4 Bold (and Slightly Less Bold) Predictions for the 2014 Oakland Raiders
Who's ready for some Oakland Raiders football?
Even though we are still months away from the start of 2014 regular season, credit the NFL's carefully constructed offseason for keeping fans on pins and needles.
The closer we get to the start of training camp, the easier it will be to understand what's in store for the Silver and Black.
All know we now that is that head coach Dennis Allen and general manager Reggie McKenzie are going to be on the hot seat.
Despite their best efforts to infuse this team with talent, what matters most is progress. Another four-win season or worse will spell the end of days for that tandem.
So what can we expect out of this new-look version of the Raiders?
After surveying the team's roster and breaking down recent news reports that have surfaced, I offer this look at four bold and four slightly less bold predictions for the 2014 season.
Bold: Matt Schaub Will Start the Entire Season at Quarterback
Will the Raiders actually stick to their plan when it comes to the quarterback position?
Taking Fresno State's Derek Carr in the second round of the draft puts a significant amount of pressure on veteran Matt Schaub.
Young quarterbacks rarely redshirt anymore. That's just how it works.
The Raiders' plan leading into the summer has been to start Schaub, while Carr matures and gets a better feel for the game.
"It'll take something 'catastrophic' for Raiders rookie QB Derek Carr to start this year. Coach Dennis Allen is firmly committed to Schaub," ESPN's Jim Trotter tweeted when discussing the situation.
According to NFL.com's Albert Breer, it may be time to pump the brakes when it comes to all of that talk about Schaub being the Day 1 starter. "There's now an internal belief he'll be pushed by rookie Derek Carr," Breer reported.
Based on how rookie quarterbacks have been used in recent years and the fact that Oakland may not be in contention for a playoff spot come late November, projecting Schaub to start 16 games in 2014 is definitely a bold prediction.
Less Bold: Derek Carr Will Get His Chance to Shine
We talked about Derek Carr reportedly already pushing Matt Schaub during OTAs, according to NFL.com's Chris Wesseling. With training camp and the preseason on the horizon, Carr will eventually get his chance to shine.
Before throwing him into the fire, you have to consider the weapons around him.
When scouting the Fresno State quarterback, NFL.com's Nolan Nawrocki wrote, "[He] will be a starter sooner rather than later and the degree to which he’s able to make those around him better will determine his ceiling."
That line of copy speaks volumes.
Carr needs to be surrounded by a group of players who can help him elevate his game. The last thing the Raiders can afford is to have a torpid offense dragging him down.
The logical decision to start Schaub, see what this offense can do and then swap in Carr at a later date makes sense on paper. The problem is, if he outplays the veteran signal-caller, it's going to be hard to sit him.
We already know that Carr is going to mesmerize fans with his arm strength and smooth delivery. But learning the playbook, adjusting to the speed of the game and understanding how to deal with pressure are really important.
Once he's comfortable with of that, the starting job will come to his locker on a Silver and Black platter.
Bold: Darren McFadden Will Play All 16 Games
Longtime running back Darren McFadden's decision to return to the Raiders on a one-year deal initially came as a surprise.
However, as soon as we saw the dwindling market value for running backs and combined that with his past injury history, the deal made a lot of sense.
He has a level of comfort with the Raiders. He's spent his entire NFL career in the Bay Area.
Having the talent to succeed has never been an issue. His problem has always been his persistent duel with the injury bug.
Dating back to his debut season in 2008, Run DMC has never been able to shoulder a full 16-game schedule. Over the last three seasons, he's played just 29 out of a possible 48 games.
The veteran halfback may have already extinguished his chances of landing another marquee contract. But if he wants a shot to make extra money in 2015, a rebound season is a must.
Bold prediction: His ailments somehow dissipate, allowing him to play the entire season without restriction.
If that turns out to be the case, the rushing attack could be in for a fruitful year.
Less Bold: The Raiders Won't Have a 1,000-Yard Rusher
If this was 2009, the Raiders' ground game would be the most feared unit in the NFL.
Sadly, it's not 2009, and veteran halfbacks Maurice Jones-Drew and Darren McFadden aren't as explosive as they once were.
Still, that doesn't mean they're scrubs.
Jones-Drew is an experienced runner who will be useful for this club, while McFadden is still capable of producing in spurts.
Second-year man Latavius Murray and former CFL star Kory Sheets are also two players who won't go unnoticed this summer.
But when you put all of that running back talent together, what you get is a formula that won't produce a single 1,000-yard rusher.
As a group, they should easily achieve that feat. Individually, it's going to be difficult, unless one halfback busts out of the pack and becomes the clear-cut No. 1 option.
Bold: LaMarr Woodley Will Finish the Season with More Than 10 Sacks
The Raiders' resurgent effort to strengthen their defense was the best chapter of McKenzie's offseason plan.
Veteran defensive linemen like Justin Tuck and Antonio Smith will not only provide this program with talent, but their leadership off the field will totally change the look and feel of the locker room.
Of all the free-agent signings, former Pittsburgh Steelers 3-4 edge-rusher LaMarr Woodley could wind up being the best addition of them all.
His conversion to a 4-3 defensive end will be one of the focal points in training camp.
His development will allow the coaching staff to come up with creative ways to turn the pocket into a place of terror for quarterbacks.
Woodley's last three seasons have shown that he's way less of a stat-sheet stuffer than he had been in years past. With just 18 sacks in that span, it's tough to consider him an elite edge-rusher anymore.
If you take deeper scan using advanced analytics, you'll see that he hasn't fallen off as much as you'd think.
Pro Football Focus' (subscription required) data show that when he's healthy, he can still be a useful resource.
Finishing his 2013 season with a positive 10.8 grade, Woodley wasn't given nearly as many opportunities to rush the quarterback as he was just a few seasons ago.
That year he went after quarterbacks on 504 snaps while helping out in run defense situations just 379 times.
It may be a strong prediction, but if his hand stays in the dirt and he can stay healthy, Woodley may finally have a chance to get back to double-digit sacks this season.
Less Bold: Khalil Mack Will Win Defensive Rookie of the Year
When he dropped to the Raiders at pick No. 5, it was the ultimate blessing.
He took away McKenzie's option to go for an "obscure" name early or even trade back into the draft. Instead, the GM buckled down and took the best defensive player not named Jadeveon Clowney.
Predicting Mack to win Rookie of the Year honors isn't a stretch. In fact, the odds are in his favor. Since 2006, six linebackers have won the award.
Aiding Mack's chances of tossing the hardware on his mantle is a veteran defensive line. Playing behind those guys will give him plenty of opportunities to pad his stats and make an impact.
The biggest reason why he has a shot to win this thing is because he's hungry.
The Raiders should be in for quite the ride with Mack slated to be a focal point of the defense. He's just too skilled and savvy not to be considered a heavy favorite to win the Defensive Rookie of the Year award.
Bold: The Raiders Will Win Nine Games
Everything the Raiders have done this offseason warrants optimism. From free agency to the draft, McKenzie has given this roster a new identity.
It's difficult to picture the Raiders making the playoffs in 2014—it doesn't help that they play in a division that produced three AFC playoff teams just a season ago.
But if you want to make a bold prediction, how about forecasting the Raiders to shock the world and win nine games this year?
Oakland's 2014 schedule is unforgiving.
The path to nine victories starts with winning some division games.
Last season the Raiders won just one time in their division, beating the San Diego Chargers 27-17 in Week 5.
Rattling off nine wins won't be easy. Despite a series of winnable games, the real test is going to be playing with a level of consistency.
Coach Allen knows that starting fresh isn't easy. During his recap on how OTAs went, he spoke to reporters about progress, per Raiders.com: "One, just coming together as a team. We’ve got significant turnover on this football team from where we were last year, so I think that’s been the most significant progress."
Is nine wins a stretch? Probably. But it's the NFL. Crazier things have happened.
Less Bold: The Raiders Will Win More Than Five Games
Even if the Raiders can't figure out a way to win nine games next season, they should be able to pick up at least five wins.
Collectively, the roster is much improved from last year's team. There's more stability at the quarterback position, and the defensive line as a whole should be stout.
It'll take time for this team to mesh with so many new faces in town, but judging by the amount of talent on the roster, winning more than five games is a very realistic option for this franchise.
We discussed the brutal schedule the Raiders are facing in detail in the previous slide.
Voyaging through choppy waters won't be easy, but the improvements to both sides of the ball will give this team a chance to compete every week.
Finding five potential wins on the schedule isn't as difficult as you may think.
Games against the New York Jets, Houston Texans, Cleveland Browns, Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins are all winnable. With six divisional games on tap as well, a path to five wins is staring the Raiders directly in the face.
Whether they take advantage of that or not remains to be seen.