There is plenty of buzz surrounding the Oakland Raiders. The team is loaded with talent and there is talk of the playoffs, which the city of Oakland has not seen since 2002. Head coach Jack Del Rio is back for his second reason in black and silver has plenty of promise.
Jack Del Rio is a defensive minded coach. Back in 2003 Del Rio took over a young rebuilding team in the Jacksonville Jaguars club. He would eventually lead the Jaguars to multiple playoff appearances over his stay in Jacksonville. So it would come as no surprise if he did the same in a similar situation out in Oakland. The Raiders are a team on the rise, and they have a coach who can take them to the promises land.
The offense is loaded. The defense has some solid pieces. The team as a whole looks ready to compete. So needless to say, there is going to be plenty of intrigue entering training camp, which will open July 28th. So let’s take a look ahead, and see the top five burning questions surrounding the Oakland Raiders heading into training camp!
Can Derek Carr take another step forward?
In his second season, Derek Carr took a stride forward. Carr really clicked with new offensive coordinator, Bill Musgrave, who returns again this season. Carr threw for just under 4,000 yards and 32 touchdowns. His one knock was he threw a handful of interceptions, 13, with several of them coming late in games.
But Carr is a hard worker. There is a pretty chance Carr spent a good portion of the off-season working on that problem. So, can Carr take that next step forward and join the upper echelon of quarterbacks?
Well he has a solid supporting cast that will make things a little easier. While the skill position players remain the same, they are all quite talented. Add in an upgrade on the offensive line, and it is hard to imagine why Carr would take any steps back. That either means he will be just as productive as last season or better.
Given his work ethic and talent, my money is on Carr moving forward. He has everything he needs to become a top five quarterback in the NFL. Keep an eye on Carr during training camp, as a productive camp could mean a highly successful season in Oakland. Fantasy football players, I hope you are paying attention.
Can Latavius Murray prove he deserves to be a lead back?
Latavius Murray is a highly talented runner. But he has had issues with both injuries and inconsistent play during his career. So going into training camp, fans of the black and silver will be very curious in regards to how he is performing.
Last season Murray battled through a foot injury. He was also benched multiple times because he had issues holding on to the ball. Yet despite that, he still rushed for over 1,000 yards (1,066 to be exact). He also managed to catch 41 passes.
So the skill is clearly there. Now he just needs to put it all together, and prove he can do it as the lead man over the course of a full season. Behind him on the depth chart are nice depth pieces, but no full-time backs like himself. Marcel Reese is good for catching passes out of the backfield, but is facing a three game suspension. Taiwan Jones and Roy Helu are solid, but only in smaller doses.
So Murray needs to step it up this season, and it all starts in training camp. Keep an eye on Murray throughout the preseason, as a slow preseason could spell trouble for the Raiders lead back. The addition of Kelechi Osemele to the offensive line should help improve the line play, meaning more openings for Murray, and hopefully a better chance of being successful.
Could the Raiders passing game be one of the best in the league?
We already established that Derek Carr has the potential to be a top five quarterback in the NFL. So now let’s talk about some of the guys who he will be throwing the ball to.
Amari Cooper had an extremely successful rookie season. Cooper hauled in 72 catches for 1,070 yards and six touchdowns. Another season within the same offense can only lead to improvement for the second year wide receiver. He has the talent to be the best wide receiver in football. He is simply that good, and catching passes from a highly talented quarterback.
Opposite him will be Michael Crabtree. His first season in Oakland was one of the best of his career. He led the team in receptions with 85, as well as 9 touchdowns. He just missed out on joining Cooper in the 1,000 yard club, as he reached 922. All of this led to him re-signing with Oakland, where he will once again be a feature member of the offense.
Seth Roberts and Andre Holmes are two names that many people will not know unless they are Raiders fans, but both men can get the job done. They combined for 9 touchdowns and just under 700 yards last season. They will make for solid three and four options.
Then they have two underrated tight ends. Mychal Rivera and Clive Walford are also two names most NFL fans will not know, but Oakland Raiders fans will see plenty of on Sundays. Walford should eventually emerge as the teams true number three option, as he is skilled and can get some favorable matchups. Walford could turn into a big time red zone weapon for the Raiders, securing three touchdowns on only 28 receptions last season, thanks to his 6’4”, 258lb frame.
So despite only having one or two “household” names, the Raiders passing game could be electric. Carr has plenty to work with, and it is this group that can help elevate him to the elite status. Combine his talent with that of his receiving corps, and the Raiders passing game may be one of the best, if not the best, in all of the NFL.
How will the new look secondary perform?
The Raiders will most likely have two new starting corners once again to start this season, which has been a common theme for them in the past few seasons. The Raiders brought in free agent Sean Smith to start alongside David Amerson. Amerson ws waived by the Washington Redskins last season, and once he joined Oakland he performed very well. The question is will he be a flash in the pan, or prove he is more than a one hit wonder.
TJ Carrie will likely compete with Amerson. Both men are still young, and neither is a proven star. So the question is will either man be able to step up to the next level? Or will they simply prove to be league average at best?
The secondary is also set to look different at the safety position as well. Veteran Reggie Nelson, formally of the Cincinnati Bengals, the 32-year-old veteran was one of the best safeties available this offseason. He should be an improvement for the team, as he has the potential to be a playmaker.
He will be joined by the Raiders first round pick out of West Virginia, Karl Joseph. Jospesp has big shoes to fill, as Charles Woodson just retired this off-season. Joseph has the talent, but how quickly will he be able to prove himself as a top of the line NFL starter? Will the shadow of Woodson linger and lead to some issues?
Bottom-line, there are a ton of new faces in the secondary. We do not know how they will all mesh. Khalil Mack and the front end should be bringing tons of pressure, which should benefit the new look secondary. Keep an eye on their performance during training camp however, as they are going to be a very integral part to the team this season.
Are they playoff bound?
It is very difficult to find a weak spot on this team. Nothing about the offense screams weak spot. If Murray struggles or gets injured, the running game may become a liability, if Helu or Jones cannot step up. Mack will lead the defense, which is set to get after the quarterback heavily once again this season. This will help benefit the secondary, which has talent, but needs to show they can work together.
Add in the fact the Raiders schedule is not exactly that difficult. The Raiders on paper should be able to win 10 games easily. I will go on record and say they end the season with a record of 12-4. With a record like that, winning the AFC West is certainly a very realistic possibility. At worst it would be a wild card spot.
So the playoffs are certainly a realistic possibility this season. Entering training camp the expectations are higher than they have been in a long time for Oakland. Training camp will be a very telling sign if they will live up to this hype. So watch to see how well the team is meshing. Is the offense firing on all cylinders, and if not, where is the weakness? Does the defense have enough up front to get after the quarterback like they will want on almost every single snap? And will the pressure they get up front benefit the secondary?
The playoffs are calling your name Oakland. The Raiders just need to answer the call. The talent is there. The schedule is light. So if they can take advantage of those facts, the Oakland Raiders should be playoff bound in 2016.
The Raiders are poised for a solid season. So how far can they go? And will a successful season have any impact on their potential move to Las Vegas? Those are questions that we can worry about come the end of the season. For right now let’s just focus on the questions that need to be answered entering training camp.
If all of those questions have a positive answer, this team could be one of the brightest stories of the season. The Raiders have not been relevant for over ten seasons. That could all change this season. Derek Carr has top five potential. Latavius Murray has the talent to be a feature back, but needs to be more consistent and stay healthy. The receiving corps could be one of the most under-rated in the league. The secondary could be the key to the defense, which is pretty stacked up front. Under Del Rio’s watch and a fairly soft schedule, this team is set to make their first playoff appearance since 2002, when they got blown out by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Super Bowl.