Fact or Fiction for Oakland Raiders' Biggest Offseason Question Marks
Some prefer "truth or dare" on their idle time, but for the Oakland Raiders’ offseason, we’re going with "fact or fiction" on team question marks.
A lot of talk surrounds some of the changes to first-team reps during mandatory minicamp. As a result, we’ll revisit some positional battle predictions. In addition, a familiar face has resurfaced as a possible candidate to return at a different position.
Let’s distinguish between fictional blather and coherent analysis by using cold, hard facts.
Terrelle Pryor Returns to the Raiders as a Wide Receiver
According to ESPN’s Bill Williamson, Terrelle Pryor is down to a last resort to preserve what’s left of his NFL career. The former Raiders quarterback has converted to wide receiver in hopes of maintaining a roster spot in August.
Will he return to Oakland?
Pryor’s physical tools are well documented in Williamson’s report. He’s 6’4”, 233 pounds and ran 4.4-second 40-yard dash. Great measurements for a WR, but can he catch the ball at a consistent rate?
Whether or not he can or can’t, the Raiders certainly don’t need another raw talent at the position.
Wide receiver is one of the stronger units on the roster with plenty of depth. Josh Harper and Austin Willis are two undrafted free agents who have a good chance of making the roster, which jeopardizes Brice Butler and Kenbrell Thompkins’ roster spots.
Realistically, Pryor is too far behind these receivers to create an opportunity for himself in Oakland.
Jack Del Rio Became the Best Head Coaching Hire Since Jon Gruden
Jon Gruden was the last coach to keep the Raiders in the thick of competition. Oakland never finished with a losing record during his four-year tenure after taking over a 4-12 team. It’s too early to predict Del Rio making the same strides, but the optimism around Oakland beams with imminent playoff aspirations.
Head Coach Jack Del Rio has the pedigree, supporting coaching staff and mindset that should elevate the hopes of Raider Nation.
Del Rio helped engineer one of the fiercest defenses in history as the Baltimore Ravens' linebackers coach en route to a Super Bowl victory in 2000. As a first-time head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars, he continuously challenged quarterback Peyton Manning in his prime behind a top-10 defense for four straight seasons.
In his most recent position as the defensive coordinator for the Denver Broncos, he further developed outside linebacker Von Miller into a dynamic sack artist.
Upon arriving in Oakland, Del Rio hired an innovative offensive coordinator, Bill Musgrave, who plans to use some underutilized weapons on offense like Marcel Reece. He also hired fiery defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr., whose attitude has already affected the way the defense practices, per CSNBayArea.com reporter Scott Bair.
"There was fear that was developed through the physical play of this football team," Del Rio said of the franchise's past. "So we want to bring that physicality back. We want to bring that swagger back. But it's got to be the kind of swagger that is controlled, that is calculated, that is fundamentally sound and disciplined."
Del Rio isn’t harping on the past, but he wants to bring some pride and passion back to the Black Hole.
After listing his track record, coordinating staff and renewed philosophy, how can you not find excitement and hope in the Raiders again?
He has garnered enough respect as a coach to stick around longer than former head coach Hue Jackson. He’s more accomplished than the likes of Dennis Allen and Lane Kiffin, with a more updated approach to the game in comparison to Art Shell's most recent one-year stint as head coach.
These former Raiders head coaches are flawed in areas that Del Rio has thrived in.
Jon Feliciano Emerges as the Starting Right Guard
Many supporters of Oakland’s questionable fourth-round pick must come to terms with the fact that Jon Feliciano won't become an immediate starter. Del Rio placed starting expectations on his rookie guard, per NFL Network (h/t Raiders.com, hngn.com), but the odds are stacked against him.
Khalif Barnes started the offseason program taking first-team reps, which should be expected against a fresh rookie, per Silver & Black Pride's Levi Damien.
Tackle J’Marcus Webb came off the scrap heap without experience at guard and now leads the competition, per Williamson. Webb's emergence should raise eyebrows and cause a moderate panic attack for the right side of the offensive line.
How does a subpar offensive lineman who played five seasons in the league receive more consideration than a fourth-round pick who’s natural at the contested position?
Feliciano didn’t get any significant work with the first team, which indicates he’s not even ready to show his skill level with the starters—let alone gain a firm grip as a starter for Week 1.
Michael Crabtree Claims the No. 2 Wide Receiver Position
After missing out on Green Bay Packers WR Randall Cobb, Crabtree became plan B. Nonetheless, he fits in as a solid No. 2 receiving option in Oakland.
Second-year starting quarterback Derek Carr will need a veteran to lean on early in the season. Amari Cooper is polished, but he experienced a recent bout with drops at the conclusion of mandatory minicamp, per Williamson.
Rod Streater has played fewer than 12 quarters with Carr under center. Crabtree’s veteran experience is valuable to Carr’s development as he finds his way within a new offense playing with a new group of relatively inexperienced playmakers.
Secondly, Crabtree is capable of racking up 1,000 receiving yards in a season with an inexperienced QB.
In 2012, he made Colin Kaepernick resemble a promising star in the league, delivering huge performances in the playoffs. He recorded more than 100 receiving yards in two out of three playoff games in the 49ers' Super Bowl run.
Rod Streater will contribute to the offense, but Crabtree is a better option in the red zone. Streater has eight career touchdowns in 35 games. Crabtree had nine touchdowns in the 2012 season alone, working with the conservative arm of Alex Smith and a very raw Kaepernick.
Keith McGill Surpasses D.J. Hayden on the Depth Chart
McKenzie and Del Rio have dropped enough hints alluding to their faith and patience in cornerback D.J. Hayden.
If McKenzie was truly worried about Hayden regressing, the Raiders would have signed a decent veteran CB in free agency or selected one early in the draft instead of waiting until the seventh round.
According to Bair, Del Rio sees potential and the need to develop talent at the position:
As a staff coming in and evaluating, we felt like that was one of the more talented positions that needed to develop,” Del Rio said last week at the NFL owners meetings. “Certainly staying healthy will be important for DJ. Carrie played well in his role. We feel like that group has a chance to develop beyond where they are.
There are pretty solid young guys right there that we look forward to working with and helping them play at a higher level.
Del Rio pinpointed Hayden’s health concerns but seems confident in his play when healthy.
The second nugget in Del Rio’s quote highlights the totality of the talent level at the position. In order to tap into that potential, reps are needed—especially when nickel packages requiring three CBs see the field frequently in a pass-happy league.
TJ Carrie played the third-most snaps (311) in coverage among Raiders CBs in 2014, per Pro Football Focus. Therefore, it makes sense that Keith McGill sees a moderate amount of action in the offseason with the first team.
However, it’s Hayden’s starting position to lose.
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