Even if Derek Carr didn’t get hurt, the Raiders had some glaring weaknesses for a team in contention for the number one seed in the AFC. The Raiders aren’t going into the offseason with tons of cap space like they have in the past and it’s time they sign their star players to big contracts, so they’ll have to spend their money wisely. However, the Raiders have weaknesses that have to be addressed in the offseason and Coach Jack Del Rio outlined them in his end of the season press conference. We’ll go through those three weaknesses and how the Raiders could realistically improve in those areas.
- The Secondary
The Raiders just heavily invested into the cornerback position with big contracts for Sean Smith and David Amerson, but that position group looks like the Raiders worst. Although I don’t think Smith played as bad as people are portraying, he certainly did not live up to his big contract. If he loses some weight and rededicates himself to his craft I think he could be in line for a bounce back season. Amerson was up and down, he had some games in which he looked dominant and games in which he looked lost.
The plan was for them to play a heavy amount of cover 3 and cover 1 like the Seahawks, but it was clear from the Raiders horrendous defensive start to the season that they had to make a change. The secondary shouldn’t get all the blame for the need to change coverages because the whole defense was a mess, but the corners were better suited playing quarters coverage, which they played a lot more of after week 4. The only problem with playing quarters is that you need safeties that are versatile enough to play man coverage. Karl Joseph is athletic enough to do this, but Reggie Nelson doesn’t fit this profile.
Playing quarters also takes tons of practice and repetitions that the Raiders didn’t get in the offseason because the Raiders either didn’t have it in the defensive playbook or just didn’t use it much.
Del Rio about talked about how he wasn’t happy with the way that the secondary tackled, leveraged runs, and just didn’t do a lot of the small things very well. Most of the things he talked about are things that could be fixed with coaching.
The scapegoat ended up being the secondary coach, Marcus Robertson. His contract was up and the team chose not to renew it. Del Rio probably believes that with better coaching this unit could be much improved. The reality is that the Raiders don’t have much cap space to get another corner and drafting a corner high might not be the answer with such a glaring need at linebacker. Unless one the high profile safeties fall to the Raiders in the first round, the secondary will probably have to get addressed through a middle tier free agent or middle round draft pick. The rest will have to fall on coaching.
A coach’s salary does not count against the cap and the Raiders need to make a slam dunk hire here. A veteran coach with experience with quarters coverage is absolutely necessary.
2. Interior Defensive Line
The interior of the line was supposed to be a strong point coming into the season. Mario Edwards Jr. was coming off of an extremely promising rookie season. Dan Williams had a great season in 2015 and was extremely hard to move in the middle. However, Edwards was hurt in the preseason and didn’t come back till late and didn’t really get his legs back under him until the playoffs. Williams didn’t come into camp in shape and never played at the level he did in 2015. Justin Ellis didn’t really improve and was just a solid run stuffer but was forced to play out of position at times.
Denico Autry dealt with a wrist injury the entire season, but was responsible for a number of big runs because he was shooting gaps instead of trying to hold his ground. Although he did improve towards the end of the season, he shouldn’t be counted on to stop the run.
Again, adding a high priced free agent to the group would not be wise. The team just paid Bruce Irvin, Dan Williams, and will have to pay a huge contract to Khalil Mack soon. Luckily for the Raiders, having Edwards for a full season will bolster the group. But they’ll have to count on the progression of young players like Darius Latham and Jihad Ward to provide depth. If Dan Williams could have a bounce back year, this group could potentially be one of the best in the NFL.
Del Rio wants more interior pressure. If Edwards could regain the form he had prior to the injury, interior pressure will not be a problem.
Having Aldon Smith back would be huge because the Raiders could put him on the edge and have Mack rush in the interior against guards similar to how the Texans used Clowney.
Again, this group has potential to be one of the best but it’ll depend on their health, dedication, and Smith’s reinstatement.
3. Wide Receivers
Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper were major factors in the Raiders resurgence this year. Each had over 1,000 yards receiving but Cooper’s numbers tailed off towards the end of the season and Crabtree along with the rest of the receivers and tight ends had a high number of drops. In fact, the Raiders led the league in drops this year.
Cooper would get the attention of the best corner on the other team and often times got doubled teamed leaving opportunities for his teammates, so I’m not as worried about Cooper but I do believe that new offensive coordinator, Todd Dowling, will have to find ways to get him into more 1 on 1 situations.
Crabtree is known for his strong and reliable hands so it was strange to see him drop so many passes. This season might be an anomaly though and he could bounce back like Cooper did. Cooper led the team in drops in 2015 and dramatically improved this season.
As for Seth Roberts and the tight ends, I do believe that an upgrade through free agency or the second/third round of the draft could be necessary. The Raiders are an offensive team and for the offense to take the next step, they have to have a lot more production from the slot and tight end positions.
Walford made some major improvements as a run blocker this season but he is limited as an athlete. He is better than average but I don’t think he has the physical traits to make him a tight end that could challenge for an 8oo yard receiving season.
This draft is loaded with tight end talent and if one of the top guys fall to the Raiders in the second round I think Reggie Mckenzie should jump at the chance to upgrade the position.
As for upgrading the slot receiver spot, the Raiders could bring in a veteran receiver. They don’t need a superstar but they need someone that is smart and reliable. A potential unrestricted free agent target could be Anquan Boldin. Boldin has experience playing inside and outside. He is a physical receiver that could block, still create separation, and consistently catch the ball. The Raiders could be a prime destination for ring-chasers and bringing in a productive veteran could be a real possibility.
The Raiders can’t and shouldn’t be as active as they have been in previous offseasons. They are at a point when they should be locking up their core and filling in spots by developing past draft picks and adding through the draft. With the secondary, they have so much invested that better coaching and a better pass rush have to be the answer. The interior of the line could improve with a bounce back season by Dan Williams and the return of Edwards and Smith. The receiving position have to find a way to catch the ball more consistently and upgrade at tight end and slot either through free agency or through the draft. This team is close to being competitive for a long time and this offseason could be a major stepping stone for this team.