2016 cheat sheet: Oakland Raiders

Everything you need to know about the Oakland Raiders entering the 2016 season, all in one place.

| 10 months ago
(Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

(Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

2016 cheat sheet: Oakland Raiders

To get you ready for the 2016 NFL season, the PFF analysis crew is assembling team “cheat sheets” to catch you up on the latest changes, grades, and rankings of note involving your NFL team.

Confidence is building in Oakland after an impressive offseason. Holes are hard to find on what appears a complete and balanced roster. Derek Carr’s dramatic rise has boosted belief significantly. Winning is a habit, though, and an elusive one in the Raiders’ case. Can 2016 be the season they challenge for an AFC West crown — if not more?

Raiders positional rankings


Three biggest things to know

1. Clean pockets almost a certainty from dominant front five

Last season, the Raiders’ projected 2016 starters on the offensive line averaged a grade of 84.0 (not including Menelik Watson, who missed all of last season due to injury). The elite Dallas O-line? 84.0, as well. At center, Oakland’s Rodney Hudson allowed only eight total pressures a season ago, fewer than any other NFL center.

2. Slot options a concern on both offense and defense

While the Raiders’ starting roster looks strong, they do lack depth at a couple of key positions. Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree have the starting receiver spots locked down, but the slot position remains an issue. Currently occupying the role, 2014 undrafted free agent Seth Roberts has had an indifferent start to his NFL career. He managed only 32 catches from 51 targets for 480 yards, five touchdowns, and six drops last season. On the other side of the ball, T.J. Carrie also struggled in 2015. Working against slot receivers predominantly, he allowed 44 catches from 71 targets for 547 yards, one touchdown, one pick, and five pass deflections. Managing only a 50.0 overall grade, Carrie ranked 81st among corners. Although their starters appear strong, a lack of role players could prove costly.

3. Dan Williams is perennially underrated.

Surrounded by rookies and second-year pros, Dan Williams remains the constant. The stud nose tackle is constantly entrenched in his position against the run, refusing all attempts to shift him. Williams’ experience must be reassuring, but it’s meaningless without talent. Thankfully, a shortage of talent is of little concern. Overall, he ranked 15th among interior defenders last season, with an 85.5 run-defense grade. Only four defensive tackles bettered his run-stop percentage of 12.1. He missed no tackles while managing 31 stops, clogging inside running lanes for fun.


Key arrivals and departures

Top three draft picks: S Karl Joseph (Round 1, pick No. 14, West Virginia), DT Jihad Ward (Round 2, pick No. 44, Illinois), DE Shilique Calhoun (Round 3, pick No. 75, Michigan State)

Signed via free agency: CB Sean Smith, S Reggie Nelson, LB Bruce Irvin, OT/G Kelechi Osemele, LB Darren Bates

Left via free agency: S Taylor Mays (UFA), OLB Lorenzo Alexander (Bills), WR Rod Streater (Chiefs), DE Benson Mayowa (Cowboys), WR Jeremy Ross (Jets), OT J’Marcus Webb (Seahawks), G Tony Bergstrom (Texans), OT Khalif Barnes (Saints), S Larry Asante (UFA), LB Curtis Lofton (UFA)

Retired: S Charles Woodson, DE Justin Tuck


Rookie to watch

Shilique Calhoun, DE (Round 3, pick No. 75 overall, Michigan State)

While Aldon Smith sits on the sidelines, Calhoun has a better chance to see the field regularly. Bruce Irvin will likely get the majority of snaps, but Calhoun can thrive as a specialist pass-rusher. Although not particularly effective setting the edge for the Spartans last year — a deficiency also evident this preseason — the Raiders’ second-round pick is a dynamic pass-rusher. He’s managed six combined pressures in the three exhibition games so far, tying for Oakland’s team lead. Calhoun outperformed all but one FBS edge defender last season, generating 75 combined pressures.


Highest-graded player of 2015

Khalil Mack, DE, 95.9 overall grade

A candidate for defensive MVP in 2015, Khalil Mack has reached elite status. He was the league’s best edge rusher (considering only the regular season) in 2015, managing a 92.0 pass-rush grade and generating 82 combined pressures on the year. In addition, the Raiders’ All-Pro recorded a league-leading 54 defensive stops. In every facet of play, on every down, Mack finds a way to make an impact. Should Oakland make the playoffs, he has the ability to change games in the Raiders’ favor.


Breakout player watch

Amari Cooper, WR

It feels like focusing on Cooper’s drops would be a mistake, considering the number of big plays he also managed. That’s not to excuse the sloppiness in his game, but rather to suggest that the positives are likely to supersede the negatives sooner rather than later. Cooper totaled 10 catches for 356 yards and four touchdowns a season ago. He’s not predictable, either, doing his fair share of damage underneath, as well. The 14 tackles he broke in 2015 tied for 10th in the league. Building on a solid rookie year shouldn’t be an issue for the ultra-talented Cooper.


Projected lineups

Nickel defense (2015 season grades shown)

Raiders nickel defense

Offense with three receivers (2015 season grades shown)

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| Analyst

John joined the PFF team in 2008, providing focused analysis on the NFL draft, team-building strategies, and positional value.

  • Patrick Fouhy

    They’ve got a shot at being a 10 win team this year for sure. It’s a team with a ton a talent, but little experience together. It might take a little while for everything to gel, luckily their first 5 games are all winnable on paper. Just need to put it together on Sundays.

    • https://twitter.com/MALACHiOFCOURSE Malachi

      Winning close games is still something they need to learn to do. They were the worst team, point differential wise, in the fourth quarter of games last year. And for as improved as derek carr was in 2015, the 4th Q was his downfall. Seven of Carr’s 13 picks came in the fourth quarter and OT, despite the fact that he threw only 31 percent of his passes during that time frame. During Oakland’s final eight games, Carr’s QBR dropped to just 35.1, leaving him 28th out of 29 passers. He posted a 19.9 QBR in the fourth quarter and overtime.

      • https://twitter.com/MALACHiOFCOURSE Malachi

        all that said, they look vastly improved. i’m a big karl joseph fan and their offensive line is just plain nasty. still think it’s the broncos and chiefs dueling it out in late december for the afc west title though

        • Patrick Fouhy

          I agree with you completely. I put more blame on Musgrave’s pitiful, and completely predictable play calling in the 4th quarter though. Murray was working on a handicap because anyone watching knew that on first down, Musgrave was going to call a run to either the A or B gap. Second down, probably the same thing. 3rd down, screen pass. It happened time and time again. Defenses were essentially waiting for the receiver/running back to catch the ball in the flat. Some of them, like Chicago, even managed to pick one off back there for a TD if I remember correctly. Musgrave’s play calling wasn’t putting the team in a position to succeed.

          This season is going to rest on coaching. The talent is there, its a matter of putting the talent in positions to win. If Musgrave is going to continue to call plays like that, Derek is going to have to take the offense over and start changing the play at the line more.

          • https://twitter.com/MALACHiOFCOURSE Malachi

            well put

      • Mr McMurderer

        A lot of that had to do with Murray being completely ineffective late in games as well, which completely nixed play action for Carr. It was basically like the entire 4th quarter was 3rd and long, which meant defenses knew the only choice was to pass, so they’d throw 2 high safeties in, making it extremely difficult to get first downs. All the inexperience didn’t help, not to mention Cooper and the right side of the line betting injured, giving Carr few weapons and little time. BTW, it was only the second half of the season that Carr struggled in the 4th quarter, only throwing 1 interception in the 4th before that, vs Baltimore when being hit during a throw. DC will take the next step this year, and our offense will be top 10.

        • Joel Lodics

          Good points all. Completely agree with your analysis. One additional point, though, is that all of Carr’s struggles correlated with the absence of Rodney Hudson. Hudson was the QB of the O-line and a steadying influence. When he left the line-up there was frequent confusion and indecision. I’d like to see what the pre-snap penalty rate and time-outs taken numbers look like with Hudson in the line-up vs. without him.

  • Nate

    Cooper had more than 10 catches for 356 yards. Do you mean longer than 20 yd completions or something?

    • PFF_John

      Yeah, apologies that isnt totally clear. Numbers on downfield targets.

  • Mr McMurderer

    So Carr was literally our best player on offense last year, and second best player on the entire team, behind only the elite monster that is Mack. Funny how quick ppl are willing to give up on him when he’s played far better anyone else we’ve had since Gannon. Can’t wait to see how good he becomes with some continuity and developed talent around him, not to mention a run game to open play action. Cam wouldn’t have been half the QB he was last year w/o play action, along with most QBs, something Carr has rarely had. In games he did have a run game/play action, Carr dominated with Passer ratings well over 100, not to mention one of the lowest interception percentages in the league. Murray and Washington should make an effective 1-2 punch, which will give Carr what he needs to take that next step. The offense is gonna go off this season, hangin 30+ burgers on everyone.

    • https://twitter.com/MALACHiOFCOURSE Malachi

      who is willing to give up on him exactly?? lol

      • Mr McMurderer

        Apparently you’d be suprised how many “park the Carr” tweets and commenter’s there have been

        • https://twitter.com/MALACHiOFCOURSE Malachi

          wow, lol. that’s crazy. i’m a broncos fan and still hear about how we should bring back tebow, so i feel your pain.

  • https://twitter.com/MALACHiOFCOURSE Malachi

    good chance mario edwards get’s put on IR with a hip now that he won’t be subject to waivers post-final-cuts, although he would likely be the player they return from IR in that scenario

  • Joel Lodics

    Many people seem to focus on the performance of the skill-position guys on offense and high-profile guys on defense. Although those guys are all important, I think the Raiders’ success is gonna depend on staying relatively healthy along the offensive line so those guys can settle into their positions and become an elite unit in both the running- and passing-games; and the back-end of the defense has to be dependable at limiting the opposing team’s passing-game (that assumes that their front seven consistently maintain their gap-discipline to control their opponents ground-game).