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2018 Team Report: Oakland Raiders

Quarterbacks

Starter: Derek Carr
Backup(s): EJ Manuel, Connor Cook, Christian Hackenberg

Starting QB: Derek Carr signed a monster 5 year, $125M dollar extension prior to the 2016 NFL season and is locked in as the Raiders franchise quarterback through 2022. After making steady improvements in each of his first three seasons, Carr regressed in 2017. His yards per attempt fell below 7.0 for the first time since his rookie season, he had a career-high 2.5% interception rate and his 22 touchdown passes were 10 fewer than his 2015 total.

Backup QB: EJ Manuel served as the primary backup last season and was brought back on a one-year deal just worth just above the veteran's minimum. The 28-year old with starting experience from his days in Buffalo is a slight favorite to win the primary backup spot again. Connor Cook was drafted in the fourth round of the 2016 NFL draft and is entering his third season. He struggled mightily as a rookie in relief of Derek Carr and wasn't able to beat out EJ Manuel last season. If Cook cannot win the job of primary backup in camp, he is not likely to stick on the roster as a third quarterback. The Raiders also took a flier on Jets draft bust Christian Hackenberg. While he looks the part physically, Hackenberg has struggled mightily with his accuracy and may be nearing the end of the road for his NFL career.

Running Backs

Starter: Marshawn Lynch
Backup(s): Doug Martin, Jalen Richard, DeAndre Washington, Chris Warren [R]
Fullback(s): Keith Smith, Henry Poggi

Starting RB: Lynch returned to the NFL after a one year hiatus and put together a productive season at age 31. He rushed for 891 yards and 7 touchdowns and caught 20 passes or 151 yards. For most of the 2017 season, Lynch played approximately half of the snaps and handled a bit less than half of the running back touches. Down the stretch, the Raiders upped his workload and Lynch responded with some of his best games. Jon Gruden has said he wants "full-time Lynch," implying he would give the veteran a shot at more of a workhorse role than he had last season. However, Lynch will be 32-years old this season and is likely to need to have his touches managed throughout the season.

Backup RBs: Veteran Doug Martin was signed to a bargain, one-year deal to come in and compete with third-year backs Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington to backup Marshawn Lynch. Martin is coming off of back-to-back awful seasons with Tampa Bay. He averaged just 2.9 yards per carry and less than 50 rushing yards per start and also struggled with substance abuse issues off the field. He is far from a lock to make the roster. Richard and 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 over the past two seasons. Expect the duo to continue to split time moving forward.

Fullback: The Raiders and Cowboys swapped fullbacks with Jamize Olawale heading to Dallas and Keith Smith coming to Oakland as a free agent on a two-year, $4.2M deal. Smith was a college linebacker who converted to fullback after going undrafted. He helped pave the way for Ezekiel Elliott to lead the league in rushing in 2016. The relatively large financial investment indicates that the Raiders plan to run plenty of I-Formation with Smith leading the way for Marshawn Lynch.

Wide Receivers

Starters: Amari Cooper, Jordy Nelson, Martavis Bryant
Backups: Ryan Switzer, Marcell Ateman [R], Seth Roberts, Johnny Holton, Isaac Whitney, Dwayne Harris, Keon Hatcher, Griff Whalen, Saeed Blacknall [R]

Starting WRs: After a pair of promising seasons, Amari Cooper had a disastrous third season in 2017. He caught just 48 passes for 680 yards and 7 touchdowns. Almost half of Cooper's yardage came in two big games, while he had less than 10 receiving yards in five different games. Cooper will only be 24 years old in 2018 and Jon Gruden stated he will be the "focal point" and "headliner" of the offense. When the Green Bay Packers cut Jordy Nelson, the Raiders pounce, signing him to a two-year, $14.2M deal. Nelson is coming off of a down year in which he averaged just 32 receiving yards per game and will be 33-years old this season. During the draft, the Raiders traded a third-round selection to the Steelers for Martavis Bryant. Bryant's off-field issues, including a suspension that cost him the entire 2016 season, are well known. Hit talent is undeniable, however. Bryant has sprinter speed at 6'4 and has proven to be a capable deep threat. A change of scenery could help to rejuvenate his career.

Backup WRs: The Raiders acquired a pair of wide receivers on the third day of the NFL draft. Ryan Switzer, a dynamic second-year slot receiver, came over via trade from the Dallas Cowboys. Marcell Ateman, a physical 6'4" receiver out of Oklahoma State, was selected in the final round of the draft. The two newcomers will compete for the backup receiver jobs with holdovers Seth Roberts and Johnny Holton. Roberts has served as the third receiver the past three seasons, totaling 113 receptions and 1,332 receiving yards. Johnny Holton is a key special-teamer and occasional deep threat.

Tight Ends

Starters: Jared Cook
Backups: Lee Smith, Derek Carrier, Pharaoh Brown, Marcus Baugh [R], Paul Butler

Cook had a career-high 54 receptions last season, his first with the Raiders. He is a cover-two buster and very difficult matchup down the seam due to his speed and 6'5, 254-pound frame. He also lined up as a receiver on the perimeter in part due to the Raiders lack of depth at wide receiver. The additions of Jordy Nelson and Martavis Bryant could limit his looks somewhat. Cook has not been much of a red zone threat. He has averaged just 1.5 touchdowns per season over the last four years. Lee Smith is one of the better blocking tight ends in the NFL. The 30-year old veteran has never been much of a receiving threat, with only 26 receptions in 35 games over the last three seasons in Oakland. He signed a 3-year extension and provides a nice complement to Jared Cook. Derek Carrier was signed and is the favorite to be the third tight end. He began his career as an undrafted free agent of the Raiders in 2012, was cut, and played on four other teams over the past five seasons. Despite playing wide receiver in college, Carrier has been more known for his blocking than receiving in recent years.

Place Kicker

Giorgio Tavecchio, Eddy Pineiro [R]: The Raiders finally moved on from Sebastian Janikowski last year, passing the torch to Giorgio Tavecchio. Only three teams attempted fewer field goals than the Raiders last year, but Tavecchio didn't help his cause, missing five of 21 attempts, including two from under 40 yards. He did make 3-4 from 50+, but the Raiders offense might not emerge from the doldrums with Jon Gruden's back to the future offseason, so Tavecchio will remain in the bye/injury kicker group, and probably among the bottom tier of that group. He'll also face competition from UDFA Eddy Piniero from Florida, who made 29 of his last 30 field goal attempts and was also 12th in the nation and first in the SEC in touchbacks on kickoffs.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Dwayne Harris, Ryan Switzer

Even after trading away Cordarrelle Patterson, the Raiders have multiple experienced options to return kicks. Dwayne Harris was signed in the offseason and the team dealt DT Jihad Ward to the Cowboys for Ryan Switzer during the draft. Both have played for special teams coach Rich Bisaccia.

Punt Returners: Dwayne Harris, Ryan Switzer

Dwayne Harris played only five games in 2017, but he has been one of the best punt returners in the league before that, with three scores between 2012 and 2015. He'll have stiff competition in Switzer, who broke an 83-yard punt return for a score during his rookie year in 2017.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Donald Penn, LG Keleche Osemele, C Rodney Hudson, RG Gabe Jackson, RT Kolton Miller [R]
Key Backups: David Sharpe, Jylan Ware, Jon Feliciano, Vadal Alexander, Breno Giacomini, Brandon Parker [R]

The Raiders' offensive line is stacked across the board, but the best player might be left guard Kelechi Osemele. "K.O." eats pancakes on a regular basis, but the other interior players of center Rodney Hudson and right guard Gabe Jackson are also dominating players. Left tackle Donald Penn remains the starter but the team has lined up numerous options to take his place, including first round pick Kolton Miller. Miller could start the season at right tackle if he can fend off Vadal Alexander and Breno Giacomini for the job. Overall the Raiders' offensive line enters the season as a top-tier option.

Team Defense

Khalil Mack is one of the best individual defensive players in the league, but he can't do it all on his own. If the Raiders want to improve from their 32nd ranked finish in almost every scoring system, they'll need a secondary that is going to rely on 2017 first-round pick Gareon Conley as their #1 corner to come together. They'll need Derrick Johnson to find the fountain of youth and Tahir Whitehead to stick as a starter after being signed away from Detroit in free agency. They'll need a surprise contribution or two from draft picks like Wisconsin corner Nick Nelson, who is recovering from knee surgery or Michigan defensive tackle Maurice Hurst, who has a heart condition, but was also the best interior pass rusher in the draft. There is no reason to draft or pick up the Raiders until we see evidence of a massive turnaround.

Defensive Line

Starters: LE Khalil Mack, NT Justin Ellis, UT Eddie Vanderdoes, RE Mario Edwards
Backups: NT P.J. Hall [R], DE Tank Carradine, DE Arden Key [R], UT Maurice Hurst [R]

Starting DL: There's little left to say about Mack, an abnormally dominant force in both phases of the defense. Since 2015, Mack has averaged 77 tackles, 12.4 sacks, 2.4 pass breakups, and 2.7 forced fumbles over a 16-game season. The team's infusion of talent along the line can only help his cause. You can feel comfortable scooping him as the third or fourth defensive lineman on the board, and never lose sight of the fact that an 80-tackle, 15-sack season is always right around the corner for Mack. Edwards can't seem to stay healthy on the other side, but he's flashed moderate rush ability with 6.0 sacks over 1,106 career snaps. Vanderdoes is a talented, active tackle, but he's in an ever-growing rotation and doesn't post anything useful fantasy-wise. Ellis is a space-eater who's more valuable to the Raiders than to us.

Backup DL: The Raiders devoted three of their first six picks to the defensive line, so they're clearly looking for a spark in a unit that boasts virtually no pass-rush dynamism beyond Khalil Mack. Second-rounder Hall was considered a reach - he wasn't even invited to the combine - but he's intriguing as a nose tackle who can get upfield (an FCS-record 86.5 tackles for loss at Sam Houston State). If he shows he can anchor against the run, he'll push Ellis and Vanderdoes for snaps. Key is a hefty edge rusher, one who's struggled with weight and reliability issues but owns LSU's single-season sack record (12). The team desperately needs him to tap into that talent, and he'll likely see situational snaps early on. Hurst may have been a fifth-round steal, an undersized but penetrating attacker who might be a better version of Vanderdoes. Carradine never got going in San Francisco (just 5.5 sacks across 32 career games), but makes for valuable depth off the edge.

Linebackers

Starters: SLB Bruce Irvin, MLB Derrick Johnson, WLB Tahir Whitehead
Backups: MLB/OLB Emmanuel Lamur, MLB Marquel Lee, OLB Shilique Calhoun, OLB James Cowser

Starting LBs: The closest thing to a crown jewel here is Whitehead, a versatile, underrated tackle machine who averaged 7.7 per game over the last 2 years in Detroit. Whitehead can play all three positions and should log close to 90-95% of defensive snaps. He's a clear-cut fantasy LB2. Johnson defects to Oakland after 13 years in Kansas City; he'll likely start in the middle, but his age has shown mightily. Several steps slower and more injury-ravaged than ever, Johnson can't be counted on to match the 9.0 tackles that Navorro Bowman managed as last year's starter inside. Treat him as a LB4; there's much more untapped talent across the IDP board, with similarly awful floors. Irvin is generally more important to the Raiders than to IDP drafters. Last year was his first 16-game season, and his 59 tackles, 8.0 sacks, and 4 forced fumbles were all career highs. He's not much of a LB4 draw, but you could do worse.

Backup LBs: Lamur is a versatile journeyman who hasn't seen extended action since 2015, but he's the only proven depth on this bench. He'll back up all three positions, but can't be counted on for real production even if thrust into the lineup - the Raiders would almost certainly run a rotation inside. Lee will help back up the middle after Cory Joseph's release. He played some run downs early in 2017, but produced little and vanished when Navorro Bowman was signed. Cowser and Calhoun provide depth off the edge. Calhoun has played a few hundred invisible snaps over his two years in Oakland. Cowser is an interesting name as the all-time FCS sack leader, but he's not much of an NFL prospect in terms of athleticism.

Defensive Backs

Starters: LCB Gareon Conley, SS Karl Joseph, FS Reggie Nelson, RCB Rashaan Melvin
Backups: FS/SS Obi Melifonwu, FS/SS Marcus Gilchrist, CB Leon Hall, CB Dexter McDonald

Starting DBs: The safeties underwhelmed in 2017, but they're dynamic guys who could easily bounce back. Nelson's play has slipped markedly at age 32, and his 5 pass breakups and 1 interception last year were his lowest marks since 2009. But he's averaged 10.3 and 4.0 from 2010-16, and it was nice to see his tackle numbers (89) explode last year. Joseph drew 84% of defensive snaps and notched 79 tackles, but made few plays on the ball. He's talented and remains a prime breakout candidate, but shouldn't be targeted above a mid-range DB2 level. Like their division rivals in Kansas City, the Raiders are undergoing a thorough overhaul at cornerback, but the outlook is a bit prettier in Oakland. To that end, Melvin should stand as one of free agency's better under-the-radar signings. Before a wrist injury cut his 2017 to just 10 games, Melvin was consistently grading as an upper-tier cover man and the Colts' only prayer in the secondary. He joins the Raiders cheaply (1 year, $6.5 million) due to the injury, but should start on Day One. Melvin broke up 13 passes and intercepted 3 over those 10 games last year, so there's room for statistical growth here. Conley, the team's top pick in 2017, will also step into the lineup after essentially redshirting as a rookie. Cornerback is a tricky mistress in IDP fantasy, but Conley boasts the size, press experience, and ball skills to make real CB2/DB4 noise.

Backup DBs: Melifonwu battled injuries and hardly sniffed the field as a rookie (just 34 snaps across 3 defensive appearances), but he remains a dynamic prospect. A second-round pick last year, Melifonwu is huge (6'4" and 224) and showed as a SPARQ superstar at his combine. He'll battle Gilchrist for work as the third safety, and if he's healthy, should easily nail down most of that role. Gilchrist was a reliable tackler but poor overall player in recent stints with the Jets and Texans; he looks like little more than a depth signing. On his fourth roster in four years, Hall is no longer a major contributor at age 34, but remains a solid enough slot man against three- and four-wide sets. Still, he's no lock to beat out McDonald, who showed real press chops (and broke up 7 passes) over 534 snaps last year.

Last modified: 2018-05-26 22:07:34