Free agency is over. Maybe not technically, but all the top players are off the market, and signings have slowed to a crawl. Only a few stragglers remain of fringe-starter quality, who likely priced themselves out of the market early or have other serious flaws.
The Oakland Raiders signed 10 players, which is by far the most in the league. General manager Reggie McKenzie added starters, role players and backups, but it’s what he didn’t add that is the most notable.
He didn’t sign a wide receiver or a pass-rusher, crystallizing the Raiders’ two biggest needs. They will target both positions in the draft, but the bigger of the two needs might be what breaks a tie at No. 4 overall.
There are valid arguments on either side of the debate. Finding weapons for quarterback Derek Carr should be a priority, but so should figuring out how to get to the opposing quarterback more than 3.9 percent of the time. The reality is the Raiders must find help in both areas.
Many people forget about wide receiver Rod Streater, whom the team liked enough to give the second-round tender this offseason as a restricted free agent. Two years ago, Streater had 888 receiving yards while catching passes from Terrelle Pryor and Matt McGloin. He was hurt for most of last year, but he was probably the team’s best receiver.
Andre Holmes ended up being the team’s leading receiver in 2014, but as a restricted free agent, the Raiders chose to place the lowest tender on him. Since he was undrafted, the Raiders would get no compensation if he chose to sign elsewhere, although they could match the offer.
|Oakland's WR Depth Chart with 2014 Stats|
|Pro-Football-Reference.com; age for 2015 season|
James Jones was a close second in receiving yardage last season, but he’ll be 31 next season. He’s never been anything more than a good No. 2 receiver, and preferably, he’s a No. 3 option.
For depth, the Raiders have Brice Butler and Kenbrell Thompkins. Both are young players who have had some NFL success, but no one expects them to be No. 1 receivers.
Other than Jones, the Raiders don’t have a receiver on the roster drafted before the seventh round. Streater, Holmes, Thompkins and Seth Roberts were all undrafted free agents.
Although it happens, it’s unlikely any of these players are going to grow into a No. 1 receiver. Streater probably has the best chance due to his size, speed and route-running ability. He’s actually on an elite list of players who have averaged over 14.4 yards per catch on over 100 receptions the last three seasons.
|Raiders' Top Receivers Since 2002|
|Charlie Garner (RB)||2002||111||91||941||Yes|
|Jerry Porter||2004 & 2005||136||64||998 & 942||No|
Oakland’s last 1,000-yard receiver was Randy Moss in 2005, and it wasn’t by much. Moss had just 1,005 yards. Before that, it was Jerry Rice in 2002. That means the Raiders have had exactly one 1,000-yard receiver since their last winning season.
It’s been perfectly clear the Raiders need a true No. 1 receiver for years. When a lazy Moss, Jerry Porter and Darrius Heyward-Bey own the team’s best receiving-yardage seasons over the past 12 years, there is a problem.
As far as the draft goes, the Raiders could wait until the second round to look into a wide receiver, but what if a true No. 1 is off the board? Would another No. 2 type of receiver be enough to help Carr and take the pressure off Streater, Jones and company?
Probably not, because the Raiders don’t need a wide receiver; they need a No. 1 bona fide go-to weapon who can take over games.
Last season, there were not many teams worse than the Raiders at getting after the quarterback. Their 3.9 sack percentage was 30th in the entire league. Their sack leader was veteran defensive end Justin Tuck with five.
The Raiders haven’t had a player with at least 10 sacks since Derrick Burgess and Warren Sapp in 2006. Burgess also had 16 in 2005, but the Raiders otherwise haven’t had any other 10-sack players since their last winning season.
Over the past decade, the game has only gotten more and more pass-heavy. In 2003, teams were passing around 32 times per game on average, but now we’re up to around 35 pass attempts per game. Even for a team like the Raiders, that should translate into two additional sacks.
Except the Raiders don’t have a sack artist. They don’t have someone who can come screaming off the edge. The additional attempts aren’t turning into additional sacks for the Raiders, just additional completions.
Since 2003, there have been 208 players who have reached 10 sacks in a season, and only 1.4 percent of them played for the Raiders. Their fair share would be 3.1 percent, more than twice as many 10-sack seasons as they have.
For as good as rookie outside linebacker Khalil Mack was in 2014, he only had four sacks. Pass-rushing is an area of his game that needs to develop in Year 2. The good news is it isn’t unprecedented for a player to improve significantly from Year 1 to Year 2 when it comes to getting after the quarterback.
Last year’s two sack leaders were Kansas City Chiefs outside linebacker Justin Houston and Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt, who both had 5.5 sacks in their rookie seasons. Robert Quinn of the St. Louis Rams has three consecutive 10-sack seasons, but he had just five his rookie season.
|Sophomore Slump Busters|
|Players||Rookie Sacks||Sophomore Sacks|
That’s a lofty comparison for Mack, but he should be able to improve his sack total in 2015. The Raiders brought in defensive tackle Dan Williams, who should help draw attention away from Mack alongside Antonio Smith and Tuck. Linebacker Sio Moore can also help as a blitzer.
Collectively, the Raiders can get better rushing the passer, but it’s not as if they weren’t in good position to do so in 2014. The Raiders were the seventh-best defense in the league in yards to go on third down. Even when the score was within a touchdown, the Raiders managed to keep teams in bad position on third down.
Ultimately, third-down defense was not their undoing in 2014. The Raiders’ 38.5 conversion percentage allowed on third down was 14th in the league. Despite low sack numbers, the Raiders were doing an average job getting off the field on third down.
For a rebuilding team, a pass-rusher may be more of a luxury than a necessity at this point. Mack should improve, and Williams should help. There’s no doubt it’s still a need, but at least when compared to the need for a top receiver, the need for a pass-rusher doesn’t seem to be as pressing.
Then you have to consider the likelihood a rookie is really going to be a sack artist right away. Over the past 10 years, there have been eight rookies to get to 10 sacks—none since outside linebackers Von Miller and Aldon Smith in 2011.
There have been six rookie receivers over the same period with 1,000 yards, but four have come in the last two years. There was also comparable number of 1,000-yard receivers and 10-sack defenders in the NFL last year, so neither position has a significant edge when it comes to NFL rarity.
Since the pass rush didn’t prevent the Raiders from getting off the field last season—Mack should improve, and they should be even better on early downs with Williams in the fold—wide receiver is probably the bigger need right now.
A rookie wide receiver can come in and play a lot right away for the Raiders, but a rookie pass-rusher is going to be a part-time player in Oakland, assuming everyone stays healthy.
Unless otherwise noted, all statistics via Pro-Football-Reference.com.