Oakland Raiders 2015 NFL Off-Season Preview

Needs

Defensive Tackle

The Raiders’ current trio of Antonio Smith, Justin Ellis, and Pat Sims at defensive tackle is underwhelming. On top of that, Smith is going into an age 34 contract year, while Sims is a free agent this off-season. Ellis has the best long-term potential, as he was a 4th round rookie in 2014 and has 3 three years on his deal, but he still graded out slightly below average last season. They need to add someone else to the mix. They won’t pass on Leonard Williams if he falls to them at 4, assuming Williams’ stock doesn’t fall before the draft and assuming the Raiders are unable to sign Ndamukong Suh, an elite defensive tackle who is expected to be their focus of free agency.

Guard

The Raiders signed Austin Howard to a 5-year, 30 million dollar deal last off-season and made a weird decision to move him from right tackle to right guard. Howard struggled mightily in his first season at his new position, grading out 59th out of 78 eligible guards. The Raiders should move him back to right tackle, where he was Pro Football Focus’ 32nd and 47th ranked offensive tackle in 2012 and 2013 respectively, and where Khalif Barnes and Menelik Watson combined to split starts and be an absolute train wreck for the Raiders in 2014. Look for the Raiders to be on the lookout for a new right guard this off-season.

Cornerback

DJ Hayden hasn’t been what the Raiders expected of him, when they drafted him 12th overall in 2013. He’s missed a combined 14 games in his first 2 seasons in the league and has graded out below average in both seasons when on the field. It’s too soon to write him off as a bust, but he shouldn’t be guaranteed a starting role going into 2015 and they definitely can’t count on him for 16 starts. Meanwhile, Tarell Brown and Carlos Rogers are both free agents, so the Raiders will need another cornerback to go with Hayden and promising 2014 7th round pick TJ Carrie.

Defensive End

The Raiders struck gold with Khalil Mack 5th overall in last year’s draft. He was arguably the best defensive rookie in the league and, while he technically played outside linebacker in base packages, he rushes the passer off the edge in sub packages. However, the Raiders need an edge rusher opposite him for the future. Justin Tuck was solid as a starting defensive end last season, but he’s going into an age 32 contract year and often rushes the passer from the interior in sub packages. LaMarr Woodley was supposed to provide help at the defensive end position, but he struggled before predictably going down for the season with injury, leaving the underwhelming duo of CJ Wilson and Benson Mayowa to play in his absence. Woodley is going into an age 31 contract year and could easily be a cap casualty, coming off of the worst season of his career and with a significant injury history. Randy Gregory makes a lot of sense 4th overall if he’s still available and Leonard Williams isn’t.

Middle Linebacker

Nick Roach missed all of 2014 with concussion problems, leaving the incredibly overmatched Miles Burris to start in his absence. He made all 16 starts for the Raiders, despite grading out as Pro Football Focus’ worst ranked middle linebacker by a mile. Roach is expected to be back in 2015, but you never know with concussion problems. They should bring in better insurance than Burris, because he was horrible. Roach wasn’t exactly a great player before the injury either, serving as a solid run stopping 3rd linebacker in Chicago with Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs early in his career, but grading out slightly below average in each of his last two healthy seasons in Oakland as an every down player.

Wide Receiver

Wide receiver isn’t the Raiders’ biggest need, but Amari Cooper still makes a lot of sense for them at #4 overall if Gregory and Williams aren’t available. The Raiders have some decent players at wide receiver, but none of James Jones, Andre Holmes, Kenbrell Thompkins, or Brice Butler is the #1 receiver that young quarterback Derek Carr needs. They can get away with going into 2015 without adding significantly at the position, but it’s not an overall strong group.

Tight End

Mychal Rivera was a decent pass catcher last year, but he wasn’t that good, catching 58 passes for 534 yard and 4 touchdowns, hardly enough to make up for the fact that the 6-3 245 pounder is a horrific run blocker. Overall, he was Pro Football Focus’ 2nd worst ranked tight end last season, including dead last in run blocking grade. The Raiders don’t have much depth behind him on the depth chart so they should add competition for him this off-season.

Running Back

The Raiders offense was noticeably better down the stretch, allowing them to actually win some games. Part of the reason for that was the emergence of Latavius Murray. His 5.17 YPC was a big upgrade over Darren McFadden, who averaged just 3.45 YPC. Murray is very talented, but the 2013 6th round pick is still unproven with only 82 career carries and only averaged about 4.12 YPC aside from one 90-yard run against Kansas City. Some competition should be added because McFadden is unlikely to be back as a free agent this off-season, not that the Raiders should want him back anyway.

Safety

Charles Woodson is a free agent heading into his age 39 season and, while he’s expressed interest in returning and showed enough last season that the Raiders should welcome him back if he wants to play, no one should be surprised if he decides to hang them up or sees his abilities drop off significantly next season. He’s certainly not a long-term solution. Meanwhile, opposite him, Tyvon Branch has missed 28 of 32 games over the past 2 seasons combined and his replacement, Brandian Ross, has not proven to be starting caliber. They should add at this position this off-season.

Center

Stefen Wisniewski has been a solid starter at center for the Raiders over the past 3 seasons, but the 2011 2nd round pick is a free agent this off-season. If he’s not retained, he’ll need to be replaced as the Raiders don’t seem to have an internal replacement.

Key Free Agents

C Stefen Wisniewski

Stefen Wisniewski graded out slightly below average in 2014 (22nd out of 41 eligible centers), but he’s still one of the Raiders’ few talented young starters. After struggling at guard as a rookie, the 2011 2nd round pick moved to center in 2012 and graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 17th and 11th ranked center in 2012 and 2013 respectively. They’d be wise to try to re-sign him as he’s not the type of player who is going to break the bank.

DT Pat Sims

An underwhelming reserve in Cincinnati from 2008-2012, after they drafted him in the 3rd round in 2008, Sims had a breakout year in 2013 with the Raiders, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 18th ranked defensive tackle, showing above average abilities as both a pass rusher and a run stopper. The Raiders smartly re-signed him to a cheap 1-year deal for 2014, but he proved to be a one year wonder, grading out below average. Still, with depth problems at defensive tackle, bringing Sims back for a 3rd year in Oakland on another 1-year deal wouldn’t be a bad move. If the Raiders don’t bring him back, expect him to end up with a 1-year reserve deal elsewhere.

CB Tarell Brown

Brown was a 3-year starter in San Francisco, grading out 32nd, 13th, and 31st in 2011, 2012, and 2013. Brown turned down a 3-year, 10 million dollar deal from the 49ers last off-season, instead choosing to bet on himself and rehab his value after missing 3 games and being limited in others by rib problems in 2013, but that seems to have been a mistake. Brown made 3.5 million over 1 season in Oakland, missed another 2 games with injury, and graded out below average. He’d be an intriguing pickup as a cheap starter for a team, but, going into his age 30 season after two down seasons, he won’t command much on the open market.

S Charles Woodson

Woodson looked done after a 2012 season in which he missed 9 games in Green Bay with injury, going into what was an age 37 season in 2013, but, remarkably, Woodson has played at a solid level over the past 2 seasons in Oakland and has made all 32 starts. No longer the shutdown cornerback he once was, Woodson has reinvented himself as a safety and the Raiders seem open to his return as a starter for his age 39 season in 2015. A future Hall-of-Famer, Woodson will contemplate retirement this off-season and it seems like he’d only play for the Raiders, the team with whom he started his career, if he does return, but there’s a decent chance we see Woodson on the field again for an 18th season in 2015.

CB Carlos Rogers

Rogers was a bust of a first round pick in Washington for 6 years from 2005-2010, grading out about average pretty much every season, but the 49ers picked him up on a 1-year deal in 2011 and he responded by grading out 7th among cornerbacks that season. The 49ers rewarded him with a 4-year, 28 million dollar deal, but Rogers did not reward them, ranking 46th in 2012 and 71st in 2013 (below average), which led to his release last off-season. The Raiders picked him up cheap to be their 3rd cornerback, but he struggled in 7 games, before going down for the season with a knee injury. Going into his age 34 season, coming off of that injury, he might have to wait a bit to get signed this off-season. Outside of 2011, he’s never been a particularly effective player in the NFL.

WR Denarius Moore

Moore looked like a steal of a 2011 5th round pick as a rookie, as he caught 33 passes for 618 yards and 5 touchdowns in 13 games, including 19 catches for 406 yards and 3 touchdowns during a 6 game stretch to end the season. However, despite ESPN.com AFC West reporter Bill Williamson saying that Moore would be the best receiver in the AFC West in 3 years, Moore never really progressed, averaging 36 catches for 517 yards and 4 touchdowns over the next 3 seasons, including a very disappointing 12/115/0 2014 season after he fell out of favor with the coaching staff. Purely a deep threat that the NFL figured out very quickly, Moore will have a hard time finding playing time this off-season.

RB Darren McFadden

McFadden 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 4 seasons since, he’s played a total of 45 games out of 64 and rushed for just 2234 yards and 13 touchdowns on 601 carries (3.72 yards per carry) and he’s been under 3.4 yards per carry in each of the last 3 seasons. A change of scenery and better blocking could help him, but he’s not going to be a hot commodity on the open market whatsoever this off-season.

Cap Casualty Candidates

RB Maurice Jones-Drew

MJD is about as done as they come. It’s been a steady decline for the ex-Jaguar since he led the NFL in rushing in 2011, rushing for 1606 yards and 8 touchdowns on 343 carries (4.68 YPC) He averaged a solid 4.81 yards per carry in 2012, but he was limited to 84 carries in 6 games by a foot injury and was never the same. He rushed for just 803 yards and 5 touchdowns on 234 carries in 2013, a 3.43 yards per carry average. The Raiders took a flier on him last off-season, but it didn’t pan out, as he rushed for just 96 yards on 43 carries. The Raiders can save 2.5 million in cash and on the cap by cutting him this off-season and, even with minimal depth at the running back position, they won’t think twice about doing so. Even though he’s only going into his age 30 season, his career is probably over.

QB Matt Schaub

Here’s another guy who had a steady decline. Schaub completed 64.3% of his passes for an average of 7.37 YPA, 22 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions for a 12-4 Texans team in 2012, but in 2013, he completed just 61.2% of his passes for an average of 6.45 YPA, 10 touchdowns, and 14 interceptions for a 2-14 Texans team. The Raiders traded a 6th round pick for him last off-season and reworked his contract with the goal of having him as their starting quarterback, but he lost the starting job to 2nd round rookie Derek Carr in training camp and ended up just throwing 10 passes, completing 5 for 57 yards and throwing 2 interceptions. Owed a non-guaranteed 5.5 million dollars, I don’t expect the Raiders to keep him around. Going into his age 34 season, Schaub will have to look for backup work at a cheaper salary elsewhere.

DE LaMarr Woodley

The Raiders signed LaMarr Woodley to a 2-year, 12 million dollar deal last off-season, but he ended up missing 10 games with injury and struggled while on the field. Woodley showed pass rush ability in Pittsburgh, grading out above average there as a 3-4 outside linebacker in every season from when they drafted him in 2007 to when they let him go in 2013, including 6 years as a starter from 2008-2013. However, he missed 14 games in his final three seasons in Pittsburgh and there was serious concern about his durability and conditioning, part of why they released him. Now he’s coming off of the worst season of his career, another injury, and is going into his age 31 season in 2015, owed a non-guaranteed 5.35 million dollar salary. They could easily let him go.

G Kevin Boothe

The Raiders brought in Boothe last off-season to compete for potentially a number of starting jobs on the offensive line, but he ended up only playing 19 snaps. He’s a versatile reserve but, owed 1.7 million next season, his age 32 season, he could easily be cut and replaced with someone who can provide similar depth for half the price.

S Tyvon Branch

Branch has the Raiders’ top cap number for 2015 at 9.657 million. The Raiders can only save 2.986 million on the cap immediately by cutting him, but doing so would get them out of salaries of 5.5 million in 2015 and 6.5 million in 2016 and 2017 and he’d be completely off of their cap by 2016. Branch was once a solid safety, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 11th ranked safety in 2011 and their 30th ranked safety in 2012, but he’s missed all but 4 games with injuries over the past two seasons combined and it’s fair to wonder if he’ll ever be the same player again.

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