By The Hudsonian, Joshua Hudson (with Contributions from Joe Zollo and Chris Tyler)
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Coming off a 12-4 record in 2016, the 2017 Raiders had their sights set on greater things. Derek Carr returned from injury, they brought Beast Mode, Marshawn Lynch, back from retirement, and the team announced they were moving to Las Vegas in 2019. It was an eventful offseason to say the least. Unfortunately, the Raiders did not win 12 games. In fact, they didn’t win their division nor qualify for a playoff berth. Carr hurt his back, missed a game, and was ineffective all season. Amari Cooper did not take the typical third year jump most receivers take and aside from one spectacular 200 yard receiving game, was mediocre at best all season. The team fired Jack Del Rio and brought back Chucky. That’s right folks. Get ready for the return of Jon Gruden to the Raiders’ sidelines!
|(Projected Starting Lineup)|
|QB3||Christian Hackenberg (w/ NYJ)||N/A||N/A|
|RB2||Doug Martin (w/ TB)||76.30||RB62|
|WR2||Jordy Nelson (w/ GB)||137.20||WR43|
|WR3||Martavis Bryant (w/ PIT)||120.00||WR50|
|WR5||Ryan Switzer (w/ DAL)||13.40||WR152|
Rookies and Undrafted Free Agents to Watch: WR Marcell Ateman
New head coach Jon Gruden should be thrilled. In all his years as a head coach, he’s never had a talented young QB like Derek Carr. He consistently trotted out veterans like Rich Gannon and Brad Johnson and turned them into respectable QBs in the league. Imagine what he can do with someone who has already established himself as an upper-tier quarterback?
Carr was in the MVP conversation in 2016, leading the Raiders to a 12-4 season. If he doesn’t get hurt in Week 15 that year, the Raiders likely win at least one playoff game. Through four seasons in the league, Carr has tossed 103 TDs, the 5th most of any QB in their first four years in the league in NFL history. His 14,690 passing yards rank 8th. His 1,378 completions rank 2nd. Carr should be even better if Gruden remembers how to coach QBs. Gannon averaged 314.47 fantasy points from 1999-2001. During those years, those were top 5 numbers at QB. Nowadays, that’s low tier QB1 numbers. Carr has finished as QB20, QB12, QB7, and QB16 in his four years in the league. I have faith that Gruden can get Carr back on the road to success. One way to do that is to get back to the deep passing game.
Carr’s QB rating while throwing the ball 20 yards or more downfield ranked 4th and 5th in 2015 and 2016, respectively. That fell to 15th during his injury-riddled 2017 campaign. His top two targets, Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper, combined for 584 receiving yards and 9 TDs in 2015 and 599 yards and 6 TDs in 2016 on said throws. I’ll talk more about new targets, Jordy Nelson and Martavis Bryant, but they too can get deep. With his top three receivers heading into 2018 capable of getting down the field, Gruden can devise a game plan to get receivers deep because Carr can find them. A healthy Carr in 2018 should have no problem eclipsing 4,000 passing yards for the first time in his career, with 26 TDs and 11 INTs. That should put him as a high end QB2 with QB1 upside. If I haven’t said it before, I’ll say it now: you can wait on drafting QBs. Guys like Carr are one reason why that’s true.
Backing up Carr is former 1st round pick E.J. Manuel. The Raiders also have former 4th round pick Connor Cook and recently traded for former Jets QB Christian Hackenberg. Manuel will be the immediate fill in, and if pressed into action, provides top 25 numbers, especially with his ability to gain yards on the ground. Cook and Hackenberg will battle for 3rd string and with Gruden’s love affair with Hackenberg — Jets fan can tell you, he’ll break your heart — I bet Cook finds a new home.
Beast Mode was lured out of retirement in what can only be called a publicity stunt to keep interest in the Raiders as they continue to play in Oakland before they officially move to Las Vegas. Lynch started the season slow, knocking off a year’s worth of rust, but finished the season strong. Over the last five weeks, Lynch was RB13. He finished 2017 as RB24. In PPR formats like Club Fantasy, we value RBs that can catch passes and run through defenses. Lynch covers the latter, but doesn’t put up the kind of pass catching numbers we prefer to see. And in a mostly injury free year, Lynch failed to exceed 1,000 yards rushing. Basically, this isn’t the Beast Mode we saw all those years in Seattle.
What Lynch still does better than most running backs is shed blockers. He finished 4th in 2017 with 3.09 yards after first contact and forced 42 missed tackles, good for 5th in the league. He’s still a punishing runner. He’s a hammer designed to bludgeon defenses. And Gruden is the carpenter. Or Mister Fix-It, if you prefer that. Lynch is an RB3 and nothing more. He had 6 games under 10 points, and only 3 games over 20 points. Let me rush to draft that kind of production. Not.
Backing up Lynch is newly signed Doug Martin. Throughout Martin’s career, he’s either been great or awful. He either rushes for more than 1,400 yards or just over 400 yards. There really is no in between. So what do the Raiders see in Martin? If I had to guess, it’s because Martin is basically Beast Mode Lite. During Martin’s last productive season in 2015, he led the league in yards after contact and in forced missed tackles. Give him carries and a quality offensive line, and he can do some damage. The Raiders featured the 8th best offensive line in 2017 according to Pro Football Focus, so in the event of an injury to Marshawn Lynch, Martin has the ability to put up RB2 numbers. If you believe in patterns, this actually would be the year that Martin plays 16 games, tops 280 carries and rushes for over 1,400 yards. So if it happens, you heard it here first. But on the real, Martin is strictly a Lynch handcuff, nothing more.
Then there are the mighty mites, Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington. Lynch’s appearance in Oakland severely cut into what limited touches Richard and Washington were already receiving, and now with Martin in the fold, these two are looking strictly at passing down duties. And their touches are pretty evenly split, like siblings with parents who don’t want the other to think one is more special than the other. But if you dig a little deeper, Richard may be the better option. Just last year, Richard did more with less, putting together 4.9 yards per carry and 9.5 yards per reception. Washington? 2.7 and 5.8. Even in 2016, Richard had less carries and more yards than Washington. In fact, with enough carries, Richard would’ve led the league in yards after contact with 3.63. He even had 28 forced missed tackles on 112 touches. Maybe Gruden is smart enough to realize Richard is the back to use, but I feel like they’ll still be evenly used. If you choose between the two, you want Richard. But you’re only looking at about 120 touches tops for either, hardly a sound investment on draft day.
The Raiders have ranked no better than 16th in receiving yards over the last four years. If that doesn’t show that change was needed, I don’t know what does. Obviously a new coach with a new offense is a start, but sometimes personnel is the problem as well. The Raiders drafted Amari Cooper in the 1st round in 2015 and signed former 49ers WR Michael Crabtree the same year. While Crabtree led the team in receptions every year since then, the team parted ways with him when Gruden came on board. Cooper is expected to be the guy going forward. When receivers hit their third year, that’s typically when they blossom. Cooper went backwards in 2017, going from 83 catches for 1,153 and 5 TDs in 2016 to 48 catches for 680 yards and 7 TDs last year. At least the TDs went up, right? We’ve talked about Carr’s need to get back to throwing deep and Cooper’s ability to stretch the field, but what will help Cooper succeed is the success of his new running mates. He may not reach the heights of 2015 as WR19 or 2016 as WR13, but I think Cooper is still a top 20 target in fantasy. Cooper’s ceiling is somewhere around 85 catches for 1,100 yards and 6 TDs. Gruden has come out and said he wants Cooper to be the guy. I’m looking for a career high in targets as a result and I want someone like Cooper on my team who will generate a ton of targets.
What will make those projections difficult are the new kids on the block. The Raiders brought in former Packers receiver Jordy Nelson to take Crabtree’s spot and traded for Steelers’ WR Martavis Bryant. Nelson is two years removed from his last productive season (2016) and Bryant is one blunt away from a permanent ban from the NFL. He’s also displaying some pretty diva-like behavior that ultimately got him traded from Pittsburgh. How he fits in with Jon Gruden is going to be one hell of a story line. As I mentioned before, Carr needs to go deep. He’s efficient at it and it helps drive the offense. Nelson and Bryant are pretty skilled at going downfield.
In 2016, Nelson finished as WR3 with 292.10 fantasy points. He also went deep often enough to generate 383 yards and 3 TDs. Bryant has the wheels to get deep as well. Prior to his season long suspension in 2016 and limited role in 2017, he did okay for himself in 2015. At the time of his return from suspension in Week 6 through week 16, he finished as WR11. His deep receiving numbers? 318 yards and 3 TDs. Nelson is older and who knows how much he has left. Gruden had great success with a few older receivers his first go around in Oakland so there’s hope for Nelson. If Nelson remains healthy all year, I’m expecting top 40 numbers, something like 45 catches for 600 yards and 5 TDs.
In the later rounds, I would be very interested in taking a flier on Bryant. Yes, he’s their number three option in the passing game and yes he’s a basket case, but he’s a talented basket case. Plus he’s younger and can easily team with Cooper for many years to come. His ceiling is top 25, but I think Bryant has roughly equal numbers to Nelson and lands in the WR4 range.
The rest of the receiving corps is hardly overwhelming but they’ll have their moments. Seth Roberts has good size and has been moderately productive as a number 3 option. The presence of Bryant relegates him to four-wide sets so it’s unlikely he reaches the 455 yards he had in 2017. Three other receivers on the roster — Griff Whalen, Dwayne Harris, and Ryan Switzer — have experience as returners. They, along with 7th round pick Marcell Ateman, are fighting for the last two roster spots. If I had to guess, Ateman and Switzer make the team due to their youth. Switzer can man the slot, as can Nelson and Cooper, and Ateman will be the understudy. Ateman averaged almost 20 yards a reception last year in college so there’s potential there. Are you seeing how little confidence I have in any of these players to make a dent on your rosters?
When you think of Oakland, you don’t think of standout production from the tight end position. During Gruden’s first tenure in Oakland, he had Ricky Dudley (remember him?) who had a penchant for touchdowns which kept his fantasy scoring output high. While Gruden was in Tampa, he never had a TE score more than 100 fantasy points or top 400 yards. Last year was Jared Cook’s first year in Oakland and he finished as TE13. He’s always been known as an athletic force who could dominate but was never utilized. He set a career high in receptions and totalled 688 yards. But for someone who’s 6’5”, his low touchdown output (2) failed to impress. He should be a bigger force in the red zone this year. This Raiders team is one of the more talented teams Gruden has ever had, especially on offense, so Gruden should be able to get creative. Cook can be a dynamic weapon in the middle of the field to keep safeties off the line. Gruden hasn’t shown an ability to get TEs involved in his offense, so my outlook for Cook is grim at best. Still, with so much turnover at the TE position, I can see Cook sneak into the TE1 conversation, but he has to get his touchdowns up. If you wait to draft a TE, you can do a lot worse than Cook between rounds 8 and 13.
Rookie to Watch
Because of his heart condition, DT Maurice Hurst was passed over until the fifth round. Talk about a huge steal. His career totals of 67 tackles and 13.5 sacks aren’t hugely impressive but what his numbers on paper lack, he makes up for on tape. Hurst should improve the Oakland Raiders 20th overall defense, providing an inside presence to free up Khalil Mack to rack up those sack totals. – Chris Tyler
Traded for the 79th overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, Martavis Bryant packed his bag and went west to join the bad boys of the Bay Area. If Bryant can screw his head on straight, he will be the best WR3 in the NFL. He falls behind Amari Cooper and newly acquired Jordy Nelson but should compete with Jordy for that WR2 role. Bryant has shown flashes at being a consistent deep threat and a red zone threat as well. Look to snag him in the middle rounds of your draft as your WR3 who has high WR2 upside. – Joe Zollo
2018 Loose Ends
The Oakland Raiders feature a ton of intrigue this season. Jon Gruden’s arrival after ten years as an analyst certainly makes us wonder if his offensive genius translates to the NFL of today. One thing is for certain: he has more weapons now than he’s had since the Raiders lost via the “Tuck Rule” in 2001. Derek Carr is one of the better young QBs in the game; Amari Cooper has all the makings of a true number one wide receiver; Jared Cook has always had the potential to be a difference maker at tight end; and Beast Mode has one last hurrah left for his hometown Raiders. I’d like to think all that together can lead this team to the playoffs, but I’m only worried about helping YOU get to the Fantasy Playoffs. You can do that with Carr as your QB. That will allow you to load up at RB and WR in the early rounds which should be the higher scoring options at the position. Cooper will provide solid WR2 numbers with WR1 upside. Lynch is quality depth/FLEX material. Martavis Bryant is a solid lottery ticket. And the wild card is Jared Cook based on how Jon Gruden plans to utilize the position within his offense. All told, don’t be scared of Raiders players on draft day. Here are some other tidbits I found interesting while researching the Raiders offense:
- 2018 will see QB Derek Carr with his third offensive coordinator in three years. He had a career year in 2016 under OC Bill Musgrave. His production dipped in 2017 under first year OC Todd Downing. Now, he gets Gruden’s offense run by veteran coordinator Greg Olson.
- Greg Olson was the OC in Oakland during Carr’s rookie season of 2014. Carr’s 599 passing attempts remain a career high.
- Greg Olson was the OC in Jacksonville in 2015. Why is that significant? He had the 3rd best QB in fantasy that year leading his offense. That QB was Blake Bortles.
- Oakland’s rushing offense ranked 25th in the league last year, their first with Marshawn Lynch as the lead back. During Lynch’s heyday in Seattle, the Lynch led Seahawks finished 21st, 3rd, 4th, 1st, and 3rd in rushing from 2011 to 2015.
- In Gruden’s seven years coaching the Bucs, they never had better than the 11th best rushing attack.
- In all his years as head coach, Gruden has had only two receivers exceed double digit TDs: Tim Brown (Raiders) and Joey Galloway (Bucs).
- Only once has Gruden had a wide receiver exceed 1,300 yards: Tim Brown in 1999.
|1||9/10 (Mon)||vs LAR|
|7||** BYE WEEK **|
|9||11/1 (Thurs)||@ SF|
|16||12/24 (Mon)||vs DEN|