The soon to be Las Vegas Raiders are everyone's favorite dark horse pick to come out on top of the AFC and finally take down the Patriots from their throne. However, I would like to offer a bit of a different beat on the team still on the bay. I think they will be a little worst than people expect and will fall short in the playoffs if they do make it. For one this team is still relatively young at key positions like quarterback, receiver, and their edge rushers. I know windows close quickly in the NFL for most teams trying to win the Super Bowl, but they are awfully difficult to open also. You need to find the right mixture of talent and experience. I just do not see the Raiders having enough talent outside of Derek Carr, Khalil Mack, and Amari Cooper to really make it as far as people expect. The back end of their defense is a question mark and same can be said about the running game being led by a recently retired Marshawn Lynch who played very poorly his last year with the Seahawks. I am not saying this team will be bad I just want to pump the brakes on everyone expecting them to do great things.
Offensively, they figured out the hard part by drafting their franchise quarterback Derek Carr who to me is being put on a pedestal too quickly since his numbers are nice, but to me he still needs to find another gear. Like many quarterbacks he still needs good receivers and blocking to elevate him instead of it being the other way around like Tom Brady, Brett Favre, Aaron Rogers, and Peyton Manning have done throughout their career. Maybe another year under his belt Carr might start looking like those greats, but like my whole theme in this preview is pump the brakes. The offensive line should still be good if elder Donald Penn can continue to stay healthy and if new addition Marshall Newhouse can play up to his potential, which he has not done for awhile. The interior of the line may be one of the best in the league with Kelechi Osemele, Rodney Hudson, and Gabe Jackson. This is example of how they decided to pay their blockers rather than a high priced receiver is why building inside out is one of my favorite ways to build a team. With just this good blocking unit I think they have a shot to win most games along with a solid Derek Carr. Their receiving unit should be fine with the steady and highly underrated Michael Crabtree along with Amari Cooper. However, I would like to see Cooper take a jump in production after being some what disappointing last season. I am most skeptical about how Lynch will all of a sudden be beast mode of old and carry this offense. I will say he is a step above Latavius Murray from last season, but I do worry about a guy who has not played in a year and did not play well the year before his abbreviated retirement. The depth behind him is a bit weak too so they have to hope he can be the bell cow back like he used to be.
This defense to me is going to be their major Achilles' heel in their pursuit to take down the Patriots. I will also tell you right now if these teams meet in the playoffs and most likely in New England this defense will be torn apart. They have zero answers to cover their stable of receivers and backs besides a good pass rush. Even the pass rush to me is a bit overrated where obviously Khalil Mack is amazing, but the rest of the unit is a little weaker than you like. Bruce Irvin one of their high priced free agents from a year ago has not looked as good since his time in Seattle, perhaps he got the payday he was looking for and is now just kicking his feet up. Then on the line up front you have Mario Edwards who has not looked the same since his injury two years ago, then their second round pick from last year is expected to take a larger role after not really showing much his rookie year, and at the nose tackle spot they have Justin Ellis who is just a space eater. Overall, I do not think they did enough to take attention away from Mack so he can get more clean looks to be even more effective. Meanwhile, their inside linebacker corp is terrible led by Jelani Jenkins, Ben Heeney, Corey James, or Marquel Lee. At the moment Jenkins and James have the inside track, but both are terrible and may be a big weakness defending the run game like last year. Then in the secondary they paid David Amerson, Sean Smith, and Reggie Nelson a ton of money a year ago and so far they have not proven their worth. I think Amerson who was a huge disappointment after being drafted played great on a one year deal for the Raiders and now with a long term deal is back to his disappointing self. Meanwhile, Sean Smith much like Brandon Carr before him left the Chiefs and seems to have fallen off the map with his new long term deal. Nelson at safety was the only one who played okay, but certainly not as well as the Raiders hoped. Last year's rookie Karl Joseph was the only bright spot, but in coverage he was a major liability and needs to fix that quickly. They did draft Obi Melifonwu who can be a sleeper who can end up seeing playing time if either Joseph or Nelson continue to just be mediocre.
In the end, I do think this team will most likely make the playoffs just on the back of their good offense, Derek Carr, and the blocking he is given each weak. This defense can put solid pressure on offenses, but not enough to cover up this terrible back seven that will be torn apart by teams like the Steelers, Patriots, and maybe even the Chargers with healthy receivers and Rivers. I also think this schedule is doing them no favors with East Coast road trips against the Titans, Redskins, Bills, Dolphins, and Eagles where I think the two AFC East teams are the easiest match ups, but crazier things have happened on those East Coast trips. They also face off against the Patriots, Ravens, Giants, and Cowboys in their out of conference at home, which is not the easiest match ups. I also think this conference is one of the better ones from top to bottom with the Chiefs and Broncos having solid enough teams to get wins even with their question marks at quarterback and the Chargers who I think is the most well rounded in this division. I think they can pull a 10-6 record if all goes right, but I would not be shocked if the Chargers end up winning this conference.
1 (24) - Gareon Conley CB - I really felt bad for this kid as days before the draft he was accused of a crime by someone just trying to wreck his career. In the end, the charges were dropped and rightly so with how flimsy the details were. Fortunetly, for the Raiders they could get a steal here with a corner that has a ton of upside and talent. He most likely will start at the slot with Sean Smith and David Amerson still ahead of him. However, if either of them gets hurt or continues to play poorly he may end up leap frogging them on the depth chart. Conley was one of my favorite players from this draft due to his high floor talent and ability to play right away with a high level due to his great technique for a young player.
2 (24) - Obi Melifonwu S - This to me was a pick made by the ghost of Al Davis. Melifonwu was overly hyped up due to his athletic measurables and size. However, people seemed to overlook how raw he was in coverage playing at a lower level school like UConn against lower talent in a non-power 5 conference. It might take him a long time to make a real impact especially being behind Reggie Nelson and Karl Joseph on the depth chart. This may not turn out to be a bad pick, but if I were the Raiders I would have gone in a different direction like Zach Cunningham who could have solidified their linebacker issue or even Tanoh Kpassagnon to add some more talent up front to create a better pass rush.
3 (24) - Eddie Vanderdoes DT - This was a low success pick in my opinion made by the Raiders. Yes, Vanderdoes has a ton of talent to be a nice interior talent. However, he has been a major disappointment at UCLA from his health to his attitude. On a young team with solid players across the board picking more high floor players or even player with a better attitude with high upside would have been a better selection. A guy like D'Onta Foreman would have been a better pick creating a solid one-two punch with Marshawn Lynch or Carl Lawson who could have helped the pass rush.
4 (23) - David Sharpe OT - I liked this pick much more than their previous picks due to the fact that the right tackle spot may be the weakest link on the line. Sharpe may be a bit handicapped by his lack of athleticism and lateral movement to be a left tackle. He should be a stout right tackle in the run and stopping bull rushers. I do think he would be best served at guard, but his quickest way to the field is playing right tackle.
5 (24) - Marquel Lee LB - I may not be the biggest supporter of linebackers being drafted highly, but for a team like the Raiders who are barren at the position behind a solid line having a few good ones can make a difference making a good defense into a very good one. They passed on a superior talent in Zach Cunningham to draft Obi Melifonwu, which I think was the wrong move. Now they find a backer here in the 5th round, but I do not think Lee is good enough to break the starting line up out of camp even with how poorly the players ahead of him are. He should be a fine special teamer to begin his career.
7 (3) - Shalom Luani S - Not a bad pick here in the 7th round. Luani may not be the most athletic player, but he plays with a ton of heart and will find his way on the team via special teams. I can also see him possibly bulking up to play a small linebacker with good coverage ability. Overall, not a bad pick here.
7 (13) - Jylan Ware OT - Another tackle who can battle for that right tackle spot that is kind of up for grabs. I doubt a 7th rounder gets it right away, but I can see him being an okay swing tackle. He is a moldable project who can be a good contributor in a few years.
7 (24) - Elijah Hood RB - I honestly, think the Raiders best round so far is the 7th round where they have found upside players who can find the field sooner than later and with less bust ability then say Vanderdoes or Melifonwu. Hood is a load to take down and runs down hill with a ton of strength. I think he will turn into a Marshawn Lynch lite running back who can at the very least help out in goal line situations. If injuries take place I would like to see what he can do.
7 (26) - Travon Hester DT - This was the one pick in the 7th round that will probably not make the team coming out of camp. He has good size to be a space eater, but they already have a few of those. He probably gets more looks on the practice squad for a year.
2018 Off Season:
I think they can maybe make it to the AFC Championship game if all goes well, but I doubt they make the Super Bowl. They still need to make moves on defense especially in the secondary and pass rush if players continue to underwhelm. Unfortunetly, they have a ton of money tied into Carr now with his new deal along with Sean Smith, David Amerson, Bruce Irvin, and Reggie Nelson who all command big contracts without backing up those deals outside of Carr. They will also have to pay Khalil Mack next off season or give him the franchise tag, both have a high price tag in the end. This will force them to find new talent via the draft and outside of the 2014 draft where they hit on Mack, Carr, and Gabe Jackson they have not been that great at drafting under Reggie McKenzie. Not that I dislike McKenzie who dragged this team from the bottom of the black hole to back to being a solid team, but his greatest weakness is hitting on draft picks. So, it will be interesting to see how they can find players to continue to stay relavent on their move to Las Vegas.
My 2018 Mock Selections:
1 (26) - Kendall Joseph LB Clemson
2 (26) - Casey Tucker OT Stanford