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Fantasy Outlook: Oakland Raiders

by Stan Son | @Stan_Son | Featured Writer
Jul 22, 2015

Will Derek Carr and the Raiders take a step forward in 2015, or is another top-10 pick in their future?

Will Derek Carr and the Raiders take a step forward in 2015, or is another top-10 pick in their future?

Here’s the latest in our team preview series, a look at the 2015 Oakland Raiders.
The autumn wind is a Raider.
Pillaging just for fun.
He’ll knock you ‘round.
And upside down.
And laugh when he’s conquered and won. 
 – Autumn Wind by Steve Sabol

 

I get chills every time I watch that video. That is without question the greatest team theme song in the league. Ah, the glory days. It’s been a rough 14 years for the Silver and Black. Since Jon Gruden, Rich Gannon, and Tim Brown led the Raiders to the Superbowl in 2002, they have:

The cupboard has indeed been bare. Navigating the draft process as if playing Madden on Xbox hasn’t helped. As a result, the fantasy prospects out of Oakland have obviously been bleak. Take a look at the numbers below. I wanted to cry when researching. My starting point was 2003, the year after Bill Callahan thought it would be a good idea to NOT change the verbage and gameplan in the Super Bowl when facing Gruden, the man who coached the Raiders the year before. That still amazes me to this day.

  • The 1,000 yard rushing mark was eclipsed only three times in a season; Lamont Jordan with 1,025 yards in 2005, Justin Fargas with 1,009 yards in 2007, and Darren McFadden with 1,157 yards in 2010.
  • Zero, ziltch, nada…No player had over 1,000 yards receiving in a season.
  • There were only four seasons in which a quarterback threw for over 3,000 yards and 20 touchdowns in a season; Kerry Collins with 3,495 yards/21 TDs in 2004, Collins with 3,759 yards/20 TDs in 2005, Carson Palmer with 4,018 yards/22 TDs in 2012, and Derek Carr with 3,270 yards/21 TDs in 2014.

Times are a-changin’, though. The Autumn Wind is “blustering in from the sea…swaggering boisterously.” There will be fantasy goodness emanating from Oakland (possibly Los Angeles) this year and into the foreseeable future.

It all started January 5, 2012. That was the day the Raiders hired Reggie McKenzie. He purged the roster, fixed the salary cap situation, and began building through the draft. While many of his moves were questionable, he brought a plan and stability to a franchise that had become dysfunctional.

Rebuilding takes time. I hate to say it, but Rome was not built in a day. McKenzie has had three full drafts now. There are definitely some pieces that give the Raiders an exciting young core. The winds are changing and blowing, so put up your sails and enjoy where they take you.

COACHES

Success always starts at the top. A collection of men means nothing without a leader to guide and push them. With that said, the Raiders have overhauled their coaching staff for 2015.

  • Jack Del Rio is the new man at the healm. He is a hard-nosed, defensive-minded head coach. When he led the Jacksonville Jaguars from 2003-2011, his offenses were heavily skewed toward the run game.
  • Bill Musgrave is the new offensive coordinator. Many view him as vanilla and uninspiring, but Adrian Peterson did have his greatest statistical season under Musgrave, with Christian Ponder at quarterback. Christian Ponder people! I will hold judgement on Musgrave as the Raiders OC until games are actually played, but I have some optimism because of his job last year as the Philadelphia Eagles quarterbacks coach. I’m a huge fan of Chip Kelly and his system and Musgrave has said that he will incorporate many of the principles that he learned under Kelly.
  • Ken Norton, Jr. is the new defensive coordinator. He’s arriving from the Seattle Seahawks and should be well prepared in his first DC gig. Norton is a winner. He won three Super Bowl rings as a player and one as a coach. He’s tough, energetic, and received tons of praise from Pete Carroll when he left Seattle. He should inspire and elevate a Raiders defense with some great young pieces.
  • Mike Tice is known as one of the best offensive line coaches in the league. He was Del Rio’s first staff hire.

OFFENSE

QUARTERBACK

DEREK CARR

The Raiders haven’t had a franchise quarterback since Rich Gannon. That may have changed when McKenzie selected Carr in the second round of the 2014 NFL Draft. In his inaugural season, Carr started all 16 games and completed 348 passes on 599 attempts (58.1 completion percentage) for 3,270 yards. His touchdown to interception ratio was 21/12. His QBR was 38.4 and quarterback rating was 76.6. He averaged 5.46 yards per attempt and was sacked only 24 times.

The 599 attempts were seventh-most in the league last year. It’s going to be interesting to see how that plays out in 2015. Carr could approach 600 or more pass attempts in 2015. While the defense looks to be stout up front, the secondary is going to be porous. It looks like Carr is going to have to chase points often this season. In addition, if Musgrave does incorporate more uptempo, then the total number of plays run may increase from last year.

One troubling aspect of Carr’s 2014 season was the 5.46 yards per attempt. He was the dink and dunk master. While he did take some shots down the field, they were few and far between. One of the reasons was the group of receivers he had to throw to; James Jones, Andre Holmes, Brice Butler, Kenbrell Thompkins, Vincent Brown, Denarius Moore, Rod Streater, Mychal Rivera, and Marcel Reece. Not exactly a cornucopia of down-the-field weapons. With the arrival of Amari Cooper and Clive Walford, Carr now has weapons that can stretch the field and take it to the house on any play.

The 12 interceptions thrown and 24 sacks taken are impressive numbers for a rookie quarterback. He didn’t make many costly mistakes and showed the ability to make quick decisions and deliver the football on time. Seeing his big brother, David Carr, get pummeled in his NFL stint probably heightened the importance and accelerated that development. The experiences of his brother were probably invaluable for the success that Derek was able to have in his rookie year. With a year under his belt, a better offensive line, and an influx of receiving talent, Carr is poised to have continued success.

Carr ended as the No. 20 quarterback in fantasy last year with 191.50 points. I think he ends up in the teens this year. The consensus projections on Fantasy Pros are:

Comp Att Yards TD Int Rush Att Rush Yd Rush TD
340 570 3,794 19 14 40 103 0.7

Matthew Stafford ended as the No. 15 fantasy quarterback last year with 251.18 fantasy points.

Comp Att Yards TD Int Rush Att Rush Yd Rush TD
363 602 4247 22 12 43 93 2

As I mentioned above, I can see 600 attempts with a completion percentage over 60%. With more weapons and a more creative offensive scheme, 20+ touchdowns seem feasible, with the possibility of 25+. The interceptions will probably be around the 15 range. That would make Carr a solid QB2.

RUNNING BACKS

LATAVIUS MURRAY

Murray looks to be the lead back for the Raiders in 2015. After receiving a total of 10 carries in the first 10 games of 2014, the beast was finally unleashed on national television against the rival Kansas City Chiefs. Four attempts and 112 yards later with two touchdowns and a long of 90 yards, the world finally got a glimpse of the future. Is there any wonder Tony Sparano and the rest of the coaching staff was fired? Darren McFadden (3.4 yards-per-attempt) and Maurice Jones-Drew (2.2 yards-per-attempt) were the running backs holding Murray back? Really?

Murray was a three-star recruit out of high school and chose UCF over Boston College, Syracuse, and Maryland. While he had a successful college career, he was not invited to the NFL Combine. He performed spectacularly at the UCF Pro Day, though, and was subsequently drafted by the Raiders in 2013 with the 181st overall pick. His combine numbers were comparable to Adrian Peterson.

As we all know, numbers on sheets do not make a great football player. Jerick McKinnon was hyped last year after Peterson was suspended because his measurables were also off the chart. He was not able to supplant Matt Asiata. His combine numbers were all better than Peterson’s. SPARQ, a metric developed by Nike to measure athleticism, rated McKinnon with a score of 147.5. Peterson came in at 131.1 and Murray 132.9.

The rushing attack should be more potent with the acquisition of Hudson, scheme of Musgrave, and overall philosophy of Del Rio.

Reasons to be wary of Murray in 2015:

  • Injury history. Tore his ACL in 2009. Sprained shoulder in 2012 causing him to miss several games. Fractured his ankle in 2013 and missed his entire rookie campaign. Sprained foot in 2013 causing him to miss OTAs. Suffered a concussion in the Chiefs game in 2014.
  • Roy Helu may be the third-down back.
  • The Raiders defense could be so porous that the offense may have to chase points and go more pass heavy, which may give more snaps to Helu.

Murray’s current ADP is 44 (RB22). I think the Raiders are going to surprise a lot of people this year. I think he is properly valued, as he is situated in the Todd Gurley, Joseph Randle, and T.J. Yeldon range. Murray is one of those players that can become a RB1, he is that talented. Every year, around 50% of the running backs drafted in the first round do not return the appropriate value. When five fall out, there must be fresh meat to replace them.

ROY HELU

Helu is a very skilled running back, especially as a receiver out of the backfield. It is presumed that he will claim the third-down, pass-catching role. We will just have to wait and see how it plays out. Helu is fast, very fast, clocking 4.42 seconds in the 40-yard dash. In the four games that he’s received 20 or more carries, he rushed for better than 4.3 yards per carry in three of them. Granted, those came in his rookie year. It’s too bad his 2012 season was cut short due to injury.

Mike Shanahan drafted Alfred Morris in 2012 and Helu was relegated to second fiddle. He comes to Oakland with a fresh opportunity to carve out a significant role. If Murray were to falter, there could be significant upside if he were to become a bell cow back. At worst, he looks to be the third-down back. If Helu locks down the passing-down role and the Raiders find themselves in catch up mode often, then Helu’s value obviously shoots up.

Helu currently has an ADP of 150 (RB51). There is a ton of value where Helu is currently getting drafted.

TRENT RICHARDSON

Man, what happened to this guy. He was jump-cutting and running all over would-be tacklers in 2012 for the Browns. Now, he is a reclamation project. I actually think this is a good signing by GM McKenzie. It’s all upside. He had to give Richardson guaranteed money, but he was forced to pay out a minimum amount of salary anyways. Richardson is young and this is probably his last opportunity, so motivation should be there. If he doesn’t work out, it’s not a big deal because a huge investment wasn’t required.

With that said, I don’t expect much from Richardson. He couldn’t produce in an offense led by Andrew Luck. I don’t think much more needs to be said. In addition, his attitude and dedication to the game is suspect. He may get a carry here or there during the season to keep the other backs fresh, but if anything happens to Latavius Murray, I think it will be Roy Helu who is the handcuff.

WIDE RECEIVERS

AMARI COOPER

The No. 1 pick of the Raiders is going to make an immediate impact. He’s fast, possesses good hands, is ultra-quick, and runs the full route tree. His current ADP of 52 overall (WR22) is definitely rich, so you won’t be receiving a discount for procuring value, but you will get production.

Derek Carr has one year under his belt, showed good decision making, and was fairly accurate. He is going to pepper Cooper with targets galore. James Jones caught 73 balls for goodness’ sake. When leading the Fresno State Bulldogs, Davante Adams caught 131 balls for 1,718 yards with 24 touchdowns in 2013. In 2012, Adams caught 102 balls for 1,312 yards with 14 touchdowns. Carr knows when he has a play-maker on the outside and will feed him.

The most encouraging aspect about Cooper is his intangibles. He has all the combine numbers to make Al Davis drool. What separates the ballers from the superstars is the work ethic and dedication. When Carr finally had a chance to work out with Cooper in July, he raved about his route running, ability to gain separation, and make plays after the catch. What really got him excited though was this: “His work ethic is second to none…our plan was to throw a couple more times, but he texted me that night. He said, ‘hey, let’s throw at least three more times. I need to get this one route right.” As a Raider fan, this kind of stuff gets me pumped because those were the kind of stories that were heard when talking about Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison. I hope it works out the same way.

MICHAEL CRABTREE

Raider fans finally get the receiver they wanted in the 2009 NFL Draft. I still get Darrius Heyward-Bey nightmares. It’s too bad it came six years too late, and one Achilles injury later. Crabtree has managed one year with over 1,000 yards receiving in his six-year career. He’s never caught more than 85 balls in a season. The 49ers offense was run-oriented and Colin Kaepernick is not the most accurate quarterback, so that definitely needs to factor into any analysis.

Crabtree has never been known as a burner, although his 40-yard dash time was a respectable 4.54 seconds. His route running and ability to catch the ball in traffic were his staples. With the Achilles injury in 2013, one has to wonder if he can continue to be effective. That is a devastating injury. Last year, he caught 68 passes for 698 yards with four touchdowns. His average plummeted to 10.3 yards per catch after being in the 13-yard range the rest of his career.

Crabtree is being drafted as the No. 67 wide receiver (185 overall). I think that is still too high. I’d rather have Mohamed Sanu or Cole Beasley.

ROD STREATER

Streater’s 2014 campaign was cut short by a broken foot. It’s a shame because he showed explosive play-making ability in his prior two seasons.

 YEAR  GP  REC  YDS  AVG  LNG  TD
 2012  16  39  584  15  64  3
 2013  16  60  888  14.8  66  4

Word out of camp is that Streater has regained his explosiveness and is poised to be the third receiver behind Cooper and Crabtree. There has also been chatter of Streater contending for Comeback Player of the Year.

Streater is not getting drafted in most leagues. Towards the end of the draft, you want upside players. Streater fits the mold perfectly. It would not shock me if he supplants Crabtree and starts opposite Cooper. Look at the 2013 stats from above again. Now realize that he ascertained those numbers with Terrelle Pryor and Matt McGloin at quarterback.

THE REST

Andre HolmesKenbrell Thompkins, Brice Butler fill out the wide receiving core. They probably won’t be fantasy relevant in 2015.

TIGHT ENDS

MYCHAL RIVERA

Rivera caught 58 passes for 534 yards with four touchdowns in 2014. Rivera is probably best known for being the brother of Naya Rivera, the actress on Glee. Rivera’s ADP is the 30th TE off the board (251 overall). I don’t think he will be fantasy relevant because of…

CLIVE WALFORD

Walford was selected with the No. 68 overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. He’s 6’ 4”, 258 lbs and ran a 4.79 40-yard dash. He was an excellent blocker and pass catcher at the University of Miami. Dwayne Allen has been a comparison. It is very rare that a rookie tight end has an impact. In fact, according to Pro-Football-Reference.com’s play index, only 26 rookie tight ends have ever topped the 500-yard mark. None have reached the 900-yard mark.

I don’t think Walford will break the trend of recent history, but I do think he will force the phasing out of Rivera at some point. Walford is known to be an excellent run blocker. If that’s the case in the NFL, then he may see the field more than Rivera, especially if the Raiders commit to the run game as I believe they will. Walford has a reputation for having excellent hands. If he can exhibit any explosive, down-the-field ability, then he will be on the field, as Rivera has not been a dynamic play-maker.

OFFENSIVE LINE

The trenches are where most games are won or lost. Look what the Dallas Cowboys did with one of the best offensive lines in the league last year. According to Pro Football Focus, the Raiders ranked as the No. 16 offensive line for 2014, 14th in pass blocking and 24th in run blocking.

  • Free agent pickup, Donald Penn, was surprisingly good last year and looks to be the starting left tackle for 2015.
  • Gabe Jackson, the 6’ 4”, 340 lb behemoth, was a third-round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. He has been drawing rave reviews from OL coach Mike Tice. “I think he’s a rising start. I think he has a chance to be a really good one.” Left guard looks to be solid for 2015.
  • Rodney Hudson was brought in to replace Stefen Wisniewski at center. This should be a significant improvement for the Raiders offensive line and run game in general. All reports are that Hudson is a vocal leader and was an intergral component for the run game in Kansas City. According to Pro Football Focus, Hudson graded out at +13 in 1,031 snaps in 2014. Wisniewski graded out at -2.5 in 1,041 snaps.
  • Austin Howard will be moved back to RT after playing RG in 2014. The Raiders signed him to a five-year, $30 million deal last offseason. He was an above-average RT for the Jets prior to coming to Oakland, where he struggled at RG. 2013 second-round pick, Menelik Watson, could compete for this spot. While many have labeled him a bust, he’s still young and dealt with a rash of injuries over the past few years.
  • Khalif Barnes looks to be the starting RG in 2015. He struggles in the run game and could be the weak link in the Raiders offensive line. Rookie Jon Feliciano doesn’t look ready to make an impact. J’Marcus Webb, formerly of the Minnesota Vikings, was acquired in the offseason. He has primarily manned the tackle position but could be in the mix at right guard as well.

DEFENSE

This should be a much improved unit. Del Rio and Norton, Jr. should motivate and scheme well. They will probably utilize a 4-3 alignment. I would surmise that this will be an aggressive unit, but how much will they blitz? In order for the Raiders to implement Del Rio’s vision of ball-control, the defense must perform well so the offense doesn’t have to chase points.

DEFENSIVE LINE

  • Justin Ellis is a mountain of a man at 6’ 2”, 331 lbs. “Jelly” was the fourth-round pick of the Raiders in the 2014 NFL Draft. While he won’t rack up numbers, he will force offenses to double-team him. He is an immovable force and will free up the linebackers to make more plays.
  • Dan Williams, formerly of the Arizona Cardinals, was signed in the offseason. His strength is stopping the run. Pro Football Focus rated him No. 8 against the run, just behind Ndamukong Suh. What makes Williams great is his versatility. He can line up inside or outside and rates favorably in rushing the passer. Williams was one of only 12 defensive tackles that rated positively both against the run and pass, according to Pro Football Focus.
  • Justin Tuck is solid yet unspectacular on the edge. He’s 32 years old and accumulated five sacks, 28 tackles, and one interception last year. He is great for leadership in the locker room so that cannot be understated. He’s also solid against the run.
  • Mario Edwards Jr. was selected No. 35 overall in the 2015 NFL Draft. He is 6’ 3”, 279 lbs, runs a 4.84 40-yard dash, 32 ½ inch vertical jump, 10-foot broad jump, and has long arms and huge hands. The strength of Edwards’ game is his versatility, as he can line up all across the defensive line. The reason he fell in the draft was because of his spotty effort and work ethic. If Norton, Jr. can coax the maximum out of him, he could be a tremendous component of the Raiders defense and a viable IDP asset.

LINEBACKERS

  • Khalil Mack has been as good as advertised. In his rookie season, he accumulated 75 combined tackles, four sacks, and one forced fumble. He finished third in Defensive Rookie of the Year voting. Mack was also rated as Pro Football Focus’ No. 1 4-3 OLB. He was excellent against the run and notched 40 quarterback hurries. I can’t wait to see what Del Rio and Norton, Jr. have in store for Mack. He is going to be a vital cog for a revamped Raiders defense.
  • Curtis Lofton was signed in free agency. He is a below-average run defender and limited in the passing game. He does provide veteran leadership and could have plays fall into his lap if Williams and Ellis do their jobs.
  • Sio Moore was the third-round pick of the 2013 NFL Draft. He has been a productive linebacker and one of the good finds for GM McKenzie. Unfortunately, he had hip surgery in the offseason but should be ready for training camp. I’m always hesitant about players coming off major surgery.
  • Malcolm Smith, the Super Bowl 48 MVP, was signed in the offseason. We have seen glimpses of his explosiveness and production, but he was never able to carve out a substantial role in Seattle. With the injury to Moore, he could vie for that starting outside linebacker position. The other possibility is to move him to middle linebacker, if Lofton shows his age. Norton, Jr. knows him from his days in Seattle, so hopefully he can get the best out of him.

SECONDARY

  • Charles Woodson is back for another campaign, his 18th. He accumulated four interceptions and one sack last year, but rated as one of the worst safeties according to Pro Football Focus.
  • Nate Allen was signed to a substantial contract in the offseason. The Philadelphia Eagles fans were chuckling and praying to the heavens for their good fortune. Allen gets burned often in pass coverage. It could be a long year with Allen and Woodson manning the back end.
  • J. Hayden, Travis Carrie, and Keith McGill are slated to start at cornerback. This is a very young and inexperienced unit.

The front seven is much improved and looks to be a good run-stuffing unit. Can pressure be generated and will the back end hold up? The cornerbacks are so young that I am worried how effective they will be. Woodson and Allen may be liabilities in pass coverage. Opposing offenses will probably just ditch the run and pass, pass, and pass on the Raiders.

KICKER

SEBASTIAN JANIKOWSKI

The veteran had a down year last season, as he finished as the No. 27 kicker. That was due to a career low in attempts at 22. Kicker is such a volatile position, so I wouldn’t put too much stock into last year’s numbers. The number of attempts for Janikowski should increase because of an improving offense. He is not the most accurate kicker, as he sports a career 80.2 percent mark, but he can boom them from distance. If your league awards distance bonuses, then Janikowski is your man. The one thing you always have to be cognizant of is that he plays half of his games in O.co Coliseum, where field goals are kicked on a baseball infield, not a favorable situation for any kicker.

CONCLUSION

Going into this, I was thinking the Del Rio dream would come to fruition. The Raiders would play great defense and be able to ground and pound on offense. Everything was going swimmingly until I broke down the defense. The pass defense is going to be atrocious with that secondary. Why would any offense bang their head against a wall and try to run against a pretty stout defensive line? I can forsee plenty of dink and dunking to substitute for the ground game and teams scoring touchdowns through the air at will. With that said, the offense is indeed going to have to chase points. I entered this project with so much optimism for the upcoming Raiders season. I leave defeated and dejected. Another top-10 pick may be in the cards. At least there should be some fantasy goodness emanating from the Black Hole for the first time in a long time.

Stan Son is a correspondent at FantasyPros. To read more from Stan, check out his archive and follow him @Stan_Son

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