Sunday, July 24, 2016

Oakland Raiders 2016 Season Preview

2015 Record: 7-9

After a big spending offseason, young emerging weapons on offense and the looming threat of moving back to LA, the 2015 Oakland Raiders were poised to have a breakout season. Through the first 8 weeks, the Raiders were 4-3 after an upset victory versus the NYJ and had many (including MMQB’s Peter King) believing in the Silver and Black. But the 2nd half of the schedule was a 3 game losing streak followed by a roller coaster of close wins and losses leading to a 7-9 finish. However, hope remains high heading into 2016 under Head Coach Jack Del Rio.

Offseason Moves

Key Additions - G Kelechi Osemele, LB Bruce Irvin, CB Sean Smith, S Reggie Nelson, LB Daren Bates
Key Losses - S Charles Woodson, DE Justin Tuck, LB Curtis Lofton, WR Rod Streater, OT Khalif Barnes, OT J’Marcus Webb, G Tony Bergstrom, S Larry Asante
2016 Draft Class - S Karl Joseph, DE Jihad Ward, DE Shilique Calhoun, QB Connor Cook, RB DeAndre Washington

2016 Offensive Outlook:

Offensive Coordinator – Bill Musgrave
Base Offense – 2 back 2 WR set

The 2016 Raiders offense is now firmly in the hands of 3rd year QB Derek Carr. After a sophomore year of 32 TDs and just 13 INTs, Carr seems ready to step forward into the upper echelon of NFL signal callers, but will need to improve on his 3rd down efficiency and accuracy (61.1%). Behind him of the depth chart, the Raiders added Spartan QB Connor Cook as insurance in the 4th round.

The running game will also need to improve in 2016 for the Raiders to ease above .500. Latavius Murray will again be the feature RB alongside FB Marcel Reece. Murray seemed to wear down as the season went on last year and will need solid support from 3rd down backs Roy Helu Jr and the draft choice DeAndre Washington. Washington could be a strong fantasy sleeper by mid-season as HC Del Rio could see visions of Maurice Jones-Drew in the diminutive back from Texas Tech. The Raiders will need to find more success in early downs to improve upon the run-to-pass balance as too often 2nd-and-long got this team behind the chains.

At the skill positions, the first rounder Amari Cooper will continue to be the focus of the passing attack. His health and the continued success of Michael Crabtree as a complimentary piece are vital in 2016. The emergence of a true #3 WR is also a big need, be it Andre Holmes, Seth Roberts, UDFA KJ Brent or any of the other young players at wide receiver. Tight End is also a position in flux, with hopes pinned on the former 3rd round pick Clive Walford to finally be healthy and see his potential.

Up front, the Raiders spent big once again on a free agent target. This time they snag Osmele away from the Ravens to add punch to the RG spot. With him, last year’s big money prize in C Rodney Hudson and G Gabe Jackson competing with 6th round choice Vadal Alexander, the Raiders should improve between the tackles. Outside, Donald Penn continues to be adequate at LT but Austin Howard will need to be better to justify the big money he received last year. Super sub Menelik Watson stands poised to fill either gap.

Overall, the Raiders face a division of tough pass rushing defenses in Denver, San Diego and Kansas City. Their ability to run the ball enough in order keep the pressure off of Carr and find him solid outlets that result in more than checkdown 6 yard plays is crucial.

2016 Defensive Outlook:

Defensive Coordinator – Ken Norton Jr
Base Defense – Hybrid 4-3 with man coverage

The big money this offseason was spent of defense for the Raiders. Grabbing Bruce Irvin from Seattle, Reggie Nelson from Cincy and Sean Smith from division rival KC was huge. But more work will be needed to get this defense to a playoff level.

The defensive line begins with All-Pro and superstar Khalil Mack. Whether lining up at DE or standing at OLB, Mack has become the glue for the Raiders pass rush. Unfortunately, the secondary and double teams limited Mack’s impact as the year went on. On the otherside of the line, Mario Edwards Jr was great early on, but a severe injury has not only his season but possibly his career in jeopardy. Jihad Ward, a brutish DE from Illinois, was drafted in round 2 to help with depth as was Michigan St DE Shilique Calhoun. The rest of the DL is comprised of run stuffers Dan Williams and Justin Ellis.

At the LB spot, the speedy Bruce Irvin was added as another speed rusher off the edge with Mack (trying to imitate the Broncos pair of Von Miller and Demarcus Ware). Malcolm Smith is locked in at one inside LB but the other spot will be a competition between incumbent Ben Heeney and free agent Daren Bates. The Raiders could use some better run defense out of this group.

The Achilles heel of the 2015 Raiders was its secondary and wholesale changes have been made. Sean Smith was stolen away from the Chiefs to man one corner and David Amerson was retained at the other. Travis Carrie and former 1st round pick DJ Hayden will compete for the nickel. At safety, Reggie Nelson was brought in from Cincinnati to play tough versus the run and be a veteran presence. Across from him is the explosive Karl Joseph, taken with the 14th pick in round 1. If he can fully recover from a knee injury, many believe he could be a true playmaker in the run and passing game.

Overall on defense, the Raiders have added a ton of speed on defense. With the aggressive Ken Norton Jr calling the shots, Oakland could return to their defensive prowess from days of yore.

2016 Prediction:

Record – 10-6 (1st in AFC West)
While the Raiders will be greatly improved in 2016, this is prediction is really more of a result of the degradation of the other AFC West bunkmates. The depth on this team still worries me at many positions (RB, WR, LB, CB) but given health there is no reason the Raiders can’t be a playoff team.

Fantasy Oulook:

Stud – WR Amari Cooper, Raiders Defense
Sleeper – RB Deandre Washington, TE Clive Walford
Bust – K Sebastian Janikowski

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