2015 Season Preview: Oakland Raiders

The Raiders have been in rebuild mode for quite some time. It hasn’t gone that well, and head coach Dennis Allen lost his job in the first half of last season. General Manager Reggie McKenzie hired former Jacksonville head coach Jack Del Rio to get Oakland moving in the right direction. Del Rio has put together a strong staff, and while the Raiders may not challenge for the AFC West division crown this year, they seem to be going in the right direction. Quarterback The Raiders found their quarterback of both the present and the future in the 2014 NFL Draft. In the second round, they drafted Fresno State’s Derek Carr, who had an outstanding rookie season. He should be able to improve and put the Raiders in a spot they haven’t been in for years. Carr had a problem with numbness in his hand this spring and missed most of the OTA’s but he was able to throw at mini-camp and should be fine for the start of training camp. Running Backs Gone is Darren McFadden, but let’s face it, he was nothing but a disappointment. In his place will be Latavius Murray, who played well the last half of 2014. They also signed Trent Richardson in free agency, but I doubt he will add much. Former running back-turned-corner Taiwan Jones is back at running back, but he is no more than a backup. If the Raiders are going to have a strong running game, it will be up to Murray. Wide Receiver and Tight End This has been an area of concern for years. That may no longer be the case. In free agency, the Raiders signed former 49er Michael Crabtree and then drafted Alabama’s Amari Cooper, the best wide receiver in the draft. The depth isn’t strong, so the hope is that both Crabtree and Cooper stay healthy Going into camp the starter at tight end is Mychal Rivera, the Raiders second leading receiver a year ago. He will get a strong challenge from rookie Clive Walford who can play in tight or flexed out. Offensive Line The line did a fairly good job with pass protection a year ago, but the Raiders running game was almost non-existent. New line coach Mike Tice hopes to improve that. The left side of the line looks strong with Donald Penn at left tackle and second year man Gabe Jackson at left guard. Jackson has the traits to be a road grader in the run game. The center will be free agent signee Rodney Hudson, who had been the starter in Kansas City. He is a huge upgrade. On the right side, going into camp, it looks like the guard will be Khalif Barnes and the tackle will be Austin Howard. Both have the ability to play both positions. Oft-injured Menelik Watson also figures into the equation, as does rookie Jon Feliciano from Miami. Regardless of who lines up on the O-Line come opening day, the play will be much better. Defensive Line The two tackles look very strong. Last year’s fourth round pick Justin Ellis played very well, and free agent Dan Williams, in only his sixth year, has a lot of good football left. The interior depth is Stacy McGee and Ricky Lumpkin. The Raiders hope that McGee can bounce back to the form he showed as a rookie. At left end will be veteran Justin Tuck, who may not be as good as he was during his Giant days, but still can play. I expect rookie Mario Edwards to be the starter at the other end. He shed weight during the pre-draft process and looked outstanding in workouts. Edwards can also play inside on pass rush situations. The backups at end should be Denico Autry and Ben Mayowa. Mayowa has familiarity with the scheme. Linebackers The leader of this group is second year man Khalil Mack, who was one of the top rookie defenders in the league a year ago. While Mack plays Sam on base downs, he is used as a pass rusher in nickel and is quickly becoming one of the better edge rushers in the NFL. Unless Sio Moore has problems with his recovery from hip surgery, he will be the Will linebacker where his speed and instincts standout. The new face at Mike will be Curtis Lofton who had 145 total tackles with the Saints a year ago. He will also bring some much needed veteran leadership to the defense. The first linebackers off the bench, in case of injury, should be Malcolm Smith and Ben Heeney. Heeney was the Raiders fifth round pick this year. Secondary The secondary is led by 18 year veteran Charles Woodson who still showed he could play in 2014. Woodson lines up at safety, while the other safety should be free agent Nate Allen who came over from Philadelphia. Allen had his problems with coverage in Philly, but the Raiders are hoping he can live up to the talent he showed while in college at South Florida. The corners will be a young, talented group. On one side will be former 2013 first round pick D.J. Hayden. Hayden has been bothered by injuries since he came into the league. The other corner will be second year man T.J. Carrie. He has the physical tools. Now he has to put it all together. The backups should be Keith McGill, who was the Raiders fourth round pick a year ago, and James Dockery, who came over from Carolina. Outlook The Raiders won only three games in 2014, but the roster is much improved this year. With Carr being in his second year and coming off a strong rookie year, I can see the Raiders winning six to seven games easily in 2015. The arrow is pointing up, and while they may still be in the AFC West cellar this year, they won’t be the worst team in the Bay area. That honor goes to the 49ers. Follow Greg on Twitter @greggabe

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