QB E.J. Manuel, WR/KR Cordarrelle Patterson, TE Jared Cook, OT Marshall Newhouse, OLB Jelani Jenkins.
Early Draft Picks:
CB Gareon Conley, S Obi Melifonwu, DT Eddie Vanderdoes, OT David Sharpe, LB Marquel Lee. Raiders Rookie Forecast Offseason Losses:
RB Latavius Murray, WR Andre Holmes, TE Mychal Rivera, OT Menelik Watson, DT Stacy McGee, OLB Malcolm Smith, ILB Perry Riley, CB D.J. Hayden, S Nate Allen, S Brynden Trawick.
2017 Oakland Raiders Offense:
The Raiders appeared as though they were going to contend for the Super Bowl last year. They were 8-2 heading into Thanksgiving weekend when Derek Carr broke his finger. Carr struggled after that, but it still appeared as though Oakland had a chance to go the distance if Carr's digit healed prior to the playoffs. Instead, Carr suffered another injury; this time, it was more serious, as he broke his leg. Making matters even worse, left tackle Donald Penn also got hurt and couldn't play in the opening round of the postseason. The Raiders, as a result, suffered a miserable 27-14 defeat in Houston.
The good news, however, is that Carr is expected to be 100 percent heading into the season. Penn will be perfectly fine as well. This obviously means that the Raiders will have plenty of success offensively. Carr is one of the best young quarterbacks in the NFL, maintaining a ridiculous 28:6 touchdown-to-interception ratio in 2016, all while completing nearly 64 percent of his passes. Carr has improved by leaps and bounds every year, and given that he's only entering his fourth year, it's reasonable to assume that he'll only improve in 2017.
Carr has a great supporting cast to venture into elite category. The aforementioned Penn is part of one of the top offensive lines in the NFL. Penn is a tremendous left tackle, though age is becoming a factor, as he just turned 34 this offseason. Even if Penn regresses a bit, the Raiders will still have arguably the best interior blocking in the entire league. Kelechi Osemele is one of the top guards in the NFL, while Gabe Jackson isn't too far behind. Center Rodney Hudson is prolific as well. The one hole up front is at right tackle, where Austin Howard and Menelik Watson struggled last year. Watson is now in Denver, but he won't be missed.
Carr also has two great receivers at his disposal. Amari Cooper, chosen fourth overall in the 2015 NFL Draft, has unbelievable talent, though he didn't make the jump he was expected to in 2016. Still, he's just entering his third season, so he could improve from his 83-1,153-5 line. Michael Crabtree, meanwhile, will continue to be a big presence in the end zone. He snatched eight touchdowns this past season, some of which were big catches at the end of games.
The Raiders had one of the worst No. 3 receivers in the NFL last year in Seth Roberts. He's still on the team, but will receive competition from former first-round choice Cordarrelle Patterson. Meanwhile, Jared Cook was signed to improve the tight end group. Cook has tremendous talent, but has seldom put it all together in the pros. However, he flashed in Green Bay at times last year, so there's at least some hope.
The running game was a bit of a weakness last season for Oakland as well, though the backs maintained strong yards-per-carry averages as a whole because of the offensive line. However, Latavius Murray was a disappointment, so he's now gone. The formerly retired Marshawn Lynch will take his place, though it's difficult to predict what the Raiders will get out of him. Lynch was one of the top running backs in the NFL three years ago, but he looked decrepit in 2015, and he was out of the league entirely last season. Perhaps the time off will give him fresh legs. Regardless, he'll enjoy massive holes to burst through as a Raider, which he did not have the luxury of doing during his final years in Seattle.
2017 Oakland Raiders Defense:
The Raiders have an explosive offense that will get them to the playoffs, but it'll be their defense that dictates how deep into the postseason they will go. The stop unit was a big concern last year, especially right down the middle of it. Going into this offseason, Oakland had to upgrade the defensive tackle and linebacker positions.
The front office targeted the latter position in free agency, signing Jelani Jenkins away from the Dolphins. Jenkins struggled in 2016, but only because of a knee injury. He was a solid player beforehand, and he's only 25, so his presence could help a poor group. Unfortunately for the Raiders, they lost Perry Riley, who played well for them last year. Thus, Oakland doesn't have much at the position outside of Jenkins. Cory James and Ben Heeney, two pedestrian players, could start along with Jenkins.
The defensive line lost a couple of players as well, as Dan Williams and Stacy McGee are no longer with the team. The Raiders spent their third-round selection on Eddie Vanderdoes, who was once seen as a potential first-round prospect before injuries derailed his collegiate career. He will join Mario Edwards, who played just two games last year because of a hip problem. Edwards should be closer to 100 percent in 2017, so that should help. Meanwhile, Justin Ellis will need to do a better job of stuffing the run with Williams gone. Jihard Ward, a second-round choice in 2016, struggled as a rookie, but could improve.
These are the weak points of Oakland's defense. There are numerous strengths, however, primarily on the edge. Khalil Mack is one of the top defenders in the NFL. He began 2016 slowly, recording only one sack in his first five games, but he finished with 11 on the year. He should have a big 2017 campaign, and the same goes for Bruce Irvin, who notched seven sacks in his first season with the Raiders.
The Raiders also figure to be strong in the secondary, which received a potential jolt when the front office spent the 24th-overall selection on Gareon Conley. Seen as a top-15 prospect, Conley slipped in the draft because of a rape accusation. Multiple teams have said that they believe the allegations to be bogus, though it was still a major risk. If Conley is exonerated, the Raiders will greatly benefit from it. Conley would then form a terrific trio with Sean Smith and David Amerson. The former was awful to begin 2016, but improved his play as the season progressed. Amerson, meanwhile, struggled at times as well, but he has performed on a high level in the past at times.
If Oakland can get great play out of its cornerbacks, it'll have a stellar secondary. Karl Joseph had a phenomenal rookie campaign, while Reggie Nelson also thrived. There is some age concern with Nelson, who turns 34 in September. If Nelson regresses, the highly athletic Obi Melifonwu, a second-round rookie, can replace him.
2017 Oakland Raiders Schedule and Intangibles:
The Black Hole seems like an intimidating place to play, but the Raiders are a sub-.500 team (80-95) as hosts since 1995. They were 5-2 at home last year, which sounds nice until it's considered that they were 6-3 on the road.
Sebastian Janikowski didn't enjoy his best season, going only 29-of-35 in 2016, hitting only 3-of-8 from 50-plus. He just turned 39, so perhaps his time is almost up.
Marquette King, who once beat out the controversial Chris Kluwe for the starting punter job, ranked eighth in net yardage last year after being ninth the season before.
Oakland had mediocre special teams. The team outgained the opposition on kick returns, but was brutal when trying to defend punts.
The Raiders have a mixed schedule. They get to beat up on the Jets, Redskins, Ravens, Bills, Dolphins and Giants. However, they also have to battle tough foes like the Titans, Patriots, Cowboys and Eagles, as well as the Chiefs and Broncos twice each.
2017 Oakland Raiders Rookies:
Go here for the Raiders Rookie Forecast, a page with predictions like which rookie will bust and which rookie will become a solid starter.
2017 Oakland Raiders Analysis: If Derek Carr and the top members of his supporting cast can stay healthy the entire year, unlike last season, they'll be able to make a deep run into the playoffs. In fact, they have to be considered one of the favorites to win the Super Bowl. If their defense can improve, they'll be an extremely difficult out in the postseason.
Goals Entering the 2017 NFL Draft: The Raiders have a prolific offense, though it needs a third receiver and a right tackle. Most of Oakland's greatest needs are on defense, so the team will spend most of its energy upgrading the stop unit.
2017 NFL Draft Accomplishments: I wrote earlier that the Bengals seemingly were planning to have one of the most controversial draft classes this year. The Raiders apparently were attempting to do the same thing, as they shocked the world by selecting Gareon Conley No. 24 overall.
I didn't know how to grade the Conley pick. It was either an "A" or a Millen; nothing in between. If Conley is proven innocent from the rape allegations, the Raiders will have obtained a top-15 talent with the 24th-overall selection, which would've been quite the steal. However, Conley had yet to meet with police when Oakland made the pick. If Conley is found guilty, the Raiders will have made one of the worst decisions in NFL Draft history.
Conley aside, the Raiders put together a fantastic draft. Obi Melifonwu was a ridiculous steal at No. 56 overall, as he easily could've gone 30 picks earlier than that. It'll be interesting to see where Oakland uses him in its secondary. Eddie Vanderdoes was also a quality selection in the third round, as he was seen as a potential first-round prospect a couple of years ago, before he sustained numerous injuries. If he can recover in an NFL strength-and-conditioning program, he could be a solid interior presence on the defensive line.
Five of Oakland's initial six picks were used on defensive players, and understandably so. The lone exception was David Sharpe in the fourth round. Some teams viewed Sharpe as a second-round prospect, so this was another terrific bargain. Sharpe could fight for the starting right tackle job as early as his rookie campaign, and it wouldn't surprise me at all if he won the competition.
Overall, this grade depends entirely on Conley. If Conley is exonerated, the Raiders deserve an "A" for what they did in the 2017 NFL Draft. If the opposite occurs, however, I'll have no choice but to give Oakland something in the "C" range.
NFL Draft Individual Grades:
24. Gareon Conley, CB, Ohio State: A or F. Maybe A? Grade
Whoooaaaa... This is crazy. I don't even know how to grade this, in case you couldn't tell.
I never thought Gareon Conley would be chosen in the first round in the wake of his rape allegations. It's worth noting that several teams thought the charge was bogus, as Conley interviewed extremely well at the combine and everywhere else. The thing is, you never know about a person, and Conley could be guilty. He hasn't even met with police yet. If Conley is charged and found guilty, this will go down as one of the worst first-round picks ever. However, Conley is an amazing prospect, so if he's found innocent, Oakland's defense will improve tremendously. Thus, the Raiders are getting an "A" or an "F." I don't know.
56. Obi Melifonwu, S/CB, Connecticut: A+ Grade
The only question I have is how the Raiders will plan on using Obi Melifonwu, as he's a Swiss Army Knife, capable of playing so many roles in a defense. He's extremely athletic and versatile, so I'm shocked that he lasted this long. I thought he could've gone as early as No. 21 overall! This is another great steal for the Raiders, who could have one of the top secondaries in the NFL if both of their draft picks thus far pan out.
88. Eddie Vanderdoes, DT, UCLA: B+ Grade
Once upon a time, Eddie Vanderdoes was a first-round pick. I'm actually pretty sure I had him in the opening frame in my initial 2017 NFL Mock Draft. Unfortunately for Vanderdoes, he has endured so many injuries throughout his career. If he can stay healthy - and that's a huge "if" - he can be a very solid starter for the Raiders. This pick is risky, given the durability concerns, but he's worth taking a shot on in the second half of the third round.
129. David Sharpe, OT, Florida: A Grade
I'm shocked David Sharpe has lasted this long. We were told by a team that they were going to consider him in the second round, but they made other upgrades to the offensive line. I had Sharpe in the third frame even though he tested poorly athletically. Sharpe could become a powerful run-blocker, perhaps emerging as Oakland's starting right tackle.
168. Marquel Lee, LB, Wake Forest: C+ Grade
Marquel Lee was a productive player at Wake Forest. I had him in the sixth round, so the range is pretty close. However, Lee tested poorly during the pre-draft process, so he could just be an average backup and a special-teamer in the pros.
221. Shalom Luani, S, Washington State: C+ Grade
The Raiders can say hello to a new special-teamer of theirs in Shalom Luani. The Washington State product struggled with tackling in college, and he doesn't have the great athleticism for it, so perhaps Oakland will be saying goodbye quite soon.
231. Jylan Ware, OT, Alabama State: B+ Grade
Here's another "swing for the fences" pick. Not much is known about Jylan Ware, aside from his unbelivable 4.99 40 time for a player at his size (6-8, 317). He's worth taking a chance on this late.
242. Elijah Hood, RB, North Carolina: A- Grade
Elijah Hood is not exactly the new sheriff in town because Marshawn Lynch was signed to be the new starter, but Hood has the potential to be the top back down the road. I had Hood slotted in the fifth round, so I like this value. Hood isn't very athletic, but he's a powerful between-the-tackles carrier.
244. Treyvon Hester, DT, Toledo: B+ Grade
The Steelers showed interest in Treyvon Hester, but the Raiders broke their cross-country rivals' hearts by snatching him off the board. The Raiders have such a need at defensive tackle that Hester could see playing time soon as a situational pass-rusher.
The Raiders hadn't reached the playoffs since 2002, but they looked prepared to make a Super Bowl run. And then, Derek Carr's broken leg happened. Oakland is still young enough to rebound in 2017, however, and the team has to be considered one of the favorites to claim the Lombardi Trophy.
Raiders cut NT Dan Williams
Raiders sign OLB Jelani Jenkins
Raiders sign TE Jared Cook
Raiders sign WR Cordarrelle Patterson
Raiders sign OT Marshall Newhouse
Three Linebackers: Yes, three. Make it two if Perry Riley re-signs, but the Raiders absolutely have to retool their linebacking corps, which was horrific this past season. This definitely has to be a priority for the Raiders this sping. Signed Jelani Jenkins
Defensive Tackle: Oakland's greatest need outside of addressing the linebacker position is bolstering the interior of the defense. The team's defensive tackles struggled all year, so the team is in need of a major upgrade at the position. Perhaps second-rounder Jihad Ward will improve, and maybe nose tackle Dan Williams will bounce back from an off year, but as it stands now, the Raiders definitely need help at defensive tackle.
Running Back: Latavius Murray is an impending free agent, but it doesn't matter because he was one of the worst starting running backs in the NFL. An early draft choice could be used to remedy this issue.
Right Tackle: Oakland possessed one of the top offensive lines in the NFL this past year, but the one liability up front happened to be at right tackle, where neither Austin Howard nor Menelik Watson cut it. Signed Marshall Newhouse
Wide Receiver: The Raiders have two excellent wideouts in Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree, but that's about it. Their third receiver, Seth Roberts, dropped almost everything thrown to him. Derek Carr could use a deep threat. Signed Cordarrelle Patterson
Tight End: Oakland has a bunch of middling talents at tight end. I'm sure Carr wouldn't mind a better intermediate option to throw to. Signed Jared Cook
Backup Quarterback: Matt McGloin is an impending free agent, but the Raiders needed a better veteran No. 2 anyway.
Interior Offensive Line Depth: As mentioned, the Raiders had a terrific offensive line, but they have very little depth on the interior.
Jared Cook, TE, Packers. Age: 30. Signed with Raiders
Jared Cook has teased everyone with his high talent level over the years, but he's ultimately disappointed everyone - at least until the divisional round of the playoffs. He dominated the game, and he made one of the greatest catches in NFL history to set up the win for Green Bay. Cook, however, turns 30 this offseason, so time is running out for him.
Cordarrelle Patterson, WR/KR, Vikings. Age: 26. Signed with Raiders
It's difficult to grade Cordarrelle Patterson. On one hand, he's been an absolute failure as a receiver. He was a first-round pick from the 2013 NFL Draft, and he just set a career-high in receptions with only 52. On the other hand, Patterson, just 26, still has tons of potential, and he's also a dynamic kick returner.
Jelani Jenkins, OLB, Dolphins. Age: 25. Signed with Raiders
Jelani Jenkins was awful this past year, but I think that may have had to do with a knee injury that nearly caused him to miss Week 1. Jenkins ultimately played in only nine games. He was a solid player beforehand, and he's only 25 in March, so he should be able to rebound.
Marshall Newhouse, OT/G, Giants. Age: 28. -- Signed with Raiders
E.J. Manuel, QB, Bills. Age: 27. -- Signed with Raiders
Oakland Raiders Free Agents:
Salary Cap Space: $2.8M.
Perry Riley, ILB, Raiders. Age: 29.
Perry Riley was once a good player for the Redskins, but he regressed because he wasn't a good fit in the 3-4. Thus, it was not a surprise that Riley thrived in Oakland's 4-3. Riley is a well-rounded player who is solid against the run and also not a liability in coverage.
Dan Williams, NT, Raiders. Age: 30.
Dan Williams has been a solid nose tackle over the years, and he even played well in 2015, but he dropped off last year. Williams is coming off the worst season of his career, and there are lethargy concerns with him. Perhaps he'll rebound with a new team.
Latavius Murray, RB, Raiders. Age: 27. Signed with Vikings
Latavius Murray was one of the worst starting running backs in the NFL this past season. He somehow scored 12 touchdowns, but he averaged only 4.0 yards per carry despite running behind one of the top offensive lines in the league. No wonder Oakland's coaching staff didn't even give him 200 attempts.
D.J. Hayden, CB, Raiders. Age: 27. Signed with Lions (1 year)
D.J. Hayden has been a major bust thus far, but he was the 12th-overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, so he obviously has at least some potential.