Expectations haven’t been this high for the Silver and Black since 2002 when Rich Gannon was throwing darts to the likes of hall of famers Tim Brown and Jerry Rice. Fast forward fifteen years, a 75-152 record later and there is once again Super bowl talk in Oaktown. With the increased expectations comes added pressure. No longer are the Raiders the sleeper pick to make the playoffs. After a 12-4 season led by Defensive Player of the Year Khalil Mack and franchise QB Derek Carr, the Raiders won’t be sneaking up on anyone this season.
Marshawn Lynch– Beastmode is home. After taking a year off, traveling the world, making a guest cameo on the hilarious sitcom Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and admitingly not missing football, Lynch is back, and back with a purpose. Upon hearing his beloved Oakland Raiders were moving to Las Vegas in two seasons, number 24 couldn’t sit idly by. So he hopped on his BMX and rode straight out of retirement. Lynch will bring a hard nose grinding style that Latavius Murray just wasn’t able to bring to the table. With second year scat backs Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington keeping Lynch fresh he should remain healthy for the entire season and a long playoff run. Beastmode is playing with a purpose, he wants to bring a championship back to his hometown before they leave town.
Jared Cook– The only relatively high ticket free agent, GM Reggie McKenzie signed this past off-season. Cook signed a two year deal worth $12.2 million. He steps in as the number one pass catching TE on the roster and bumps former third round pick Clive Walford to third in the pecking order behind Cook and the listed starter, blocking tight end Lee Smith. Cook, a tantalizing talent, has always shown potential in spurts. It was seen during last season’s playoff run with the Packers. In three games, Cook amassed 18 catches for 229 yards and 2 TD’s. The arrival of Cook gives QB Derek Carr a legitimate threat over the middle which in turn will lead to less coverage on star receivers Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree to do their thing on the outside.
Marshall Newhouse– When OL Marshall Newhouse signed a two year deal worth 3.5 million dollars the signing went largely unnoticed, or was looked at as a simple depth signing. Well, with only a couple of days left until the season opener, Newhouse sits atop the depth chart at RT. He looks to solidify the single weak link in one of the best offensive lines in the league. Marshall also did well filling in for holdout Donald Penn on the left side during pre-season, proving his versatility.
Malcolm Smith– Its not so much what Smith did on the actual field that will be a loss, but more so the position that he manded. The Raiders are woefully inadequate at the LB position, especially after league cut downs to a 53 man roster. Oakland currently has 6 active LB’s on its roster only one of which (Bruce Irvin) has more than a year of experience. The snaps Smith took at the weak side last season will be made up by the likes of 2016 6th round pick Cory James, and undrafted free agent Nicholas Morrow. Those names don’t exactly inspire confidence.
Special Teamers- Oakland parted ways with long time special team ace Taiwan Jones, as well as special team contributors Andre Holmes, Bryden Tradwick and Darren Bates. That’s over 200 snaps in the kick and punt game. All four players were major contributors on special teams and their snaps will have to be taken over by unproven players.
This is a pretty easy one. The offense overall is the team’s greatest strength. Ranking 7th last season with 26 points per game, they only impoved in the off-season. With the additions of Lynch, J.Cook and All-Pro kick returner Cordarrelle Patterson , the offense has become even more balanced. Fourth year starter Derrek Carr has more weapons at his disposal then ever in his professional career. With new OC Todd Downing giving him more freedom at the line of scrimmage to call his own plays, Carr, who was in the running for MVP before breaking his leg week 16 of last year, is primed for a breakout season and is ready to become one of the games elite passers. With the likes of Carr, Lynch, Cooper, Crabtree, and J.Cook along with a dominate OLine this truley is a championship caliber offense.
As clear as it is that the offense is the Raider’s strength, the teams achilles heel is its defense, specifically the second level. Many fans were clamoring for Reggie to draft MLB Rueben Foster in this past year’s draft. Foster, an expected top five pick, was a position of need and had free fallen down the first round. Instead, Mackenzie chose another player who was falling in the draft, CB Gareon Conley from Ohio State. Conley fell in the draft after he was accused of rape just days before the draft. Reggie rolled the dice and trusted in the young man and was rewarded when not enough evidence was found to press charges. One problem is Conley doesn’t play LB, and the greatest position of need wasn’t addressed until the 5th round when the Raiders drafted Marquel Lee out of Wake forest. Lee is penciled in as week 1 starter, with 2nd year player Tyrell Adams backing him up….here’s hoping Reggie McKenzie still has Perry Riley Jr.’s number on his phone’s contact list.
The Raiders will be looking to build on last season’s 12-4 record, but may be hard pressed to equal that win total. With a more difficult schedule and having more of a target on their back as a team to beat, this year they may win less games. However, they actually may be a better team and go further in the playoffs this time around. Prediction: 11-5 and make it to the AFC championship game, losing for the second time of the season to the pats….boy that last part was hard to write.