2015 NFL Offseason: Oakland Raiders

Oakland Raiders (Last Year: 3-13)

2015 NFL Season Preview:

Veteran Additions:
QB Christian Ponder, RB Roy Helu, RB Trent Richardson, WR Michael Crabtree, C Rodney Hudson, NT Dan Williams, OLB Malcom Smith, ILB Curtis Lofton, S Nate Allen, KR Trindon Holliday.
Early Draft Picks:
WR Amari Cooper, DE/DT Mario Edwards, TE Clive Walford, G Jon Feliciano, ILB Ben Heeney, LB Neiron Ball, DE/OLB Max Valles. Raiders Rookie Forecast
Offseason Losses:
QB Matt Schaub, RB Darren McFadden, RB Maurice Jones-Drew, WR James Jones, WR Denarius Moore, G Kevin Boothe, C Stefen Wisniewski, DE/DT Antonio Smith, DT Pat Sims, DE/OLB LaMarr Woodley, CB Tarell Brown, CB Carlos Rogers, CB Chimdi Chekwa, S Tyvon Branch.

2015 Oakland Raiders Offense:
The Raiders did one thing to benefit Derek Carr’s progression this offseason and another to greatly hinder it. The former, of course, was using the No. 4 overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft on wide receiver Amari Cooper. The Alabama product was seen as perhaps one notch below the caliber of A.J. Green and Julio Jones, so he should be able to contribute right away. Though Carr is often shy about ripping the ball downfield, settling for checkdowns instead, having a legitimate No. 1 receiver at his disposal will definitely help him.

The loss of offensive coordinator Greg Olson, however, could be more impactful in the immediate future. Olson is one of the best in the business when it comes to developing quarterbacks; just take a look at how Josh Freeman played under him and how much he struggled after Olson moved on. Changing offensive coordinators for young quarterbacks is never a good idea to begin with, so letting Olson go is a colossal mistake. Carr will undoubtedly underperform until he gets comfortable in his new system, and even then, he won’t be coached up as well unless the Raiders manage to obtain another top-level offensive mind. Carr’s finger injury isn’t helping matters, either.

The Raiders added a few other new pieces on offense in an attempt to help Carr transition into his new system. Unfortunately for Carr’s outlook, not all of the acquisitions were promising ones. The team signed Michael Crabtree over from the 49ers. Crabtree was dreadful this past season, as he’s never been the same since tearing his Achilles. And even if he does improve, there’s no telling how damaging he’ll be to Carr once he begins screaming at the young quarterback for selfish reasons. Crabtree nearly ruined Alex Smith’s career before Jim Harbaugh came to San Francisco and saved the former No. 1 overall pick.

Two other new players Carr will be throwing to are third-round rookie tight end Clive Walford and running back Roy Helu. Walford is a physically gifted player who could emerge into a solid target down the road, but he’s probably not ready to contribute. Helu, on the other hand, will provide a big boost as a pass-catching running back on third downs. Helu might also receive some carries behind Latavius Murray, who flashed at the end of last season when he rushed for 112 yards and two touchdowns on just four carries against the Chiefs. Murray will be the starting running back, while Helu figures to be second on the depth chart once he beats out the lethargic Trent Richardson for the job.

Murray and Helu will have better blocking in front of them this season. The big splash the Raiders made in free agency was signing Rodney Hudson away from the Chiefs. Hudson is a top center, and while he’s not much of an upgrade over Stefen Wisniewski when both are healthy, Hudson will definitely provide a boost at center over what Oakland had in 2014 because Wisniewski was nowhere near 100 percent. Hudson will be flanked by Gabe Jackson, who is coming off a solid rookie campaign, and Khalif Barnes, who struggled mightily this past season. The Raiders will be hoping that fourth-round rookie Jon Feliciano will beat out Barnes for the starting gig, but Feliciano was seen as a reach.

As for the tackle positions, Donald Penn and Austin Howard will reprise their roles as the team’s starters. Penn just turned 32, but he was outstanding last year. The same can’t be said for Howard, who performed rather poorly. The only alternative for Howard is 2013 second-rounder Menelik Watson, who has been a major bust thus far.

2015 Oakland Raiders Defense:
The Raiders hit a home run last year when they selected Khalil Mack with the No. 5 pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. Mack was outstanding as a rookie; in fact, he was one of the league’s best defenders, excelling against the rush and also getting decent pressure on the quarterback. Despite Mack’s terrific play, however, Oakland still surrendered 28.2 points per game, so the front office really needed to build around its young linebacker with some key acquisitions in free agency and the draft.

The biggest name – and player – general manager Reggie McKenzie acquired was nose tackle Dan Williams. There are some work-ethic issues with Williams, and it’s troublesome that he took the money and ran to a worse team, but if the Raiders can get him to play hard, he’ll be a stout defender against the run. McKenzie was expected to add a player next to Williams in the first round of the draft in Leonard Williams, but he opted for Amari Cooper instead. He didn’t make the wrong choice, as McKenzie then chose Mario Edwards Jr. in the second frame. Edwards, however, has trouble maintaining weight, which is problematic, given that his best position in the NFL is the three-technique spot. The Raiders reportedly want Edwards to rush the passer from the edge, which is a very questionable decision.

Rounding out the rest of the defensive line, Justin Tuck was a solid contributor last year, logging five sacks despite seldom having the lead. Justin Ellis, a 2014 fourth-rounder, stopped the run well at the defensive tackle spot, but provided no sort of pass rush.

With Mack stationed at one of the linebacker spots, that group is the best unit on this side of the football. That doesn’t mean that the Raiders don’t have a liability there, however. McKenzie signed Curtis Lofton this offseason, which may not help. Lofton was absolutely horrific this past year, looking like he didn’t belong in the NFL. It’s strange that he would completely fall off like that as a 28-year-old, so perhaps he was dealing with an undisclosed injury. He might be able to rebound next year. Oakland will be hoping that Sio Moore can do the same. The weakside linebacker had a strong 2013 campaign, but struggled last season when the team asked him to play all three downs. Moore didn’t handle himself well in coverage.

Speaking of covering, that’s something Oakland’s secondary was not very good at until seventh-round rookie T.J. Carrie entered the lineup. Carrie wasn’t great, but he was a big upgrade over the decrepit Carlos Rogers. Carrie figures to open the season as the starter across from D.J. Hayden, who is looking more and more like he’s a sure-fire first-round bust. Perhaps Hayden will improve in his third year, but the Raiders shouldn’t hold their breath.

Oakland also shouldn’t expect its safeties to play well. One is Charles Woodson, who turns 39 in October. The other is Nate Allen, who was a reject from Philadelphia’s putrid secondary. Expect every single decent quarterback to have great success against the Raiders’ poor defensive backfield.

2015 Oakland Raiders Schedule and Intangibles:
The Black Hole seems like an intimidating place to play, but the Raiders are a sub-.500 team (72-88) as hosts since 1995. They were 3-5 at home last year, with four of the defeats being by 11 or more.

Sebastian Janikowski was coming off one of his worst years ever in 2013, connecting on just 21-of-30 tries. He bounced back this past season, however, going 19-of-22, including 3-of-5 from 50-plus.

Marquette King, who once beat out the controversial Chris Kluwe for the starting punter job, ranked 11th in net yardage last year.

Oakland had one of the worst special-teams units in the NFL last year. They surrendered a touchdown, scored none of their own and were outgained on both punts and kickoffs. They averaged just 21.9 yards per kickoff return, yet opponents averaged a ridiculous 32.5 yards.

Reggie McKenzie hired Jack Del Rio to be his new head coach, which was a big mistake. Del Rio was run out of Jacksonville because he was lethargic. Former owner Wayne Weaver even told the media that he wished that Del Rio had a better work ethic.

The Raiders have a tough schedule. They open up against two playoff teams (Bengals, Ravens) and then deal with the Broncos, Chargers, Steelers and Lions. Even if they’re competitive, look at their final five foes: Chiefs, Broncos, Packers, Chargers, Chiefs.

2015 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.

2015 Oakland Raiders Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
Offensive Line
Running Backs
Defensive Line
Special Teams

2015 Oakland Raiders Analysis: The Raiders haven’t made the playoffs since 2002, and that’s unlikely to change this year. They are easily the worst team in their own division, and it could be difficult for them to even eclipse last year’s win total.

Projection: 3-13 (4th in AFC West)

NFL Draft Team Grade: C+ Grade

Goals Entering the 2015 NFL Draft: Like the Jaguars, the Raiders need to add help to give their young quarterback the best chance to succeed. A No. 1 receiver, an upgrade on the offensive line and perhaps a running back should all be obtained. Defensive assistance is required as well.

2015 NFL Draft Accomplishments: The Raiders spent three of their initial four selections on potential help for Carr. Amari Cooper, taken fourth overall, will give Carr a legitimate No. 1 receiver to throw to. Clive Walford seems like he’ll be an upgrade at tight end. Jon Feliciano, meanwhile, could fill a need at guard, though he was a massive reach in Round 4.

General manager Reggie McKenzie made minimal upgrades to his defense. Mario Edwards was added in the second round, but the big hole at linebacker was neglected until the fifth round, though I liked the Ben Heeney selection. Max Valles, meanwhile, could contribute as a rotational pass-rusher as a rookie.

Overall, it just seems like something was missing from Oakland’s draft. The team did improve itself, but outside of Cooper, I don’t know if the organization added an impact player to its roster, as both Edwards and Feliciano were taken prematurely (especially the latter).

NFL Draft Individual Grades:

4. Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama: B+ Grade
The Raiders were torn on Leonard Williams and Amari Cooper. Williams told them that he wanted to play for them, but that apparently didn’t matter to Reggie McKenzie. I have no problem with the Cooper selection. Derek Carr is going to have a tough task in his sophomore campaign without offensive coordinator Greg Olson, so Oakland needed to compensate. Providing Carr with a legitimate No. 1 receiver makes a ton of sense; Carr really had nothing to work with after James Jones predictably busted.

Follow @walterfootball for updates.

35. Mario Edwards, DE/DT, Florida State: B- Grade
The Raiders passed on Leonard Williams in the first round, neglecting a huge need they had at defensive tackle. They had to address it on Day 2, and they managed to do so with this selection. It’s a bit early for the undersized Mario Edwards – I had him at the end of Round 2 in most of my mock updates – but I can understand why the Raiders would pull the trigger on the Florida State product.

68. Clive Walford, TE, Miami: B+ Grade
I had Clive Walford going around this range, so I like this pick quite a bit. The Raiders need weapons for Derek Carr, and I think it’s a good idea to add an intermediate target to his arsenal. Walford is a great athlete who can block, so he should see the field sooner rather than later.

128. Jon Feliciano, G, Miami: D Grade
A very curious selection by the Raiders, Jon Feliciano wasn’t seen as a draftable prospect by some teams. Others had him in the seventh round. If he happened to be a good prospect, perhaps he’d fill a need on the interior.

140. Ben Heeney, ILB, Kansas: B+ Grade
This is much better than Oakland’s previous pick. Ben Heeney is a highly athletic linebacker who could have gone a round earlier than this. The Raiders have a weak linebacking corps, so Heeney could push for a starting job sooner rather than later.

161. Neiron Ball, LB, Florida: D Grade
Blegh… Neiron Ball has glaring injury issues. Not only did he have microfracture knee surgery recently; he also underwent brain surgery a couple of years ago. Ball probably won’t be able to play in 2015, which makes this selection very curious.

179. Max Valles, DE/OLB, Virginia: B Grade
The Raiders hadn’t added an edge rusher yet, but better late than never. Max Valles was seen as a sixth-round prospect, so he makes sense at this juncture. He needs to be developed, but he has the tools to eventually emerge as a starter.

218. Anthony Morris, OT, Tennessee State: C Grade
I didn’t have Anthony Morris getting drafted in any of the 500 mocks I did this year. I’m not sure he makes the roster.

221. Andre Debose, WR/KR, Florida: B+ Grade
Andre Debose was a great prospect coming out of high school, but he never developed at Florida. The Raiders are bringing him in solely for special teams, as they see him as a potential dynamic return specialist. He could work out in that regard.

242. Dexter McDonald, CB, Kansas: C Grade
Dexter McDonald has had some troubles in his past, and I didn’t have him listed in my top 400. The Raiders probably could’ve done better here, but we’re talking about the 242nd pick.

Season Summary:
The Raiders were the last time to achieve a victory in 2014, but they did manage to win three of their final six games. Derek Carr, though inconsistent, showed signs of improvement. What Oakland does this offseason will determine if it ultimately can view Carr as a long-term franchise quarterback, or if the team will need to reset once again in a couple of years.

Offseason Moves:
  • Raiders cut WR James Jones
  • Raiders cut G Kevin Boothe
  • Jaguars sign C Stefen Wisniewski
  • Raiders sign WR Michael Crabtree
  • Raiders re-sign S Brandin Ross
  • Bengals sign WR Denarius Moore
  • Broncos sign DE/DT Antonio Smith
  • Raiders cut DE/DT Antonio Smith
  • Colts sign WR Vincent Brown
  • Ravens sign QB Matt Schaub
  • Raiders re-sign DT C.J. Wilson
  • Raiders sign RB Trent Richardson
  • Raiders cut QB Matt Schaub
  • Raiders sign QB Christian Ponder
  • Cowboys sign RB Darren McFadden
  • Raiders sign S Nate Allen
  • Patriots sign CB Chimdi Chekwa
  • Raiders sign ILB Curtis Lofton
  • Raiders sign NT Dan Williams
  • Raiders sign OLB Malcolm Smith
  • Raiders sign RB Roy Helu
  • Raiders sign TE Lee Smith
  • Cardinals sign DE/OLB LaMarr Woodley
  • Chiefs sign S Tyvon Branch
  • Raiders sign C Rodney Hudson
  • Raiders announce retirement of RB Maurice Jones-Drew
  • Raiders cut DE/OLB LaMarr Woodley
  • Raiders cut S Tyvon Branch
  • Raiders re-sign S Charles Woodson

    Team Needs:
    1. Inside Linebacker: Miles Burris proved to be one of the worst inside linebackers in the NFL this past season. It’s clear that the Raiders need an upgrade over him, but given the status of the position in this free agency class, they’ll need to fix this spot on the second day of the draft. Signed Curtis Lofton and Malcolm Smith

    2. Offensive Tackle: Donald Penn worked out as a short-term signing, but at 32, he’s not going to be on the team for very long. Oakland could stand to find a left tackle of the future and perhaps move Penn over to the right side. Simply drafting a right tackle would work too, since that’s a major position of need.

    3. Defensive End: Only the Bengals had fewer sacks than the Raiders this past season. That obviously needs to change. Khalil Mack was great, and Justin Tuck worked out as a short-term signing, but the Raiders desperately need another potent exterior pass-rusher. Randy Gregory would be the solution at No. 4 overall in the 2015 NFL Draft.

    4. Center: Oakland must get Stefen Wisniewski re-signed, or it’ll have a major hole at the center position. Signed Rodney Hudson

    5. Wide Receiver: The Raiders have a bunch of No. 2 or 3 options at wide receiver, but they lack a true top-notch weapon who can threaten a defense. Amari Cooper will be in play at No. 4 overall this April. Signed Michael Crabtree

    6. Defensive Tackle: Antonio Smith was the only Raider interior defensive lineman who was able to generate a consistent pass rush. Signed Dan Williams; re-signed C.J. Wilson

    7. Running Back: Latavius Murray looked much better than Darren McFadden and Maurice Jones-Drew, but he can’t handle the workload on his own. The Raiders will have to find another running back to either start or split time with Murray. A mid-round pick could suffice. Signed Roy Helu and Trent Richardson

    8. Safety: Charles Woodson said he’s coming back next year, but his play slipped late in 2014. A long-term solution is needed here. Re-signed Charles Woodson; signed Nate Allen

    9. Cornerback Depth: Depth should be acquired here with a couple of Oakland corners set to hit free agency.

      Follow me @walterfootball for updates.

    2015 NFL Free Agent Signings:
    1. Rodney Hudson, C, Chiefs. Age: 26.
      Re-signed with Raiders (5 years, $44.5 million)

      Rodney Hudson was just above average in 2013, but he was coming off a leg injury. He had to fend off competition to become the starting center, but held the job. He took a big step in 2014, playing as one of the top centers in the NFL. Just 26 in July, Hudson should continue to improve.

    2. Dan Williams, NT, Cardinals. Age: 28.
      Signed with Raiders

      Dan Williams is limited as a pass-rusher, but he’s been one of the better run-stuffing nose tackles in the NFL over the past several seasons.

    3. Michael Crabtree, WR, 49ers. Age: 27.
      Signed with Raiders (1 year)

      Michael Crabtree had a disappointing season, as he never recovered from the Achilles tear he suffered in 2013. Perhaps he’ll regain some explosion next year, but that won’t fix his negative attitude.

    4. Roy Helu, RB, Redskins. Age: 26.
      Signed with Raiders (2 years)

      Roy Helu is a good pass-catching back. He’s an adequate No. 2 runner otherwise.

    5. Malcolm Smith, OLB, Seahawks. Age: 26.
      Signed with Raiders

      Malcolm Smith was named MVP of the Super Bowl in February, but he didn’t exactly parlay his success in the big game to a strong 2014 season. Smith struggled in every regard this past year.

    6. Curtis Lofton, ILB, Saints. Age: 29.
      Signed with Raiders (3 years)

      Curtis Lofton had a solid 2013 campaign, but completely fell off in 2014. He was absolutely horrific and looked like he didn’t belong in the NFL. It’s strange that he would completely fall off like that as a 28-year-old, so perhaps he was dealing with an undisclosed injury. He might be able to rebound next year. He’s still young enough to.

    7. Trent Richardson, RB, Colts. Age: 25. — Signed with Raiders
    8. Nate Allen, S, Eagles. Age: 27. — Signed with Raiders
    9. Christian Ponder, QB, Vikings. Age: 27. — Signed with Raiders
    10. Lee Smith, TE, Bills. Age: 27. — Signed with Raiders (3 years, $9 million)

    Oakland Raiders Free Agents:

    Salary Cap: TBA.
    1. Stefen Wisniewski, C, Raiders. Age: 26.
      Signed with Jaguars (1 year)

      Stefen Wisniewski has been a key cog in Oakland’s line front for four years now. One of the top, young centers in the NFL, he’ll be just 26 in March.

    2. Tarell Brown, CB, Raiders. Age: 30.
      Tarell Brown was an excellent cornerback for the 49ers over several seasons. He took a 1-year deal to play for the Raiders, and was just slightly sub par, as he didn’t get much help from his pass rush. Brown is 30, and his best days are behind him, but he’s still a good starter.

    3. Brandin Ross (RFA), S, Raiders. Age: 25.
      Re-signed with Raiders (1 year, $1.542 million)

      Brandin Ross played rather well this season despite signing just a 1-year, $570,000 deal last spring. Just 25, Ross has room for growth.

    4. Charles Woodson, S, Raiders. Age: 38.
      Re-signed with Raiders (1 year)

      It’s amazing that Charles Woodson, 39 next October, still continues to be a functional starter. Woodson said he plans to play in 2015, and why not? The converted corner should keep going until he’s a liability. He could be a liability next year, given his age, but he wasn’t one this past season.

    5. Rod Streater (RFA), WR, Raiders. Age: 27.
      Tendered by Raiders

      The Raiders missed Rod Streater this past year, as the 27-year-old wideout played just one full game because of hip and foot injuries. He had 60 catches for 888 yards in 2013.

    6. Tyvon Branch, S, Raiders. Age: 28.
      Signed with Chiefs (1 year, $2 million)

      Tyvon Branch was taking up $3 million in cap space, so the Raiders had to let him go. After all, he had appeared in just five games over the past two seasons. Branch can still turn his career around, but time is running out.

    7. Antonio Smith, DE/DT, Raiders. Age: 33.
      Signed with Broncos (1 year)

      Antonio Smith took the money and ran to Oakland last offseason, so he was a predictable disappointment. He was able to generate a decent pass rush, but struggled mightily against the run. He turns 34 in October, but can still be a decent rotational player in a 3-4.

    8. Pat Sims, DT, Raiders. Age: 29.
      Pat Sims is a quality run-stuffer, but doesn’t provide any sort of pass rush.

    9. Carlos Rogers, CB, Raiders. Age: 34.
      Carlos Rogers is a 34-year-old coming off a knee injury. His days are numbered, but he can still be a solid third corner for a season or two.

    10. Andre Holmes (RFA), WR, Raiders. Age: 27.
      Tendered by Raiders

      Andre Holmes has a good amount of talent, but is prone to mental errors. Perhaps he’ll eventually be able to get it and emerge as a reliable starter.

    11. James Jones, WR, Raiders. Age: 32.
    12. C.J. Wilson, DE/DT, Raiders. Age: 28. — Re-signed with Raiders
    13. Denarius Moore, WR, Raiders. Age: 26. — Signed with Bengals (1 year)
    14. LaMarr Woodley, DE/OLB, Raiders. Age: 30. — Signed with Cardinals
    15. Darren McFadden, RB, Raiders. Age: 28. — Signed with Cowboys
    16. Matt Schaub, QB, Raiders. Age: 34. — Signed with Ravens (1 year)
    17. Vincent Brown, WR, Raiders. Age: 26. — Signed with Colts
    18. Chimdi Chekwa (RFA), CB, Raiders. Age: 26. — Signed with Patriots
    19. David Ausberry, TE, Raiders. Age: 27.
    20. Kevin Boothe, G, Raiders. Age: 32.


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