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Can Raiders’ Khalil Mack Make Jump to Superstar-Caliber LB in Sophomore Year?

Oakland Raiders‘ 2014 first-round pick Khalil Mack lived up to the hype in his rookie year and will look to enter superstar status in 2015.

How will the Raiders’ linebackers look in 2015? What does Mack do especially well?

Watch as Stephen Nelson and Bleacher Report NFL Analyst Matt Bowen discuss the Raiders’ defense in 2015.

Read more Oakland Raiders news on BleacherReport.com


Oakland Raiders: Early Rookie Progress Reports

The second week of organized team activities (OTAs) has kicked off and there’s a lot of buzz coming from Alameda Oakland.

The Oakland Raiders‘ 2015 draft class has brought a ton of excitement into minicamp. Analysts, fans and the Raiders coaching staff are gushing over the possibilities of the Silver and Black regaining respect as a formidable opponent on the schedule.

We’ll dive into some rookie updates, reports and observations that should get the most pessimistic Raiders fan excited for the upcoming season.

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Oakland Raiders: Full Position Breakdown and Depth Chart Analysis at Quarterback

The quarterback position is the most important position in the NFL. Fortunately, the Oakland Raiders have their QB situation sorted out. The fans and the organization are anticipating significant progress in Derek Carr’s maturation process within a revamped up-tempo offense.

Can this offense run efficiently without Carr? Players aren’t indestructible, and injuries can strike a team’s playoffs hopes down within an instant. 

Last season, both Nick Foles and Carson Palmer missed huge chunks of the season with significant injuries. The Philadelphia Eagles just missed the playoffs with Mark Sanchez at the helm. In the NFC Wild Card Round, the Arizona Cardinals third-string QB, Ryan Lindley, put up a offensively offensive performance in a 11-6 loss to the Carolina Panthers.

When the starting QB goes down, the next man must step up equipped to steer the ship. 

 

Derek Carr Injury Update

I know what you’re thinking. Carr’s finger injury and the talk about surgery can be unnerving. Carr’s agent Tim Younger took the fear out of the speculation.

According to Lev Facher of the San Francisco Chronicle, Younger categorized Carr’s finger injury as a “very minor situation” not requiring surgery. Younger was confident enough in Carr’s recovery to place an expected date on his return:

“It’s a very minor situation,” Tim Younger said Wednesday. “I think he’s probably going to be throwing before the end of offseason team activities.

“I don’t know where this idea came up that he’s going to be having surgery,” Younger said. “The situation, I don’t even want to call it an injury, is very minor, and we’re just being cautious.”

Younger said even if Carr isn’t ready before June 4, he expects Carr to be 100 percent for mandatory minicamp, which begins June 9.

Go ahead Raider Nation, breathe a sign of relief. Three months away from the regular season and he’s expected to be 100 percent in a couple of weeks.

An organization without much to celebrate is guaranteed to be cautious with their coveted starting QB. Carr had a solid rookie season with very little talent around him. The expectations in year two are quite lofty with the additions of Amari Cooper, Clive Walford, Rodney Hudson, the return of Rod Streater and a new running back committee.

Carr is obviously the clear-cut starter with a ton of upside, which puts the Raiders in a better long-term situation than teams with stopgap or struggling QBs. Given the parts around Carr, statistically, he can be a top-12 QB in just his second year.

 

Carr’s Primary Backup: Matt McGloin or Christian Ponder?

Most people would quickly pencil in Christian Ponder as the primary backup with the argument that he’s familiar with offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave from their days at Minnesota. If you look at Ponder’s track record, you’ll see why he should be a third-string QB in Oakland. More on that later.

As a rookie McGloin took over for Terrelle Pryor in the second half of the 2013 season. He threw eight touchdowns and eight interceptions, four of those interceptions were thrown in one ugly 56-31 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. He wasn’t knocking down doors, but he was a serviceable rookie starter who built a solid rapport with Streater in his best season.

In today’s league, the QB must be proficient in attacking the defense with decent arm strength to complement accuracy. Without the threat of spreading a defense out deep, it takes away a third of the field, which forces defenders to play closer to the line of scrimmage and limit explosive plays. 

It’s exactly why the Chiefs offense struggles to score points intermittently. Alex Smith cannot stretch a defense, therefore wide receivers are forced to cut off their routes, causing heavy traffic in the middle of the field. It’s not a coincidence none of their WRs caught a touchdown in 2014. Ponder is Smith with less accuracy.

The Raiders have a WR corps capable of stretching the field and scoring points in bunchesqualities McGloin is better equipped to accentuate. Let’s take a look at 250-yard passing games among the Raiders’ top-three QBs: 

Both Carr and McGloin have almost eclipsed Ponder in the number of 250-yard passing games with half as many starts. Yes, Ponder had the luxury of handing off to Adrian Peterson, but the game plan isn’t a sustainable approach. The QB cannot be a sitting duck incapable of taking advantage of one-on-one matchups on the perimeter.

Secondly, Oakland doesn’t have a Peterson to hand off to in the backfield. Carr’s backup won’t be his equivalent in terms of playmaking ability, but he’ll need to be able to utilize the talent brought in to ignite the offense.

In 2013, McGloin was able to move the ball as a rookie. Ponder couldn’t take advantage of single coverage with eight in the box stacked against arguably the best running back in the league for much of his career in Minnesota. If Carr goes down, the keys to offense should go to McGloin. 

 

Will Cody Fajardo Make the Team? 

Fajardo quietly stepped into Raiders minicamp as an undrafted free agent. Looking at his tape, he’s a carbon copy of Colin Kaepernick out of the same school, Nevada.

Fajardo is a dual-threat QB, who posted above-average numbers since taking over for Kaepernick. In his sophomore and senior years, he threw for over 2,400 yards and ran for more than 1,000 yards. He has the potential to be a curveball on any NFL roster. 

The lack of success for running QBs outside of Russell Wilson might scare teams away from retaining Fajardo. The undrafted rookie’s chances of making the roster are slim, but the coaching staff should take an in-depth look at a unique talent capable of attacking the defense with his arm and legs as a serviceable interim QB.

 

You can follow Maurice Moton on Twitter for the latest Raiders and NFL chatter.

Advanced statistics provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com, Sports-Reference.com and ESPN.com.

Read more Oakland Raiders news on BleacherReport.com

Oakland Raiders: 7 Players Whose Stock Is on the Rise After OTAs

Now that free agents and rookies have been added to the roster, the Oakland Raiders had their opportunity to take this newly rebuilt roster for the first test drive.

Organized team activities (OTAs) provide the first chance for players to step on the field and actually do something that resembles football. Team activities at this point are relatively light, but it still gives a good, early example of what rookies can do at the next level. It also gives an idea of how all of the new pieces might fit together.

While there’s still a long way to go before training camp, there are already some players who have made a good impression and have taken some early steps to separate themselves from the pack.

Here’s a look at seven players who have done enough to stand out following OTAs.

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Why the Raiders Are One Year Away from Playoff Contention

The Oakland Raiders‘ 2015 offseason moves have put them in a great position to make a playoff push in 2016.

I know…I know, Raiders fans are tired of hearing the phrase “next year” for what seems to be a sport’s eternity, but this year really paves the way for the following season. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and one offseason of good fortune rarely brings a team from the basement to the top of the division. 

In fact, the Raiders have scored big in two consecutive offseasons, snagging a promising young quarterback, a polished dynamic weapon for their QB, a potential perennial defensive centerpiece and a proven head coach. Those are four ingredients for a playoff contender.

General manager Reggie McKenzie has brought in a shopping cart of valuable groceries, and now the recipe has to be seasoned and left overnight. By 2016, the Raiders will be cooking.

 

6-Win Season Ahead

Before we get into the distant future, what should we expect from the 2015 season? Six wins. Yes, another sub .500 season with some struggles. But think in terms of baby steps—walking before you run, and running before you’re scoring touchdowns in January.

ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler has the right idea here:

Before wrecking your TV set in response to another losing season, remember where the Raiders are coming from in recent history: three consecutive seasons of four wins or less.

Six wins with a young, electric offense is a step in the right direction. Patience is a virtue; allow the offense to click before we can say they’re already clicking on all cylinders.

 

Another Year, Another Offense to Install

Keep in mind, Derek Carr will have to learn a whole new offense—his second in two years.

This particular offense under new offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave should be exciting. According to Musgrave via Jerry McDonald of the San Jose Mercury News, the new Raiders offense will have Chip Kelly’s prints all over it:

Working as quarterbacks coach with former Oregon coach Chip Kelly and offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, Musgrave got a crash course in the up-tempo offense that ranked fifth in the NFL and ran more plays than any team in the league.

Musgrave still believes in running the ball and having an offense impose its will on the defense, but he plans on integrating some of Kelly’s offense in Oakland.

“The last 12 months have been terrific for me to see the system in Philadelphia, be a part of it, be a contributor,” Musgrave said in a conference call Tuesday. “We’re going to do quite a bit if it fits the players (in Oakland).”

The Raiders have a young core of dynamic offensive skill players who can really frighten opposing defenses if the system fits in Oakland.

It’s Carr to Amari Cooper in a variety of schemes. It’s Rod Streater attacking from the slot as a deep threat or as a catch-and-run receiver. It’s the experience of Michael Crabtree picking apart the weak points in the opposing defense. It’s Latavius Murray and Trent Richardson alternating run styles to keep the defense off guard.

What’s there not to be excited about on offense as a spectator? 

Nonetheless, the installation is step one. Musgrave must find out what works and what doesn’t before we can call it a top-10 offense, though it has the potential to reach that expectation rather quickly.

 

Changing the Losing Culture

Head coach Jack Del Rio has made references to changing the culture of the franchise. He went as far to say he has already accomplished this feat in an interview on Sirius XM NFL Radio.

Though I believe in Del Rio’s leadership and the immediate impact he brings to the team, before this transformation is considered complete, it must translate on the field.

One thing that keeps a losing culture down is, well, losing.

The Raiders were the last team to win a game last season. That won’t happen this year, but I expect this to be a losing season (sub .500). The goal is to look at this on a macro level. Six wins don’t make a giant step up from four, but within the season, how were players competing? Were the losses close? Is there substantial improvement in weak areas?

What’s the bigger picture outside the wins and losses?

 

Too Many Questions on Defense

Speaking of weak areas on the roster, how about that defense? The only way to attack an offense is to do one of three things: stop the run, provide elite coverage in case of a weak pass rush or provide a solid pass rush in case of weak coverage in the secondary.

The Raiders will only do one out of these three things pretty well this season: stifle the run.

Signing Dan Williams, Curtis Lofton and drafting Mario Edwards Jr. were all great moves to improve the Raiders’ 22nd-ranked run defense from the previous year, but this is a QB league.

Passing offenses are running amok on teams week to week, and the Raiders’ best pass-rusher is a 32-year-old Justin Tuck, who had five sacks in 2014. Oakland’s best defender in coverage is a safety, Nate Allen. Travis Carrie may surprise folks this season, and D.J. Hayden has yet to stay healthy enough to perform at a high level. They’re both unknowns at this point. 

The Raiders are pushing their best defensive player, Khalil Mack, to the line of scrimmage as a part-time pass-rusher. They also are depending heavily on two cornerbacks with a combined 13 NFL starts in the league. I totally believe in Mack supplementing at defensive end on a part-time basis, but the secondary could either become the NFL’s biggest surprise or an easy-pass turnstile for elite wide receivers.

There are just too many questions on the defensive side of the ball to put too much faith in the defense improving at the same rate as the offense.

Who’s going to be the second-best pass-rusher or the best full-time QB-crusher off the edge? Will Hayden remain healthy and justify himself as a solid first-round pick? Does Lofton regain his status as a solid (“Mike”) linebacker after an abysmal tenure with the New Orleans Saints? Just how much will be Mack be used as a DE? Was Edwards’ poor play with the Florida State Seminoles just a case of “senioritis,” as Del Rio coined it?

 

Looking Ahead to 2016 Draft

These questions bring me to some possible answers. Looking into the crystal ball for the 2016 draft, the Raiders will have holes to fill at defensive end, offensive tackle and safety in that order of severity.

Why these positions?

Tuck is entering the last year on his deal. Menelik Watson is labeled as a bust by his own coaching staff, and it’s evident. Austin Howard is the front-runner to takeover the starting right tackle position, and he struggled for two years at tackle for the New York Jets before moving to guard last season in Oakland. Right tackle will be problematic this year for the Raiders, mark my words, and McKenzie will need to draft high on a tackle to protect Carr going forward. 

Finally, the ageless Charles Woodson will retire—a toast to Woodson for an illustrious career.

So, who should the Raiders already have their eyes on for the 2016 draft to fully ensure a playoff return? One man: defensive end Shilique Calhoun.

According to Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller via Twitter, Calhoun is up there with top-ranked pass-rushers drafted this year, but he chose to return to the Michigan State Spartans for his senior year:

By the way, he’ll bring some attitude to the defense, something the Raiders have been missing for decades. Here’s Calhoun body slamming QBs like raggedy stuffed animals, per Bleacher Report’s Tyler Brooke.

According to CBS Sports, Calhoun is currently ranked as the third-best DE for the 2016 draft. We all know these projections fluctuate, but he’s a name to watch out for when the Raiders are on the clock in the first round.

Imagine a monster like him coming off the edge opposite Mack or Edwards on the defensive line. He would ensure Peyton Manning‘s retirement at 40 and run Philip Rivers out of the San Diego Chargers all by himself. He should be on McKenzie’s big board right now. 

As far as offensive tackle is concerned, Oakland picked up Anthony Morris in the seventh round of this year’s draft. He should be worth a look to compete with a future high draft pick at the position. Brandian Ross played adequately at safety in 23 starts over the past two seasons, but it wouldn’t hurt to draft another prospect in the third round of the next year’s draft for depth and competition.

If Hayden or Carrie disappoint in the secondary, expect Keith McGill to get a push into the starting lineup with a veteran joining in the offseason.

 

Optimism and Answers

The good news concerning the defense is those questions get answered this season. Hayden enters a make-or-break year, and we’ll find out where Edwards fits within the defense.

The silver lining here for the Raiders defense is defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. It’s his first year in Oakland, but Raiders fans will soon witness the magic he works, especially with his linebackers as he did with the Seattle Seahawks.

Conveniently, the draft has equipped Norton with versatile hybrids Max Valles and Neiron Ball. Under Norton, expect at least one of these players to flourish within a year. The Raiders have a strong linebacker corps already, and Norton will elevate those players to another level by his second year.

The 2015 season may seem a bit cloudy with a chance of a storm or two, but the extended forecast looks bright for their playoff hopes, whether it’s in Oakland or Los Angeles.

Playoffs!?!? Playoffs!?!? Yes, I said playoffs.

But for now, let’s just win some games.

 

You can follow Maurice Moton on Twitter for the latest Raiders and NFL chatter.

Advanced statistics provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com and ESPN.com.

Read more Oakland Raiders news on BleacherReport.com

6 Oakland Raiders Who Must Take Big Leap in 2015

The Oakland Raiders have made a lot of significant additions to the roster this offseason. In the initial free-agency rush, the team brought in more than 10 free agents. Add to those the 10 draft picks, and the Raiders have plenty of new options.

But these players aren’t supposed to be the team. They were brought in to supplement the players already on the roster.

While Oakland made some significant additions, the future success of the team is dependent on players who were already on the roster last season. These are the young players who should start in 2015 and are expected to lead the team back to NFL relevance.

Here’s a look at six players from last season who need to be consistent, significant contributors in 2015.

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Bair: Mark Davis Will Get What He Wants, Raiders Stay in Oakland

OTAs are underway in Oakland, but all the buzz is about a possible move to Los Angeles. 

What’s the latest on the relocation? Should Oakland Raiders fans expect the team to move in the future?

Watch as Adam Lefkoe and Scott Bair of CSN Bay Area discuss the team’s future in the video above.

Read more Oakland Raiders news on BleacherReport.com

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.

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Predicting Oakland Raiders’ 2015 Breakout Stars

The Oakland Raiders have some players on the roster that could break out in 2015.

Is D.J. Hayden ready to take that next step? Can Clive Walford have an immediate impact?

Watch as Adam Lefkoe and Bleacher Report NFL Analyst Chris Simms discuss breakout players for the Raiders in the video above.

Read more Oakland Raiders news on BleacherReport.com

Early Predictions for Oakland Raiders’ 2015 Training Camp Battles

Training camp is still a couple of months away, but there are some anticipated positional battles to look forward to throughout the Oakland Raiders‘ offseason.

The offense has a lot more questions than the defense in terms of who gets the nod in starting positions. Acquisitions during free agency like Trent Richardson and Michael Crabtree stress the point that head coach Jack Del Rio isn’t going to just hand out starting positions to the younger talent on the team.

Del Rio and general manager Reggie McKenzie have been clear on their collective message heading into the offseason about competing amongst each other to bring out the best in each player in preparation for the season.

Who will emerge victorious from these fierce position battles? We’ll offer a tale of the tape and anticipate key pieces of the starting lineup.

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