Murray's future largest offensive question mark for Raiders

Murray's future largest offensive question mark for Raiders

The Raiders had a top 10 offense this season, with balance uncharacteristic of previous seasons. The run game got going behind an expensive offensive line worth its massive weight, and quarterback Derek Carr led a dynamic air attack always cool under pressure. They’ll want to keep a good thing going, which should be easy with most members of the offensive depth chart under contract.

Running back Latavius Murray, tackle Menelik Watson and receiver Andre Holmes – Seth Roberts is an exclusive rights restricted free agent -- are key exceptions set for unrestricted free agency. Tight end Mychal Rivera and backup quarterback Matt McGloin are also headed for the open market.

That’s a small sum, with just one steady member of the starting lineup.

The Raiders are expected to extend Carr’s contract this offseason, but there might not be many new faces on offense.

Let’s take a look at each position group and identify where upgrades might help.

RUNNING BACK

The Raiders have an interesting decision to make here. Murray scored 12 touchdowns and averaged 4.0 yards per carry as the leader of a three-back pack, and should draw interest on the open market. If he re-signs, the Raiders seem set at running back.

Murray insists he wants to return, but another team may offer a deal the Raiders don’t want to match. That scenario could lead to his departure and a new power back in free agency or the draft.

The Raiders prefer to re-sign their own players, a point made clear by general manager Reggie McKenzie on Thursday. 

"When you're talking about a guy who is 6-foot-3, close to 230 pounds, there's not a whole lot of similar you can get there," McKenzie said in an interivew with JT the Brick on 95.7 The Game. "He's one of those kinds that don't come around too often when you talk about size. I'm always in position to want to re-sign our own players, but the finances of it always will play a part. You never know there's 31 other teams out there who may be communiciating to his representatives. We'll see where it goes, but we like to re-sign our guys."

They have productive, yet smaller options in Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington. The Raiders have been good drafting backs in the lower rounds – Murray was a sixth-round pick himself – and could mine for more production later in the NFL draft.

QUARTERBACK

Derek Carr will return to full strength from surgery to repair a broken fibula and plans to be the team’s starting quarterback for years to come. Connor Cook was drafted in the fourth round last year, showed quality arm strength and should be the primary backup moving forward.

Matt McGloin wants to go somewhere he can compete for a starting gig. That isn’t Oakland. The Raiders will need quarterbacks for camp and maybe one sticks, but they had just two on the 53-man roster in 2015.

RECEIVER

Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree headlined a productive group that came through time and again under pressure. It also waned some near season’s end. Both guys were battling injury late and certainly want to avoid that in 2017, when they’ll be primary targets yet again.

Slot receiver Seth Roberts is an exclusive rights free agent and is easily retained, but an upgrade is possible here. Holmes wants to return, but the market might dictate that considering his ability as a downfield receiver.

The Raiders receivers had far too many drops in 2017, Crabtree and Roberts especially. A sure handed possession receiver might be of benefit, especially a young player who can develop add injury protection to the unit.

OFFENSIVE LINE

The Raiders spent significant funds building a stout offensive line in recent offseasons, and it paid off in 2016. That unit was tough to handle, and became the engine that allowed skill players to thrive. The line weathered injuries at right tackle, and had the depth necessary to keep going strong.

Menelik Watson is an unrestricted free agent, and the oft-injured athlete’s market value remains truly uncertain. Austin Howard remains under contract and could start at right tackle, though competition could come from Vadal Alexander.

Left tackle might be a spot addressed in the draft, with Donald Penn entering a contract year and unsure of how long he’ll play beyond that. The Raiders even have options there with a deep, versatile line. Left guard Kelechi Osemele could slide outside when the time comes

TIGHT END

Lee Smith was lost to a broken ankle in Week 4, but the blocking tight end will be at full strength for the offseason program. The same should be said for Gabe Holmes, an exclusive rights free agent who should be brought back. Clive Walford still headlines the group, though the Raiders expect more from the 2015 third-round pick. The group could largely stand pat, with Rivera leaving in free agency and a few camp players added to the mix.

McKenzie focuses Raiders' 2017 draft on defense, beefs up secondary

McKenzie focuses Raiders' 2017 draft on defense, beefs up secondary

ALAMEDA – Raiders general manger Reggie McKenzie made nine selections in this weekend’s NFL draft. That was a requirement given the state of his roster, featuring a stacked offense and a Swiss-cheese defense. It has holes.

He spent significant draft capital trying to upgrade the middle of his defense especially, adding three defensive backs, two defensive tackles and a fifth-round pick in Marquel Lee who will compete to start at middle linebacker.

He needs a few immediate impact players on the defensive group headlined by first-round cornerback Gareon Conley and second-round safety Obi Melifonwu.

“How much do I think I can get out of this group? I hope a lot,” McKenzie said Saturday after the NFL draft was complete. “They’re all going to come in and compete. We’re signing guys post-draft also. We’re going to give them all the opportunity to compete with the veterans that we already have on board. We hope that out of it all, the competition part of it, the cream rises and we have a very good 53-man roster.”

McKenzie follows a draft board thoroughly constructed through hundreds of scouting reports and cross checks, and extensive evaluation at combines and pro days. He trusts it. It has certainly treated him well before, which productive hauls in 2014 and 2015 especially.

While he lost out on some likable players taken before his slot, McKenzie believes the Raiders added quality and depth in previously lacking position groups. He stuck with size and athleticism at times over college production and, as always, beefed up both the offensive and defensive lines.

“I think the way it fell, we got a lot of players, at the end of the day, it looks like we needed,” he said. “We felt like we got a lot of good players with high talent levels from top to bottom. Some are going to be more raw than others. We’re going to have to see down the line, more so. I think talking to the board, you said, ‘Job well done.’”

McKenzie also focused on fixing a lackluster pass defense with speed. Conley can be a shutdown cornerback outside or in the slot. Melifonwu is a heavy hitter who can play both safety spots and is expected to contribute as a rookie. The secondary must improve to prevent big plays and help Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin get after the quarterback.

“You have to have speed to play the game the way it’s going now,” McKenzie said. “You have to be able to play in space. You have to be able to match up. We took all of that into consideration when we brought these players in. To the players that you mentioned, Obi and Conley, both of those guys have great range, speed, very athletic. So, they make tackles in space. That’s one of the things that we looked at. Make sure short to medium plays don’t turn into big plays. I think they will help in that scenario.”

Here’s a full list of Raiders draft picks:

Round 1 (No. 24 overall): CB Gareon Conley, Ohio State
Round 2 (No. 56 overall): S Obi Melifonwu, Connecticut
Round 3 (No. 88 overall): DT Eddie Vanderdoes, UCLA
Round 4 (No. 129 overall): OT David Sharpe, Florida
Round 5 (No. 168 overall): LB Marquel Lee, Wake Forest
Round 7 (No. 221 overall): S Shalom Luani, Washington State
Round 7 (No. 231 overall): OT Jylan Ware, Alabama State
Round 7 (No. 242 overall): RB Elijah Hood, North Carolina
Round 7 (No. 244 overall): DT Treyvon Hester, Toledo

 

Raiders 2017 UDFA tracker: McKenzie adds safeties, mining for more gold

Raiders 2017 UDFA tracker: McKenzie adds safeties, mining for more gold

ALAMEDA – The Raiders have had great success mining gold from undrafted free agency. Jalen Richard and Darius Latham were kings of last year’s crop, which was six strong by season’s end. with Seth Roberts and Denico Autry other examples of undrafted free agents done good in recent years.

Can Raiders scouts find more helpful pieces from those left out of the NFL draft? Time will tell on that one, but finding the right undrafted players is something the team takes seriously. Scouts revel in undrafted players who make it in the league.

“It’s very rewarding,” Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie said. “If we sign him as a free agent, we may have had him on the board as draftable, but getting guys post draft, that helps you down the road. To maintain a consistent winner, you have to hit on some of those guys. You have to. The way that the contracts are these days, you have to have some of those type players to help you win football games year in and year out.”

The Raiders will search for those players into Saturday evening to fill the 90-man roster. McKenzie secured some of his top targets with four seventh-round picks, though several more have signed with the club. Here’s a list of those who have signed with the team thus far:

-- OL Jordan Simmons, USC: The hulking offensive lineman signed with the Raiders, he announced on social media. Simmons stands 6-foot-5 and 335 pounds, and will turn pro after being denied a sixth year of college eligibility. The talented guard had an injury-riddled career.

-- WR Isaac Whitney, USC: Whitney is yet another undrafted Trojan to join the Raiders roster. He announced the signing on social media. He didn’t have many college stats, but is fast with the size the Raiders prefer in outside receivers.

-- WR Keon Hatcher, Arkansas: Hatcher will reportedly join the offseason receiver group in hopes of taking a roster spot. He had 44 catches for 743 yards and eight touchdowns in his final college season. (Houston Chronicle)

-- WR Ishmael Zamora, Baylor: The Bears official website reported that Zamora will sign with the Silver and Black. He had63 catches for 809 yards and eight touchdowns in 2016. He was suspended three games for abusing a dog in an incident that was caught on video. 

-- S Ahmad Thomas, Oklahoma: The Raiders need safety depth, so it was smart of Thomas to sign in Oakland. He was a three-year starter and a team captain. (Houston Chronicle)

-- S Anthony Cioffi, Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights’ official Twitter account reported a four-year starter in college will give the pros a try in Oakland.

-- DT Jordan Wade, Oklahoma: The 6-foot-4, 295-pound defensive tackle will join the Raiders. (SoonerScoop.com)

-- TE Pharaoh Brown, Oregon: The Ducks didn’t have a single player drafted, but Brown will join the Silver and Black. The tight end announced a signing on Twitter. He had 33 catches for 426 yards and five touchdown.

-- DT Paul Boyette, Texas: The Raiders continue adding volume at positions of need, including this 298-pound run stuffer. 

-- S Rickey Jefferson, LSU: Yet another safety joins the mix, according to LSU's football Twitter account. There will be a battle at that position all offseason as the Raiders try to sort out which players work best in their system. 

 

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