5 Oakland Raiders Players Poised for a Breakout Campaign in 2015
The last quarter of the Oakland Raiders' 2014 season set the tone for an optimistic outlook for 2015. Bleacher Report's Matt Miller categorized the team as pretenders for the upcoming season, which is an accurate statement, but there are some bright spots to look forward to this season.
Let's focus on potential unassuming breakout stars for 2015. Most would assume Derek Carr, Amari Cooper and Khalil Mack are primed for productive campaigns. Cooper doesn't have an NFL resume. Mack and Carr are the leaders on their side of the ball—both players will continue to impress in Oakland.
The Raiders cannot make a significant improvement with just three highly productive players. Who's going to step into the forefront as a pleasant surprise? Which veterans are going to come in and make an immediate splash?
Here are five unheralded players set to make a difference for the Raiders in 2015.
Some of you maybe surprised about this choice, and others expected him to be the first player listed.
According to a SiriusXM NFL Radio interview, head coach Jack Del Rio is going to remove the training wheels from the offensive play-calling and allow Carr to throw some bombs down the field (via the team's official website).
Rod Streater missed 13 games in 2014 and watched the Raiders' sluggish passing attack from the sidelines. Oakland ranked 26th in passing yards (3,275) and ranked last in passing yards per attempt (5.5).
The fourth-year receiver won't break 1,000 yards because of the anticipated distribution among three or four wide receivers and a tight end. However, 700-800 receiving yards with six or seven touchdowns coming off a season on the sidelines sounds pretty good for the former undrafted free agent. Streater has yet to score more than four TDs in a season.
Travis Carrie will be the Raiders' best cornerback in 2015. This doesn't mean D.J. Hayden will flop completely, but Carrie is the better CB right now.
Raiders fans were excited just to see Hayden healthy, as they should, but Carrie outplayed him per snap in 2014. Hayden was only targeted two more times than Carrie in coverage but surrendered six touchdowns compared to Carrie surrendering only one per Pro Football Focus.
Carrie at 6' and 204 pounds has a body frame more equipped to endure the rigors of an NFL season and the physicality of bigger WRs entering the league. At 5’11”, 190 pounds Hayden has continued to have issues staying healthy after recovering from a life-threatening injury suffered in college.
While Hayden continues to focus on staying healthy, Carrie has turned heads in his rookie year. The Raiders' coaching staff should be confident in the seventh-round pick out of the Ohio Bobcats. Defenses will test Carrie as he enters his second year, but he'll capitalize with a handful of interceptions and several passes defensed.
We just discussed Hayden as a possible concern in the secondary, and Carrie cannot defend all by his lonesome. He'll need one of the safeties to provide support in coverage to avoid a meltdown in the secondary.
Nate Allen played five seasons with Philadelphia Eagles in both safety positions. He can step into the box to support the run defense, and his coverage skills are top notch. He has 10 career interceptions.
The Raiders will covet their safety's ability to force turnovers. As a team, Oakland only caught nine interceptions in 2014. Allen caught four by himself last season. The safety led his former team in interceptions and will battle Carrie for the same statistical supremacy in Oakland for the 2015 season.
When speaking of reviving careers, Curtis Lofton may not come to mind right away. With the New Orleans Saints, he was teetering on the verge of irrelevancy, playing within a perpetually poor defense.
In Oakland, he gets a fresh start as the starting inside linebacker within a defense in the midst of rebuilding its potency. Lofton brings leadership, and he'll play as the centerpiece of the defense, similar to his first four seasons with the Atlanta Falcons.
Lofton spent his last two seasons struggling to find his place within a 3-4 defense as a right inside linebacker. In the upcoming season, he'll line up right over the middle in complete control of setting up the Raiders' defense pre snap. The switch may seem miniscule, but it could be a world of a difference for Lofton.
At the very least, Lofton was able to maintain his ability to track the football and close in on ball-carriers, despite his struggles with the Saints. He recorded 100 tackles in 2014 with a combined tackle efficiency of 7.5 per PFF.
Mack will play a lot more defensive end than most would expect because the Raiders really need help with generating a pass rush. The move will most benefit Malcolm Smith of the linebacker corps.
Smith could add to his Super Bowl MVP resume as a rotational starting outside linebacker due to the absence of Miles Burris, an influx of raw hybrids out of the draft and Mack expanding his role at defensive end.
Smith had his best season playing with the Seattle Seahawks in 2013 when he started eight games. He recorded two interceptions (returned one for a touchdown), six passes defensed, 34 tackles and a sack as an athletic powerhouse. This is the production the Raiders need when Mack lines up on the defensive line.
Smith's number should be called for an extended role as the most accomplished and polished linebacker on the roster behind the starters. Defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. will get a second opportunity to develop Smith into an impact player.
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Player measurements courtesy of the Raiders' official team roster.