2016 season preview: Oakland Raiders

They've added high-priced free agents to a talented young core. Are the Raiders now the AFC West's best team?

| 2 months ago
(AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

(AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

2016 season preview: Oakland Raiders


Oakland Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie spent years rectifying the personnel mistakes of previous regimes. He took over a team in salary cap crisis and patiently guided them through a transition period of frugality in free agency. The approach finally came to fruition last season, as the Raiders improved dramatically under new head coach Jack Del Rio to a 7-9 record.

With a stable core of talented players already in place, McKenzie obviously decided the time for patience was over, making several splash moves in free agency this offseason. Whether that decision to splurge on the open market proves a necessity in putting his team over the top, or a hasty alteration of an effective strategy, remains to be seen.

[More: Be sure to check out PFF’s ranking of all 32 NFL QB situations, offensive lines, running back units, receiving corps, secondaries, and defensive front-sevens. Catch up on all the team previews here.]

Carr a shining success at QB, after years of failure at the position

Quarterbacks: 11th in PFF’s season preview rankings

The single biggest issue debilitating the Raiders’ playoff push has been an inability to find a quarterback. Years of searching resulted in nothing but disappointment. Derek Carr changed all that in a single season, improving significantly from his rookie year. He developed under pressure, boosting his adjusted completion percentage from 54.2 to 66.7 percent when facing the rush. The Raiders’ quarterback also hit at a much better rate on downfield throws, almost doubling his adjusted completion percentage on 20-plus yard passes (23.9 to 46.3). A revelation in his second year, Carr’s numbers could have been even gaudier had he not lost 375 yards on dropped passes (sixth-most in the league). We might see Oakland’s quarterbacks ranked much higher than 11th next season if Carr continues at this level of progression.

Raiders opt for a cheap, young backfield

Running backs: 24th

None of the Raiders’ running backs are household names. Although far from the most inspiring group, the unit is perfectly solid. Latavius Murray broke the 1,000-yard barrier, but required 266 carries to do so. Backups Taiwan Jones, Roy Helu and Jamize Olawale were only afforded 57 combined rushes. Fifth-round rookie DeAndre Washington might get some time in the rotation, but is unlikely to improve the backfield significantly as a rookie.

Starting WR duo possesses elite potential

Receiving corps: 18th

Amari Cooper made plenty of plays in his first season in Oakland, but also left a ton on the field. Assuming he is even slightly more sure-handed, he’ll likely improve to the status of impact starter. His 58.8 percent catch rate and four touchdowns on downfield receptions in 2015 certainly suggests that he is a big-play threat. On the opposite side, a new environment clearly got the best out of Michael Crabtree. He bounced back from a dreadful season in San Francisco with the second-best receiving grade of his career. Crabtree also managed to get within reach of his career-highs in touchdowns (nine) and broken tackles (17). Health, however, remains a serious concern. The depth behind the starting pair is at best unproven, and at worst alarming. 2015 third-round tight end Clive Walford is the only other legitimate receiving threat on the roster.

Free-agent signing completes a dominant offensive line

Offensive line: 2nd

Shattering the guard market is not such a concern when the player in question can also line up at tackle. Kelechi Osemele is better inside, where he can use his physicality to bully opponents, but he’s good enough on the perimeter to make kicking him outside a realistic option down the road. But for now, Osemele can be at his most natural position, following left tackle Donald Penn’s re-signing. The former Buccaneer graded 11th overall at the position a season ago, giving up just 31 combined hurries in 644 snaps. The remaining starters are all solid. Center Rodney Hudson ranked sixth overall, bettering his peers with just seven combined hurries conceded all year. Left guard Gabe Jackson and right tackle Austin Howard also ranked in the top 15 at their respective positions. Assuming the starting five all stay healthy, the continuity will undoubtedly help the unit improve even further.

The defensive front is stacked, too

Front seven: 5th

Khalil Mack is not considered on Von Miller’s level because he has yet to change games in front of a national audience, with a title on the line. While Miller has a Super Bowl ring and MVP trophy, Mack’s regular season was arguably better. He managed an astounding 82 combined pressures, adding a further 54 run stops. Both figures topped the league among edge defenders. Nose tackle Dan Williams is the next-best Oakland lineman. The former Cardinal elevated his run defense to another level in 2015, as well as recording a career-high 21 QB pressures. Supplementing the veterans are a group of underrated young players. Denico Autry, Mario Edwards Jr. and Justin Ellis were all effective a year ago, without being spectacular. It will be intriguing to see how free-agent pickup Bruce Irvin (formerly of Seattle) is used in Oakland, but he should be an instant upgrade to an off-the-ball linebacking corps that lacked talent a season ago. He will certainly need to play well if Ben Heeney (64.4 overall grade) and Malcolm Smith (58.6) do not improve significantly.

Secondary overhaul is likely to pay big dividends

Secondary: 9th

Oakland added three new starters who were highly productive last season. Former Chiefs cornerback turned Raiders free-agent signing Sean Smith’s size-speed combination is freakish. He’s able to eliminate the majority of receivers in press-man because of it. First-round pick Karl Joseph probably had the best senior season of all safeties in college last year, albeit he got on the field for only four games. Safety is one of the rare positions where players often improve with age, as instincts and experience are so important as the last line of defense. No player better illustrates that than Reggie Nelson, who recorded the second-best season grade of his career in 2015 (84.2 overall). If David Amerson can prove last season was no fluke (he went from our lowest-graded corner all the way up to 14th), the starting secondary will have no weaknesses. Nickelback TJ Carrie’s 2015 performances were concerning, especially because of his 14 missed tackles from 72 attempts, but the secondary’s outlook remains promising.

| Analyst

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

  • Anthony

    After years of futility, these are all numbers i’m proud of. I’m not missing a Raiders game for anything this year.

    • Patrick Fouhy

      Well well well, welcome back band wagoner. haha. I’m just messing with you of course. I haven’t missed a game in a quite a while, but I will say that I “adopted” a second team haha. I moved to Seattle about 10 years ago and all my friends here are Hawks fans, so I got a bit caught up in that. So, I’m a Raider fan for life, and a band wagon Hawks fan. haha.

      Some of the games over the years have been grueling to watch. I remember the game against the Dolphins in London a few years ago. I was so pissed watching that game. There were Hawks, Packers and Bears fans coming up to me and trying to calm me down. haha.

  • crosseyedlemon

    Even though the Raiders are probably in the league’s toughest division, their chances of securing a playoff spot look fairly good. The Silver & Black appear poised to dominate the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball and when you can do that you greatly enhance your prospects of success. Another plus is their schedule, which sees them face only 2 non division playoff teams from last season.

    • rodrigo pedro

      Their chances of securing a playoff spot aren’t good.
      At best it’s 1/3 if you consider the Chargers have no chance,and they probably do.
      Chiefs probably didn’t regress anything and the Broncos still have the best situation all around.
      There is only so much a good offensive line can do to stop the pass rushers in the AFC west.

      • crosseyedlemon

        Both the Chiefs and Broncos have some issues so the division battle will be intense and probably go right down to the final week. The team that can avoid the major injuries will probably prevail at the end.

      • eric12345

        the chiefs may not have regressed that much but they definitely didnt get better. they lost sean smith to the raiders and the broncos dont have a qb.

        • King FPS

          They didn’t really have a QB last year tbh.

          • eric12345

            say what you want about manning but he was the smartest qb in the league. he may not have had the arm but people take reading a defense, switching the play, shifting the blocking etc for granted. i dont think they would have won with brock. as a raiders fan i love mack but i dont think he would have gotten 5 sacks on manning. brock has the pocket awareness of jamarcus russell.

        • Joshua Zedwick

          they lost more than just Smith, they lost three safeties in Abdulah and Branch and Jimmy wilson. on starter and two who played a lot of snaps

        • Lawrence Jahn

          And Malik Jackson and Trevathan will be hard felt losses to make up for in Denver as well as having no starting QB.

          • eric12345

            eh not a big deal imo. malik jackson was a nobody 2 years ago and they still had a good defense same with trevathan. everyone said they were screwed when they lost pot roast and julius thomas 2 years ago and other players stepped up.

          • Lawrence Jahn

            You are correct and that is because they were replaced properly. Tell me who has replaced them now as well as the QB? Thanks

      • Mr McMurderer

        Chiefs regressed a lot, more than any other team in the west. They lost their starting #1 corner with an untested sophomore corner to replace him (untested as a #1 corner, he could very well be terrible in the new role), a handful of safeties who no doubt contributed, plus Houston is going to be out for part of the season. Losing Houston weakens the pass rush, which will force the weakened and unproven secondary to cover longer, ultimately giving up more plays. Only having one good corner isnt enough, and KC doesnt even know if they have that. The Defense will be tested with Carr and Rivers in the same division, and IDT the KC offense is strong enough to keep up with them. BTW, just look at how well they did last year when Smith was gone the first few games, the defense was weak W/O a press man corner.

    • Anthony

      The AFC west is far worse than the NFC North.

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      • crosseyedlemon

        If your suggesting the NFC North is the stronger division then I can’t agree. Maybe a few ago that was the case. Did I mention I’m a Bears fan?

        • Anthony

          Then you must be either underestimating the Vikings or underestimating your own team. Do you have any idea how huge the signings of Trevathan and Freeman are for the Bears? I expect 11 wins from the Bears and Vikings and 12 from the packers

          • crosseyedlemon

            11 wins for the Bears? We have lost 6 straight to the Lions so let’s not get too crazy. I think 8-8 is a possibility if we avoid serious injuries.

          • Anthony

            Name me one team with a top end set of linebackers that didn’t make the playoffs last year.

          • Joshua Zedwick

            49ers

          • Anthony

            I said set. There’s Navorro Bowman, then there’s…. Who exactly?

          • Joshua Zedwick

            Lynch has played very well for them on the outside. really their only pass rush

          • Joshua Zedwick

            ok… maybe top tear may be a HUGE stretch… i expected better numbers out of lynch after his rookie season

          • Silver Sadist

            The Raiders?
            Mack and Smith Last year or Mack n Irvin This year… but this year they WILL be in the Playoffs

          • Anthony

            I’ve been a Raiders fan my whole life. My biggest passion is football. Malcolm Smith was below average, Ben Heeney too. Khalil doesn’t count he’s an edge defender.

          • Lawrence Jahn

            Malcolm Smith was all over the place, those numbers dont tell the story. Mack, Irvin and possibly Aldon Smith back and the LB’s will be tremendous and the Bears and Lions got lucky vs the Raiders last year. Also Heeney was a rookie, he will be significantly better this year. Raiders will win the West. Mack will be off the charts and the Secondary is lock down now. Not a chance vs the Raiders.

          • Joe Doe

            You’re nuts. 11 wins from two teams and 12 from another? Aren’t you aware that every year the Bears bring in big name free agents to remain ultimately similar to the year before. And Cutler’s still their QB. Look at Brandon Marshall’s production as a bear and then as a Jet, and nobody is calling Fitzpatrick elite. You forget about chemistry. You can’t expect the production in a new environment to be the same as in the old one. Just look at all the former Seattle defensive players that have left to be unimpressive with other teams. Look at how Julius Thomas dropped off in Jacksonville, Jimmy Graham in Seattle, Greg Jennings in Minnesota or Miami, Demarco Murray in Philly. This is football, not baseball.

          • Anthony

            Listen you have a point, but we’ve seen before what Jay Cutler can do when he has 2 top end threats at WR. 2 years they put up 457 points without Forte I say this team scores around 395. This is also the best defense the Bears have had in at least 8 years. I think they’ll give up around 310. So maybe 11 was ambitious but they’re a lot better than most believe.

          • Josh Solis

            That’s pretty dumb to say honestly the Bears won’t get that much wins they’ll probably be like 8-8

          • Anthony

            Bro don’t say I’m dumb and then not even be able to write a proper sentence. It’s “That many wins”

          • Anthony R

            Haha serious? 11 from two teams and 12 from another. Must be best conference of all time.

    • eric12345

      toughest division? chargers are trash. there o line hasn’t been healthy in years, there wrs are never healthy, they have no run game, and there first round draft pick is holding out. the broncos have no qb. the chiefs are a solid team. far from the best division. afc north is way better. steelers bengals and ravens who gets flacco back. jets didnt even get a wild card spot with 10 wins because of the afc north. nfc west too with the cardinals seahawks and rams. nfc north with the packers vikings and bears.

      • King FPS

        Yeah the Chargers are trash, but honestly every division has at least one trash team. The afc west has 3 potential playoff teams, while I don’t see any other divisions like that. Sorry, but I odn’t think the ravens, rams, or bears have a chance at the playoffs at the moment.

        • eric12345

          eh yeah thats true i dont really see them in the playoffs either but i dont know i just feel even without the ravens i feel like the steelers and bengals are stronger than the broncos chiefs and raiders.

    • Patrick Fouhy

      AFC West is a tough division for sure, but Denver’s QB situation has certainly leveled the playing field. The AFC West is certainly one of the most competitive. The teams are built to beat one another. The Raiders have a monster O Line to try and counter Denver and KC’s pass rush. KC has a solid run game, so Oakland and Denver have huge run stoppers. Denver is a pass happy team, Oakland and KC have really solid secondaries. The Raiders also have potentially a great passing game, Denver has a great secondary. I leave San Diego out of the conversation, not out of disrespect of the team, but they are in a tough spot right now. They are always so random when I see them play, last year Phillip Rivers essentially willed that team to win, he was dragging the rest of the team kicking and screaming. With Rivers, the Chargers will always have a fighting chance in any game they play, but I don’t think they’ll be able to consistently stack up wins.

      Right now, I’d say the NFC West is probably the scariest division. An argument could be made for Seattle, LA or Arizona to win the NFC title. BUT, I like what you’re saying. There is competition in the AFC West now for sure.

  • Patrick Fouhy

    Its going to be great to see my Raiders be competitive again. I’m drinking the kool-aid like a lot of fans, and I have high hopes for them, but I’m trying to stay grounded as well. The season hasn’t even started yet. haha.

    I do think they can get to the playoffs. They’ve got a good shot at securing a Wild Card spot, and depending on how Denver’s offense shakes out they may even have a chance to win the division. Raiders should seep the Chargers, split with KC, so Denver is the X factor there.

    Even if they don’t make the Wild Card, bare minimum they should end the streak of non winning seasons FINALLY! What’s great is that a non winning season isn’t even considered good enough any more, the culture is changed there so much that the complacency a lot of people have come to expect from them is just gone. Shooting for the middle isn’t an option any more, going for the top.

  • Ron

    These fucking fags need to analyze each other’s kiz