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LaMarr Woodley Reportedly to Be Released by Raiders: Latest Details, Reaction

For the second time in as many seasons, LaMarr Woodley is set to hit the open market. The Oakland Raiders are reportedly preparing to release the veteran pass-rusher this week, which would shave more than $5 million off their 2015 cap.   

Fallon Smith of Comcast SportsNet reported the news:

Woodley, 30, was due a $3.85 million base salary and was scheduled to receive a $1.19 million roster bonus March 14, per Spotrac. Releasing him before the start of the league year eliminates all of Oakland’s financial responsibility, adding even more room to a team that was already flush with cap space.

One of the league’s fiercest pass-rushers in Pittsburgh, Woodley struggled to make an impact in his brief Oakland stay. He was limited to only six appearances due to a torn biceps, making five tackles and failing to record a sack for the first time in his career. It was the fourth straight season Woodley has been forced to miss extended time due to injury.

After recording nine or more sacks in four straight seasons from 2008 to 2011, Woodley has recorded nine total in his last three campaigns. His release from Oakland would mark the second time he’s been let go for salary reasons in as many years. 

It’ll be interesting to see what type of market develops for Woodley. He signed in Oakland with the expectation of reviving his career. To not only get injured again, but also struggle mightily when on the field suggests we’ve probably already seen the best of him.   

That said, the market for edge pass-rushers is almost never dry. Woodley was still reasonably effective his last two years in Pittsburgh and probably has some football left in the tank a few months removed from his 30th birthday.

Whether NFL teams believe in his ability to stay healthy, though, is another question entirely.

 

Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter

Read more Oakland Raiders news on BleacherReport.com


Raiders Must Create Legendary DL by Adding Suh, Hardy for Ultimate 2015 Defense

The Oakland Raiders have a great centerpiece on their defense in Khalil Mack but will look to improve around him in the 2015 NFL offseason.

Which positions should the Raiders target? Who could make an instant impact on their defense in 2015?

Watch as Adam Lefkoe and Bleacher Report NFL Analyst Chris Simms discuss Oakland’s offseason in the video above.

Read more Oakland Raiders news on BleacherReport.com

Oakland Raiders Must Cut MJD, Bring Back Darren McFadden

The Oakland Raiders are planning to make major changes to their roster this offseason, including at running back. Many feel that Darren McFadden, who’s set to become a free agent, has no chance of returning. And there’s a very good chance that Maurice Jones-Drew will be cut and follow him out the door.

If you agree that Oakland should cut ties with them, you’re half-right.

Of the three main running backs the team used last season, only Latavius Murray is guaranteed to return. Parting ways with both McFadden and Jones-Drew seems destined to happen, but that would leave the team with two spots to fill.

The obvious answer is to let McFadden walk as a free agent and keep Jones-Drew since he’s already under contract. But the right answer is the opposite: Oakland should re-sign McFadden and release Jones-Drew.

McFadden needs to be Murray’s partner in the backfield in 2015. Here’s why.

 

MJD Is Done

Jones-Drew was fast. He was shifty. He was dangerous. He was durable.

He was. But he’s not anymore.

After suffering a foot injury in Week 6 of 2012 (ironically, in a game against the Raiders), Jones-Drew missed the rest of that seasonthe first time he missed a game in his career. He returned in 2013, but he wasn’t nearly as productive and was cut by the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Oakland signed Jones-Drew with the hope that he would be able to return to form. Unfortunately, that never happened.

In 12 games with the Raiders, he only had 43 rushing attempts for a paltry total of 96 yards (2.2 yard per carry) and no touchdowns. The carries went to Murray and McFadden, and Jones-Drew spent most of the season as a spectator.

Jones-Drew will be 30 years old by the time next season’s camp starts. That’s late in a running back’s career, especially one with an injury history. Running back isn’t a position where players suddenly bounce back, either. Once a running back’s production starts to decline, it generally stays that way.

Given the minimal production he’s capable of at this point, Jones-Drew certainly isn‘t worth the $2.4 million it’ll cost the team to keep him.

The only logical move for the team, both financially and on the field, is to cut ties with the aging back.

 

McFadden Has More Left in the Tank and a Defined Role

At only 27 years old, McFadden is entering his prime. He’s younger than Jones-Drew, and he also has much less wear and tear.

  Games Played Rushing Attempts
Darren McFadden 83 1,038
Maurice Jones-Drew 126 1,847

 

Of course, McFadden has played fewer games because of his inability to stay healthy. Since entering the league, he’s missed 29 games due to injury.

But in 2014, McFadden did something he had never done before: play 16 games. It’s not a coincidence that the first season in which he wasn’t expected to be the featured back was the first time he didn’t miss a game.

This exemplifies the role he should be brought back to play. Murray is going to be the startermeaning McFadden would be used situationally.

This is the perfect role for him. Fewer touches mean more games. And when McFadden is on the field, the plays would be limited to those that play to his strengths.

 

McFadden’s Never Been Given a Chance to Succeed

Who’s more responsible for a player’s success, the player or the coach?

The answer, of course, is that both play a part. The coach has to create a game plan that puts the player in a position to succeed. The player then has to step onto the field and get the job done.

The fact is that McFadden has spent most of his career not being put in a position to succeed.

Here’s a rundown of the head coaches and offensive coordinators he’s had to work with since entering the NFL.

Year Head Coach Offensive Coordinator
2008 Lane Kiffin*/Tom Cable Greg Knapp
2009 Tom Cable No OC
2010 Tom Cable Hue Jackson
2011 Hue Jackson Al Saunders
2012 Dennis Allen Greg Knapp
2013 Dennis Allen Greg Olson
2014 Dennis Allen*/Tony Sparano Greg Olson

*Fired midseason

 

That’s an unimpressive list. 

These coaches had their own agendas. They had their visions of the running game, and McFadden was always forced to try to adjust his running style to the game planand not the other way around.

When watching McFadden run the ball, it’s clear what his running style is. ”Elusive” isn‘t how you would describe it. He looks for contact rather than trying to avoid it. This makes him less effective when running between the tackles.

The only coach who played to McFadden’s strengths was Jackson. McFadden is much better in space, so Jackson called plays that let McFadden get to the outside more often.

It’s no coincidence that this led to the most successful period of McFadden’s career. In 2010, he averaged 5.2 yards per attempt and totaled 1,157 yards and seven touchdowns over 13 games.

And even though his 2011 season was limited to seven games due to injury, McFadden actually improved. Six weeks into the season, he was the NFL’s leading rusher. He finished with an average of 5.4 yards per attempt, 614 yards and four touchdowns.

New offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave can do the same thing. It’s not a coincidence that Fred Taylor and Adrian Peterson had some of their best seasons with Musgrave calling the plays.

Yes, those are two big names. But McFadden is just as talented. And with Musgrave calling plays that highlight his strengths, McFadden can be as successful.

 

Simplify the Offseason Process

The Raiders have a need at almost every position, and it’s not just a matter of bringing in bodies. Oakland needs proven performers at tight end, along the defensive line and at linebacker, just to name a few. And that’s going to cost money. 

Why add running back to the list?

Jones-Drew will most likely be cut. That means that, even if the team drafts a running back or adds one through free agency, the roster still has an opening at running back.

McFadden can be brought back at a reduced cost—definitely less than the $2.4 million the team would spend on Jones-Drew—and he now has a role on the team that he can actually be productive in.

By keeping him, the Raiders have a player they know and understand how to use. The new coaching staff will use him effectively. That makes him a low-risk, high-reward signing.

 

Conclusion

The Raiders brought back McFadden in 2014 on a one-year prove-it deal, and the experiment failed. Most, including the San Francisco Chronicle‘s Vic Tafur, doubt that it’ll happen again.

But with as many improvements as the Raiders have to make all over the roster, they need to make easy, effective moves where they can. Bringing McFadden back is one of them.

As disappointing as McFadden’s career has been up to this point, the talent that got him drafted fourth overall in 2008 is still there. It’s the team that hasn’t done enough with it.

Now, the right coaches are in place. Now isn‘t the time to give up.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all stats taken from ESPN.comFollow and share your thoughts and opinions @BrianJ_Flores.

Read more Oakland Raiders news on BleacherReport.com

What Type of Wide Receivers Will the Oakland Raiders Target This Offseason?

It’s no secret that the Oakland Raiders need offensive playmakers. The expectation is that the Raiders will target a wide receiver in free agency or the draft to give quarterback Derek Carr a fighting chance in 2015.

What kind of receivers fit general manager Reggie McKenzie and new offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave’s profile? If we can identify the type of wide receivers they like, it might help narrow down some of the draft picks and free agents the Raiders may target.

There is a natural link to pending free-agent wide receiver Randall Cobb because McKenzie helped draft him as director of player personnel with the Green Bay Packers in 2011. Cobb fit McKenzie’s profile as a draft pick and has been productive at the NFL level.

Musgrave also has a type of wide receiver he likes. No one got more out of Percy Harvin, but it’s worth noting that the Minnesota Vikings also traded him away prior to Musgrave’s final year as offensive coordinator in Minnesota.

The Vikings then signed Greg Jennings, who is another player McKenzie helped draft in Green Bay.

Wherever there is overlap between what McKenzie and Musgrave like in a prospect, there is potential for consensus. We have relatively small sample sizesand in many cases incomplete databut where there is enough data, we can glean something.

 

The Prototype

To figure out what McKenzie really likes in a wide receiver, we are going to have to reverse engineer his drafts with the Raiders and Packers.

He wasn’t the final decision-maker in Green Bay, but the Packers had success with finding wide receivers, so it’s unlikely an area where McKenzie felt the need to infuse his own philosophy.

Over the last several years, McKenzie has drafted Brice Butler, Juron Criner, Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson, James Jones, Greg Jennings, Terrence Murphy and David Clowney in the draft.

Clowney made it only a year in Green Bay, but latched on with the New York Jets, where Raiders director of player personnel Joey Clinkscales worked as a top scout at the time.

The Packers didn’t really sign free-agent wide receivers, but the Raiders unsurprisingly signed James Jones last offseason. McKenzie obviously has an affinity for ex-Packers because he scouted and helped draft most of them.

Measurable information will have to serve as a proxy for more qualitative information like personality profiles, interviews, medical information and college game film.

NFL teams have all of this information at their disposal, but we latch on to 40-yard dash times.

The difference a few hundredths of a second might make on a football field is highly debatable. To overvalue this data is a mistake, but in this case, we are going to be looking at prospects who fall into a range in hopes of identifying common athletic traits:

After an analysis of the eight draft selections McKenzie was involved in making either directly or indirectly, it’s clear that there is a common athletic profile.

Whether the numbers influence McKenzie’s like or dislike for players or it’s simply a coincidence is unknown.

The average McKenzie pick ran a 4.47-second 40-yard dash, a 4.23-second short shuttle and a 6.98-second three-cone drill. However, the last four McKenzie picks have all had short shuttle times in the 4.3-second range.

Those same prospects also averaged just over 10’1” in the broad jump and about 35.5” in the vertical jump. As far as size goes, McKenzie’s average receiver is 6’1” and 205 pounds.

Essentially, McKenzie’s average receiver is 5’11” or taller and between 190-220 pounds, runs a 4.5-second 40-yard dash, 4.3-second second short shuttle, 7.0-second three-cone drill, broad jumps 10’0″ and has a 36” vertical. This is the prototype. Taller, faster, more agile, more explosive is obviously still better.

 

Free-Agent Fits

Surprisingly, Cobb actually doesn’t fit the profile perfectly. He’s on the small side (5’10″, 192 lbs) and doesn’t make up for it with amazing agility or explosiveness.

His combine numbers are a lot less relevant now that he’s been productive in the league, but this still could indicate that he benefits from playing with Aaron Rodgers and Jordy Nelson.

Maybe Cobb isn’t a true No. 1 receiver, but he’ll certainly be paid like one. That’s obviously the concern with him. Has any true No. 1 receiver without personality warts been allowed to test free agency in the last five years? It’s rare, but even more so in the current climate that puts an emphasis on the passing game.

Jeremy Maclin and Torrey Smith both fit McKenzie’s profile better. Mike Wallace also fits the profile if the Miami Dolphins end up releasing him. NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport reported on NFL Total Access (h/t NFL.com) that the Dolphins are looking to deal him away.

That’s not to say they are better than Cobb, but they have been productive in the No. 1 receiver role.

If Cobb ends up back with Green Bay or some team wants to hand out a ridiculous contract, don’t be shocked if the Raiders go hard after Maclin instead. He fits what McKenzie likes and how Musgrave is likely to use his new toys.

Smith and Wallace are also good options for the Raiders because they give Carr a deep threat. The Raiders have Jones and Rod Streater to work short, but bringing in a home run option would require a much different offense than what we saw from Musgrave in Minnesota.

Musgrave values the ability for receivers to run after the catch. He got a lot out of Harvin, Cordarrelle Patterson and Jarius Wright—all receivers who thrive after the catch.

That sounds a lot more like Cobb and Maclin than Wallace and Smith.

 

Draft Fits

If the Raiders want to wait to draft a wide receiver until the second round, like the Packers did so many times successfully, this might not be a bad draft to do so.

The class is deep and relatively flat from a talent perspective.

Of the top options, Kevin White fits the profile perfectly. Amari Cooper’s only blemish is his below-average vertical jump. Sammie Coates also fits McKenzie’s athletic profile.

It’s possible DeVante Parker and Jaelen Strong will also fit the profile once they run the three-cone drill and short shuttle at their respective pro days.

However, when we adjust for the presence of Musgrave, it seems like McKenzie will try to find receivers who aren’t just good at the catch point, but who can take a bubble screen and turn it into a big play.

From that perspective, White might be the perfect prospect. He’s big, fast and a tough runner after the catch with surprising wiggle for a man his size. He fits what McKenzie is looking for, but also how Musgrave is likely to use him.

However, Cooper still has to be on the radar. He’s so close to being an athletic fit, runs great routes, is younger and superior after the catch to the other top wide receivers.

If the Raiders don’t sign a free-agent wide receiver, they probably have to go wide receiver at No. 4 and find a player who can make can instant impact like Cooper.

If they decide to pass on a receiver in the first round, Tyler Lockett is an interesting player who fits McKenzie’s profile, and he’ll go off the board later. Lance Zierlein of NFL.com compared him to the aforementioned Wright. He’s small, but so was Cobb. Other than his size, he checks all the boxes.

Coates resembles Patterson, who has been disappointing in Minnesota. Musgrave only had Patterson for a year, but it was the more productive of his two seasons in the NFL.

Coates seems like a boom-or-bust pick, but if the Raiders can get him in the second round, he might be worth the risk. He certainly would add an athletic element, and Musgrave would figure out how to get him the ball to make use of it.

 

Conclusion

McKenzie’s athletic profile and Musgrave’s preferences should steer the Raiders in the direction of speedy players with agility more than big receivers.

That’s especially true in free agency, where true No. 1 receivers are just not available.

In the draft, Cooper and White both make sense for the Raiders in the first round for different reasons. White may be the prospect McKenzie loves, but Musgrave may prefer the more agile Cooper. Whichever prospect they can find more common ground on will likely be the pick at No. 4 if they take a receiver.

If they pass on a wide receiver or trade down, there will be more options on the table, but the need is still there.

Signing a player like Cobb wouldn’t prevent the Raiders from grabbing a big receiver and giving Carr and Musgrave multiple options in the passing game.

It’ll be interesting to see how the Raiders go about filling their needs this offseason, especially at wide receiver with so many different options available and the resources to get virtually any player they want.

Read more Oakland Raiders news on BleacherReport.com

Oakland Raiders: Latest Free-Agency News and Rumors

Two important dates are quickly approaching. March 2 is the deadline for teams intending on using their franchise tags, and March 10 free agency officially begins.

Currently, the Oakland Raiders are on the radar of a few impact players if they aren’t designated with the franchise tag or re-signed by their respective teams. Oakland also has a major decision to make on one of its own.

General manager Reggie McKenzie has already stated to CSNBayArea.com reporter Scott Bair, that he wants to sign some impact free agents this year. McKenzie said:

Last year, I felt like we need more role players, more backups. We needed to upgrade so much. Now, we’re looking for guys who can come in and make a real impact. I’m looking for less volume this time around. I don’t need as many backup-type players. We’re going to go after some real players.

McKenzie must be judicious with free-agent spending. Top-tier players will likely use Oakland’s $49.73 million cap space, per Spotrac, as leverage for higher wages.

If the Raiders want to elevate expectations and make a run for the playoffs, they will start with making at least two key signings with implications of bringing immediate impact for the 2015 season.

Begin Slideshow

Oakland Raiders: Latest Free-Agency News and Rumors

Two important dates are quickly approaching. March 2 is the deadline for teams intending on using their franchise tags, and March 10 free agency officially begins.

Currently, the Oakland Raiders are on the radar of a few impact players if they aren’t designated with the franchise tag or re-signed by their respective teams. Oakland also has a major decision to make on one of its own.

General manager Reggie McKenzie has already stated to CSNBayarea.com reporter Scott Bair, that he wants to sign some impact free agents this year. McKenzie said:

Last year, I felt like we need more role players, more backups. We needed to upgrade so much. Now, we’re looking for guys who can come in and make a real impact. I’m looking for less volume this time around. I don’t need as many backup-type players. We’re going to go after some real players.

McKenzie must be judicious with free-agent spending. Top-tier players will likely use Oakland’s $49.73 million cap space, per Spotrac, as leverage for higher wages.

If the Raiders want to elevate expectations and make a run for the playoffs, they will start with making at least two key signings with implications of bringing immediate impact for the 2015 season.

Begin Slideshow

Raiders Have Building Blocks in Place, Cap Room to Take Big Leap Forward in 2015

The Oakland Raiders may be mulling a move back to Los Angeles, but what really needs to change isn’t the team’s zip code.

It’s the Raiders’ view from the AFC West basement, a residence the Raiders have held for the better part of the past decade.

Of course, it’s a view the team vows to change each and every season, and yet when all is said and done, the Raiders have wound up right back in the cellar.

This year, though, just might be different. In 2015, the Raiders enter the season with more than just loads of salary-cap space with which to add pieces in free agency and more than just another top-five pick in the NFL draft.

This time, the Raiders actually have a few pieces to build around, and that could make the difference between another season of wheel-spinning and the leap toward respectability that Raiders fans have craved for so long.

Of course, a quick look at the Raiders quarterbacks over that decade of futility goes a long way toward explaining why the team hasn’t made a playoff appearance since 2002. Whether it was veteran retreads such as Carson Palmer and Kerry Collins or draft-day disasters such as JaMarcus Russell, the quarterback position in Oakland has been a catastrophe.

Granted, Derek Carr’s numbers as a rookie weren’t jaw-dropping. Carr threw for just under 3,300 yards in 2014, tossing 21 touchdown passes against 12 interceptions. He posted a passer rating of less than 80, ranked 38th among 39 qualifying quarterbacks at Pro Football Focus and guided the NFL’s worst offense last season.

And yet, new Oakland head coach Jack Del Rio didn’t hesitate for a moment when Jim Rome asked him if he thought Carr was the Raiders’ franchise quarterback of the future. 

“Carr’s a special young talent,” Del Rio said, per Chris Wesseling of NFL.com. ”He’s got a really quick release, good decision-maker; he’s shown some of that grit we’re looking for, some of that toughness, so he’s a guy that we feel like we have an opportunity to build around.”

Those numbers may not have been stellar, but for a rookie quarterback with precious little offensive talent around him, they also weren’t terrible by any stretch. Carr showed real promise, and most importantly, he took care of the football.

Luck-like numbers they weren’t, but Carr’s rookie season compares favorably to that of the Miami Dolphins‘ Ryan Tannehill, who over three seasons has quietly grown into just the sort of quarterback the Raiders hope they have in Carr.

Del Rio’s praise for Carr sounded a lot like what new Raiders defensive coordinator Ken Norton had to say about the young player who was drafted just before Carr a year ago.

While speaking with Michael Wagaman of ESPN, Norton raved about the potential of outside linebacker Khalil Mack:

I’ve been very, very impressed. One thing I have with my linebackers at Seattle, we do a great job of just watching other players across the league to see what they do well. See the type of things that I can help them coach and get themselves better and just see what is going on. Khalil Mack is a guy, with Bruce Irvin and the rest of my SAM linebackers, guys on the strong side, just watched his explosion, his speed, his combination of size and his strength … He’s a really smart player and he loves playing ball. I’ve done really well with young men who have a knack of making plays and really love playing football.

Mack didn’t do anything to make the Raiders regret selecting him fifth overall a year ago. The former Buffalo standout racked up 76 tackles and four sacks in his first NFL season, grading out as the top 4-3 outside linebacker in the entire NFL, per PFF.

It wasn’t just Mack and Carr who made a dent as rookies in 2014. In fact, back in November, Wesseling graded the Raiders’ 2014 draft class as the league’s best from a first-year-impact perspective:

First-round pick Khalil Mack is already one of the NFL’s most effective run-stuffing linebackers. Second-rounder Derek Carr has been the most impressive of the rookie quarterbacks, suggesting he could develop into a league-average starter at the very least. Third-rounder Gabe Jackson has held his own at left guard while fourth-rounder Justin Ellis has exceeded expectations at nose tackle. Seventh-round pick T.J. Carrie has shown flashes at cornerback and in the return game.

It was a fine haul from a team that desperately needed one.

And there’s more. Second-year pros such as running back Latavius Murray and linebacker Sio Moore battled injuries, but when they were on the field, the two showed glimpses of the ability to not only start but make a real impact at the professional level.

There’s real, young talent on the Oakland roster entering the 2015 season. Now comes the hard part…

Adding around them.

According to Over the Cap, only the Jacksonville Jaguars have more cap space than the Raiders’ $54 million and change in 2015. Given that the cap may well come in higher than the $140 million that OTC projects, it’s possible that the Raiders could have upward of $60 million in their war chest this spring.

And according to what general manager Reggie McKenzie told Levi Damien of SB Nation, the Raiders won’t be sitting on their hands when free agency opens on March 10:

Last year, I felt like we needed more role players. Now we’re looking for some guys who can come in and be impact (players). Be starters. More so. So in volume, that way, I’m looking for less volume that way. I don’t need as many backup players. We need to get stronger. We’re going to go after some real players.

Sure enough, ESPN’s Bill Williamson linked the Raiders to one of the higher-end options at a position of need for the team in Green Bay wideout Randall Cobb:

Granted, plowing into free agency full speed ahead carries its own pitfalls. Elite free agents such as Cobb and the Broncos’ Demaryius Thomas aren’t going to be easy to pry away from their teams. For a team such as the Raiders, it will probably require overpaying to an extent.

The Raiders will also need to do better in free agency than last year, when contracts for the likes of defensive ends LaMarr Woodley and Justin Tuck and offensive guard Austin Howard didn’t net much of a return.

Still, two of the biggest positions of need for the Raiders (wide receiver and defensive end) also happen to be two positions with deep free-agent classes. The Raiders have plenty of coin to make both a wide receiver such as Jeremy Maclin and a pass-rusher such as Jerry Hughes very attractive offers—with room to spare.

And we haven’t even gotten to the 2015 draft yet.

With the fourth overall pick on April 30, the team has an opportunity to add an impact player on a team-friendly, “new CBA” rookie deal. In his latest mock draft at Bleacher Report, NFL draft national lead writer Matt Miller looked to add a new target for Carr—maybe:

Fans of the Oakland Raiders have not liked this pick in previous mock drafts, but after watching Kevin White run a 4.35-second 40-yard dash at 6’3″ and 215 pounds, I’ll bet they are coming around to it.

White offers the most upside, sure, but he’s also the type of big, physical, violent wide receiver who can dominate a game. Amari Cooper is close behind him, and it may come down to scheme preference when looking at the two, but in my rankings, White comes out as the best wide receiver in the draft.

The Raiders have many holes, so a trade down would make sense for them if a quarterback-needy team is trying to come up for Marcus Mariota.

Rob Rang at CBS Sports also mocked White to the Raiders at No. 4. For colleague Dane Brugler, it was Cooper, while Pat Kirwan predicted a trade down and the selection of Missouri pass-rusher Shane Ray.

Just as with free agency, the Raiders are in a prime spot to do some real damage at a position of need here. How the team fares in the former respect may well determine its course of action in the latter.

Whatever the course, it’s time to get aggressive, for a couple of reasons.

After 11 wins in three seasons, McKenzie is very much on the hot seat. He admitted as much to Vic Tafur of the San Francisco Chronicle after firing head coach Dennis Allen last year, saying “A lot of it rides on me. I brought Dennis in to win championships here and to win period. That did not materialize.”

Granted, McKenzie inherited a mess, but patience has worn thin where his rebuild is concerned. It’s time for results. McKenzie has to be more on his game than ever.

Relax. According to Troy Machir of the Sporting News, that was twin brother Raleigh McKenzie grabbing some zzzs during the wide receiver workouts at last week’s combine.

Also, while the Raiders might finally be trending upward, the rest of the division appears to be sliding in the opposite direction.

The Denver Broncos may well remain the class of the AFC West, but the unceremonious end to Denver’s season and uncertainty about quarterback Peyton Manning‘s future have cast clouds of doubt across the Mile High City. After making the playoffs in 2013, both the Kansas City Chiefs and San Diego Chargers missed the postseason a year ago.

There’s hay to be made in that division.

None of this is to say that it’s going to happen overnight. The Raiders aren’t going to win the division next year, even if McKenzie hits free agency and the draft out of the park.

However, with an impact free agent or two and a second straight strong draft, an eight-win season is a real possibility for the Raiders in 2015—the sort of season that could see the Raiders enter the month of December in playoff contention.

And even that would be a huge leap forward for the Raiders and their long-suffering fanbase.

 

Gary Davenport is an NFL Analyst at Bleacher Report and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association and the Pro Football Writers of America. You can follow Gary on Twitter @IDPManor.

Read more Oakland Raiders news on BleacherReport.com

Should Raiders Spend Big on Randall Cobb or Draft Kevin White to Fill WR Need?

The Oakland Raiders have a glaring need at wide receiver heading into the offseason.

Who should the Raiders target at wide receiver? Should they look at free agency or the draft?

Watch as Stephen Nelson and Bleacher Report NFL Analysts Chris Simms and Matt Miller discuss the Raiders’ need at wide receiver in the video above.

Read more Oakland Raiders news on BleacherReport.com

Did the NFL Combine Change the Oakland Raiders’ Target at No. 4?

The Oakland Raiders have yet another important draft in 2015. General manager Reggie McKenzie and new head coach Jack Del Rio have the fourth overall selection, so they should be able to find another impact player like linebacker Khalil Mack from a year ago.

Did all the information they gleaned from the combine change their target?

Now that teams have just about all the data they could ask for on the top prospects thanks to the combine, the Raiders can go about settling on their top few targets. The Raiders can go in one of many directions, and if their 2013 draft is any indication, then it may even shock us.

The Raiders settled on cornerback D.J. Hayden in 2013 and were mere moments away from selecting him No. 3 overall until the Miami Dolphins dangled a second-round pick to move down to No. 12. The ordeal proved that McKenzie’s board might not look anything like what we are expecting.

 

Position Parsing

NFL teams can align their needs with the best player available drafting model for the first few rounds utilizing free agency. That’s why what NFL teams accomplish in free agency can drastically affect what we believe teams will do in the draft.

If a team needs and signs a No. 1 wide receiver, it’s probably safe to say they won’t be drafting one in the first couple of rounds. This is obviously a general rule, and there are always exceptions.

The Raiders need a playmaking wide receiver, an edge-rusher, an inside linebacker, a defensive tackle, a guard, a center and a running back. Ideally, the Raiders can address all of those needs in the draft and free agency.

In theory, the Raiders can address all of those needs in free agency. They have the salary cap space to sign one of the top players at each position if they choose to do so and can entice them to sign with a team still trying to rebuild.

The strength of the top of the draft happens to be edge-rusher and wide receiver; two of the Raiders’ biggest needs. Both also happen to be the weakness in free agency.

The Raiders can more easily address defensive tackle, guard, center and running back in free agency and later in the draft. Other than Leonard Williams, there isn’t another highly-rated defensive tackle. Unless he falls, the Raiders will have to look elsewhere. Don’t rule out McKenzie parting with the herd on Williams, either.

Guard and center are non-premium positions and it’s not an exciting class of either, so drafting one early doesn’t make any sense. The Raiders will likely have to bring in a free agent or two and try to find a gem later in the draft.

The top-rated inside linebackers are Eric Kendricks, Denzel Perryman and Bendarick McKinney, but almost no one expects them to go high in the first round. The Raiders will have to dip into free agency to find one. A player like Rey Maualuga, who played for new defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. at USC, makes sense.

Running back is a secondary need, as the Raiders are looking for competition for Latavius Murray. It’s also rare for running backs to go in the first round. Even though a couple could sneak into the first round this year, it’s highly unlikely the Raiders will be looking at them with the No. 4 pick.

That leaves us with wide receiver and an edge-rusher. Of the two, the need for wide receiver to make plays trumps an edge-rusher right now, but free agency could change all that. For now, we have to work on the assumption that the Raiders will be targeting a pass-rusher or receiver at No. 4.

The combine didn’t dramatically shift our perceptions of the draft, so it makes sense that the perceptions of which way the Raiders will go at No. 4 haven’t changed either. What may have changed is which players the Raiders will target.

 

Edge-Rusher

Dante Fowler Jr., Randy Gregory, Shane Ray, Alvin “Bud” Dupree and Vic Beasley are the top edge-rushers in this class, but not all of them fit in a 4-3 defense. Gregory is probably a 3-4 outside linebacker only. Vic Beasley is likely a 3-4 outside linebacker unless a team decides to use him like Von Miller, which Del Rio is used to doing after three years in Denver.

Since the Raiders are primarily a 4-3 team, Gregory is not a natural fit. He didn’t do the agility drills at the combine, but he didn’t do anything to hurt his draft stock. Gregory has massive potential, and the Raiders are at least doing their due diligence on him.

Beasley is interesting, but finding a position for him could be tough. He had the best combine performance, as he was a top performer in every event, proving he is one of the top athletes among the edge players.

You make room for good football players if they are the best, but the Raiders would have to get creative with how they use him, Mack, linebacker Sio Moore and defensive end Justin Tuck. Beasley may be a rising prospect, but all the way to No. 4 seems like a long way to go from his late first-round projection before the combine, per NFL Network’s Mike Mayock (h/t ESPN.com).

Fowler may not slip past the Jacksonville Jaguars at No. 3, but it also seems likely that the Jaguars will be prime candidates to trade down with a team looking to draft quarterback Marcus Mariota. That would leave him available to the Raiders.

NFL.com compared Fowler to Mack, who the Raiders were very pleased to get last year and had a great rookie season. Having two players who can set the edge and get after the quarterback a little bit would be great, but the Raiders really need a player who can get to the quarterback regularly.

That leaves Dupree and Ray. The Raiders will have to wait to see how Ray tests, as he was only able to do the bench press due to a toe injury at the combine. Ray is certainly the kind of tightly wound pass-rusher they should be looking for, but if he’s the target, the Raiders will have to wait to check all the boxes off on him.

Dupree was a top performer in the only three events he participated. At 269 pounds, Dupree ran a 4.56-second 40-yard dash, had the third-best broad jump of any player and fifth-best vertical jump. For his size, Dupree’s performance was spectacular.

Dupree’s has a reputation as a freak athlete that was confirmed by his combine numbers, so it’s unlikely the Raiders or any other team moved him up based on his performance. If he was the top target before, he most definitely is now. He’s explosive, but he still needs to run agility drills.

Did the combine change anything? At least at this stage, not much has changed.  

Beasley may have moved himself into consideration if the Raiders liked him more than most draft experts liked him coming into the combine. Gregory’s interview with the team may have helped him separate himself, but his lack of a natural 4-3 position could hurt his chances.

Ray and Dupree’s status remains unchanged at this point based off the available data. Of all the edge-rushers, Fowler is the only one who could have separated himself as a clear target at No. 4 over the other options.

 

Wide Receiver

There are two receivers vying for the top spot in this year’s draft—Amari Cooper and Kevin White. If the Raiders decide to fill their biggest need at No. 4, one of Cooper or White will be wearing silver and black next season.

Both players did well at the combine, but White helped himself where Cooper merely did what was expected. The biggest question with White was his speed, but he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.35 seconds, which was the third-fastest time. It also bested Cooper’s 4.42, but by an insignificant .07 seconds.

Cooper had the biggest hands of any top wide receiver prospect at 10”, ran the fastest short shuttle of all receivers and was one of the five fastest wide receivers in the three-cone drill. White had slightly better numbers in the broad and vertical jumps and, unlike Cooper, participated in the bench press where he tied for the most with 23.

New offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave may prefer the speed and agility of Cooper to White. Musgrave got the most out of Percy Harvin in Minnesota by utilizing him in the short passing game, and he can use Cooper in the same way, as well as let him run traditional routes.

If the Raiders liked Cooper more to start, that probably hasn’t changed. If they were undecided, it’s still a tough call, but White may now have a slight edge. If they were leaning White, he did enough to cement his status over Cooper with his performance.

The depth at both edge-rusher and wide receiver gives the Raiders freedom to go in either direction, but the combine didn’t likely change much for them. A few players may have edged in front of others, but the rankings are still gelatinous until after private workouts and pro days are complete.

Read more Oakland Raiders news on BleacherReport.com

6 Hidden Gems the Oakland Raiders Should Have Noticed at the Combine

The Oakland Raiders find themselves with another top-five pick in the upcoming draft. Whoever they end up selecting, it’s crucial that they get it right. But for a team so short on reliable talent, Oakland’s selections later in the draft will be just as important.

Selections in the first two rounds are the easy part. There are no guarantees, but these players are more of a known quantity. The key is finding those hidden gems later in the draft, and the NFL combine provides the perfect opportunity to separate the true prospects from the pretenders.

Oakland knocked it out of the park last year with post-Round 2 selections that included Gabe Jackson (third round), Justin Ellis (fourth round) and TJ Carrie (seventh round). All three players went on to play important roles as starters in their rookie seasons.

For the Raiders, the challenge is to once again find immediate contributors throughout the draft. The team has to look beyond the big names and find under-appreciated talent in unexpected places.

Here’s a look at six prospects the Raiders need to take a much closer look at in preparation for the draft.

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