The Oakland Raiders have been doing some work this offseason. They are in the process of completely revamping their defense to add some support to that young offense. They are seemingly starting to put together the roster that can compete with the Kansas City Chiefs and Denver Broncos yet again.
The Raiders have added some quality names to their defense this offseason. First they snagged cornerback Sean Smith from AFC West rival Kansas City and then they signed Bruce Irvin who was one of the driving forces in Seattle’s monster defense. They re-signed Aldon Smith and then they inked a deal with free safety Reggie Nelson.
I’m going to go ahead and say it. They Raiders are one solid draft away from being serious contenders.
The Raiders haven’t made the playoffs since Rich Gannon‘s (Go Blue Hens!) colossal collapse in Super Bowl XXXVII. They have had 63 wins over that span which comes out to just about five wins a season. That’s pretty abysmal.
The problem was is that with all of those poor finishes, they seemingly wasted away draft picks on the wrong choices. Not just any old wrong choices, historically bad choices. JaMarcus Russell, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Darren McFadden, Rolando McClain… you know the names.
That’s changed. Khalil Mack is a superstar rising and Derek Carr was a steal in the second round. Amari Cooper looks like he will be exciting, and Mario Edwards, Jr. had a fantastic rookie campaign until injury struck. Early reports are indicating that he may be back for most of 2016.
And instead of signing the wrong pieces this offseason, they are bringing in the right ones.
Irvin and Mack are going to make playing quarterback very hard, which in the AFC West right now, seems like it is a pretty difficult task as it is. Mack has been a First-Team All-Pro at TWO positions (defensive end and linebacker) and Irvin has played on two Super Bowl defenses, both of which were pretty darn good. Like him or think he is a head case, when Alson Smith returns from suspension, they have three nasty pass rushers.
Oakland was in the bottom third in the league against the pass last season. You have to take into consideration how frightening that is considering they square off against Alex Smith and Peyton Manning four times last season alone. While they lost future Hall of Famer Charles Woodson, Nelson and Smith are going to do just fine.
Newly-signed Oakland Raider Reggie Nelson finished last season as the NFL’s 9th-ranked safety—84.2 overall grade. pic.twitter.com/88THdwfxm8
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) April 7, 2016
It’s also an upgrade at cornerback. T.J. Carrie — who had a spectacular rookie campaign after being drafted in the seventh round — found himself playing out of position at safety when Nate Allen went down with injury. Well, now they have Nelson and Allen back in the safety department and Smith and either Carrie or Amerson on the corners. If a team can somehow get around that linebacking corps pass rush, suddenly that secondary is very difficult.
The offense improved with the single signing of Kelechi Osemele, arguably the best offensive lineman on the market this offseason. Rodney Hudson is one of the better centers in the league but has dealt with injury. Plus they resigned left tackle Donald Penn, and he is solid.
Derek Carr is the best quarterback currently in the AFC West based on numbers alone. Philip Rivers is seemingly the easiest choice, but to no fault of his own, he had quite the down year as he watched nearly his entire receiving corps end up on the IR. Michael Crabtree and Cooper are a fine tandem on the outside.
Do they have question marks? Sure they do. Find me a team that doesn’t, especially in the AFC West.
Tight end is a question mark, but not because the talent isn’t there. The Raiders went out and drafted Clive Walford last season and after signing Lee Smith there was simply a log jam at the position. They are already looking to move Mychal Rivera which means we may see what Walford can do come 2016.
The running game is suspect, but Latavius Murray isn’t a terrible running back by any means. Marcel Reece is one of those grinders who can do anything asked of him — play fullback, start at half back, block, catch, run — but he will be suspended for the first four games of ’16. What they need there is more consistent depth, unlike the Taiwan Jones experiment or Roy Helu. Is that something they can find in the draft?
Do you notice the trend? The Raiders have a pretty solid starting team. What they need is depth, and that’s what they can build in this season’s draft.
Nelson comes to the team as one of the old men as this roster is very young, which means an even brighter future. Does this make them an instant playoff team in 2016? Maybe so, maybe not. That Broncos defense is still dangerous and Andy Reid has instilled a winning attitude in Kansas City, but they are two teams with question marks of their own. The Raiders — with a solid draft and maybe one more big signing — may be on the cusp of another one of their eras of dominance. One of those eras that — in the words of Al Davis — the Raiders: