Breaking Down the Oakland Raiders' Roster After the 2015 NFL Draft
NFL coaches rarely spill the beans on future plans for players. Oakland Raiders coach Jack Del Rio gave some insight on his plans for the starting lineup as a well as one of Oakland’s most controversial picks of the draft.
Three days after the draft, NFL teams are at the very beginning stages of pinpointing starters and defining roles heading into minicamp. The Raiders seemed to have some things all figured out. In an interview with the NFL Network (via the team’s official website) at the three-minute, 33-second mark, Del Rio says he expects the top four draft picks to earn their starting roles in the offseason.
Together we’ll go through the potential starters for the 2015 season. We’ll also highlight the potential roles for the newest draft class.
Starter: Derek Carr
Duh! What’s intriguing here is Raiders’ brass really focused on building around Carr as the centerpiece. Just when you thought it was all about defense, the Raiders drafted offensive skill players with three out of the first four draft picks. All of whom will benefit the second-year QB in a significant manner.
Carr has been tabbed the franchise quarterback. I’m guilty of this too, but this year will show if he truly is the QB of the Raiders’ future.
Quarterbacks have come into the league with much promise and flamed out after a year or two in recent reference to Robert Griffin III, a former Offensive Rookie of the Year and Colin Kaepernick, who led his team to two NFC Championship games and one Super Bowl.
The Raiders’ front office seems hellbent on bringing Carr to the next level. His numbers should significantly improve with the infusion of talent on the offensive line and wide receiving corps.
Starter: Trent Richardson
Most people would pencil in Latavius Murray as the clear-cut starter, but I feel as though Del Rio wants a more experienced and battle-tested player to get the engine running in backfield.
According to ESPN’s Bill Williamson, Del Rio made reference to Murray as not quite ready to be the starter in Oakland:
In the most interesting comments of the session, Del Rio said Murray needs to work on his football awareness and football IQ to enhance his tremendous skills. Del Rio said the staff can help Murray get to where they want him to be.
There were rumblings that the previous coaching staff was not satisfied with Murray's readiness. Let's face it: There was a reason why Murray didn't get a chance to play until the second half of the season, with the Raiders still winless.
Richardson comes in with prior, albeit minimal, success, dating back to his rookie year with the Cleveland Browns. The Raiders added a large-framed offensive lineman in draft, who excels at power run blocking. He should be an accessory to the coaching staff attempting to resuscitate Richardson’s career as a fierce rusher between the tackles.
Murray will still have a significant workload splitting just about half the carries with Richardson. Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave will likely go with the hot hand between the two RBs in any given game.
Roy Helu and Marcel Reece should see touches primarily as pass-catching RBs out of the backfield. Last season, Helu recorded 42 receptions for 477 yards and two touchdowns. Reece had 37 receptions for 265 yards and two touchdowns.
Starters: Amari Cooper/Rod Streater
Essentially, Carr gets two new weapons at wide receiver (WR). Streater only played three games and caught nine passes in 2014. He signed a one-year, $2.35 million deal with the Raiders in the offseason, per Spotrac.
As a result, WR Denarius Moore was expendable. He signed a one-year, $825,000 deal with the Cincinnati Bengals. Moore has a more proven resume than Streater, but the Raiders are hoping Streater replicates his 2013 campaign. In that season, he led all Raiders receivers with 888 yards and was second to Moore in touchdowns. Oakland is hoping to capitalize off Streater's ability to run after the catch.
Cooper will step in and pay immediate dividends for the offense. He’ll become a versatile No. 1 receiver similar to Antonio Brown of the Pittsburgh Steelers. He can line up in a variety of positions and run exceptional pass routes to free himself all over the field.
The two reserve roles are just as important to mention here because they will play large role in the renovation of the passing attack. Michael Crabtree has a one-year deal to prove he’s capable of making an impact. According to CSNBayArea.com reporter Scott Bair, McKenzie also didn’t waste any time approaching Carr’s former Fresno State teammate Josh Harper about joining the team as an undrafted free agent.
The Raiders will field one of the more talented WR corps in the league. There’s versatility, speed, familiarity and experience at Carr’s disposal. It’ll be difficult for defenses to key in on one receiver if Carr spreads the ball adequately.
As a footnote to this position, CSNBayArea.com reporter Fallon Smith broke news via Twitter that James Jones will be released.
Starter: Clive Walford
Jermaine Gresham is now a past tense issue. Walford is one of the players Del Rio expects to earn his starting spot on the 2015 roster.
The Miami tight end's pass-catching ability will become another developmental aid for Carr. He can also be a solid pass protector and inline run-blocker if necessary. The versatility he brings to the position should be enough to overtake Mychal Rivera, who is more of a one-dimensional pass-catching TE.
In my opinion, Walford was one of the most underrated picks of the draft, but he won't go unnoticed in the Raiders offense.
|Left Tackle||Donald Penn|
|Left Guard||Gabe Jackson|
|Right Guard||Jon Feliciano|
|Right Tackle||Austin Howard|
The Raiders will maintain 60 percent of their offensive line from 2014. Donald Penn and Gabe Jackson will protect the left side of the offensive line. Austin Howard will shift out to right tackle.
The Raiders signed Rodney Hudson, the third-best overall center in the league, per Pro Football Focus. The most intriguing position is the right guard. Khalif Barnes will likely serve in a reserve role to fourth-round pick Jon Feliciano, whom offensive line coach Mike Tice favors greatly, per Raiders.com writer Eddie Paskal.
There was buzz the Raiders jumped too quickly to draft Feliciano, but Tice really saw something in the Miami guard from the moment they met at the NFL Scouting Combine. Feliciano is a big gritty guard who resembles the type of lineman Richardson ran behind in his Alabama glory days. The Raiders are clearly trying to balance the attack between Carr and the backfield.
|Left Defensive End||Justin Tuck|
|Defensive Tackle||Dan Williams|
|Defensive Tackle||Justin Ellis|
|Right Defensive End||Mario Edwards Jr.|
Here’s where things get interesting. And it should for a team that allowed 119.4 rushing yards per game and only recorded 22 sacks. Tuck will retain his position off the edge as well as Ellis in the middle as a run-stopper.
Williams was signed in the offseason as another piece to a revamp the run defense. He was the eighth-ranked run-stopping defensive tackle in 2014, according to PFF. Together with Ellis, the Raiders have 664 pounds of mass up front. Expect a significant drop in rushing yards allowed in 2015.
Edwards will play on the opposite side of Tuck on the defensive line. To Del Rio’s dismay, Edwards revealed a bit about his prospective role with the Raiders, per the team’s official website:
Mario Edwards Jr. had said you guys told him he might play the Leo position. What type of role do you envision for him?
Coach Del Rio: "Yeah, I’m not sure which of our coaches got carried away with disclosing what we’re going to do with him before I could tell him to button it up. (laughing) We’ll address that.
"We’re going to get him here and plug him in and let him learn to play defensive end, defensive tackle, Leo, closed end, whatever it is we decide makes the most sense for us and for him. We think he’s a really good football player. We’re looking forward to getting our hands on him and getting to work."
Versatility is the key here, but it’ll be predicated on Edwards’ conditioning. As mentioned, he could be moved around the defensive line or used as a hybrid defensive end/linebacker ("Leo" position).
First and foremost, Edwards' primary position will be defensive end (DE). Given his struggles with weight he can be moved inside to tackle as a 3-4 DE or float around as a linebacker if he shreds some excess weight. It’ll be interesting to see where he fits in, but at this point it’s still hard to tell where exactly Edwards lines up other than as a 3-technique DE in a 4-3 or a 5-technique DE in a 3-4.
Sixth-round pick Max Valles is the wild card here. He’s not expected to make an immediate impact. However, defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. has an exceptional track record working with linebackers in Seattle for the past five seasons. Valles should flourish under his guidance in a rotational role.
|Strong-side Linebacker||Khalil Mack|
|Inside Linebacker||Curtis Lofton|
|Weak-side Linebacker||Sio Moore|
The Raiders’ linebacker corps is the most solid unit on defense. Mack will start as an outside linebacker and make his presence known as a DE in sub-packages, per Williamson. This season, Mack will have the added pressure of providing a spark to the pass rush. Outside of Tuck at DE, Mack is most capable of bringing down the QB.
According to McKenzie via Bair, Moore had a ‘major surgery’ to his hip but should be ready to go by training camp:
He should be ready. There’s nothing negative to suggest that he won’t be ready for training camp. He had major surgery, so it’s going to take him awhile to get back. We’re not going to have him push through just to have him ready for the start of OTAs. We’re not going to do that.
We’ll be smart about it. We’re going to let him rehab and get strong. Barring any setbacks, he should be ready by training camp.
McKenzie doesn’t seem overly concerned with Moore’s recovery process. Nonetheless, those reps will be important for the younger group of linebackers and hybrid players drafted, which include Ben Heeney and Neiron Ball.
Monday, LB Miles Burris expressed his farewells to Raiders Nation via Instagram, which opens a solid reserve-role opportunity.
Curtis Lofton will step in as the starting inside linebacker in his first year with Oakland on a three-year, $18 million deal. In a switch to a 3-4 defense, there would be in open competition to fill a linebacker spot next to Lofton among younger linebackers/hybrids Smith, Heeney, Valles and Ball.
|Left Cornerback||D.J. Hayden|
|Free Safety||Charles Woodson|
|Strong Safety||Nate Allen|
|Right Cornerback||Travis Carrie|
The Raiders’ best defensive back on the roster, Nate Allen, was signed in the offseason. He has coverage skills, catching four interceptions and five passes defensed as part of the Philadelphia Eagles secondary in 2014. On a scale of 1-10, he also has a solid 7.6 combined tackle efficiency rating, per PFF.
Based on his coverage and tackling capablilties, Allen can play the free safety position or step up closer to the line of scrimmage in run support as a strong safety.
Starting free safety old reliable Charles Woodson will be a player as well as a teacher to young cornerbacks (CBs) D.J. Hayden and Travis Carrie. The eight-time Pro Bowler enters his 18th season, 11th as an Oakland Raider.
Woodson won’t be sticking his nose into the box as much as Allen for run support, but he’s still serviceable as the last line of pass defense as a free safety. In 2014, he managed to grab four interceptions and record 81 tackles, showing very little signs of slowing down. He’ll turn 39 in the second quarter of the season.
The pair of starting CBs are the Raiders’ weakest point on defense. In the last two seasons, Hayden has been in and out of the starting lineup due to injury. When he’s healthy, his play has been mediocre at best. In 10 starts last season, he allowed six touchdowns and only forced one interception, per PFF with 10 passes defensed.
McKenzie’s top draft pick of 2013 is definitely in a make-or-break year for his career. He needs to show durability as well as production from start to finish.
Hayden’s counterpart, Travis Carrie has less pressure on him as a former seventh-round pick, but he must prove he belongs in a starting role. Del Rio wants a fierce competition between his players and won’t be hesitant to pull Carrie or Hayden out of the starting lineup for a 6’3”, 211-pound cornerback Keith McGill.
McGill offers some upside as a CB who can battle for passes in the air with taller more athletic WRs and as a bump-and-run defender. He’ll see action in nickel packages, but his role could be expanded if Hayden or Carrie struggle.
The rookie Dexter McDonald out of Kansas hopes to follow Carrie’s footsteps as a CB drafted in the seventh-round earning some significant play time. He’s a raw talent but has the athleticism and physical capabilities similar to McGill. Don’t expect much, if anything, from him this season. However, Oakland’s CB pecking order is fluid.
There will be mishaps in the secondary due to inexperience at the CB position, but the Raiders staff has high expectations for its young defenders.
Sebastian Janikowski enters his 15th year with the Oakland Raiders and still has two years left on his contract. In 2014, he was an 86 percent field-goal kicker and still has a powerful leg, nailing 12 out of 15 kicks from 40-plus yards out. The Raiders’ much-improved offense should boost Janikowski’s kicking attempts, only the Chicago Bears had less field-goal attempts in 2014.
Marquette King will retain his job as the Raiders’ punter. Although, he hopes to punt less in the upcoming season with a more potent offense. Last season, Oakland led the league in punts with 109, which was 15 more than the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Between Carr’s new playmakers at WR and the untapped potential at RB, the number of three-and-outs should decrease. Additionally, the offense should be visiting the red zone more so this season to avoid bringing out the punting unit.
Do you agree with the predicted starters? Who else will have a major impact on the Raiders' 2015 season? Tweet your thoughts to Maurice's Twitter.