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2017 Team Report: Oakland Raiders

Offensive Philosophy

Though he showed positive signs in 2014 and 2015, in 2016 Derek Carr finally showed himself capable of carrying an offense and earned himself some dark-horse MVP buzz in the process. And then he got hurt in week 16 and Oakland showed just how much it relied on Carr to carry them, falling below 230 yards and topping 3 turnovers in both of its remaining games despite not hitting either mark once all season prior. In an effort to strike a bit more balance, the Raiders have lured workhorse running back Marshawn Lynch out of retirement to hopefully diversify their offense.

Quarterbacks

Starter: Derek Carr
Backup(s): Connor Cook, E.J. Manuel

Starting QB: As he enters his fourth season, Derek Carr has emerged as one of the league's best young quarterbacks. He earned a Pro Bowl berth in 2016 and was considered amongst the top tier of MVP candidates before a broken leg in Week 16 ended his season (and the Raiders 2016 hopes). Carr was easily on pace for his second straight season with 30+ passing touchdowns and would have topped 4,000 passing yards for the first time. But perhaps the most impressive aspect of Carr's 2016 season was the way he took care of the ball. He threw just 6 interceptions on 560 attempts (1.1%). Carr has a great rapport with his top weapons, Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree. He also personally went out and recruited Jared Cook to join the Raiders this offseason and Cook will provide another big-play threat to Carr's arsenal. Carr has a cannon and is one of the league's most accurate passers. He is also an underrated athlete who can scramble to buy time. Playing behind one of the league's best offensive lines and surrounded by plenty of skill position talent, Carr is poised for another big season.

Backup QB: Connor Cook was drafted in the fourth round of the 2016 draft and spent most of his rookie season as the third string passer behind Derek Carr and Matt McGloin. But when both Carr and McGloin went down with injuries late in the season, Cook was thrust into the starting role. It was a tough spot and Cook did not rise to the challenge. He passed for just 150 yards in a 24-6 loss to Denver in Week 17 that cost the Raiders the division and then threw three interceptions in a 27-14 loss to the Texans in the playoffs. Cook will have to compete for the backup job with newly signed EJ Manuel. Manuel's one-year, veteran minimum contract contains no guaranteed money. Manuel was drafted in the first round by the Bills in 2013 and struggled mightily. The 27-year old is a high-character guy who would fit in well as a backup if he can win the job.

Running Backs

Starter: Marshawn Lynch
Backup(s): Jalen Richard, DeAndre Washington, Elijah Hood (R), Taiwan Jones
Fullback(s): Jamize Olawale

Starting RB: Marshawn Lynch retired after suffering through an injury-plagued 2015 season and sat out the 2016 season. He decided to come out of retirement in the spring and was a perfect match for his hometown team. The big question for Lynch will be how much he has left in the tank at age 31. He handled a lot of carries over a four-year stretch from 2011-2014. He ran for 1,200+ yard and scored at least 12 touchdowns each of those four seasons. If Lynch has anywhere near the same juice he had in his prime years in Seattle, he could have a big season behind the Raiders big, talented offensive line. His toughness and competitive fire should provide a big boost to a relatively young Raiders offense. He should handle all of the goal line work and operate as a two-down back with the talented youngsters Richard and Washington getting all of the third-down action. Lynch's contract is incredibly heavy on incentives for rushing yards and touchdowns, so he will be highly motivated and the team is likely to feed him whenever possible.

Backup RBs: Second-year backs Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington are almost carbon copies, with nearly identical size (5'8, 210) and skill sets (elusive change-of-pace backs). The pair has been used interchangeably within the offense and played an almost equal amount of snaps in 2016 (256 for Washington and 250 for Richard). Both flashed explosive big play ability as runners and receivers. Richard rushed 83 times for 491 yards (5.9 YPC) and caught 29 passes for 194 yards. Washington rushed 87 times for 467 yards (5.4 YPC) and caught 17 passed for 115 yards. Expect the duo to continue to split time moving forward. Rookie Elijah Hood arrives via the 7th round of the draft and should push for a spot at the bottom of the roster. At 5'11, 232 pounds, Hood is a between-the-tackles hammer (averaged 4.1 yards after first contact at North Carolina last year) who projects as a potential short-yardage back.

Fullback: Olawale is a versatile fullback who has also been used as the lone back on occasions in short yardage and goal line. He has a bruising running style between the tackles, great hands and sneaky speed if he gets some room to run.

Wide Receivers

Starters: Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree
Backups: Seth Roberts, Cordarrelle Patterson, KJ Brent, Johnny Holton, Ishmael Zamora (R), Jaydon Mickens, Isaac Whitney (R), Dan Williams (R), Keon Hatcher (R)

Starting WRs: Amari Cooper made incremental improvements upon his rookie season (83 more receiving yards and 11 more receptions), but didn't have the major breakout season that many expected and again saw less targets than Michael Crabtree. He saw an almost identical number of targets (130 in 2015 and 132 in 2016), but his catch rate improved from 55% as a rookie to 63% in his second year. Cooper has elite quickness and deep speed with special run-after-the-catch skills. He may never be a big touchdown scorer however because Carr rarely looks his way down around the goal line. None of Cooper's five touchdowns last season came from inside the 30-yard line. Cooper will be just 23-years old in 2017 and is still ascending. It's fair to question whether his short and long-term fantasy ceiling is a WR2 though. Crabtree led the Raiders with 145 targets and remained Carr's go-to receiver in the red zone. He has grabbed 17 touchdowns in his two seasons in Oakland. Crabtree is an excellent route runner and plays a physical brand of football. His skills should continue to age well as he enters his age-30 season as he isn't overly reliant upon his athleticism. He should continue as the co-#1 receiver alongside Cooper.

Backup WRs: Seth Roberts returns and will have to hold off Cordarrelle Patterson to retain his job as the #3 receiver in Oakland for another season. The 6'2, 196-pound, third-year receiver caught only 38 of his 77 targets last season, but did make some nice plays in the red zone where he has been a Derek Carr favorite. In two seasons, he has caught 10 touchdowns (just one less than Amari Cooper). He provides 4.4-speed from the slot. Former Vikings first-round pick Cordarrelle Patterson signed a one-year, $5.25M contract to join the Raiders. In addition to being a major special teams upgrade, Patterson will be given a shot to make an impact on offense. He is as dynamic as anyone in the league with the ball in his hands, but has never developed much polish as a route runner. Speedy Johnny Holton was the Raiders fifth receiver in 2016 after making the team as an undrafted rookie. He will have to hold off a number of other young players trying to make the team, including talented undrafted rookie Ishmael Zamora. Zamora went undrafted out of Baylor in part due to character concerns, but he is a size/speed freak who could provide yet another big-play threat for Carr.

Tight Ends

Starters: Jared Cook Carr personally recruited Jared Cook to join the Raiders, believing that his 4.5-speed could provide a missing element for the Oakland offense. Cook is a cover-two buster and very difficult matchup down the seam due to his wheels and 6'5, 254-pound frame. He will join Clive Walford and Lee Smith to give the Raiders a deep group of weapons at tight end. He had a bit of a renaissance season in Green Bay in 2016, his first with a true franchise quarterback. Cook was up and down through an injury-riddled regular season, but really hit his stride in the playoffs. Cook had a big postseason game against Dallas, with 6 catches for 103 yards, a touchdown and a spectacular game-winning sideline grab to set up a field goal. He was a key weapon in the NFC Championship game against Atlanta as well, with 7 catches for 78 yards and a score.
Backups: Clive Walford, Lee Smith, Ryan O'Malley, Cooper Helfet, Gabe Holmes, Pharaoh Brown (R)

Clive Walford has yet to develop into the all-around tight end the Raiders hoped to get when drafting him at the top of the 3rd round in the 2015 NFL draft. He saw the field a bunch for the Raiders last season, playing approximately two-thirds of the offensive snaps but didn't make a big impact. He was below-average as a run blocker and didn't build off of the promising flashes he showed as an offensive weapon his rookie year. Despite a big bump in playing time, he caught just five more passes than his rookie season and matched his rookie total with three touchdowns. Lee Smith is one of the better blocking tight ends in the NFL. He was a big part of the Raiders offense suffering a season-ending broken leg in Week 4. The 29-year old veteran has never been much of a receiving threat, with his 12 catches for the Raiders in 2015 marking a career-high.

Place Kicker

Sebastian Janikowski, Giorgio Tavecchio: Sebastian Janikowski has been the Raiders kicker since the year 2000, and he has been around long enough now to see the team's renaissance. That lifted him to a solid top 10-12 season in most scoring systems. He converted 29 of 35 attempts, but five of his six misses came from 50+ yards. He was still 10 for 11 from 40-49 and a respectable 37 for 39 on extra point attempts. This offseason, the Raiders signed Giorgio Tavecchio yet again, and he is considered one of the best kickers to not have a starting job in the NFL. Janikowski is due over four million dollars this year, so if he falters in camp, Tavecchio will be there to capitalize. If Janikowski is his usual self, Tavecchio is top candidate to fill a problem spot elsewhere. Janikowski is well known and going in the 6-8 kickers in most drafts, but even the very slight chance that he is displaced by Tavecchio makes this an unwise pick in the preseason.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Cordarrelle Patterson

Patterson is probably the best kickoff returner in the NFL. Since 2013, he has 50% more kickoff return yards than any other player except Devin Hester, (who he leads by 25%). His five kickoff return touchdowns are three more than any other player. Of the 71 players with at least 20 kickoff returns, Patterson is the only one averaging more than 30 yards per return. He will almost certainly remain heavily involved on his new team.

Punt Returners: Jalen Richard

Richard ranked 3rd in the NFL in punt return attempts last year, and the signing of Marshawn Lynch helps ease any concerns that his offensive role would be expanding in 2017. Instead, expect him to remain the team's top punt returner.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Donald Penn, LG Kelechi Osemele, C Rodney Hudson, RG Gabe Jackson, RT Austin Howard
Key Backups: Vadal Alexander, Marshall Newhouse, Jon Feliciano, David Sharpe [R], Ian Silberman

The Oakland Raiders' offensive line is absolutely stacked with talent. Left guard Kelechi Osemele made the NFL's top 100 list for the first time in his career, and he could be the best guard in all of football. Right guard Gabe Jackson is no slough either and can pave the way for huge rushing gains. Left tackle Donald Penn is an athletic pass protector and center Rodney Hudson does an excellent job at the pivot. Right tackle is the weak spot, where Austin Howard returns to start after the team lost Menelik Watson to free agency. Marshall Newhouse could compete at right tackle or he could be the swing tackle off the bench. Vadal Alexander is a good young interior backup. Overall this Raiders' line is clearly top tier the question of how high they can be rated will be a function of how healthy they can keep their starters.

Team Defense

The Raiders D/ST was a bit of a riddle last year, leading the league in interceptions + forced fumbles, but finishing last in sacks. All-world edge player Khalil Mack and successful free agent pickup Bruce Irvin keyed the turnover sprees. This year's group lost Malcolm Smith from the linebacker group and Stacy McGee from the defensive line without suitable replacements ready to go, but the secondary should be improved with first-round corner Gareon Conley, second-round DB and physical freak Obi Melifonwu and a healthier 2016 first-rounder Karl Joseph patrolling. If the addition of Marshawn Lynch helps them control more games, the Raiders have enough playmakers to make a leap to top 10-12 D/ST levels after finishing 2016 around D/ST20. Add Cordarrelle Patterson's threat of a kick return score and the Raiders are an attractive team to stream or target as a D/ST with growth potential going outside of the top 10-12.

Defensive Line

Starters: DT Darius Latham, NT Justin Ellis, RE Mario Edwards Jr.
Backups: DE Jihad Ward, DE Denico Autry, DT Eddie Vanderdoes [R], DT Treyvon Hester [R]

Starting DL: Edwards impressed at times as a rookie, then lost virtually all of his second year to a hip strain. He's healthy for 2017, but not really a fantasy consideration. Edwards gets good push and carries upside, but he's notched just 2.5 sacks through his first 13 NFL games. Even if you're required to start linemen, there's much more potential elsewhere. With Dan Williams let go, Ellis will almost certainly start games on the nose. He's a fine space-eater who plays 20-30 snaps a game, but there's no statistical upside in play there. Latham is in the same boat, but as an undrafted guy, he could lose some 2017 snaps to third-round rookie Eddie Vanderdoes.

Backup DL: Autry is a steady depth presence, but his play has dipped markedly of late. With the influx of talent across the line, he can no longer be counted on for major snaps - and he didn't produce much when he had them (6 sacks across 34 NFL games). The Raiders are counting on Ward, last year's second-round pick, to take a big step forward in 2017. He showed relatively well over 603 rookie snaps and will play quite a bit, but the team needs more playmaking. Ward failed to record a sack as a rookie. Given his mediocre athleticism, he may me ticketed for a limited third-down role. Vanderdoes is a gifted third-round rookie, but comes into the NFL exceptionally raw after losing huge chucks of his college career to injury. If his weight is in check, however, and he shows well in camp, he could unseat Ward or Darius Latham in the lineup and scoop 25-30 snaps a game. Late-rounder Hester will likely back up Justin Ellis on the nose, provided he makes the final roster.

Linebackers

Starters: SLB Bruce Irvin, ILB Cory James, ILB Jelani Jenkins, WLB Khalil Mack
Backups: ILB Ben Heeney, SLB Shilique Calhoun, SLB Marquel Lee [R], SLB Aldon Smith

Starting LBs: Of course, it all starts and ends with 2016 Defensive Player of the Year Mack. The mega-stud produced 150 tackles, 26 sacks, and 7 forced fumbles over his second and third NFL seasons, and could be poised for even more in 2017. Few pass rushers leaguewide can boast his combination of athleticism and opportunity, and a 20-sack season could well be in the cards. The only sticking point here is his positional designation. Mack is a good-not-great LB2 who can't match the top tacklers in a vacuum, but an outstanding DL1 who could pay even stronger 2017 value from there than J.J. Watt. Be sure you're properly informed of his position in your league and take the appropriate dive; he's worth it. Jenkins boasts strong athletic skills and should absolutely start in Oakland, be it in the middle or on the weak side. He suffered through a 2016 that was drastically decimated by a lingering knee injury, but has been much better when healthy. Jenkins averaged 6.5 tackles per game over 2014-15, throwing in 3.5 sacks an a handful of splash plays. If he sees 800 snaps this year, he could be a mega-sneaky LB3. Irvin played extensively in his Raiders debut, and while his numbers spiked a bit upon leaving Seattle, they didn't add up to fantasy fireworks. His 2016 total (67 tackles and 7.0 sacks) is a sheer ceiling, and even that doesn't get it done as a fantasy LB2/3. He's valuable to NFL teams with his outstanding speed, but not to fantasy owners - he hasn't reached 8.0 sacks since his rookie year in 2012. James is the early favorite to start in the middle, and the second-year man flashed a bit in his debut, averaging 7.5 tackles from Weeks 4-6. But he did nothing of note down the stretch, and Ben Heeney is a far more talented option in the middle. If Heeney is healthy, he'll make a serious run at James' job during the preseason.

Backup LBs: Heeney carries more appeal than almost any other backup MLB in football. The former Kansas Jayhawk opened eyes as a part-time rookie in 2015, then drew the starting gig to open 2016, before a benching and a broken ankle torpedoed his season. Assuming he returns appropriately from the injury, he could easily steal his job back from Cory James. Heeney is a far superior prospect: he's exceptionally athletic (a 4.59 40-yard dash and 10-foot broad jump) and was extraordinarily productive all over the field in school. Deep IDPers should keep an eye on his offseason progress; there's real LB2 potential there. Calhoun will likely serve as the team's No. 3 edge rusher behind Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin. He did nothing as a 2016 rookie, going sackless and managing just 8 tackles across 158 snaps. Still, he was plenty productive at Michigan State (27 sacks across 42 games) and deserves more NFL seasoning. He'll likely get it in 2017, as the Raiders added no pass rushers of note to the roster. That includes Smith, whose reinstatement to the NFL could be put on hold by two more legal issues added to the pile in February and March. He could threaten 10 sacks a year in a part-time role if he could ever keep himself clean, but it's looking less and less likely that he's long for the league. Lee was a worthwhile stab in Round 5, as he produced fairly well in school, but checks in as a subpar athlete and faces an uphill battle for relevance on defense.

Defensive Backs

Starters: LCB David Amerson, SS Karl Joseph, FS Reggie Nelson, RCB Sean Smith
Backups: CB Gareon Conley [R], FS Obi Melifonwu [R], CB Travis Carrie, SS Keith McGill, SS Shalom Luani [R]

Starting DBs: In his first year as a Raider, Nelson's all-around numbers fell a bit from his Cincinnati heights, but he remained a quality DB2. Still a premier centerfielder type, Nelson topped 4 interceptions and 11 passes defensed for the third straight year. That said, his tackle total (65) dipped to his lowest mark since 2013. Going on 32 and surrounded by young defensive talent, it would be foolhardy to pay market price for him. Target him as a value DB3, but not as any kind of IDP lynchpin. Joseph, if he can ever stay healthy, is the one to watch. After a torn ACL derailed his final year of school, the Raiders plucked him Round 1 and "redshirted" him for his first two NFL games. When he replaced the perennially-awful Nate Alen in Week 3, he showed great promise as a real-life safety and as a fantasy contributor. He racked up 7+ tackles in 5 of his first 8 games, then lost much of the stretch run to a toe injury before returning in the playoffs. When healthy, Joseph is a potential force in both facets of defense, and he could conceivably outproduce Nelson if he plays all year. Dynasty IDP owners already have Joseph squarely on their radar, but redrafters should also take notice while the DB3/4 "big names" come off the board earlier. Amerson has greatly rehabilitated his career in Oakland after frequent burnings in Washington. Big, long-limbed, and opportunistic, Amerson has chimed in 39 passes defensed and 6 interceptions over 30 games as a Raider. He's also posted 60 and 64 tackles over that two-year span. The team drafted Gareon Conley in Round 1, but he doesn't come off as 2017 competition for Amerson's job. Expect another DB3- or DB4-quality season for the veteran - though he's still not worthy of a fantasy pick unless you're required to start cornerbacks. Smith posted an up-and-down Oakland debut - he was benched in Week 1, but mostly excelled after that - and will return to Oakland for his age-30 season. Smith is a better real-life cornerback than Amerson, but isn't targeted as often nor is he the same degree of gambler. He's never intercepted 3 passes in a season, and he hasn't topped 50 tackles since 2012.

Backup DBs: Carrie stepped in after injuries ate at the Raiders' secondary in 2016, and he was plenty serviceable. But the team, of course, would greatly prefer that Carrie fade back a bit and first-rounder Conley snatch that role from him. Assuming Conley's legal issues don't bubble, he'll be given every opportunity. He projects as an NFL stud, boasting a combination of shutdown ability (a 14.0 passer rating allowed as a junior) and game-changing ball skills (19 passes defensed and 6 interceptions across 26 college games). If and when he sniffs the field, he should post acceptable fantasy cornerback stats with the upside for top-5 numbers at the position. Second-rounder Melifonwu is an athletic marvel at 6'4" and 222 pounds and projects as a ballhawk type at FS. He's raw, though, and severely unlikely to challenge Nelson for much time as a rookie. McGill is big (6'3" and 210) and somewhat experienced, but has flamed out on the NFL level as both a cornerback and a safety. He dropped almost entirely out of the Oakland rotation after a disastrous start to 2016; he'll likely return, but only as deep depth, and will have to hold off seventh-round rookie Luani.

Last modified: 2017-06-08 13:18:43