2016 NFL Offseason: Oakland Raiders

Oakland Raiders (Last Year: 7-9)

2016 NFL Season Preview:

Veteran Additions:
G/OT Kelechi Osemele, OLB Bruce Irvin, OLB Darren Bates, CB Sean Smith, S Reggie Nelson, S Brynden Trawick.
Early Draft Picks:
S Karl Joseph, DT Jihad Ward, DE/OLB Shilique Calhoun, QB Connor Cook, RB DeAndre Washington. Raiders Rookie Forecast
Offseason Losses:
WR Rod Streater, OT Khalif Barnes, OT J’Marcus Webb, G Tony Bergstrom, DE Justin Tuck, ILB Curtis Lofton, CB Charles Woodson, S Larry Asante.

2016 Oakland Raiders Offense:
When the Raiders trailed the Bengals, 33-0, entering the fourth quarter of the 2015 season opener, it appeared as though it was going to be another long year for a franchise that hasn’t made a playoff appearance since 2002. However, they rebounded nicely, winning four of their next six, averaging 28.6 points per game between Weeks 2 and 9. The Raiders slowed down after that because Amari Cooper labored through an injury, but it was definitely apparent that the foundation is in place for Oakland to finally end its postseason drought.

Derek Carr is obviously a major reason for this. He made great strides in his sophomore campaign, throwing 32 touchdowns compared to just 13 interceptions. He was also just 13 yards shy of hitting the 4,000-yard barrier. His completion percentage (61.1) and YPA (7.0) must improve, but that should be possible with a better supporting cast surrounding him in 2016.

The Raiders didn’t add any offensive play-makers this offseason unless the mid-round choice on running back DeAndre Washington counts. However, Cooper will be entering his sophomore campaign, so he’ll become more dominant. Cooper tallied 72 receptions for 1,070 yards and six touchdowns as a rookie despite dealing with a foot injury that was so bad that the Oakland coaching staff considered shutting him down with a month to go in the regular season. Now healthy and more mature, Cooper seems poised for a huge sophomore year, and it’s not like defenses will be able to completely focus on him with Michael Crabtree on the other side of the field. Crabtree tied his career-high marks with 85 catches and nine touchdowns in 2015, and being more comfortable in the offense will allow him to perhaps even improve upon those statistics.

The major upgrade the Raiders made this spring was signing Kelechi Osemele away from the Ravens. Osemele is one of the best guards in the NFL, so his presence will be huge for Carr’s development. The Raiders already had two potent interior blockers in Gabe Jackson and Rodney Hudson. With Osemele in place, it could be argued that Oakland has the league’s top interior line.

Oakland is also set on the edge of its front. Donald Penn was a free agent entering this offseason, so bringing him back was huge. Penn, however, just turned 33, so he could begin to decline in the near future. He could still have one or two solid years in the tank though, and the Raiders will obviously hope that’s the case. Penn will start across from right tackle Austin Howard, who isn’t a great blocker, but also doesn’t happen to be a liability.

The improved offensive line will definitely help bolster a lacking rushing attack. Latavius Murray registered 1,066 rushing yards in 2015, but his 4.0 YPC figure left much to be desired. That number should be better in 2016. If not, Washington, the fifth-round rookie who was mentioned earlier, could take over the job.

2016 Oakland Raiders Defense:
While Oakland’s offense showed much improvement last season, the defense hurt the team in too many games. The unit surrendered 24.9 points per contest, often forcing Carr to engage the opponent in a shootout, which was problematic late in the year when Cooper was dealing with a foot injury. The Raiders had to make appropriate upgrades to this side of the ball this offseason, especially with Charles Woodson retiring. Well, they certainly managed to bolster their roster in that regard.

Three big moves were made to fix the secondary. To replace Woodson and also upgrade the other safety spot, the Raiders signed former Bengal Reggie Nelson and used their first-round pick on Karl Joseph. Cincinnati didn’t try to re-sign Nelson because the team liked the younger Shawn Williams as a replacement, but Nelson led the NFL in interceptions last year. Nelson turns 33 in September, however, so it’s a good thing that Joseph was added as well. Joseph was drafted a bit earlier than expected, given that he was coming off an injury, but there’s no questioning his talent level.

The other upgrade that was made in the defensive backfield was signing Sean Smith to a 4-year, $40 million contract. Smith was an excellent cornerback for the Chiefs last season, and he happens to be in his prime right now, so this appeared to be a terrific signing. Smith will start across from David Amerson, who played very well last year despite the fact that the Redskins waived him in September. The Raiders scooped him up one day later and were certainly pleased with the results. Amerson always had the talent, but struggled in his final year at N.C. State and then in Washington. It appears as though Oakland has figured out to maximize his skill set.

Oakland made another big splash in free agency, and that occurred when it signed Bruce Irvin. Formerly of the Seahawks, Irvin never lived up to his billing as a first-round pass-rusher, but has been a very good, all-around player. He’s a great addition to a linebacking corps that was in desperate need of an overhaul. That’s still the case, as middle linebacker Ben Heeney is just a middling talent, while Malcolm Smith should not be starting despite his previous success in the Super Bowl.

While the linebacking corps was the team’s top weakness entering the offseason, another position of dire need seems to be fixed. The interior pass rush was a huge question mark, as Mario Edwards’ career was expected to be in jeopardy. However, the 2015 second-rounder has been fully cleared, which is obviously great news. Another second-round choice was used on Jihad Ward, who could start next to nose tackle Dan Williams. Formerly of the Cardinals, Williams thrived this past year, and he would be considered the team’s best player in the front seven if it wasn’t for a certain someone named Khalil Mack.

Mack, of course, is one of the best players in the NFL. He’s an absolute terror in all facets, recording 15 sacks in his sophomore campaign. The scary thing is that he’ll be even better with an improved secondary supporting him. Mack will get his partner in crime, Aldon Smith, back in November; Smith has been suspended for a DUI, but will be available in the second half of the season if he stays out of trouble.

2016 Oakland Raiders Schedule and Intangibles:
The Black Hole seems like an intimidating place to play, but the Raiders are a sub-.500 team (75-93) as hosts since 1995. They were 3-5 at home last year, with four of the defeats being by double digits.

Sebastian Janikowski didn’t enjoy his best season, going only 21-of-26 in 2015. He just turned 38, so perhaps his time is almost up.

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

Oakland had one of the worst special-teams units in the NFL two years ago. They improved markedly in this area this past season, but were still outgained on punt returns. The team surrendered a touchdown on a kickoff and didn’t score one itself.

The Raiders have an opportunity to get off to a great start. They take on the Saints, Falcons, Titans, Ravens and Chargers (home) in their first five games, so a 4-1 beginning is possible. They better do well there because six of their final eight games are against the Broncos (twice), Texans, Panthers, Chiefs and Colts.

2016 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.

2016 Oakland Raiders Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
Offensive Line
Running Backs
Defensive Line
Special Teams

2016 Oakland Raiders Analysis: Barring injuries, there will be only one thing to blame if the Raiders don’t finally break their playoff drought this season: the Raiders themselves. There’s little question that Oakland is much better this year, but everyone knows it. It seems like all of the major analysts are hyping them up to be this year’s breakout team. High expectations are a scary thing in football, and teams that don’t have a history of success often crumble when being talked up so much. It’ll be interesting to see if the Raiders can overcome that. If so, they’ll certainly be in the playoffs.

Projection: 9-7 (2nd in AFC West)

NFL Draft Team Grade: C Grade

Goals Entering the 2016 NFL Draft: The Raiders are a Super Bowl sleeper, thanks to all of the outstanding moves they made in free agency. Let’s see if they’re just as successful in the draft. Most of their needs are on defense, and they seemingly need at least one upgrade on every level of the stop unit.

2016 NFL Draft Accomplishments: I love what the Raiders did in free agency, and I still believe that they can make a deep push into the playoffs – as long as the hype and high expectations don’t get to them. However, their 2016 NFL Draft class was underwhelming at best.

Per the individual grades, Oakland didn’t score higher than a “B” with any of its picks. Karl Joseph was a reach at No. 14, as none of the near-dozen teams we spoke to were convinced that he would even be chosen in the first round. Joseph could turn out to be a good player, but the Raiders easily could’ve moved down and still obtained him or another player of his exact caliber. Meanwhile, second-day selections Jihad Ward and Shilique Calhoun were just fine picks. They earned a “B” and B-, respectively, but nothing too exciting.

Oakland screwed up early on Day 3, wasting picks on Connor Cook and DeAndre Washington. The Cook choice was especially bad because the Raiders made the mistake of moving up for him. I don’t know how Cook possibly helps the Raiders win now. It was a horrible error to use multiple resources on a quarterback the entire league was down on.

All in all, this feels like a “C” draft to me. The Raiders filled some of their needs, and the first three players they chose should be able to contribute this upcoming season. However, Oakland didn’t do anything remotely great in this draft.

NFL Draft Individual Grades:

14. Karl Joseph, S, West Virginia C Grade
When there were rumors about Karl Joseph shooting up to the first round, we reached out to team sources and asked if they agreed with that. They didn’t. Some said he might be a fringe first-rounder, but most told us that they relegated him to the second round, with his injury being somewhat of a factor. With that in mind, I think the Raiders are reaching here. I wouldn’t have minded it if the Raiders moved down and took Joseph, but I think No. 14 is too early.

That said, I don’t think this is a horrible pick. Joseph is a risk because of his injury, but if he completely gets over it, he could be a very good player for Oakland. The Raiders have definitely improved this offseason and could make a run into the playoffs.

Follow @walterfootball for updates.

44. Jihad Ward, DT, Illinois B Grade
I’m glad to get one right in my mock re-draft. I figured that the Raiders would be interested in Jihad Ward when Sheldon Rankins was unavailable to them at No. 14. Ward fills a big need on the defensive front, which lost Justin Tuck and perhaps Mario Edwards (to injury). Ward was expected to be chosen in the middle of the second round, so the range obviously makes sense.

75. Shilique Calhoun, DE/OLB, Michigan State B- Grade
The Raiders won’t have Aldon Smith for a while in 2016. They’ll never have him if he gets into trouble again. Thus, it’s clear why they added an edge rusher. Shilique Calhoun is OK at this juncture. He doesn’t give full effort all the time; otherwise, he would’ve gone in the second round. Perhaps Jack Del Rio will be able to get the most out of him.

100. Connor Cook, QB, Michigan State C- Grade
Why trade up for Connor Cook? I don’t like this at all. And let’s be clear here: Cook did not fall. Teams expected him to be taken off the bottom of the third round. The fact that he wasn’t voted team captain really bothered organizations, and things only got worse when he interviewed absolutely horribly throughout the process. On the field, Cook is very inconsistent, so he’s not like some great quarterback. This is not a good move.

143. DeAndre Washington, RB, Texas Tech D Grade
With some talented running backs still available, such as Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams, this selection is extremely questionable. DeAndre Washington is a reach at this juncture. He’s an undersized runner who fumbles a lot and can’t pass protect. I’m not sure he’ll be on Oakland’s roster for very long.

194. Cory James, LB, Colorado State C Grade
Cory James is a tweener who doesn’t really have an apparent home in the NFL. He rushed the passer for Colorado State, but at 229 pounds, it’ll be difficult for him to do that in the NFL. Still, he displayed quality athleticism at his Pro Day, so maybe he’ll be a core special-teamer.

234. Vadal Alexander, G, LSU B Grade
Twenty more picks to go! Once upon a time, Vadal Alexander was in the second round of my mock draft. And then his Combine happened. They needed an hourglass to time the LSU product, as he ran a 5.57 40. Forty times for offensive linemen may not seem like a big deal, but there’s an extensive track record of slow blockers failing in the NFL. Alexander could be next, but he’s worth taking a shot on here in the seventh round.

Season Summary:
The Raiders appeared to be in playoff contention at the mid-point of the season, owning a 4-3 record. Injuries capsized their chances, but things are looking up for them for the first time in a long while.

Offseason Moves:
  • Raiders sign S Reggie Nelson
  • Raiders re-sign DE/OLB Aldon Smith
  • Raiders re-sign OT Donald Penn
  • Raiders sign S Brynden Trawick
  • Raiders re-sign WR Andre Holmes
  • Raiders sign OLB Darren Bates
  • Raiders cut ILB Curtis Lofton
  • Raiders sign CB Sean Smith
  • Raiders sign G/OT Kelechi Osemele
  • Raiders sign OLB Bruce Irvin
  • Raiders re-sign P Marquette King
  • Raiders announce retirement of DE Justin Tuck

    Team Needs:
    1. Two Safeties: Charles Woodson announced his retirement. Thus, safety is a huge need for the Raiders. Fortunately for them, there are tons of quality free agents available at the position this offseason. Signed Reggie Nelson

    2. Two Linebackers: The Raiders desperately need to bolster their linebacking corps, which struggled all year. Multiple upgrades are needed, with perhaps one coming in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft. Signed Bruce Irvin

    3. Cornerback: David Amerson did a great job for the Raiders, which was surprising. However, the team needs more help at cornerback, so perhaps it’ll use an early-round selection on one. Signed Sean Smith

    4. Edge Rusher: Thanks to Roger Goodell’s insane policies, Aldon Smith has been suspended for an entire season. That means he won’t be available for most of 2016. The Raiders struggled to get to the quarterback without Smith, so another pass-rusher is needed. Re-signed Aldon Smith

    5. Offensive Tackle: Donald Penn has done a great job of shielding Derek Car’s blind side the past two years. However, he’s a free agent, so a replacement will obviously be needed if he departs. Signed Kelechi Osemele; re-signed Donald Penn

    6. Wide Receiver Depth: Finding a better third receiver would help the Raiders, especially if Amari Cooper gets hurt again.

    7. Center Depth: Oakland’s offense declined tremendously when Rodney Hudson was injured during the middle stages of the season. A solid backup would be a great insurance policy.

    8. Running Back Depth: Some depth behind Latavius Murray wouldn’t be the worst thing.

    9. Punter: Marquette King is a great punter, but he’s an impending free agent this offseason. Re-sign Marquette King

      Follow me @walterfootball for updates.

    2016 NFL Free Agent Signings:
    1. Kelechi Osemele, G/OT, Ravens. Age: 27.
      Signed with Raiders (5 years, $58.5 million)

      Already a very talented guard, Kelechi Osemele helped his earning potential this offseason by playing and thriving at left tackle in the wake of Eugene Monroe being injured. Teams value versatility up front, and Osemele has proven that he has plenty of it.

    2. Reggie Nelson, S, Bengals. Age: 32.
      Signed with Raiders

      Reggie Nelson has been a terrific coverage safety for a long time. He’ll turn 33 in September, but safeties can play longer than most positions, so he should be fine for a few more seasons.

    3. Bruce Irvin, DE/OLB, Seahawks. Age: 28.
      Signed with Raiders

      Bruce Irvin never became the dominant player the Seahawks thought they were getting in the first round. He has been inconsistent and doesn’t really excel at anything. However, Irvin is a solid player with no weaknesses in his game.

    4. Sean Smith, CB, Chiefs. Age: 29.
      Signed with Raiders (4 years, $40 million)

      A big reason why Kansas City’s defense improved in the second half of the year was Sean Smith’s play down the stretch. Smith was suspended for three games to kick off the year and struggled in his return, but he was prolific during the team’s winning streak.

    5. Brynden Trawick (RFA), S, Ravens. Age: 26. — Signed with Raiders
    6. Daren Bates (RFA), OLB, Rams. Age: 25. — Signed with Raiders

    Oakland Raiders Free Agents:

    Salary Cap: TBA.
    1. Marquette King, P, Raiders. Age: 27.
      Re-signed with Raiders

      Marquette King was one of the league’s best punters in 2015. He ranked ninth in net average and finished second in punts placed inside the opposing 20.

    2. Donald Penn, OT, Raiders. Age: 33.
      Re-signed with Raiders (2 years, $14 million)

      Donald Penn has been one of the better blind-side protectors over the past couple of years, making him an absolute steal for the $9.6 million contract he signed two seasons ago. Penn will command more money this offseason, but there’s a downside now, which is that Penn turns 33 in April.

    3. Justin Tuck, DE, Raiders. Age: 33.
      Announced retirement

      Oakland’s defense went off a cliff when Justin Tuck sustained a torn pectoral in October. He was solid in all regards, but happens to be a 33-year-old coming off an injury, so he could decline in 2016.

    4. Aldon Smith, DE/OLB, Raiders. Age: 26.
      Re-signed with Raiders

      Aldon Smith is tough to rank. He’s very talented – based on his skill alone, he’d be a 4.5-star player – but he obviously has some glaring off-the-field issues that make him a huge risk. Smith has been suspended and can’t be reinstated until November.

    5. Larry Asante, S, Raiders. Age: 28.
    6. Andre Holmes, WR, Raiders. Age: 28. — Re-signed with Raiders
    7. Tony Bergstrom, G, Raiders. Age: 30. — Signed with Texans
    8. Khalif Barnes, OT, Raiders. Age: 34.
    9. J’Marcus Webb, OT, Raiders. Age: 28. — Signed with Seahawks
    10. Neiko Thorpe (RFA), S, Raiders. Age: 28. — Tendered by Raiders (2nd)
    11. Rod Streater, WR, Raiders. Age: 28. — Signed with Chiefs
    12. Matt McGloin (RFA), QB, Raiders. Age: 26. — Re-signed with Raiders
    13. Benson Mayowa (RFA), DE/OLB, Raiders. Age: 25.
    14. Jeremy Ross, WR, Raiders. Age: 28. — Signed with Jets
    15. Curtis Lofton, ILB, Raiders. Age: 30.
    16. Nate Allen, S, Raiders. Age: 28. — Re-signed with Raiders
    17. Matt McCants (RFA), OT, Raiders. Age: 27. — Tendered by Raiders (6th)
    18. Korey Toomer (RFA), OLB, Raiders. Age: 28.
    19. John Lotulelei (RFA), OLB, Raiders. Age: 25.

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