Breaking Down the New Faces on the 2014 Oakland Raiders
The positive changes have been made in their areas of most significant need, giving the roster a completely different look than that of one year ago.
While they may not project to be a playoff team just yet, the talent brought in this offseason should indeed make for some improvement in the win column and have them remain competitive throughout.
Here is a look at some of the Raiders’ new faces that should have the biggest impact in 2014.
After a down year for both he and the Texans in 2013, Matt Schaub became available for trade at a more than affordable price this offseason.
In need of a veteran quarterback regardless of what they would later do in the draft, the Raiders made the move to acquire him for a sixth-round selection, and he is in line to start this season.
While many will assume otherwise, it is entirely possible that with a fresh start and a new offensive system, Schaub is able to rebound to his play of years past.
The NFL is indeed about what you have done lately when it comes to player evaluations, but that difficult year is an outlier in his otherwise solid career overall.
In the five years prior, Schaub never finished with a quarterback rating below 90, and he threw for more than 4,000 yards in each of the three seasons he played all 16 games.
He won’t be expected to put the team on his back but playing that kind of solid game and taking care of the ball is what the Raiders have long needed at the position.
Should it become clear early on that Schaub’s play moving forward will be closer to that of 2013 than anything else, the Raiders can turn to their quarterback of the future in Derek Carr.
However, if Schaub’s presence has the impact the team is hoping for, and he can get back to his previous level of play, the Raiders will have made a significant short-term upgrade, at the game’s most important position, for quite a small price.
Austin Howard ended up being the Raiders’ first signing of the 2014 free-agency period, yet just may be their most underrated to this point.
New players at quarterback, on the defensive line and in the secondary are getting plenty of attention, and deservedly so, but Howard could end up having quite an impact himself.
While signing him to play guard was a bit of a surprise given his career experience at right tackle, the staff clearly saw his powerful run-blocking ability as a fit inside.
Given the struggles of their interior offensive line in both the run and pass games last year, a potentially significant upgrade here is exactly what the unit needed.
At the very least, Howard gives the Raiders yet another versatile lineman to add to the group, but his skill set suggests he could even become a better guard than he was tackle.
Addressing the pass rush was once again one of the Raiders’ top priorities heading into this offseason, and that became clear with both their free-agent signings and draft additions.
Justin Tuck was the first veteran player signed to help the unit, and he should have an impact in a number of ways in 2014.
A two-time Super Bowl champion with the Giants, Tuck has not only been part of winning teams, but he has played key roles in dominant pass rush units for which as well.
While his production has dropped off somewhat in recent seasons, his 9.5 sacks over the last six games of 2013 show that the ability is certainly still there.
Having the versatility to play in a number of spots up front, Tuck will likely start at left end for the Raiders, while moving inside to tackle in nickel pass-rush situations.
His veteran presence and leadership will undoubtedly be key for a rebuilding team, but Tuck will be one of many new Raiders players looking to prove they still have plenty left to offer this season.
The second veteran free agent added to the mix to help the pass rush, LaMarr Woodley will also be relied upon heavily in 2014.
A seven-year pro, he was a key part of a dominant defense in Pittsburgh for many years, as well as their most recent Super Bowl championship team.
Woodley has 57 career sacks, and although he has seen his production tail off of late, much of which can be attributed to some injury troubles in recent seasons.
When healthy, he can be just as disruptive off the edge, and that is exactly what the Raiders need from their weak side defensive end.
The transition from rush linebacker to that defensive end spot will be an interesting one to follow, but it is something he did in college, and at an extremely high level at that.
Either way, Woodley’s main job will be to get after the quarterback and playing with his hand in the dirt should allow for more opportunities to do so.
The Raiders’ first-round selection of the 2014 draft, Khalil Mack will be expected to contribute in a big way from day one.
In line to start at strong side linebacker, he will likely have a role quite similar to that of Von Miller in Denver, moving down to defensive end on passing downs.
While it shouldn’t be overlooked that Mack can be effective both against the run and in coverage as a linebacker, it is that role as a pass-rusher where he will make his presence felt the most.
His rare quickness and strength coming off the edge is what made him a top draft prospect, and it was a surprise to most that he was even available at fifth overall.
Working in his favor as a rookie are the improvements the Raiders have been able to make to the defensive front overall, allowing him to be part of a rotation with several established veterans.
With his skill set and the situation he is coming into, despite being a rookie, Mack could be one of the Raiders’ top impact players added this offseason.
Upgrading at cornerback was another of the Raiders’ main priorities this offseason, and they were able to do so in signing Tarell Brown.
A former 49er, Brown is another established veteran joining the Silver and Black after being part of a consistently dominant defensive unit and, again, a winning team.
Early projections will have him holding the starting left cornerback job opposite D.J. Hayden, where he will most often draw the opponent’s No. 1 receiver.
Holding his own in such a role will be key for the Raiders’ defense overall, as the secondary struggled significantly throughout 2013, and it only seemed to get worse as the season went on.
Brown gives the Raiders the best cornerback they have had in several years, and he should have a significant impact in 2014.