Well, it's that time of year again. The Raider season is wrapping up with a game in Kansas City, one last sendoff for #24...a true Raider and a great man on and off the field. The optimism is at a recent high with the Raiders snatching 7 victories thus far...including a handful of games they should've won. Granted, the experience and the gel isn't quite there yet, but barring some off-season lax, the Raiders looked poised to seriously challenge for the 2016-2017 NFL Playoffs. The wild card may be more difficult to secure than overtaking Denver or KC next season...we'll have to see how the offseasons go for all AFC West teams.
Rankings don't necessarily tell the whole story but let's look at some key stats that paint a picture of the Raider personnel as is:
Total Yards per Game - 342.1 (22nd Overall)
Points per Game - 22.8 (16th Overall - tied with Philadelphia)
What's a good trend is that Carr and Musgrave are getting the ball into the end zone at a better clip than their yardage rates. Red zone offense, in this author's opinion, can't be understated. The NFL is all about opportunity and cashing in on that opportunity.
Rushing Yards per Game - 93.9 (25th Overall - almost ALL Latavius Murray)
Passing Yards per Game - 248.1 (15th Overall)
Sacks Allowed - 27 (8th Overall)
Arizona, Seattle and the NY Jets are showing the most balance in the Top third of overall yards/game offense. Proof that running the ball well still holds a strong meaning for a top offense. All three of these teams are either playoff bound, or on the cusp of it. New England, New Orleans, Pittsburgh and San Diego are examples of top passing attacks in the League...depending on the breakdowns, you can obviously get mixed results.
So where does this leave Oakland offensively come the 2016 NFL Draft? It seems obvious, some help is needed in the run game to supplement a growing proficiency with Derek Carr. Most notably the right side of the Raiders' Offensive Line could stand to use some upgrades. Austin Howard going out the past couple of weeks has put a strain on the pass protection game...that and Carr's difficulty with throwing it away in some instances. The right side of the offensive line should be bolstered in free agency or in the draft. A counterpart to Gabe Jackson is desperately needed on the right side of Hudson, and a top LT talent...to work in at RT, get the sea legs...may be a Reggie-type move. With top talents like Ole Miss' Tunsil and Notre Dame's Stanley -- expect the Raiders to be in the mix for mid-1st Round talents like Ohio State's Taylor Decker. Tackle prospects like Conklin and Ifedi project better to the right side in my opinion, but the kid out of Indiana, Spriggs, could up his stake to Top 15 status with a strong Draft offseason.
Finding a true RG is tricky at times. Switching from LG to RG is always difficult...let alone from Tackle to OG. One guy that could fit the mold of a Day 2 RG prospect is Arkansas OG Sebastian Tretola. He has that Raider build, is known for his power run blocking game...but also hasn't allowed a sack all year. Should be mentioned that Tretola is also from San Bernardino, CA -- if the Raiders move to LA, should be a more seamless cultural fit off the bat. Other southern strongholds at OG include Vadal Alexander from LSU and Landon Turner from North Carolina, both would be awesome in the 2nd Round. Tretola would be a 3rd Round, possibly a fringe 4th Round talent....depending on his athleticism showings at the Combine and Pro Day.
Beyond the OL, you look at RB for the Raiders. While Murray has certainly been consistent, and is one of the top rushers in the AFC...he's doing it because Oakland has literally had almost nobody else to hand the ball off to with any confidence. Taiwan Jones? Give me a break, for every highlight, you hold your breath hoping he doesn't fumble or start running backwards. Roy Helu Jr. has been injured most of the season...leaving guys like Olawale to fill the gap...and fill it he did, earning a solid contract for the next 3 years. The Raiders must supplement Murray's production with fresh legs from the draft or finding a solid FA who can work as a change of pace back in Musgrave's system. I can't see Reggie taking the likes of say, Ezekiel Elliott, in the 1st Round...but who knows...Reggie watched Adrian Peterson run all over Green Bay during his time with the Packers...a legit RB talent can elevate an offense, and the Raiders certainly need more explosive plays in the run game. Guy to think about in the mid-rounds at RB is Louisiana Tech's Kenneth Dixon.
WR-wise, Carr could use more speed and shiftiness in the corps. Cooper, Crabtree, long body Holmes, Walford, Rivera and the emerging Seth Roberts have provided for a very good season. There's talk that Holmes may leave in free agency, in search of a bigger role in another offense. This could lead Oakland to draft a replacement receiver with size if Holmes bolts. For speed I like Pharoh Cooper and Sterling Shepard, but they're second round talents at this point...and with Coop and Crab as targets already, WR is much lower priority offensively. Oregon's Bralon Addison could be an intriguing Day 3 selection should he declare. Big body WRs like De'Runnya Wilson and now Cayleb Jones out of Arizona, could be solid players to develop. What will the Raiders do with Streater?
Total Yards Given Up per Game - 365.3 (22nd Overall)
Rushing Yards Given Up per Game - 99.3 (9th Overall)
Passing Yards Given Up per Game - 266.0 (27th Overall)
Points Allowed per Game - 25.1 (21st Overall)
Sacks - 37 (tied for 12th Overall)
QB Hurries - 119 (2nd Overall)
Forced Fumbles - 14 -- 11 recovered (13th Overall)
INTs - 12 (tied for 15th Overall)
Norton Jr. and Del Rio have done a pretty good job at getting the Raiders after the QB. Even with these numbers in sacks and hurries, the Raiders are giving up huge chunks in passing yardage. So, either they're getting burned on the blitz...OR...the Raiders lack coverage. With the downward trends of D.J. Hayden, Neiko Thorpe and Keith McGill it would behoove the Raiders to go after some secondary talent as early as possible. Woodson is also retiring, leaving a big gap in the starting safety slots. Nate Allen must return healthy, otherwise the Raiders should supplement Asante, Mays and McDonald. Yup, without Allen/Woodson, that's who's back there...scary, isn't it.
Boise's Darian Thompson and LSU's Jalen Mills are early round free safety targets, while the physical Jayron Kearse, Vonn Bell and Jeremy Cash could all be early contributors at strong safety. Given the Raiders stopping the run so well, they should focus on the back end in my opinion.
At CB the big names in the middle of the 1st round include Hargreaves III (had a bad game vs. Michigan in the Bowl Game), Mackensie Alexander and Tre'Davious White. By Day 2, names like Iowa's Desmond King, the injured-but-talented Kendall Fuller and Miami's Artie Burns could be picks. Day 3 holds some unique talent, some with return skills. Names include Georgia Tech's D.J. White, Minnesota's Eric Murray and 'Bama CB/KR/PR Cyrus Jones would add a dynamic to Oakland they currently lack. Another Houston CB (Hayden-free hopefully), William Jackson III, a member of the 'JackBoyz' -- could be an option as well. Houston recently spanked Florida State in the Peach Bowl -- picked off FSU QB Sean Maguire four times.
Getting past the secondary you look at the LB corps. While Curtis Lofton is the established veteran, MLBs who can't cover don't belong in the League anymore. Ben Heeney has shown solid skills as did Neiron Ball before being lost due to injury. Malcolm Smith has been consistent and has shown a knack for the turnover. Toomer and Lotulelei look like special teamers only...the Raiders need more depth at LB in my opinion, especially with Ball's injury history.
The Raiders could also look to upgrade their depth along the defensive line. Dan Williams is a stud in the middle...coupled with Jelly Ellis, who has been in and out of the lineup, it looks set at nose guard, or the run stuffing, blocker eating DT position. On passing downs, Mario Edwards Jr. was ripping it up inside. Denico Autry came on strong at the end of the year as well. That leaves guys like Shelby Harris and Benson Mayowa. There is some room for an upgrade here. Can't count on Tuck's presence on the field, who will be going on 33 next fall, but his leadership is obviously very valuable. Names like Bullard, Jonathan Allen, the two Lawsons, Ogbah, Nassib and Calhoun all come to mind.
To sum up, position-wise, the Raiders will be looking CB/FS early -- they need a new franchise player in the secondary, one to build around. While Carrie and Amerson have been great this season, you need more talent back there. After that, it feels like a couple spots on the Offensive Line will need to upgraded, particularly on the right side...possibly a LT prospect for the post-Penn era. OLB/ILB also need depth...and mix in a little SS while you're at it. BPA could fall in line for a WR somewhere after the 2nd Round. Also expect the Raiders to draft a RB -- gut tells me Reggie will look for the best talent in the 4th Round or later. Should a top 3 RB fall in the 2nd Rd...he might, just might, pull the trigger there.
Beat the Chiefs.