The end of the draft signaled the beginning of the “slow time” for the NFL off-season.
Teams have since concluded rookie mini-camps and moved on to OTAs, or organized team activities. OTAs are optional but that doesn’t stop fans from freaking out when a star player doesn’t report. Especially so if that player is All-World edge defender Khalil Mack. Nonetheless, these overreactions will subside. May through the end of the Preseason is in fact prime-time for overreactions. However, let’s look past all of this and lay out some BOLD predictions for the Raiders in 2018.
Maurice Hurst is a Finalist for Defensive Rookie of the Year
You wanted bold predictions, you get bold predictions. If it hadn’t been for medical questions surrounding Hurst’s heart, he would’ve been a first round pick. He is simply a terror against both the rush and the pass. Hurst is also walking into an ideal situation for himself as a rookie. Mack, Irvin, and Key will command attention on the outside, which will free up Hurst to go 1v1 with interior linemen. Also, Hurst shouldn’t have to play every snap. The Raiders have a ton of big defensive lineman. Hurst’s snaps could be monitored not only for his heart but to keep him fresh for rushing the passer. And let’s face it, run stops aren’t important for defensive linemen trying to be ROY. Sacks will be the only thing that matters for Hurst on his journey to becoming a defensive ROY finalist.
Derek Carr Returns to 2016 Form
This is based of two simple beliefs: Todd Downing is the only person that can stop Derek Carr and Jon Gruden is a QB-whisperer. The offense as a whole digressed in 2017, the first and only year with Downing calling the plays. On paper, the offense had more weapons. The main difference was Downing who took Carr from an MVP candidate to a guy who was checking the ball down to the flats on 3rd and 10. Enter Jon Gruden. Gruden has a history of getting the best out of his signal-callers. He took Rich Gannon deep into the playoffs, before being stopped being stopped by the Tuck Rule, and won a Super Bowl with Brad Johnson. Gruden even somehow got into the playoffs in 2005 with Brian Griese and Chris Simms leading the offense. Carr may have taken a step back in 2017. However, he is in far superior hands now than he was a year prior.
The Raiders beat the Chiefs…Twice
The curse was broken last year as the Raiders beat the Chiefs in Week 7 in an absolute doozy of game. Unfortunately, that was about the only thing that went right last year. 2018 is a new year though and the Patrick Mahomes-led Chiefs are in for a world of hurt. The teams will meet first in Week 13 in Oakland then again in Week 17 at Arrowhead. Kansas City is going through a bit of an identity crisis currently. They realized Alex Smith wasn’t good enough for them to win a Super Bowl. However, Alex Smith was perfect for the Chiefs because he never made major mistakes that hurt the Chiefs. The Chiefs let other teams fall apart, not really beat other teams. This mindset will have to change with Mahomes because he is going to throw interceptions. He threw 25 in his final two college seasons. This isn’t an astronomical amount but it is a lot when you consider he was playing in the BIG 12, a conference that Geno Smith absolutely annihilated his senior year.
Also, the Raiders poached former Chiefs star Derrick Johnson. Not only will he help secure our linebacking core but he should also provide some knowledge of Kansas City. Oh, and the Chiefs jettisoned Marcus Peters. The Silver & Black are going to sweep them.
The Offensive Line Doesn’t Improve from Last Year
In 2016, the Raiders had a Top 5 Offensive Line. Last year, the unit was about average. Unfortunately, this will not change in 2018. Donald Penn is coming off injury and isn’t getting younger. An expectation of improvement from him is foolish. Penn will still be solid but won’t be dominant like he was in 2016. Kelechi Osemele and Rodney Hudson are studs, they will continue to do studly things. Gabe Jackson should be better now that the Raiders will use more power schemes but he is just an alright pass blocker. Kolton Miller and Brandon Parker aren’t ready at RT.
Miller wasn’t a superstar at UCLA and Parker struggled at the Senior Bowl and didn’t play powerhouses at NC A&T. Plus, Miller has been working at LT. Breno Giacomini, David Sharpe, Vadal Alexander, and Denver Kirkland are the other options at RT. The battle for right tackle should go deep into training camp. My early guess is Miller winds up starting at RT but I’m not a big fan of his. His college tape is inconsistent. He didn’t seem physical, played high, and his feet didn’t look as good as they did in the Combine.
Overall, the offensive line play won’t improve much from last year, even with the additions of a 1st and 3rd round picks.