The Oakland Raiders were hoping for a step forward this season, as they won just four games last season. A rough training camp and preseason has not given the experts much hope for the Raiders this season, as they are consistently picked to finish among the bottom three teams in the league.
The roster is not overly deep and light on true NFL talent. It has not been helped out by injuries to presumed key contributors, such as Jared Veldheer and Miles Burris. This has all the making of a long season for the Nation, but there are some bright spots that the fan base can look forward to. Let us look at the five reasons for Raiders’ fans to be optimistic about the upcoming season.
1. The Raiders finally get to see what they have in Terrelle Pryor
The Raiders’ fan base has been calling for this day since he was selected in the 2011 Supplemental draft. Terrelle Pryor has been handed the keys to the Raiders’ offense for opening, as he beat out Matt Flynn and Tyler Wilson during the preseason.
Pryor basically won the position on default with Flynn unable to consistently move the offense and Wilson played himself onto the practice squad. Pryor did not look great, but he was able to keep plays alive and showed some playmaking ability with his legs. Pryor went 17 for 32 for 221 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions through the air during the preseason. He was impressive on the ground with 14 carries for 131 yards and one touchdown.
Pryor’s skill set is amplified due to the pathetic play of the Raiders’ offensive line, as his ability to scramble and create plays with his speed is key to the offense staying on the field. The loss of Jared Veldheer for the majority of the season and Menelik Watson for an indefinite amount of time leaves the line with just one NFL starting caliber player in center Stefan Wisneiwski.
Pryor is going to struggle to be a consistent threat with his arm, as his accuracy is too suspect to take a major step forward without a major mechanics overhaul. He has a strong arm and could take advantage of defenders creeping up in the box to stop the run, which could open the door for Pryor to take chances deep.
Pryor’s ability to create big plays gives him an advantage over the dink and dunk approach of Matt Flynn, as his inability to hit the deep ball allows the defenses to play much tighter to the line of scrimmage. Pryor will be suspect to a lot of mistakes and turnovers, but his ability to hit a big play out of nowhere is the best chance for this offense to be successful at this point. At the very least, Pryor will make the offense somewhat watchable.
2. The rookies will have an impact this season
To me, the rookies are the most exciting thing to watch this season. The Raiders have finally added some young talent that has flashed the potential to become solid NFL players. It really comes down to four rookies that are most likely to star this season.
On offense, the Raiders have offensive tackle Menelik Watson and wide receiver Brice Butler. Watson is a highly athletic tackle with tools that scouts drool over, but his lack of experience causes him to struggle with his technique and the other nuances of his position. Watson also has not shown the ability to stay healthy, as he missed most of the preseason with a calf injury. He saw action in the final preseason at the left tackle position, despite never playing their in his career. He did not look like an all-star, but he did not look overwhelmed. He is a major factor in the run game and is still working on his ability to stop opposing pass rushers. He suffered a knee injury in practice prior to the opening game and will be out for the opener.
Brice Butler has been one of the lone bright spots on an anemic offense. He has prototypical size at the receiver position at 6’3” and 214 pounds and blazing speed with a 4.36 second 40-yard dash on his pro day. He has flashed his big play ability throughout camp. He also flashed during the preseason with five receptions and a team leading 108 yards receiving, while adding a touchdown. He is a player that is rising quickly with his impressive play and should challenge for snaps in the receiver rotation. He is a big play threat much like Denarius Moore, but his size allows him to get up and challenge defensive backs for jump balls.
On defense, the rookies to watch are linebacker Sio Moore and corner back D.J. Hayden. Moore is a true play maker from the linebacker position. He has the ability to get into an opposing backfield and create havoc. He was not brought on blitzes much during the preseason, as the Raiders did not want to put anything on tape. Despite not being allowed to attack, Moore racked up 6 tackles and the team’s only sack against an opposing first-team offense. Moore is going to be pivotal to the Raiders’ pass rush on blitzes.
Hayden is the crown jewel of the Raiders’ draft class. He was their first round pick at a major position of need. He is coming back from a horrific injury in college and was not allowed to be a full participant for most of training camp and preseason. He saw his action in the third preseason game against the Bears and looked rusty, but also flashed ability to cover and to tackle. He is looking to earn a starting spot at the outside corner position, which will push Tracy Porter into the slot. Hayden has the ability to be a shutdown corner on the outside and it will be fun to watch how he grows as the season progresses.
3. The rise of Rod Streater
Much has been written this preseason about Streater’s rise to becoming the Raiders’ number one wide receiver. Streater was the favorite option for all of the quarterbacks throughout camp and improved his consistency in catching the ball. Streater is a bigger body and he has good speed to stretch the play down the field.
Streater did not really shine this preseason with just four receptions for 51 yards. He also suffered a concussion during the third preseason game, but only missed four days and played in the team’s preseason finale.
His potential to put up big stats might be limited by the quarterback play, as neither option at quarterback inspires much confidence in the passing attack. It has been reported recently that Streater has built a solid connection with the presumed starter Pryor. Pryor faith in Streater could lead to most of the targets coming his way.
This could lead to a pretty good season for the former undrafted free agent. He has the potential to be the Raiders’ leading receiver this season, but his most probable ceiling is that of a number two receiver on a great receiving corp.
4. The secondary will look much better this season
Last season, the Raiders secondary was an absolute disaster. They gave nearly 236 yards per game through the air. They tied for the eighth most passing touchdowns allowed in the entire league with 28, while only intercepting 11 passes. They also had the third worst quarterback rating against with opposing quarterbacks an average rating of 97.5 against.
The Raiders are giving their secondary a complete overhaul, as the top five defensive backs from last season are no longer on the team. The only returning starter is Tyvon Branch. He will be paired up with former Raider Charles Woodson. Woodson is coming off an injury, but has shown flashes that he still possesses some of that play making ability that have made him a potential hall of famer. Both show versatility to play the pass and the run, but look better set at playing near the line of scrimmage. The back up safety is Usama Young and provides good depth behind Woodson and Branch.
The corner position is completely new with two free agent signings and a draft pick entering the mix. The two biggest signings that the Raiders made this offseason were corner backs Mike Jenkins and Tracy Porter. Both players bring talent at a discounted price, as both players are coming off of down seasons. Both players have started at the NFL level and had success, which is an improvement over last year already. They also have the talented rookie in Hayden. Hayden is athletic with good cover skills and is good enough to win a starting position and push Porter inside to the slot.
The corner back depth is much better with solid young players in Phillip Adams and Chimdi Chekwa. Adams was highly impressive last season and has the talent to be included in the rotation. Chekwa earned his stripes on the Raiders’ practice squad last season and it paid off, as he cracked the 53-man roster this season. The depth is much deeper in the secondary and they should play much better as a unit, especially if they front seven can generate a consistent pass rush.
5. They will be in line for a franchise changing player in next year’s draft
Let’s face it, the Raiders are going to struggle to win football games this season. They have problems along both lines, little playmaking ability at the skill positions, and question marks at the quarterback position. These question marks are going to lead to a painfully long season, especially against a schedule that is full of playoff contenders. The Raiders are a three to five win team and have a shot at a top three pick this up coming draft.
If the Raiders finish among the league’s worst, the fan base should not hang their heads. The upcoming draft is full of talented players and the top of the draft has players that change the fortunes of a franchise.
The obvious top player is Jadeveon Clowney, who is an absolute beast along the defensive line. Clowney is an athletic freak with size, speed, and strength that ranks among the top at his position. He would be the savior to the Raiders troubles along the defensive line, as a potential line bookend by Clowney and Lamarr Houston has the potential to be a nightmare for opposing tackles. Clowney is also the type of player that makes his teammates better by the attention he commands, which opens up his teammates to make plays.
The other top player at a position of need is quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. Bridgewater is a potential Heisman candidate on a Louisville squad that is going to be in the national title hunt. Bridgewater is an exceptional passer with a cannon arm and great accuracy. He is also highly mobile and has a great awareness of the pocket. Bridgewater is athletic enough to beat teams with his legs, but he should be considered as a pocket passer with his ability to stand tall and deliver strikes all over the field. He would give the Raiders their first franchise quarterback in a long time and potentially the most talented quarterback in franchise history.
If the Raiders fall out of the top two there are plenty of players that should have fans drooling. Quarterbacks Marcus Mariota and Tajh Boyd are a step below Bridgewater, but much better than any quarterback in last year’s class. Both have the potential to be stars in the league. Offensive tackles Jake Matthews and Taylor Lewan could provide insurance if the team is unable to lock up Veldheer. Receivers Marquise Lee and Sammy Watkins could give the Raiders playmaking receivers they have not had since Tim Brown. On defense, linebackers C.J. Mosely and Anthony Barr would be immediate starters at linebacker for the Raiders.