The 2016 season was big for the Oakland Raiders, going 12-4 and making the playoffs. This was their first winning record and playoff berth since 2002 under head coach Jack Del Rio. Unfortunately in week 16, quarterback Derek Carr broke his fibula and had to miss the rest of the season. Without their star quarterback, the Raiders lost their final game of the regular season missing out on a first round bye with Kansas City winning their division. Backup quarterback Matt McGloin was also out injured for the playoffs leaving rookie Connor Cook to start the game against Houston. This game resulted in a win for the Texans ending Oakland’s season.
Now it’s 2017, Oakland hope to stick to winning ways. Oakland have let Bill Musgrave walk and have promoted their quarterbacks coach Todd Downing to offensive coordinator instead. There won’t be much change in their offence as Downing will most likely keep it similar with maybe the odd tweaks especially with a new lead RB in Marshawn Lynch. Oakland have also hired John Pagano to be their assistant head coach/ defense.
Continuing from the appointment of Todd Downing as the new offensive coordinator, I expect this to work out well for quarterback Derek Carr. I expect the play calling will involve more of a running game to take some pressure off Carr and to add a bit more balance. Behind Derek Carr, the Raiders have Connor Cook and newly added EJ Manuel as the current backups on the roster.
The 1000-yard receivers Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree are still the main guys along with Seth Roberts. Oakland added another receiver in Cordarrelle Patterson. He didn’t have great success with Minnesota as a receiver but has the chance to be a unique weapon for Oakland using his speed receiving or running with the ball. It’ll be fun to see how he is utilised this season, I imagine he could be the no.1 slot receiver when the season starts. He also adds his talents to special teams as a returner. For the tight end spots, Oakland let Mychal Rivera walk in free agency but added Jared Cook who was at Green Bay last year. Clive Walford will look to build on last year’s 359 yards and 3 touchdowns. Lee Smith returns this year after suffering a leg injury and could likely be no.1 on the depth chart. He is a good run blocker and makes the difference as an extra lineman in heavy packages but also is underrated as a receiver. I expect Cook and Walford to take the bulk of passing plays though.
Oakland let Latavius Murray walk in free agency but got themselves a replacement in Marshawn Lynch. Lynch hasn’t played a game since 2015, missing the entire 2016 season. At 31 years old it can be difficult to be the player he once was. If Lynch can regain his “beast mode” (or at least close) then the Raiders will have an even scarier offense for defensive coordinators to deal with. As depth they have Jalen Richard who might surprise a few this season and DeAndre Washington.
A headline this year is Donald Penn holding out of training camp as he is not happy with his current contract. With Penn currently out, Marshall Newhouse is at left tackle with Vadal Alexander at right tackle. If Penn is back in the line up then he’ll be the left tackle with Newhouse moving back to right tackle, battling Alexander for the starting job. The rest of the line makes up of Gabe Jackson and Kelechi Osemele both playing at each guard spot and Rodney Hudson playing centre. This line will again challenge the Dallas Cowboys for the title of ‘Best Offensive Line in the NFL’.
Defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. runs a hybrid scheme in Oakland, having experience in Seattle under a 4-3 scheme which he mostly used as Oakland’s base defense. Newly hired Pagano has a history of 3-4 defenses, working in San Diego, which we could see a lot more of in 2017. Expect to see more disguises and pre-snap movement from this unit. The defense last year wasn’t the best last year which was in the bottom half in nearly every statistic. Even with a player like Khalil Mack, the defense finished dead last in the NFL in sacks (25). The Raiders will expect Mack to continue being a dominant player as a defensive end/outside linebacker with Mario Edwards Jr. opposite. This year’s 3rd round pick Eddie Vanderdoes is currently the starting defensive tackle alongside nose tackle Justin Ellis. In a 3-4 look, Vanderdoes most likely moves to defensive end with Mario Edwards Jr. moving there too with Mack as a pass rushing outside linebacker.
Rookie 5th round linebacker Marquel Lee is the current middle linebacker with Cory James as the weak-side linebacker. In the 3-4 lineup they will both be the middle linebackers. At strong-side linebacker position is Bruce Irvin who will play as an outside linebacker in the 3-4 front. Former Dolphins linebacker Jelani Jenkins was added in free agency and is at the moment the back up weak-side linebacker, previously hurt in camp and will compete for a starting job.
In the first round of this year’s draft, Oakland selected Gareon Conley from Ohio State. Conley can challenge for a starting spot but also has the ability to play inside. Conley could be the first choice slot corner when the season starts. David Amerson is likely to start at left cornerback whilst the right side will see some competition. Sean Smith could likely start there but TJ Carrie has also been in the mix.
A lot of fans will keep an eye on the safety positions this year. Fans will want to see how Karl Joseph will progress and if he can stay healthy. Oakland drafted Obi Melifonwu in the second round from Connecticut who is likely to be the backup to Karl Joseph at strong safety. Reggie Nelson should be your starting free safety but depth is an issue with Keith McGill II out for an extensive time with a foot injury.
Players to watch
Khalil Mack – Although he’s already made a name for himself, he is a player to watch as I believe he will be even better than last year. I wouldn’t be surprised if his sack tally is near to 20.
Marshawn Lynch – He is back but will we see the beast mode we saw in Seattle? Missing all of 2016, it will be interesting to see if he can come back with a strong season.
Gareon Conley – The first round pick will likely see action as a slot corner but will be interesting to see how he develops and if he can push the starting outside cornerbacks.
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