According to ESPN reporter Bill Williamson, Oakland Raiders owner Mark Davis is prepared to make bold moves in the offseason to bring the franchise back to prominence. One of these foreseen bold moves shouldn’t include firing current general manager Reggie McKenzie.
McKenzie has done a terrific job with the last two drafts. During his tenure, a total of eight players selected had a major impact on the 2014 Raiders team. Despite a poor 3-12 record, some players on the roster are worthy of being impact players for the franchise going forward.
There are some restless Raiders fans calling for McKenzie’s job:
Here's another anti-McKenzie tweet:
The record is atrocious, but the process of development will be a slow progression rather than a quick turnaround. McKenzie has successfully moved the team in the right direction, and the proof is evident when analyzing the 2013 and 2014 draft classes.
Here are some impact players chosen by Oakland’s heavily criticized general manager.
What more can you ask for than finding your franchise quarterback? It’s the most important step in a quest for a championship in today’s NFL, where scoring points is essential in a fast-paced game. Carr has played well on a bad team, which is hard for anyone to do let alone a rookie signal-caller. The prospect out of Fresno State has been unflappable in his demeanor and his play on the field.
Carr has thrown 20 touchdowns to 11 interceptions this season. He has also shown improvement in pass precision, throwing only two interceptions in the last six games. Despite an 0-10 start, the rookie’s psyche wasn't phased, an example of leadership that should be revered.
Within the same draft, the Raiders found their leader on the defensive side of the ball. Khalil Mack isn’t a sack leader, but he’s a complete linebacker who can help the defense in multiple areas. ESPN Insider Adam Schefter gives some perspective:
Mack is the anchor of the Raiders defense as a rookie, and he still has room to improve. The fifth overall pick out of Buffalo is a versatile linebacker who can provide solid run support and continues to develop the ability to take down quarterbacks at the line of scrimmage.
Gabe Jackson is one the most underrated draft picks from 2014, performing on a high level as a rookie. Sports Illustrated writer Andy Benoit was able to highlight Jackson’s significance in the trenches on film:
Jackson isn’t getting the praise Dallas Cowboys guard Zack Martin is receiving this season. Nonetheless, when it comes to protecting the franchise quarterback, he’s a solid lineman in pass-blocking schemes, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
In a division with prominent pass-rushers like Von Miller, Justin Houston, Tamba Hali and Dwight Freeney, Carr will need protection.
Jackson started in 11 games this year. If the rookie guard makes a concerted effort to improve his run-blocking skills, he’ll be formidable interior lineman on every down.
McKenzie selected Travis Carrie as seventh-round pick, but he’s playing a significant role in two phases of the game in his first year. He has 541 kick return yards in a phase of the game that’s diminishing due to a higher frequency of touchbacks on kickoffs.
As a result of Carlos Rogers' injury in Week 8, per Kevin Patra of NFL.com, Carrie has started at cornerback. In five games, he has an interception, eight passes defensed, a fumble forced and two fumble recoveries.
Most seventh-round picks aren’t promoted off the practice squad let alone given significant snaps in the starting lineup; Carrie has exceeded expectations.
According to the San Jose Mercury News reporter Jerry McDonald, Carrie has been turning heads since training camp:
If rookie TJ Carrie keeps it up, his days of being under the radar are over.
It happened again Monday at Raiders training camp, when Carrie perfectly played a corner route by Andre Holmes during a passing drill, lightly flicking the ball away in the end zone.
Lightly recruited despite playing on a big stage locally for De La Salle High and lasting until the seventh round of the NFL draft out of Ohio University, Carrie has made a habit out of doing something in each of the first four days of practice that has turned the heads of coaches and teammates.
Looking at Carrie’s numbers in the starting lineup, it seems his preparation in training camp has translated onto the field on Sundays. Along with being a decent kick returner, Carrie is a candidate to solidify Oakland’s pass defense next season.
Oakland’s first overall pick last year was a bit risky. D.J. Hayden was still on the mend from a life-threatening injury. His rookie year was shortened as well as his sophomore year due to injury, but he’s currently getting significant game-time experience in nickel packages.
Yes, he has been burned in coverage this year, but he’s finally healthy. He’s comparable to New York Jets cornerback Dee Milliner. In both cases, you can see the potential when healthy. It’s not a coincidence Milliner and Hayden were the top two cornerbacks drafted in the 2013 draft. Unlike Milliner, who is on IR, Hayden continues to get quality snaps at cornerback this season.
As Hayden develops with experience, he’ll be able to co-anchor the Raiders pass defense. Thus far, he has one interception, six passes defensed and 32 tackles in seven games. Even though injuries have stunted his early growth, Hayden should be an impact player in 2015 with a complete offseason and more than 16 games of playing experience.
Standing next to Mack, Sio Moore is considered the Raiders' other really good young linebacker. ESPN reporter Williamson affirms that Moore’s intangibles and improvements deserve high praise:
Justifiably, much has been made about the Oakland Raiders’ solid rookie class.
But as the Raiders move forward, there is a key member from the 2013 class that is also looking like a core player for the franchise: Linebacker Sio Moore. The third-round pick is becoming a consistent playmaker. After having 50 tackles a rookie, Moore has 90 tackles in 13 games this season.
The energetic, fiery Moore is a reason why there has been some improvement on Oakland’s defense. Oakland interim coach Tony Sparano said Moore’s biggest improvements have been against the run.
Moore is the most consistent and productive prospect from the 2013 draft class. Before a hip injury derailed his season, Moore provided that emotional spark on defense that Mack lacked.
Moore is infamously connected to the ridiculous celebration behind the line of scrimmage en route to the Raiders' first win with Mack. Yes, it was unnecessary at that particular time, but the energy is needed for a franchise that has been lukewarm for over a decade. Most importantly, he inserts that emotion in his play.
In 14 games, he recorded three sacks and 67 tackles. The second-year linebacker is still in the process of developing into a complete linebacker. He doesn’t have the raw talent Mack possesses, but the combination of the two together will solidify the heart of the Raiders defense going forward.
The Raiders' 2013 sixth-round draft pick made contributions from day one. Tight end isn’t a glamour position, but Mychal Rivera has managed to turn heads on the field. He has topped his production from the previous year.
|Mychal Rivera's Career Production|
The majority of Rivera’s yards have come in the second half of the season, which is a good sign that Carr trusts him in passing schemes. The second-year tight end recorded his first career 100-yard game in Week 14 against a solid San Francisco 49ers defense.
Furthermore, his 6’3” 242-pound frame and a good set of hands have helped him emerge as a viable red-zone threat. All four of his touchdowns were caught in the second half of the season.
If he sharpens his pass-blocking skills in the offseason, he could become a more polished every-down tight end by the 2015 season.
Selected three picks before Rivera in the sixth round, Latavius Murray is the most intriguing pick of the last two draft classes. It wasn’t until this season Murray burst onto the scene, torching the Kansas City Chiefs with four carries propelling the Raiders to their first victory in nearly a calendar year.
Murray had a total of 54 rushing yards in his career before the Week 12 game against the Chiefs. Within five weeks, it’s a legitimate discussion he may be the Raiders' best running back on the roster. Murray has captivated the fans and coaches with his ability to run in between the tackles or find the edge and accelerate.
Maurice Jones-Drew has been ineffective, and Darren McFadden has been mediocre at best in 2014. Jones-Drew is a three-time Pro Bowler, and McFadden is a top-five pick from the 2008 draft, but it’s McKenzie’s sixth-round pick from 2013 garnering the most respect from defenders, teammates and coaches right now.
Even though it's a very small sample, the flashes Murray has shown in a short time could be enough to push him into the starting running back position next season.
The eight aforementioned former draft picks are on the right track or already contributing in significant roles. The Silver and Black must acknowledge McKenzie’s excellent draft decisions. Jim Harbaugh is speculated to be on Mark Davis’ wish list, but this shouldn’t mean the end for McKenzie.
Sure, the team hasn’t made the playoffs or accomplished a winning record, but the franchise continues to struggle with consistency at the head coach position. It wasn’t until this year that Oakland unofficially coronated a legitimate franchise quarterback.
The rebuilding process started with McKenzie’s choices in 2013. Firing him would essentially move the Raiders away from steady progress back into the unknown.
Lack of stability has set Oakland back a decade. The organization is still in need of a good head coach, but McKenzie’s position as general manager should be viewed as safe considering the talent he has compiled through the draft.
Advanced statistics and draft classes provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com