This offseason we’ll take a look at all 32 NFL teams’ most pressing needs heading into the 2018-19 season. Our next team made a massive offseason splash by hiring the color guy from Monday Night Football: The Oakland Raiders.
The Raiders’ 12-4 record in 2016 marked their first season with double-digit wins since they lost the Super Bowl in 2002. Still, their expected record (based on points scored and allowed) was that of a nine-win team, making last season’s crash back to mediocrity a bit less surprising. Ownership decided to move on from head coach Jack Del Rio and return control of the team to former HC Jon Gruden, who didn’t coach a single top-10 scoring offense from 2002 to 2-08 with the Buccaneers after doing so in four of six seasons with the Eagles and Raiders.
Gruden will call the plays, but he will be flanked by former Rams quarterback coach Greg Olson. Long-time Bengals defensive mind Paul Guenther will run things on the other side of the ball. The front office will have four of the first 106 picks in the draft to improve the roster, as most of their ~$19M in salary cap space will be needed for Khalil Mack‘s inevitable contract extension. Jordy Nelson was signed to replace Michael Crabtree, and Doug Martin was brought in to complement the returning Marshawn Lynch. Additional salary cap space will be needed to help an already porous defense that could lose multiple starters in the secondary to free agency.
Need No. 1: Defensive Line
Mack has a real claim to the ‘world’s best defender’ championship belt, but the rest of the Raiders front seven has proven incapable of getting to the quarterback. Other than Mack and free agent NaVorro Bowman, not a single front-seven Raiders defender placed in the top 45 at his position in Pro Football Focus’ ratings. The Raiders weren’t particularly stout against the rush either, ranking 22nd in adjusted line yards allowed per rush. It’s unacceptable for a unit to perform so poorly with a player of Mack’s caliber involved:
Bruce Irvin managed to tie a career high with eight sacks last season, but he’ll be 31 years old before next season is over. Even if lifers Denico Autry (free agent) and Mario Edwards can take a step forward, additional depth is needed across the front to help against both the run and pass. Lottery ticket defensive end Aldon Smith was released after an alleged domestic violence incident, so adding a higher ceiling to the group’s overall potential is more necessary than ever.
Telling Stat: The Raiders have ranked 32nd, 23rd, 30th, and 23rd in adjusted sack rate since drafting Mack in 2014.
Need No. 2: Secondary
The Raiders defense hasn’t ranked better than 25th in pass Defense-Adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA) over the past two seasons thanks to a revolving door at both cornerback and safety. Former No. 14 overall pick Karl Joseph and free safety Reggie Nelson ranked among PFF’s bottom-20 cover safeties in their sample of 86 defensive backs, and none of the team’s four top corners allowed fewer than 1.1 yards per cover snap — a feat 58 cornerbacks around the league accomplished. Overall, the Raiders allowed the fifth-most DraftKings points per game to tight ends and the ninth-most points to quarterbacks.
Starting cornerback Sean Smith has been released, while T.J. Carrie and David Amerson are free agents. Nelson could also leave, an issue that would be amplified if backup safety Keith McGill heads elsewhere in free agency. The whole unit would certainly benefit from better injury luck, as 2017 first- and second-round picks Gareon Conley and Obio Melifonqu played a combined seven games last season. Continuing to address the group in the early portions of the draft will be needed, given the division’s plethora of game-breaking receivers and tight ends. The team did infuse some talent into the unit with the signings of Rashaan Melvin and Shareece Wright. Melvin in particular balled out last season, earning PFF’s No. 17 overall grade among all cornerbacks.
Telling Stat: The Raiders have allowed a league-high 29 passes of 40-plus yards over the past two seasons: 22 teams haven’t allowed even 20 such passes over that span.
Need No. 3: Quarterback
Carr has the look of a franchise quarterback, and he was a legit MVP candidate in 2016 prior to breaking his leg. Still, any changes Gruden hopes to make will be dependent on Carr improving both his willingness and ability to test defenses downfield. Carr had the league’s quickest trigger among starting quarterbacks last year, and he tied DeShone Kizer with a league-high seven interceptions on balls thrown 20-plus yards downfield. He’s had a top-seven offensive line in adjusted sack rate during each of his four seasons as a starter, yet he hasn’t been able to break through against some of the league’s most fearsome pass rushes since 2015:
- Against top-12 defenses in adj. sack rate (20 gms): 236.15 yards, 1.6 touchdowns, 0.75 interceptions, three games with three-plus touchdowns, 15.4 DraftKings points per game
- Against bottom 20 (26 gms): 257.6 yards, 1.9 touchdowns, 0.65 interceptions, nine games with three-plus touchdowns, 18.2 DraftKings points per game
The Raiders have blessed Carr with the league’s third-most expensive offensive line, but he’s failed to hold up his end of the bargain against some of the more fearsome pass rushes they’ve faced. This problem isn’t going anywhere with four games per season against Von Miller and Joey Bosa. Carr’s job isn’t in jeopardy, but he could turn into Gruden’s scapegoat sooner rather than later if he’s unable to push the ball downfield. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the team address the position’s depth considering the lack of production from E.J. Manuel (free agent) and Connor Cook in their spot starts over the past two seasons.
Telling Stat: Since 2000, 39 quarterbacks have been drafted and started at least 50 games. Only Joey Harrington and David Carr have averaged fewer yards per attempt than Carr’s 6.54 mark.
- Linebacker: Bowman played at least 97 percent of snaps in nine of his 10 games after joining the Raiders in Week 7. He’s a free agent and the team needs more depth regardless of whether he returns, as he was the only Raiders linebacker last year to finish with a top-55 mark at the position. Only five teams currently spend less at linebacker than the Raiders, so perhaps infusing the middle of the defense with some talent could help the unit as the whole.
- Wide Receiver: Even if Crabtree does return, options are scarce behind Amari Cooper. It’d behoove the Raiders to add some speed on the outside to complement their 23-year-old receiver and seam-running tight end Jared Cook. Seth Roberts and Michael Crabtree rank among the league’s bottom-11 receivers in yards per target among 87 wide receivers to see at least 100 targets over the past two seasons.
Daily fantasy players should know about NFL rookies before they’ve played a down of professional football because they are among the most misvalued assets in all of DFS. People who know NFL rookies have a significant DFS edge. The draft will be held at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX, from April 26-28.
Photo via Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports