Season review: Raiders specialists

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Season review: Raiders specialists

Oakland's specialists -- specifically placekicker Sebastian Janikowski, punter Shane Lechler and long snapper Jon Condo -- were the Raiders' one constant this past season. Not only were they they most valuable players on the team, they were the most dangerous at their positions in the AFC, if not the most dependable in the NFL.
Grade: A-SPECIALISTSSebastian Janikowski -- Has it really been 11 years since so much ridicule was heaped upon Al Davis and the Raiders for taking a wild-child placekicker with a first-round draft pick? Things could not have gone more swimmingly for the man known as 'SeaBass' in his 12th NFL season. Two years into the four-year, 16-million contract, with 9 million guaranteed, that made him the highest-paid kicker in the history of the game, Janikowski had perhaps his finest season and was rewarded with his first Pro Bowl invite. It all began on opening night in Denver, when he ended the first half by tying the NFL record for longest field goal with his 63-yarder. And it continued throughout, even as a strained left hamstring slowed him and forced him to miss a game for the first time since 2001. Janikowski's 129 points were the second-most of his career and the 10 field goals he attempted from at least 50 yards led the league. He was 31-of 35 on his field-goal attempts, with all four misses coming from beyond 40 yards. Two of the four were blocked, including a 65-yard attempt against Detroit. Janikowski has long been known as having the strongest leg in the game -- the Raiders are in scoring position seemingly once they cross midfield -- but now his accuracy from distance is being recognized as well. His 88.6 percent conversion rate on field goals was the third-highest of his career. And while he started off booming kickoffs out of the end zone with regularity, his strained hamstring slowed that roll.Shane Lechler -- Janikowski's draft classmate -- Lechler was taken in the fifth round in 2000 -- has long been seen as one of the top punters in NFL history. And his booming punts continued throughout his 12th season. He had a 77-yard punt to tie a franchise record on opening night in Denver. Then, he went right after Chicago's Devin Hester 10 games later and dropped an 80-yard punt on him. In between, Lechler, who is also Janikowski's holder, threw a 35-yard touchdown pass to Kevin Boss on a fake field goal against Cleveland. Lechler's 50.8-yards per punt average was the second-highest of his career, behind his 51.1 average in 2009, and it was second in the league to the 49ers' Andy Lee, who finished with a 50.9 average. And while Lechler's 40.9 net average was only fifth in the league, it was hurt because he sometimes out-punted his coverage; two of his punts were returned for TDs, a 90-yarder by Denver's Eric Decker in the opener and an 85-yarder by Eddie Royal in the return game. Lechler, who will be entering the final season of his four-year, 16-million deal, with 9 million guaranteed, may have been edged out by Lee for All-Pro, but he was invited to his seventh Pro Bowl.Jon Condo -- The unsung hero of the specialists. Nothing happens without the long snapper making it happen, right? And with both Janikowski and Lechler headed to Honolulu, Condo should get invited to the NFL's all-star game as well, no? Well, he's already made one Pro Bowl game, two years ago, but no one would complain if he got a return call. His perfectly-placed snaps enabled Janikowski to tie the mark for longest field goal and for Lechler's franchise-record 80-yard punt. Plus, Condo is often one of the first down on punt coverage. Really, only one of his snaps seemed off this season, and that was the high one against Detroit, when Janikowski lined up to attempt a game-winning 65-yard field goal that was blocked. Other than that, he makes the kickers look good, and vice-versa.

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.

Check back for further updates...