The Raiders went 4-12 last season and even that might have been overachieving, given how poorly managed this franchise had been for years. The Raiders had over 56 million in dead money on their 2013 cap, which left them severely handicapped in free agency. They had a total of one first round pick on their roster from their 2001-2012 drafts, Darren McFadden. Of their top-10 cap numbers last season, 6 were dead money guys, 1 was a kicker, and 1 was a backup quarterback who was cut mid-season. They also were without top offensive player Jared Veldheer for most of the season with injury.
There was a light at the end of the tunnel for the Raiders though. They entered this off-season with the most cap room in the NFL, as a result of all that dead money coming off the cap. They also had yet another top-5 pick. What the Raiders did with that cap space was weird though. Instead of re-signing young building blocks like LaMarr Houston, Vance Walker, and Jared Veldheer, the Raiders went after 30+ year old veterans like Justin Tuck, LaMarr Woodley, Donald Penn, Matt Schaub, James Jones, Carlos Rogers, and Antonio Smith.
They did sign Tarell Brown and re-sign Pat Sims, two talented under 30 players, but they’re only signed to one-year deals. Austin Howard is another talented under 30 player, but he’ll probably be playing right guard for some reason, for the first time in his career. They also have failed to extend center Stefen Wisniewski, a talented 2011 2nd round pick, who is in the final year of his contract year.
Outside of Howard, their under 30 talent signed for 2015 and beyond includes #5 overall pick Khalil Mack (who was a very solid pick), 2nd year linebacker Sio Moore, and maybe DJ Hayden, Tyvon Branch, and Derek Carr. Hayden struggled as a first round rookie in 2013. Tyvon Branch is a solid safety when healthy, but he’s coming off of a serious injury. Carr was their 2nd round pick this year. The Raiders might be an improved team this season, but it came at the expense of their long-term success. Their whole off-season just seemed like selling out their future to go 6-10 this season. It’s the kind of philosophy that got this team in this mess, with short sighted trades for Carson Palmer and Richard Seymour made by previous regimes.
Quarterback Matt Schaub, as I mentioned, was one of these over 30 veterans. Schaub was acquired from the Texans for a 6th round pick even though they were just going to release him anyway. The Raiders guaranteed him 8 million dollars for his first year’s salary in his restructured deal, which is almost definitely more than anyone would have guaranteed him on the open market. They’ve been talking him up publicly as a bounce back candidate this off-season, but I’m skeptical.
Schaub had a QB rating in the 90s in every season from 2008-2012, but struggled mightily in 2013, completing 61.2% of his passes for an average of 6.45 YPA, 10 touchdowns, and 14 interceptions in 10 games, a QB rating of 73.0. He was Pro Football Focus’ 38th ranked quarterback out of 42 eligible. I am hesitant to just assume that a bad 10-game stretch erases his strong play from the previous 69-game stretch.
For example, he had an interception rate of 3.9% last season after a 2.5% interception rate in the rest of his career leading up to last season. It’s hard to judge anyone purely on their interception totals because it’s such a small percentage of their snaps, so it’s can be pretty inconsistent. However, his 6.45 YPA shows a significant loss in arm strength compared to his 7.63 YPA career average. He’s also going into his age 33 season so, while he could bounce back a little bit, his best days are probably behind him. A revival like Philip Rivers had last season is possible, with a change of scenery and coaching staff, but it’s a remote possibility.
The Raiders clearly don’t view Schaub as a long-term solution, and rightfully so, as they drafted Derek Carr in the 2nd round. Carr is unlikely to develop into a starter in the NFL though. Recent successes of Colin Kaepernick, Andy Dalton, and Russell Wilson as quarterbacks drafted outside of the first round are the exception to the rule. Of the 26 quarterbacks drafted in the 2nd-3rd round from 2000-2010, only two of them have ever made a Pro-Bowl. After Drew Brees and Matt Schaub, the next best quarterbacks in terms of career QB rating include the likes of Tarvaris Jackson, Josh McCown, Kevin Kolb, and Chad Henne. For every Wilson, Dalton, or Kaepernick, there are at least three Andrew Walters, David Greenes, Jimmy Clausens, and Drew Stantons.
Quarterbacks are so valuable in the NFL that if you have the baseline abilities to be a starter, you almost never fall out of the 1st round. If you fall out of the first round, there’s usually a good reason for it. With Carr, I believe there was. Carr had a great statistical season as a senior at Fresno State, completing 68.7% of his passes for an average of 7.71 YPA, 50 touchdowns, and 8 interceptions. However, he struggled mightily when pressured, completing 30.9% of his passes under duress last season, according to ESPN stats and information.
He also struggled mightily in Fresno State’s loss in the bowl game to USC, completing 29 of 54 for 216 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 1 interception, after beating up on weaker competition in the Mountain West all season. As I mentioned, there’s a reason he fell to the 2nd round. Carr could start a few games as a rookie if Schaub struggles, but most likely he’ll take over as the starter in 2015, as the Raiders can get out of Schaub’s deal penalty free this off-season, going into his age 34 season. Either way, the Raiders are unlikely to get good quarterback play this season, though they could easily have better play than last year, when Terrelle Pryor, Matt Flynn, and Matt McGloin combined to complete 57.4% of their passes for an average of 6.99 yards per attempt, 17 touchdowns, and 20 interceptions.
One of the other reasons I don’t see a revitalization from Matt Schaub this season is because he doesn’t have much talent around him. When Philip Rivers had his bounce back year this year, he had an improved offensive supporting cast. The Raiders, meanwhile, probably have less supporting offensive talent than Schaub did last season in Houston. The weakest unit of the Raiders’ offense is at running back, where Darren McFadden and Maurice Jones-Drew will split snaps.
McFadden was benched last season for Rashad Jennings mid-season. Jennings rushed for 733 yards and 6 touchdowns on 163 carries (4.50 YPA) and added another 292 yards on 36 catches through the air. Unfortunately for the Raiders, Jennings is now in New York with the Giants on a 4-year, 10 million dollar deal as the Raiders opted to go with another year of Darren McFadden and an aging Maurice Jones-Drew. Jennings, a 2008 7th round pick and career journeyman, might not have had the same season in 2014 with the Raiders had he been kept, but the Raiders are unlikely to be as good on the ground as they were in the 2nd half of last season.
The reason McFadden was benched last season was general incompetence, as he finished the season averaging 3.34 yards per carry. In 2012, he averaged 3.27 yards per carry. He has never been able to live up to his billing as the 4th overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft and was never able to live up to his huge 2010 season, in which he rushed for 1157 yards and 7 touchdowns on 223 carries (5.19 yards per carry) and added 47 catches for another 501 yards and 3 scores. In 3 seasons since, he’s played a total of 29 games out of 48 and rushed for just 1700 yards and 11 touchdowns on 446 carries (3.81 yards per carry).
This season, he was Pro Football Focus’ 2nd worst ranked running back. Even with the big 2010 season, he’s never played more than 13 games in a season or had more than 223 carries or 270 touches. McFadden supporters always seem to make excuses for him, blaming the blocking scheme, and the lack of supporting talent, or injuries, but at a certain point he needs to be written off as a bust. Going into his 6th season in the NFL and his age 27 season, I don’t think he’s a starting caliber running back in the NFL. He was given a 1-year, 1.75 million dollar deal with 2.25 million extra available through incentives. He’s reportedly the favorite for the starting job, but he and MJD will probably split carries either way.
Maurice Jones-Drew might not be much better. MJD has seen a steep fall from his 2011 season, in which he led the NFL with 1606 rushing yards. That season, he averaged 4.68 yards per carry on 343 carries, added 43 catches for 374 yards, and scored 11 times. He did all of that on an otherwise abysmal offense during Blaine Gabbert’s rookie year, which makes it all the more impressive. That off-season, he demanded a contract that would have paid him among the best running backs in the NFL, holding out almost into the season when the Jaguars didn’t meet his demands.
It turns out that not paying him was one of the best moves the Jaguars have made over the past 5 years. After a 1084 touch workload from 2009-2011, MJD cracked in 2012, managing just 84 carries over 6 years, though he did average 4.81 yards per carry. 2013 was arguably worse as he averaged just 3.43 yards per carry on 234 carries, scored just 5 times on 277 touches, and had just 5 touches go for 20+ yards. Once a candidate to be the highest paid running back in the NFL on his next contract, MJD was met with a frigid market as a free agent going into his age 29 season, signing a 3 year, 7.5 million dollar deal with the Raiders that has just 2.5 million over 1 year guaranteed.
MJD’s rough 2013 season could be largely the result of the complete lack of offensive talent, and thus running room, around him in Jacksonville. However, he averaged just 2.2 yards after contact, broke just 26 tackles, and graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 2nd worst running back in terms of pure running grade. Now going into his age 29 season with 2139 career touches, he’s unlikely to get more explosive going into 2014. He also won’t get much more running room in Oakland.
He’ll be an asset for the Raiders on passing downs because he still has strong pass catching and pass blocking skills, catching 43 passes and grading out above average on Pro Football Focus in both pass catching grade and pass blocking grade, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 2nd best running back in pass blocking grade. He might not be a better runner than McFadden, which is saying a lot, but he’ll provide some value on passing downs.
The Raiders don’t have many other options at the position either. Latavius Murray is someone they’ve been excited about for the past two off-seasons, but the 2013 6th round pick missed his entire rookie year with injury. Jeremy Stewart is the only other running back on their roster with experience and he only had 37 career touches. The one saving grace of their running game is fullback Marcel Reece, who has been a top-10 fullback on Pro Football Focus in each of the last 4 seasons, maxing out at #2 in 2012 and coming in at #6 in 2013. He’s a solid blocker who can also contribute in the passing game and running game, with 290 career touches (152 carries, 138 catches). He’s only a power back at 6-1 255, but he has averaged 4.76 yards per carry in his career and is a candidate for carries this season (he had 46 last season). Either way, the Raiders are unlikely to average the 4.58 yards per carry they averaged last season.
Things are better on the offensive line, but they’re still not great. Jared Veldheer was a big loss. He didn’t play much last season, disappointing on 335 snaps after coming back mid-season from a torn triceps injury suffered in the pre-season, so in that sense Donald Penn will be an upgrade, over Khalif Barnes and a little bit of a less than 100% Jared Veldheer. Barnes was Pro Football Focus’ 59th ranked offensive tackle out of 76 eligible in 11 starts at left tackle and struggled in 5 games at left guard as well.
Donald Penn, meanwhile, was Pro Football Focus’ 31st ranked offensive tackle. That being said, letting Jared Veldheer leave on a 5-year, 35 million dollar deal to Arizona, in favor of signing Donald Penn for 9.2 million over 2 years, was a mistake. It wasn’t a bad value for Penn, but Veldheer was a young building block for a team still in building mode and the Raiders had money to splurge. Veldheer, a 2010 3rd round pick, was Pro Football Focus’ 17th ranked offensive tackle in 2011 and 12th ranked offensive tackle in 2012, one of 7 offensive tackles to grade out in the top-17 in both seasons (Joe Thomas, Duane Brown, Eugene Monroe, Tyson Clabo, Michael Roos, Andrew Whitworth). Sure that was sandwiched in between a poor rookie year and an injury plagued contract year, but I have confidence he can continue his strong play on the blindside in Arizona.
Penn, meanwhile, is going into his age 31 season, has had issues with his weight, and has shown decline, all of which led to his release from Tampa Bay this off-season. He’s been Pro Football Focus’ 16th, 24th, and 31st ranked offensive tackle in the last 3 seasons respectively. He should have another solid season on the blindside left in his tank, but it’s a downgrade from what Veldheer could have been.
Austin Howard was the Raiders’ other big offensive line addition this off-season. Howard has been solid at right tackle for the Jets since taking over the starting job before the 2012 season. He’s graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 31st and 47th ranked offensive tackle in the last 2 seasons respectively, obviously unspectacular, but getting the job done. He’s been about average or above in each of the last 2 seasons. However, the Raiders have talked about moving him to right guard, where he has no experience, which would be a weird move.
The Raiders’ rationale for doing that was that they would be getting the best five off-season linemen on the field at the same time, but I don’t see another qualified starting right tackle on their roster. Menelik Watson would probably start at right tackle if Howard moved inside. The Raiders used a 2nd round pick on him in 2013, even though he was a few years older than most players in the draft class. He struggled mightily on 177 snaps as a rookie. He could be better in his 2nd year in the league, but he’s already going into his age 26 season so he might not be getting much better. Still, the plan seems to be for him to start at right tackle and Howard to start at right guard.
If Watson continues to struggle though, they could move Howard back to right tackle and start someone else at right guard. That someone else would probably be another veteran free agent addition, Kevin Boothe. Going into his age 31 season, Boothe has been with the Giants for the last 7 seasons, after one season with the Raiders in 2006, after they drafted him in the 6th round in 2006. Boothe has generally struggled in his career, but he’s stuck with the Giants as a reserve offensive lineman because of his ability to play any of the three interior offensive line positions. He’s only been a true starter for 2 seasons and he’s only graded out above average on Pro Football Focus in 2 of 6 seasons since 2008. He struggled last season and he’s not getting any better going into his 30s.
Left guard is up for grabs as well. Khalif Barnes is the veteran option. Barnes, as I mentioned earlier, struggled mightily last season at both left tackle and left guard. That’s nothing new as he hasn’t graded out above average on Pro Football Focus in any of the last 6 seasons, including 3 seasons as a starter. He’s been primarily a right tackle and could be an option there. Likewise, the other three competitors for the starting left guard position (Tony Bergstrom, Lucas Nix, and Gabe Jackson) could also see snaps at right guard this season. The offensive line is obviously very much in flux.
Bergstrom was a 3rd round pick in 2012. He played 115 snaps as a rookie and then missed all of last season with injury. He’s already going into his age 28 season as he was another old rookie and he seems like a long shot for any serious playing time. In fact, early reports say he’s more likely to be a final cut than anything. Lucas Nix, meanwhile, was an undrafted free agent in 2012. He played 28 snaps as a rookie and was horrific as a starter in 2013, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ worst guard by a wide margin despite only playing 666 snaps in 10 starts. Finally, Jackson is a 3rd round rookie. It’s definitely a position of weakness.
Center is the only position other than left tackle that’s really set in stone. Stefen Wisniewski is probably their best offensive lineman. A 2011 2nd round pick, Wisniewski has graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 17th and 10th ranked center in the last 2 seasons respectively, after playing left guard as a rookie. The Raiders would be wise to extend him long-term. He, Howard, and Penn are solid offensive linemen, but Howard might be playing a new position, Penn is aging with a history of weight problems, and their options to start at the other two spots are pretty poor. They might be better than last season (when they were 23rd and 28th on Pro Football Focus in team pass block and run block grade), but it’s definitely a unit with issues.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
The Raiders’ big off-season addition at wide receiver was James Jones. Jones is younger than most of their off-season additions, but even he is going into his age 30 season. Jones isn’t as good as the 14 touchdowns he caught in 2012 would suggest. That rate of 14 touchdowns on 64 catches was unsustainable and he proved that last season when he caught just 3 touchdowns on 59 catches. In his career, he has 37 touchdowns on 310 catches. He’s never put up big numbers despite playing most of his career with either Aaron Rodgers or Brett Favre. He’s averaged 1.49 yards per route run in his career, which is pretty mediocre, though his 33 catches for 427 yards and a touchdown in 8 games without Aaron Rodgers last season should give Raiders fans some hope that he can produce with sub-par quarterback play this season. Still, he’s only an average receiver at best.
That being said, he could still be their best receiver. The Raiders have a good amount of receiving depth with a good amount of guys who are solid, but they really lack one dominant wide receiver. Rod Streater, Denarius Moore, Andre Holmes, and Juron Criner will all be in the mix for snaps this season. Streater and Moore will probably compete for the starting job opposite Jones. Streater, a 2012 undrafted free agent, has had two solid seasons in the NFL, averaging 1.69 yards per route run, despite poor quarterback play, including 1.80 yards per carry last season. Now heading into his 3rd season in the NFL, he could have his best year yet.
Moore, meanwhile, has averaged 1.65 yards per route run in 3 seasons in the league since being drafted in the 5th round in 2011, but he’s a pretty one dimensional speedster who hasn’t played a full 16 game season yet and has been in and out of the starting lineup with injuries and other issues. He’s probably best as a #3 receiver, though he’s still a solid receiver. Andre Holmes is another former undrafted free agent, going undrafted in 2011. He had a strong finish to last season, catching 22 passes for 366 yards and a touchdown in his final 5 games and averaging 1.72 yards per route run. Juron Criner only has 19 career catches since being drafted in the 4th round in 2012, but the Raiders reportedly love what he’s doing this off-season. Either way, there’s talent at wide receiver, but not a true game breaker.
Things are better at wide receiver than at tight end. With things so bad at the position last year, Mychal Rivera had to be the primary receiving tight end, despite being a 6th round rookie, beating out fellow 6th round rookie Nick Kasa for the job. Rivera caught 38 passes for 407 yards and 4 touchdowns, while averaging a mediocre 1.20 yards per route run. Rivera split snaps with Jeron Mastrud, a blocking tight end who was mediocre at his job and caught 8 passes. The Raiders frequently ran 3-wide receiver sets as a result of their lack of talent at the position.
Kasa could be better in his 2nd year in the league and get a bigger role and Rivera could improve as a pass catcher, but it looks like things are pretty much going to be the same at the position this season as they didn’t add anything this off-season. They do reportedly have some interest in free agent Jermichael Finley, who is still available into June because he’s coming off of a very serious neck fusion surgery. The receiving corps might be the Raiders’ best offensive unit, but it’s not great.
The defensive line is where the Raiders focused most of their energy this off-season. They did lose LaMarr Houston and Vance Walker which will hurt, but they add veterans like Justin Tuck, LaMarr Woodley, and Antonio Smith. The issue is that all 3 of them are going into their age 30+ seasons and Houston and Walker were talented young players. Houston, now with the Bears, was a 2010 2nd round pick and has been a well above average 4-3 defensive end in each of the last 3 seasons, grading out 19th, 9th, and 11th on Pro Football Focus among 4-3 defensive ends in 2011, 2012, and 2013 respectively. Walker, now with the Chiefs, was Pro Football Focus’ 17th ranked defensive tackle in 2012 and 36th ranked in 2013, both above average.
Tuck will be Houston’s direct replacement, playing defensive end in base packages and moving inside to defensive tackle in sub packages, a role he played in with the Giants previously. Tuck has obviously had some great seasons, including last season when he was Pro Football Focus’ 7th ranked 4-3 defensive end, but he’s going into his age 31 season. He also was just about a league average starter in 2011 and 2012 and missed 5 games and was limited in several others during that time frame.
LaMarr Woodley, going into his age 30 season, will be the starter opposite Tuck. He’ll be an obviously upgrade over Jason Hunter, who started last season and was Pro Football Focus’ 4th worst ranked 4-3 defensive end. This will be Woodley’s first experience as a pro in a 4-3, though he played 4-3 defensive end in college at Michigan. Woodley was cut by the Steelers this off-season halfway through a massive 6-year deal because he wasn’t living up to expectations. He has missed 14 games over the last 3 seasons combined, maxing out at 641 snaps, and, while he’s graded out above average on Pro Football Focus in each of those 3 seasons, he hasn’t graded out higher than 10th among 3-4 outside linebackers, which isn’t what the Steelers signed up for (he was #1 and #5 in 2009 and 2010 respectively). He’s probably a 600-700 snap type player at this stage of his career, provided he can even stay healthy, but when he’s on the field, he should still be a solid player.
When Tuck moves inside to defensive tackle in sub packages, Khalil Mack will move down to the defensive line and rush the passer from the edge, the Von Miller role. Mack was the 5th overall pick in the draft and is probably their most promising young star. Given their lack of young talent, they need him to turn into the star he can become. Sio Moore essentially played that role last season as a 3rd round rookie, playing 206 pass rush snaps. He was Pro Football Focus’ 8th ranked 4-3 outside linebacker. Mack could see closer to 300 pass rush snaps, if not more, as a rookie, and Moore will also see some pass rush snaps, though he’ll focus more on being more of a traditional three-down outside linebacker.
Antonio Smith was the other veteran addition to this defensive line. The 6-3 272 pounder is undersized, going into his age 33 season, and has never played 4-3 defensive tackle in his career. He’s a great pass rusher who has excelled over the past 3 seasons in Wade Phillips’ defense in Houston, grading out 8th, 6th, and 17th in the last 3 seasons respectively among 3-4 defensive ends, including 2nd, 2nd, and 5th in pure pass rush grade. However, he’s shown decline, which is concerning at his age, he struggles against the run, and he hasn’t been as good in his career outside of Wade Phillips’ defense. He was actually Pro Football Focus’ 65th ranked 4-3 defensive end out of 73 eligible in 2009. He’ll add to their interior pass rush as an older replacement for Walker, but I expect him to struggle against the run.
Pat Sims will be their other starting defensive tackle and play pretty much primarily in base packages. Sims was a 3rd round pick by the Bengals in 2008 and was a largely irrelevant backup in Cincinnati for 5 years before last season, playing a combined 481 snaps in 2011 and 2012. He broke out in Oakland last season, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 17th ranked defensive tackle last season on 694 snaps, excelling against the run and grading out above average as both a pass rusher and a run stopper. He’s still just a one year wonder at this point, which is why he didn’t draw much interest on the open market, but it was still a smart move by the Raiders bringing him back on a 1-year, 2 million dollar deal.
The Raiders also drafted Justin Ellis in the 4th round and the 6-1 334 pounder could contribute in base packages as a rookie if the Raiders decide they want to have Smith focus on being more of a sub package rusher. Stacy McGee, a 2013 6th round pick who struggled on 354 snaps as a rookie, could also be in the mix. The 6-3 310 pounder is more of a run stuffer. The organization seems to be pretty high on him for some reason.
I already mentioned that Khalil Mack will play strong side linebacker in base packages and move to defensive end in sub packages. Sio Moore, as I also already mentioned, will be moving to more of a three-down role at weakside linebacker and rush the passer from the defensive line sparingly. That could be a very good move. While Moore graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 8th ranked 4-3 outside linebacker, he actually was below average as a pass rusher and above average both in coverage and as a run stopper. He was 6th in run stopping grade and 10th in coverage grade, though he only had 94 coverage snaps so take that with a grain of salt. Still, he has the potential to breakout as one of the better three down 4-3 outside linebackers in the NFL this season.
At middle linebacker, Nick Roach should be the starter for the second straight season, though he could get some competition from Kevin Burnett. Roach was Pro Football Focus’ 42nd ranked middle linebacker out of 55 eligible last season, struggling mightily against the run, grading out 2nd worst at his position in that facet of the game. He’s never been that great, dating back to his days in Chicago. Burnett, meanwhile, seems like a man without a job right now. He started at 4-3 outside linebacker last season, playing every down and grading out slightly below average. When the Raiders drafted Mack and moved Moore to more of a three down role, it sent Burnett to the 2nd string.
Burnett has had some good years, including 2012, when he graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 4th ranked 4-3 outside linebacker and 2010, when he graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 20th ranked middle linebacker, but he’s going into his age 32 season and coming off of a down year. If he can’t beat out the younger Roach for the starting job in the middle, he could be cut, which would save the Raiders 2.875 million in cash and cap space. They aren’t exactly pressed for cap space though and he’s still a contributor on running downs, grading out 2nd at his position in run grade last season (2nd worst in coverage). They could rotate him inside with Roach, whose weakness is obviously the run.
Arguably the Raiders’ best off-season move was signing Tarell Brown. It was only on a one year deal, but they only are giving him 3.5 million and he’s under 30, which is a refreshing change of pace from the rest of their signings this off-season. Brown has been an above average starter for the 49ers in each of the past 3 seasons, grading out above average on Pro Football Focus in each of the last 3 seasons, maxing out at 13th overall in 2012, including 4th in pure coverage grade.
However, the worst of his 3 seasons as a starter was this season as he “only” graded out 32nd and missed 3 games with a rib injury that limited him upon his return. That’s why he had to settle for this one-year deal, betting on himself rather than taking a 3-year, 10 million dollar deal from San Francisco. He should be an obvious upgrade on Mike Jenkins, assuming he stays healthy. He didn’t miss a game in either 2011 or 2012 so that’s not a serious concern.
He’s probably their best defensive back. DJ Hayden, their 2013 1st round pick, will probably start opposite him. Hayden struggled mightily on 353 snaps as a rookie, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 89th ranked cornerback out of 110 eligible in pure coverage grade last season, despite his limited playing time. He was behind the 8-ball from the word go because of injury problems and rookie cornerbacks tend to take a year or so to develop anyway, so he could be better this season, but he also might have been over-drafted at 12th overall. Several league sources believed he was after the 2013 draft. He’s also rehabbing a serious ankle injury this off-season, which won’t help him play catch-up.
The Raiders’ 3rd cornerback is another former-49er, Carlos Rogers. Rogers is another aging veteran, going into his age 33 season. Rogers was a first round pick in 2005 by the Redskins, but he never quite lived up to his draft slot. He’s graded out just about average in every season of his career, with the exception of 2011, his first year in San Francisco. He was Pro Football Focus’ 7th ranked cornerback that season on a one-year deal and earned himself a big 4-year contract.
He’s declined in each of the past 2 seasons, ranking 46th in 2012 and 71st in 2013 (below average), which led to his release this off-season. He was especially bad in coverage, grading 86th out of 110 among cornerbacks in pure coverage grade. He’s a declining player who had a hard time finding work on the open market this off-season. He’ll definitely play on the slot this season and could even work as the #2 cornerback if Hayden can’t establish himself. Still, the Raiders cornerbacks should be better this season, as Rogers still should be an upgrade on Tracy Porter, Brown should be an upgrade on Mike Jenkins, and DJ Hayden should be at least a little better in his 2nd year in the league.
One other area they should be better at is safety, by virtue of Tyvon Branch returning from injury. Branch played just 66 snaps last season, going down for the season with a leg injury during week 2. Converted cornerback Brandian Cooks took over for him and graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 2nd worst ranked safety in the league last season. Branch isn’t a spectacular player, but he’s better than that, as long as he’s healthy. The 2008 4th round pick graded out above average in 3 of 4 seasons as a starter from 2009-2012, maxing out as Pro Football Focus’ 14th ranked safety in 2011 and missing a combined 2 games over those 4 years.
The other starter will continue to be Charles Woodson, who is old even on a team of old players, as he heads into his age 38 season. The future Hall-of-Famer graded out slightly above average last season, a testament to the type of player he is. The converted cornerback also graded out slightly above average in 2012 with Green Bay, though he did miss 9 games with injury that season. There’s no guarantee he can continue to do that though and the Raiders depth at the position is suspect.
Woodson is the Raiders’ oldest starter, but he’s hardly their only 30+ starter. They’ll have at least 7 week 1 starters going into their age 30+ season (Matt Schaub, Donald Penn, James Jones, Justin Tuck, Antonio Brown, LaMarr Woodley) and they have another 4 who could be week 1 starters (Carlos Rogers, Kevin Burnett, Khalif Barnes, Kevin Boothe), so they’ll have between 7-11 week 1 starters who are entering their age 30+ season.
They have more talent than they did last season, but they’re still among the lower half of the NFL in terms of talent and this really just seems like them selling out their future for one season of 6-10. They also run the risk of having a significant amount of players show serious decline this season. Their defense is their stronger side of the ball and they could even be an above average unit on that side of the ball if their old defensive line can hold up, but their offense has a lot of issues. I’ll have an official prediction after all of the season previews, but they should be below .500 and near the bottom of the AFC West. One positive thing for them, they have a Vegas wins total of 6 wins or fewer (5 wins). Teams go over the total about 2/3rds of the time in that situation, as it’s very hard to be really bad for a long time. The Raiders have been really bad for a long time though.
Season Prediction: 5-11 4th in AFC West