The incredibly underwhelming 2017 season is finally over, and now Raider Nation eagerly awaits the fun parts of the off-season. We’re two weeks away from the combine and about a month away from the “legal tampering period” of free agency. All we can do is speculate about who the duo of Jon Gruden and Reggie McKenzie will add to the Oakland Raiders, and frankly, there are enough of those articles going around. Instead, this piece will take a look at some of the players that are already on the team, Derek Carr included.
Here are the Oakland Raiders that have the most to prove in 2018.
This year, Giorgio Tavecchio will be attempting to kick in some awfully big boots. It looks like Sebastian Janikowski might be gone and the possibility exists that the Raiders will stick with Tavecchio in 2018. He made 16 of his 21 kicks last season, and managed to hit three of the four kicks he attempted from past 50 yards. If he wants to try to sneak away from Seabass’ shadow, he has to really bring it in 2018.
Last Year’s Rookies
This is a bit of a cop-out, but both of Oakland’s first two picks have a lot to prove in 2018. Defensive backs Gareon Conley and Obi Melifonwu played a combined 126 defensive snaps in their rookie seasons, and neither made a huge impact. Conley played well in the two games he was active for this season, but Melifonwu struggled to find his place in the defense before being put on injured reserve for an injured hip. McKenzie made the defense a priority during the 2017 draft, and his two biggest selections were unable to make an impact last year.
Both men will have to rectify that in 2018. The Raiders have already released corner, David Amerson, Sean Smith will likely be next, and T.J. Carrie is set to be a free agent. Safety Reggie Nelson is also hitting free agency, and the team has holes in the secondary. The Raiders will likely address the free safety position during the off-season, but Melifonwu has to fit in somewhere. As for Conley, he’s slated as the starter as of writing this, and regardless of who the team gets to play opposite him, he’ll have to carry his weight to prove he deserved the first round pick the team spent on him.
Karl Joseph is another defensive back that the Raiders spent a first round pick on that needs to produce in 2018. Joseph has played well at points for the Raiders, but he needs to take that next step in year three. There’s a very popular belief within Raider Nation that Joseph should be playing free safety instead of strong safety, and it’ll be interesting to see how Gruden and Paul Guenther use him.
Want to know an absolutely insane statistic about Amari Cooper? He’s entering his fourth season in the NFL, and he’ll only be 24 years old. Right now he’s 23 and he has three years of NFL experience. Corey Davis, the receiver the Tennessee Titans used a first-round pick on last year? Is also 23. Cooper has been a bit inconsistent, but it’s still unprecedented for a player to have this kind of experience and youth.
Cooper didn’t have a great 2017, but he’s far from ruined. He still had a couple of breakout performances, namely the explosive showing against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 7, and he’s still an incredible prospect. He’s a great route-runner, a fantastic athlete, and in the right system, he can be a true number one receiver. However, he has to prove that in 2018.
Gruden is coming to town, and he won’t accept drops from Cooper anymore. “Chucky” is an offensive mastermind, and he’ll need consistent production from his number one receiver. This is the last year of Cooper’s contract, and he’ll need to prove he deserves a big deal next off-season.
What went wrong with Derek Carr last season? A better question would be what didn’t go wrong for Oakland’s franchise quarterback? Injuries? Check. An army of receivers with butterfingers? Check. A terrible offensive coordinator? Check. A lack of confidence in his play? Unfortunately. He had a really rough season, and while he still has the faith of Raider Nation, he has a lot to prove in 2018.
If you’re a member of Raider Nation, you’ve definitely heard of #ClapbackCarr by now, and for good reason. Having a quarterback-friendly coach like Chucky will work wonders for Carr, and a year removed from his injuries, he should start the 2018 season fresh. Gruden is looking to clean up the roster, so a healthy Carr, in a better offensive system, with better weapons? #ClapbackCarr might have a lot to prove this year, but I have all the confidence in the world that he’ll exceed expectations.