Underdogs no longer!
After an impressive 12-4 campaign in 2016, it’s no secret the Silver and Black are back. This may seem rather obvious at this point in time, but one year ago the franchise and its fan base still didn’t quite know what they had in Derek Carr after going 7-9 in 2015.
Having a young nucleus of talent on both sides of the ball for the first time in over a decade and a half, the Raiders will be a favorite to not only make the postseason, but also make a deep playoff run. However, even after all the improvements made last season, there are a few things the Raiders will need to improve if they want to hoist the Lombardi this season. Here are my top three areas that need the most improvement:
Oakland’s secondary ranked 17th overall in the NFL according to Pro Football Focus, with Sean Smith ranking the best amongst Silver and Black defensive backs. This comes as a bit of a surprise as Smith struggled quite a bit at the beginning of the season and even got benched. With fresh rookie talent in Obi Melifonwu and Gareon Conley being added to the mix of David Amerson, Reggie Nelson and second-year man Karl Joseph, Oakland must hope the young guns can step up and plug a porous secondary. This unit must improve for the Raiders to make any kind of run in the postseason.
The 2016 AFC and NFC champs, the New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons ranked third and sixth respectively according to Pro Football Focus’s list of top secondaries. Any improvements here for Oakland will go a long way in their goal of a Super Bowl appearance.
#2 Tight Ends
Here’s a shocker for Raider fans, no Raider tight end was ranked in the top 25 tight ends last season according to NFL.com ….ok that surprises nobody. The closest player to crack the top 25 tight ends list was Clive Walford, who ranked 29th according to NFL.com. Oh, and the player who ranked right under Clive Walford at number 30? Jared Cook, who was one of Oakland’s free agent signings and the best tight end in the postseason according to NFL.com. Having that in mind, Oakland needs more consistent contributions from the tight end position to round out the offense.
After suffering a season-ending knee injury last season in week 5, Lee Smith should bolster the run blocking for Oakland in 2017, but either Cook or Walford has to step up and give Carr a big body to hit both in the middle of the field and the red zone. Perhaps even undrafted rookie Pharaoh Brown from Oregon could improve the Raiders tight end play.
#1 Defensive Tackle
Defensive tackle is my number one position improvement that must be made for the Raiders. It may be old but the adage ” Games are won and lost in the trenches ” certainly stands the test of time. Just look at how effective Oakland’s offense was with an offensive line that allowed Carr to stay clean and carve up defenses through the air and open up gaping holes for running backs.
Solid defensive tackle play will free up star defensive end Khalil Mack from double teams all game long, forcing quarterbacks into making poor decisions and keeping Oakland linebackers clean to make plays in the run game plus help in pass coverage, stomp out any interior run game, and provide corners less time to have to cover receivers.
If Oakland can somehow get Mario Edwards to stay healthy and get some solid results from third round rookie Eddie Vanderdoes from UCLA or even seventh-round pick Treyvon Hester from Toledo (who has recently gotten some first-team reps over Justin Ellis) the Raider’s defense as a whole should see vast improvement in 2017. According to ESPN.com, Oakland’s defense ranked 26th in the NFL, which is not in any way Super Bowl material.
It certainly is an exciting time to be part of the Raider Nation! After a rough drought, Oakland has finally turned the corner and with a few improvements to this already talented roster, Oakland fans should be tuning in to watch the Silver and Black pillage the NFL in January and February for the next decade to come!