85 passes for 922 yards. Crabtree provides a strong second option across from Cooper and was often Derek Carr's go-to guy on third down and in the red zone (Crabtree led the Raiders with nine touchdown catches). The Raiders were able to lock him up with a long-term contract to stay with the team through 2019. Crabtree is a safe WR3 option with WR2 upside if Carr and the Raiders offense continue to improve.

Backup WRs: Seth Roberts emerged as the Raiders third receiver in 2015 and flashed a knack for making big plays. Roberts went undrafted in 2014 out of West Alabama and spent his first season on the Raiders practice squad. The 6'2, 196-pound speedster averaged 15 yards per catch in 2015 (32 catches for 480 yards and five touchdowns). He played 58% of the Raiders offensive snaps last season and should see that percentage rise further moving forward. Andre Holmes is a fifth-year veteran known for his blocking and red zone skills. He should be the fourth receiver again after scoring four touchdowns on just 14 receptions in 2015. The fifth-receiver job is wide-open. Return-specialist Andre Debose will try to hold off a handful of undrafted rookies for the final roster spot.

Tight Ends

Starters: Clive Walford
Backups: Lee Smith, Mychal Rivera, Gabe Holmes, Colton Underwood, Ryan O'Malley (R)

The Raiders used a tight end-by-committee approach in 2015; Lee Smith led the way with 534 snaps with Clive Walford (447 snaps) and Mychal Rivera (413 snaps) close behind. In his second-season, Walford is expected to separate from the pack and become the Raiders top tight end. He was the second highest-drafted tight end in the 2015 class after showing plus athleticism as a collegian at Miami. Walford is a much better blocker than Rivera and a far bigger receiving threat than Smith. He emerged as one of David Carr's favorite targets down the stretch (172 of his 329 receiving yards came in the final five weeks) and should be a key piece of the Raiders offense moving forward. Walford is a solid TE2 with the upside to push towards low-end TE1 status. Lee Smith is a sixth-year veteran who is known for his blocking ability. He has only been used sparingly in the passing game, with just 32 career catches. Mychal Rivera is the team's pass-catching specialist at tight end. He regularly lines up in the slot. The fourth-year veteran had a big season in 2014 (58 catches for 534 yards and four touchdowns), but saw his production dip precipitously in 2015 (32 catches for 280 yards and one touchdown). He is expected to lose further ground to Clive Walford in the battle for snaps.

Place Kicker

Sebastian Janikowski, Giorgio Tavecchio: An era might be coming to an end. Janikowski had a poor 2015, only making 21-of-26 field goals, including only 10-for-14 from 30-49 yards. The 2000 #17 pick is due 3.6 million dollars this year, and the team signed Giorgio Tavecchio to a futures deal for the second straight offseason. Maybe the franchise fixture isn't on shaky ground, but after missed key kicks against division boss Denver in Week 5 last year, don't be surprised if Janikowski is let go this summer. The Raiders didn't give him enough field goal attempts to matter last year, so we have already moved on from him in fantasy circles.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Taiwan Jones, DeAndre Washington (R)

Taiwan Jones and Jeremy Ross handled the majority of Oakland's kickoff returns in 2015. Ross is off to the New York Jets, but Jones returns as the presumptive starter at the position again. 5th round rookie DeAndre Washington is the favorite to push Jones for returns.

Punt Returners: Travis Carrie, DeAndre Washington

Travis Carrie and Jeremy Ross were Oakland's primary punt returners in 2015, with Amari Cooper fielding 8 attempts of his own. With Ross off to the Jets and Cooper a rising star, Carrie stands to see his attempts increase. Electric rookie scat-back DeAndre Washington could also get chances to make his mark on special teams.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Donald Penn, LG Gabe Jackson, C Rodney Hudson, RG Kelechi Osemele, RT Austin Howard
Key Backups: Menelik Watson, Vadal Alexander [R], Matt McCants, Jon Feliciano

The Raiders were one of the better units last season, and improved by adding big money free agent Kelechi Osemele to the mix. Osemele ended last season filling it at left tackle for the Ravens, but he should find a home at one of the guard spots in Oakland. Gabe Jackson is an ascending player at left guard, which could put Osemele at right. Either way, the Raiders could have the best guard tandem in the league. The left tackle position is solid with Donald Penn delivering Pro Bowl level production. Center Rodney Hudson is an effective blocker in the middle. The only real weak spot could be at right tackle, where Austin Howard will battle with Menelik Watson for the job. Draft pick Vadal Alexander could be in the mix at right tackle but is probably a better fit at backup guard. Once this Raiders offensive line settles into a lineup, they should be among the better in the league again this year. Tier Ranking: Top Tier.

Team Defense

The Raiders seemingly endless holding pattern at the bottom of the league appears to be coming to an end. DE/OLB Khalil Mack emerged as one of the best defensive players in the NFL, at times single-handedly taking over games. Free agent brought reinforcements in the secondary - long corner Sean Smith and ballhawking centerfielder Reggie Nelson - and a pass rusher to pair with Mack - DE/OLB Bruce Irvin. 2015 second-round pick Mario Edwards was a very strong rookie and the neck injury that ended his season doesn't appear to be a long-term problem, and the team also quietly added DE/OLB Aldon Smith last season. 2016 first-round pick Karl Joseph adds even more playmaking ability to a defense on the rise. The Raiders D/ST isn't being drafted in most fantasy leagues, but they could be a hot early season pickup with games against the Falcons and Titans in Weeks 2 and 3.

Defensive Line

Starters: Khalil Mack, Mario Edwards, Jihad Ward [R], Justin Ellis
Backups: Denico Autry, Stacy McGee, Darius Latham [R]

Starting DL: Mack has arrived; he's the absolute defensive menace the Raiders had hoped for early in the 2014 draft. He graded No. 1 among all edge rushers in Pro Football Focus' overall ratings, with elite run support to pair with 34 hurries (third in the league) and 15 sacks (second). Scored as a DL, Mack is among the 10 best IDP picks on any board, buoyed by his 77 tackles (most among all defenders with 10+ sacks). Edwards was impressive as a rookie and looks poised to continue his career after a scary diagnosis of a genetic defect. Things didn't get better in the preseason, when a hip strain popped up and threatened his Week 1 status. But there's lots of optimism over his sophomore campaign. He didn't make much of a stat sheet dent in 2015, with just 7 hurries and 2.5 sacks through 11 games, but his run support (41 tackles) keeps him in the lineup and a candidate to take the next step. In fantasy, he could be a poor man's Muhammad Wilkerson as a prospective DL3. Don't expect much statistical dazzle from the Raiders' tackles. Ward isn't the most exciting prospect, a low-athleticism hustle guy with immediate knee concerns. But he was drafted high (44th overall), so he looks poised to open as a versatile rotational cog. He'll share snaps with run specialist Williams, who shuts down the run but has never topped 1.0 sack in a season. Fellow starter Justin Ellis has proven an adequate run defender, but remains a rotational player and has yet to record an NFL sack.

Backup DL: Autry, a former undrafted signing of the Packers, has capitalized nicely on his shot with Oakland. In 2015, he finished 29th in the league with 21 hurries - across only 11 games - in forming a productive pass rush duo with Mack. Nondescript former fourth-rounder McGee will look to hold off Latham, an undrafted rookie who flashed but lacked consistency at Indiana, for interior snaps.

Linebackers

Starters: Bruce Irvin, Ben Heeney, Malcolm Smith
Backups: Shilique Calhoun [R], Daren Bates

Starting LBs: The sleeper here is Heeney, an extraordinarily athletic second-year guy who'll likely step into Lofton's role in the middle. He was dynamic across 549 rookie snaps, notching 2.5 sacks while primarily seeing time against the pass. Not to mention, he led the NFL in tackles last preseason. With top-shelf agility and explosiveness, Heeney carries the profile of an attacker and could thrive with a full set of snaps inside; any struggles in racking up tackles should be easily outweighed by his splash plays against the pass. Heeney will come to fantasy owners virtually free, but carries real LB1/2 upside. Former Super Bowl MVP Smith is a limited player, and it showed in 2015. Smith graded as mediocre-to-poor across the board per Pro Football Focus, which fell in line with his ho-hum Seahawks play. But the losses of Curtis Lofton and Sio Moore afforded Smith the full-time WLB gig, and he responded with 122 tackles and a handful of splash plays in the pass game. He's a steady LB2 going forward, but guys of his profile are susceptible to sudden benchings. Irvin is a one-dimensional edge guy whose presence is most often felt, though less often seen nor heard. He carries NFL value as a blazing rusher that can bend his side of a line, and he'll likely create a formidable pressure duo with Mack. But he's never played a full season nor topped 40 tackles, and he doesn't have the pass rush pedigree (0.41 career sacks per game) to make him an intriguing fantasy option. Not even a 10-sack season would matter much if he caps at 40-50 tackles.

Backup LBs: Third-rounder Calhoun enters the league following a decorated pass-rush career at Michigan State. With three first-team All-Big Ten selections and 27 career sacks, Calhoun lands as a situational rusher for a Raiders team starving for front-seven depth. Only an average athlete, however, that's likely his ultimate NFL upside. He could surprise and threaten 6 sacks as a rookie, but isn't a threat for much more. Bates was a special teams signing; he saw just 38 defensive snaps in three years as a Ram and won't serve as more than deep depth.

Defensive Backs

Starters: Sean Smith, David Amerson, Reggie Nelson, Karl Joseph [R]
Backups: Nate Allen, D.J. Hayden, T.J. Carrie, Keith McGill

Starting DBs: The Raiders' massive secondary overall looks great on paper, but lacks great fantasy appeal. Nelson will probably provide an upgrade on the retired Charles Woodson, who posted 97 and 111 tackles in 2013 and 2014 before a drastic drop-off at age 39. Nelson is a pass defender first and foremost and won't approach those marks, but he'll provide some splash plays - he's broken up 25 passes and intercepted 12 over the last two years. He's still not among the more reliable DB2 options, however. The one to salivate over is first-rounder Wilson, who recorded 9 interceptions and 16.5 tackles for loss in 42 games at West Virginia. He'll likely open the year in rotation with Allen, but wins the talent battle by a mile. Joseph is a complete safety prospect, capable of playing in the box or in centerfield and making big plays in either. He'll be a DB2 option as soon as he wrestles the starting job from Allen. The cornerbacks here carry better fantasy stock than on most teams - they both boast strong ballhawking ability, and Amerson's inconsistencies in coverage creates lots of stat opportunities. One of the league's most burned CBs since being drafted in 2013, Amerson recorded 25 pass breakups and 60 tackles last year, a fine byproduct of being targeted relentlessly by opposing QBs. That fantasy boon will hurt Smith, who boasts far more talent and will start on the opposite side. Smith will be a near-shutdown guy in Oakland, and his stats will reflect the lack of attention, but he boasts great ball skills and is also a candidate to approach 20 pass breakups and a handful of INTs.

Backup DBs: Allen was a free agent flop in 2015; he played just five ineffective games before landing on IR with a knee injury. He was released to get the team out from under his inflated 2015 contract, then re-signed on a one-year deal to compete for a starting job. But the drafting of Joseph suggests he'll merely serve as depth. Allen is experienced, but has never been an effective safety and would be a huge talent downgrade from the rookie. Hayden has also been a massive disappointment since being the 12th pick in 2013. Injury-prone and horrid in coverage (fifth-worst in football according to PFF), Hayden is no lock to have a role in 2016. He looks poised to take the No. 3 job, but there's no guarantee he'll hold off Carrie. Carrie himself is no great shakes, but this is a truly talent-starved depth chart behind the starters. McGill is the only mildly intriguing name among the reserves. A versatile CB/S hybrid in college, McGill will shift to safety in 2016 and fight for rotational snaps. He's big (6'3"), but has yet to establish an NFL role, so any speculation about his upside is still far short of fantasy worthiness.

Last modified: 2016-09-05 14:05:50