Float like a butterfly, sting like AB. After being featured on this season of Hard Knocks, football fans across the country have been able to get a behind-the-scenes look at what this 2019 Raider’s team might look like. After finishing 4-12 last season at the bottom of the AFC West, Jon Gruden and the black and silver squad have a lot of work to do before they can consider themselves a legitimate threat to make the playoffs. Though some big-name, notable off-season acquisitions are expected to elevate the franchise, the Raiders defense, ranking dead last in the NFL in points allowed in 2018 (almost 30 points a game), will need to step up big time if they want any chance at making it out of the dangerous AFC West. General Manager Mike Mayock will be hoping for a successful last season in Oakland before making the move to Las Vegas, but there are still tons of questions to be answered before the team takes the field next Monday against the division rival Denver Broncos.
The Raiders were able to hold on to their premier players for the most part, however, their first departure this off-season was a big one. GM Mike Mayock traded away one of their best OL Kelechi Osemele to the New York Jets in early March for a 5th-round pick. Osemele was a solid player on the Raider’s offensive line last year and, though they still have Gabe Jackson and Rodney Hudson, his presence from the interior will be missed greatly. Oakland also waived WR’s Seth Roberts and Jordy Nelson. The next big-name to be cut was a veteran OT, Donald Penn. After a disappointing season last year where he graded at 47.0 overall according to Pro Football Focus, the Raiders cut Penn to free up some cap space and open a roster spot for one of their biggest additions that came over from New England.
Oakland added a plethora of good, solid players to their roster this off-season, starting with the big one Antonio Brown. Brown is a game-changer, a guy who can take the top off a defense and stretch the field but also find his spots with exceptional route-running and incredible hands. He can beat man-to-man press coverage off the line, can anticipate different coverages and wiggle his way into open space on the field, and blow by the secondary with remarkable after-the-catch abilities. Brown is a top-5 receiver in the NFL and Derek Carr will enjoy throwing him the ball 10 times a game. The Raiders also got a hold of a replacement for Seth Roberts and Jordy Nelson when they signed free agent WR Tyrell Williams. Williams is a big dude, and he plays like it too. At 6’4 and 200 pounds, he loves to high-point the football and go after deep balls, something that Oakland lacked from their passing game last year. Oakland paid top dollar for New England’s former OT Trent Brown and, as one of the leagues top tackles in the game, he will be counted on to anchor the line and keep Carr up-right. He will need a fantastic season to make up for the money they spent on the RT, but he should be able to produce on the field adequately. The additions through the draft might just have the Raider’s fans most excited, however. It’s true, Clelin Ferrell was not expected to go top-5 in the draft, or even top-10 for that matter. But Mayock and Gruden had a plan, they had a vision, and they went after the smart, high character football players from respected collegiate programs to build this team around. After taking Ferrell with the 4th pick, Oakland also selected RB Josh Jacobs and S Jonathan Abram in the first round. Add these guys to Trayvon Mullen and Maxx Crosby and the rookies for Oakland are poised to make a significant contribution from day one. Vontaze Burfict was an underrated signing and he should be able to anchor the middle of that defense. Newcomer Corey Luiget, who was just signed a few days ago, is expected to carve out a steady role behind P.J. Hall and Maurice Hurst.
The Oakland Raiders had a busy and exciting off-season this year. Amid all the Antonio Brown drama, the cameras of Hard Knocks circulating the building, and critiques of the draft class, the Raiders seem to be in a good place right now. They may be in one of the toughest divisions in football, but they may finally have the star-power and coaching staff to take the next step this year. After a disappointing 4-12 last-place finish a year ago, this team looks completely different, with new faces everywhere and a new attitude to get the job done. The key to this season is the improvement and development of Derek Carr. As one of the highest-paid QB’s in the NFL, Carr needs to show that he is worth the price tag if he wants to stick around for the move to Vegas. “Knock on wood if you’re with me”.
The Raiders are in a tough spot. The AFC West features two teams that are expected to make the playoffs in the Chargers and Chiefs. Even with their new additions, the talent on this team is quite far behind what the Chargers and Chiefs currently possess. Denver is an interesting team as well, and expect the Raiders and Broncos to be battling it out for that #3 spot in the division this year. Looking at the schedule, the Raiders have a tough task to take on the NFC North this season. The Vikings, Packers, and Bears all before week 8 make it difficult to project the Raiders with a winning record at the half-way mark. Facing the Chiefs and Chargers twice will give them another 4 losses on the season, and Oakland will need to sweep the Broncos to make any kind of playoff push this year. Facing the Texans and Titans will be no easy task as well and the Raiders, unfortunately, have the most difficult strength of schedule in the entire league.
They did enough to keep the fan-base excited and optimistic, however many people outside of the organization have low expectations for this team. Expect a range of 5-8 wins for Oakland this year. There are some winnable games including the Colts, Lions, Bengals, and Jets, but aside from those teams, the Raiders will be facing some serious contenders throughout 2019. All eyes will be on the stars, like Carr, AB, Jacobs, Abram, Ferrell and others. It is up to the core of the team to take the next step and reach the level that coach Gruden expects them to reach by the end of the year. To be honest, Jon Gruden is not the kind of guy you want to disappoint. Though the win projection might be low, expect the Raiders to fight until the end, and prove some haters wrong this time around.