Critics won’t stop with hate on the 2018 Oakland Raiders. New head coach Jon Gruden has been out of coaching too long. His “old school style” will not mesh with the newer generation of players. There are too many “old guys” on the team. The Raiders roster still has so many holes in it. Many are already forgetting that just two seasons ago, Oakland went 12-4 and could have made a deep playoff run if not for a broken leg suffered by quarterback Derek Carr (who was also having an MVP-caliber season).
The facts are that Gruden doesn’t even have to be great for the Raiders to return to form. No one was lauding the 2016 squad for their transcendent coaching. The roster still had a lot of holes in it, especially on defense. Yet, the team was exciting to watch and won a lot of games. While the roster has undergone a lot of changes in just two years, the core of talent has remained constant. Most of the moves made have been upgrades, with many of the other wait-and-see players having more upside than downside.
This article breaks down all of the offensive roster changes position by position to demonstrate that the Silver and Black are closer to making a championship run than many realize.
Oakland Raiders Will Return to 2016 Form: Comparing the 2016 Offense to its 2018 Projected Starters
Here is a look at Oakland’s 2016 offensive starters versus the projected changes on 2018’s
|Running Back||Latavius Murray||Marshawn Lynch|
|Running Back||Taiwan Jones||Doug Martin|
|Fullback||Jamize Olawale||Keith Smith|
|Wide Receiver||Amari Cooper|
|Wide Receiver||Michael Crabtree||Jordy Nelson|
|Wide Receiver||Seth Roberts||Ryan Switzer|
|Wide Receiver||Andre Holmes||Martavis Bryant|
|Tight End||Clive Walford||Jared Cook|
|Left Tackle||Donald Penn|
|Left Guard||Kelechi Osemele|
|Right Guard||Gabe Jackson|
|Right tackle||Austin Howard||Kolton Miller|
Ryan Switzer vs Seth Roberts
Seth Roberts has been the bane of many Raiders fan’s existences for a few years. Admittedly, he came up big at the end of a few games for them during their magical regular season run in 2016, but aside from that, he has been the epitome of unreliable. Aside from his five touchdowns grabs that year, he only caught 38 of 77 balls thrown his way. That’s under a 50% catch rate. He improved a bit on his rate last season but dropped down to one touchdown and seemed to never come through when the Raiders needed him most.
Ryan Switzer is already leaving his mark during training camp and projected to start in the slot. Only in his second season, the Raiders acquired him in a trade for Jihad Ward. Although he has seen very limited action so far, Switzer has shown that he is a polished route runner who doesn’t drop passes. It’s a small sample size, but he caught six of seven targets thrown at him during his limited time with the Cowboys. He doesn’t need to be flashy as the Raiders slot guy, he just needs to be reliable, something Roberts is not.
Martavis Bryant vs Andre Holmes
This one is a wild-card because knowing Martavis Bryant’s history, there is the constant fear of him facing an indefinite ban. If he does stay on the field and learn the offense, he will undoubtedly make plays. As it is now, Gruden wants him to learn the playbook, keeping him out of the top three starters of the wide receiver group, but a team would be hard-pressed to find a better number four receiver than Bryant.
At the very least, Bryant will take on the role that Andre Holmes played in the 2016 season as a deep threat that stretches the field. While Holmes only managed 14 receptions off 25 targets, he did manage three touchdowns. Holmes was good at high-pointing balls but still struggled to come down with them. He also lacked the top-end speed to really run away from defenders. Bryant has all of that and more. He is an obvious upgrade to Holmes, but his worst enemy is himself.
Jared Cook vs Clive Walford
This is probably the most obvious and proven upgrade from 2016’s team. Jared Cook showed that he can play in 2017 and was usually one of the few bright spots on the field in many games. Clive Walford was the team’s starter during the 2016 season, but he did not live up to expectations. Cook’s 688 yards last season almost doubled Walford’s 2016 totals. Walford spent last season as a backup, only managing nine receptions for 80 yards. He signed with the New York Jets in the offseason.
Cook’s one knock is his age. He is already 31 years old, so there is the threat of his play dropping off and his body deteriorating. So far in camp, he looks as good as ever, so if healthy, he should be one of many weapons for the Raiders on offense.
Latavius Murray vs Marshawn Lynch
This one is only debatable on the surface. In 2017, Oakland let Latavius Murray walk in free agency, later signing Marshawn Lynch out of retirement. Lynch had what many consider a disappointing season. He turned 207 carries into 891 yards and seven touchdowns. This was still better than Murray’s 2016 season when he totaled 195 carries for 788 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Sure, Murray had him beat in touchdowns, but Oakland’s offense simply didn’t give Lynch as many opportunities as Murray had to punch it into the red zone. Lynch also averaged 4.3 to Murray’s 4.0 yards per carry. Lynch may be a year older, but by all accounts, he looks a lot better than he did this time last season. He also should have had a 60-yard touchdown in the team’s first preseason game:
Marshawn Lynch ran 60 yards for a touchdown that was called back. pic.twitter.com/FeQlBU96pB
— Brad Galli (@BradGalli) August 11, 2018
It is also worth mentioning that the Raiders look a lot better behind Lynch than they have in a few seasons. Although Doug Martin was the definition of hot and cold as a lead back for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, he should be a solid contributor in whatever role he takes this year in the Silver and Black. Chris Warren also impressed in his first preseason game.
Keith Smith vs Jamize Olawale
Oakland and the Dallas Cowboys swapped fullbacks this offseason. The Raiders signed Keith Smith as a free agent and then traded Jamize Olawale to the Cowboys, where Smith played last season. It is tough to compare these two backs because of their different styles. Olawale was a versatile back, who could run, catch and block. None of what he did was above average though. Smith, on the other hand, thrived at opening holes for Ezekiel Elliott, and is about as pure of blocking fullback as there is these days.
Overall, with so much more depth at running back and wide receiver, and Oakland looking to pound the ball more than ever, this should be looked at as a definite upgrade considering the offensive philosophy of the Gruden.
Jordy Nelson vs Michael Crabtree
This one is the toughest to predict, and a final decision will have to be made towards the end of the 2018 season. Oakland cut Michael Crabtree, and almost immediately replaced him with Jordy Nelson. The two actually have a lot in common. Both are great possession receivers, known for their knack for finding the end zone. In each of Crabtree’s three seasons with the Raiders, he had at least eight touchdown receptions, totaling 25 in the past three years. Nelson missed 2015 due to injury but has totaled a whopping 33 in the last three seasons he was on the field. Both had disappointing 2017 seasons. Crabtree was still better overall, at least going over 600 yards, but Nelson couldn’t even crack 500. He was missing his quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, for most of the season though.
The biggest issue with Nelson is his age. He is already 33 years old, making many wonder how much he really has left in the tank. Still, Gruden has shown he knows how to work with older wide receivers, and his west coast system should play to Nelson’s strengths. Gruden rostered two older wide receivers (albeit Hall of Famers), during his final season with the Silver and Black. Tim Brown was already 35. Jerry Rice was even older at 39. In Gruden’s complicated offense, Nelson’s veteran savvy and attention to detail should be a better fit than Crabtree would have been.
Kolton Miller/Breno Giacomini vs Austin Howard
Although Austin Howard was not the best of the Raiders 2016 offensive line, he still did his job and was more let go due to salary reasons. This one is debatable more because of the uncertainty over who will get the start. While many analysts predict first-round pick Kolton Miller gets the start at right tackle, as of now Miller is listed as the Raiders starting left tackle as Donald Penn rehabs from injury. Still, the team has been adamant publicly that they want to keep Miller at left tackle, even if it means sitting him behind Penn for now.
This is not an ideal situation. The idea of Breno Giacomini, who many thought was signed as a depth player, actually starting for the team sounds horrifying. Ideally, the Raiders decide that they want to get their best men on the field. The best thing to do is to move Miller over and have him start at right tackle for this year while Penn plays out this year with Oakland at left tackle.
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