You Thought Han Solo Had a Tough Year: How to Fix the Oakland Raiders
Wow, Raiders fans, tough year.
I mean, maybe not as tough as Han Solo’s year in the new Star Wars. I mean, the guy is 73 years old and is still meandering around the galaxy with Chewbacca, who NEVER seems to get old. And by the way, isn’t it time for a new outfit? If Chewbacca was really a good friend, wouldn’t he just turn to Han and say “Hey bud, that’s pretty cool look you got… if it was 1978. How about we try a polo or something this time?” Or, for those of you who only speak Wookie – “Roar arr arr rargh arr?” Sorry about my pronunciation, my Wookie is a little rusty. Hard to make friends speaking Wookie, so I tend to avoid it in casual conversation. Anyway, all this is not even considering what he had to deal with in the new movie. Don’t worry, no spoilers here, because I’m a nice guy. But come on, if you haven’t seen the new “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”, what are you waiting for? It’s freaking’ STAR WARS! Don’t worry, I’ll wait, put this down and go NOW.
[Sigh… drums fingers while waiting…]
OK, so now that we’ve rectified that problem, let’s continue.
Regardless of what you think of Han Solo’s situation (and by the way, Star Wars VIII JUST started filming adding Benicio Del Toro and Laura Dern, so get your calendars marked!), being a Raiders fan has been tough. In 2015, the team took great strides forward with second year QB Derek Carr and rookie WR Amari Cooper creeping up on 50% with a 7-9 record.
But then the news broke that the Raiders had filed for relocation to Los Angeles along with the Rams and Chargers. Ultimately, the Rams ended up getting the gig in LA, the Chargers had the option to join them, but opted to stay at least one more year in San Diego, and the Raiders were left wondering if perhaps they should go elsewhere or stay in Oakland. And owner Mark Davis hasn’t been shy about discussing the possibility of moving to Las Vegas. But, at the end of the day, looks like Oakland will keep its Raiders at least for one more year.
— OAKLAND RAIDERS (@RAIDERS) February 11, 2016
So, crisis averted, at least for now. And we can focus on what the team needs to do to bring its winning ways back to Oakland.
Even though the Raiders had another losing season at 7-9, and aside dealing with the possibility of not having a team at all in 2016, 2015 was actually a pretty good year. I had a lot more trepidation when I discussed this last year. In 2014, the Raiders only averaged 15.8 points per game (2nd lowest in the NFL) and 204.7 passing yards per game (7th worse in the NFL). Both of those marks were improved, as the Raiders averaged 22.4 points per game (17th best) and 242.4 passing yards per game (16th best) in 2015.
And if we look at Football Outsiders Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA) system which measures overall team efficiency on defense and offence, the Raiders improved from the 30th ranked offense and 26th ranked defense to the 17th ranked offense and 15th ranked defense.
On offense, Derek Carr looked much improved over his rookie season, as he threw for more yards (3,987), better completion percentage (61.1%), more TDs (32) and increased his passer rating for 76.6 to 91.1. Amari Cooper was inconsistent (7 games with under 50 yards and no TDs), but played well in his rookie season amassing 1,070 yards and 6 TDs, earning his first Pro Bowl berth. And crossing the bay did wonders for Michael Crabtree as he had the second best season of his career year turning back time with 922 yards and 9 TDs.
But on the ground, regardless of Latavius Murray’s impressive final stats (1,066 rush yards and 6 TDs), there were serious inconsistencies which led to several benchings by HC Jack Del Rio. And Del Rio wasn’t wrong, as the Raiders had the 5th worst run offense in the NFL (91.1 yards per game). In fact, if we look at Football Outsiders Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement (DYAR) and DVOA for Murray, essentially measuring total RB value and RB value per play over average, he was just 29th and 32nd among RBs in 2015 respectively. That’s basically the basement among starting RBs. So it makes sense that ESPN’s Adam Caplan hears the Raiders will be “looking to add another running back” this offseason.
On defense, it’s been a bit of a mixed bag. As noted, overall defense has been improved, as has the run defense (allowing the 13th least rush yards (104.9) this season), but the pass defense has been suspect. The Raiders have allowed the 7th most passing yards (258.8), the 3rd most receptions (404) and was ranked 23rd for pass defense by Football Outsiders with only 38 sacks and an adjusted sack percentage of 5.9%. Unfortunately, with Charles Woodson playing a solid last season and now retiring, it doesn’t appear that this will improve without some help.
With the second most cap space this off season ($71,931,686) and the 14th overall pick, there’s plenty of opportunity for the Raiders to make additions. In my opinion, the Raiders should look to add primarily on defense and then consider the offensive line, and last, perhaps consider RB options.
In the draft, the place to start, if possible, is at CB to shore up the secondary. As discussed, the pass defense has been suspect and could use some immediate attention. 2013 first-round CB D.J. Hayden was a miss, at least so far, but that isn’t reason to avoid going back to the well in 2016. The two targets I’d consider for the first round are Mackenzie Alexander (Clemson) and Vernon Hargreaves (Florida).
- Mackensie Alexander (CB – Clemson) – At 5 foot 11 inches, Alexander is not the optimal height for a CB in the NFL. But he has a high motor and elite closing speed, which makes him incredibly effective in coverage. He’s physical, doesn’t shy away from tackling, and is able to run routes with WRs. He hasn’t had an INT in college, but he was also sparingly challenged by opposing QBs, in part because of his effectiveness.
- Vernon Hargreaves (CB – Florida) – Also at 5 foot 11 inches, Hargreaves differentiates himself with longer consistency in college. In 3 years, Hargreaves had 10 INTs and 27 pass deflection, impressive numbers. He tends to be overly aggressive at times leaving WRs opportunity to find gaps, but he certainly has terrific upside and can step in and play immediately.
If there’s a miss at CB, I’d look at building the defensive line or look at inside linebacker. OLB Khalil Mack and DT Dan Williams are awesome, but DE Justin Tuck is retiring and OLB Aldon Smith has been suspended for a year. More depth will be important moving forward. There’s plenty of defensive talent in the draft, and I wouldn’t mind in the first round targeting one of Sheldon Rankins (DT – Louisville), Reforest Buckner (DE – Oregon) or Reggie Ragland (ILB – Alabama), in that order.
Aside from the defense, there may be some need to work on the offensive line in the draft as well if the Raiders can’t re-sign all the free agents there including LT Donald Penn, RG J’Marcus Webb, OT Khalif Barnes, and C Tony Bergstrom. But I’d prefer to focus on defense first in the draft and take some flyers on the offensive line later if necessary pending the free agency fallout.
It’s still a bit early to see who will be available in free agency, but the needs above in the draft should also be considered in free agency. Of course, much of it depends on who the Raiders manage to re-sign as well. However, if the Raiders indeed intend to get some RB help, I’d rather do that in free agency than the draft.
First, the Raiders could consider Matt Forte, who has just been informed that he would not be re-signed by the Bears. Being one of the leading pass catching backs in the NFL, Forte could help provide another safety valve for Carr and make the ground game more dynamic. The Raiders were looking to get DeMarco Murray last off season, who is a much different player than Forte, but certainly demonstrates that they’re not shy about supplementing or even replacing Latavius Murray. Lamar Miller and Chris Ivory might also test the waters in free agency. If that’s the case, I actually like Miller a little better due to his age (24) and lack of usage in early 2015. He’s only proven that more reps help him become more productive, and it’s possible that Miami will want to use second year RB Jay Ajayi more into 2016, so Miller may find a better payday on another team.
Another potential option would be to sign Alfred Morris. It’s already clear that the Washington Redskins are letting him get to free agency, happy to roll the dice with now second year RB Matt Jones instead. Morris is only 27, and prior to a down 2015, had averaged 4.5 yards per attempt with 28 rushing TDs in the previous 3 years. The down year actually helps bring his price tag down, so he may be a decent look if the Raiders are intent on adding RBs to the roster.
So there you go, Oakland. My blueprint for what needs to be addressed this off season.
Other than the whole “staying in Oakland” thing, of course. And that getting ready for the new Star Wars thing. But that goes without saying, doesn’t it?