In all the hype around “Beast Mode” and Derek Carr’s contract many have forgotten about two key contributors returning from injury for the Raiders.
It’s no secret that injuries play a significant role in football and nobody knew that better than Oakland Raider fans in 2016. Indeed, Carr’s injury played the leading role in the demise of Oakland’s Super Bowl contention hopes last season, but two other injuries hurt the Raiders in 2016.
As I combed through the injuries last season, Oakland didn’t have to deal with too many key players being injured. That 265-pound, here are the two players, one on offense and one on defense, that the Silver and Black should look forward to most getting back healthy again for 2017.
Offense, Lee Smith, TE
Lee Smith went down with a broken leg in Week Five against the Baltimore Ravens in 2016. While not known for his receiving skills, Smith excels in pass protections and run blocking for the Raiders. So this will be especially important in two ways:
- Oakland just made their quarterback Derek Carr the highest paid player in the NFL, so the more bodies keeping Carr upright, the better.
- Lynch isn’t exactly a “Spring chicken” in “running back years” so the cleaner the running lanes, the longer Lynch will last.
But don’t let the 6’6″ 265 pound tight end fool you, in 2015 Smith did haul in 12 passes for a healthy 70 yards and one touchdown and already had six receptions for 29 yards through four games before the season-ending leg injury last year.
If healthy, Lee could add a fascinating dynamic to Oakland’s offense if teams get used to seeing him in on running plays and get lulled into thinking he won’t hit a seam route for Carr. Look for the Raiders to get him involved a little more in the passing game especially with teams zeroing in on receiving stars, Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper.
Defense, Mario Edwards Jr., DT
The third year man out of Florida St. got his career off to an impressive start in 2015 playing in 14 games and starting in 10 of those for the Raiders. As a rookie, he racked up 42 tackles ( 33 solos ) and two sacks. Unfortunately, in 2016 Edwards was sidelined with a hip injury before the season started and didn’t see the field until the end of the regular season where he only amassed two tackles.
As you can see from the above highlights Mario is a difference maker in both run and pass defense and will be an invaluable tool for a Raider’s central defensive unit that struggled in 2016. Mario’s space consumption can demand double teams allowing edge rushers Mack and Irvin to go to work. And if the offense is too worried about Mack and Irvin, well then Mario can have a day! Heading into his 3rd season with the Raiders Edwards should show much improvement from his rookie season which should be a scary prospect for opposing offensive lines. No doubt rookie Vanderdoes should provide a little extra encouragement for Mario to step up his game this season as well.
Ok, so I could have put Derek Carr in for the offensive player but isn’t that too easy? I think everyone knows and appreciates how much Carr means to the Raiders organization and how excited everyone’s to see him return to the field.
So there you have it! The two players Raider Nation should be most excited to see back on the field come the start of the 2017 season in my opinion. Not only are both of these players solid pieces in both the offense and defense, but are also difference makers when on the field.
Be sure to check out Micah’s video analysis on what Marshawn Lynch will bring to the Raiders this season here at RaiderRambe.com!