By Tim Monk (@Tim_MonkF10Y)
For this installment of the NFL Season reviews, we take a look at a team who were under the spotlight early via Hard Knocks, the Oakland Raiders. We needed the question of “Is Jon Gruden outdated?” answered and the post Pittsburgh Steelers Antonio Brown had more than a few surprises in store. Could they shock the NFL by making it to the postseason in their last season in Oakland?
Entering the season
This was to be the Raiders last season in Oakland before they pack their bags for Vegas. The Black Hole sad, especially when they saw the product on the pitch last year with Gruden taking over with Mike Mayock in tow.
Due to their trades made including Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper, the Raiders were bolstered by 3 1st round draft picks. Clelin Ferrell, Josh Jacobs and Jonathan Abram were those picks and without any doubt, the Raiders were expected to show improvements under John Gruden after their poor performance the season prior, finishing 4-12.
As the face of Hard Knocks this season, there was a big spotlight on them and none more so than Free Agent acquisition Antonio Brown. It’s fair to say that the gamble on him did not pay off and the AB got “cold feet”. Other characters such as Richie Incognito and Vontaze Burfict were signed to the team.
During the season
The Raiders opened up 3-2 before their week 6 bye which included a win in London against the Bears which was dubbed the “Khalil Mack Bowl”.
Wins against the Chargers, Lions and Bengals saw them improve to 6-4 and were always mathematically in the hunt for a playoff place all the way up to week 17. This was despite losing 5 of their last 6 games with a point differential of -81 in those games.
The Raiders only wins came from beating non-playoff teams which is a good indication that they are no better than average in the league aided by the fact they were 24th in both offensive and defensive scoring. But it’s more the long term outlook that will give the Black Hole optimism going forward; Young team, Gruden starting get the team working how he wants them too and the players certainly play for him.
Derek Carr was a slight improvement from last year’s form and his relationship with Gruden continues to be a mystery. He set a career high in completion % and season passer QB rating, but that probably can be explained by his continued avoidance of throwing deep down field.
Standout players for the Raiders, you have to start with Josh Jacobs and Tight end Darren Waller. Josh Jacobs rushed for over 1100 yards and notched 7 TDs in his rookie season whilst Darren Waller put all his previous troubles behind him, breaking out as the best receiving option for Carr, totaling 1145 yards on 90 receptions. 5th round pick Hunter Renfrow also had a nice rookie season despite missing a portion through injury.
On defence, 4th round pick Maxx Crosby got his name out there and got 10 sacks in an impressive opening season.
This was of course Oakland’s last season in Oakland as they now pack their bags to Las Vegas (assuming the stadium completes on time!). We’ll get treated to the Vegas experience early as the 2020 NFL draft will literally be on the Bellagio water fountains.
Derek Carr’s future will no doubt get some media attention this offseason and in the lead up to the draft. The Raiders can save $16m in cap space if they were to cut him and considering he is only commanding around $20m in the first place, isn’t the worst guy to keep around. In total, they have around $60m to play with with seems quite low considering their recent influx of rookies.
Considering the talent Mayock and Gruden brought in since their arrival, a good 2020 haul could really see the raiders make a push in their new home for January football. They have 2 1st round picks in 2020 as part of the Khalil Mack trade and will be picking from spots 12 and 19. They still have a few areas to improve on which includes the WR position.