Fantasy football 2014 draft prep: Oakland Raiders team preview
When the history of Matt Schaub’s career in Houston is written (what do you mean it won’t be written?), it will tell of a sudden decline. It will look somewhat like the history of the Know-Nothing Party in the 1850s: A rise to pseudo-prominence, a few solid victories, but ultimately nothing groundbreaking and an abbreviated relevance. Schaub had his best year with the Texans in 2009 when he threw for 4,770 yards (8.2 yards per attempt) and 29 touchdowns against 15 interceptions. It was the only year of his career in which he threw for at least 25 scores, and one of just two in which he approached a 2/1 TD/INT ratio.
It all came crashing down for Schaub last year. You likely remember him turning into a pick-six machine, but the rest of the numbers were just as ugly. He completed 61.2 percent of his passes for 2,310 yards (6.5 YPA), 10 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. He lost his job to Case Keenum in the middle of October after Houston’s fourth straight loss. The team ended up losing its final 14 games of the year after starting 2-0, earning the first pick of the draft.
Schaub decamped this offseason for Oakland, where he’ll be asked to stabilize a quarterback position that has been in turmoil since Rich Gannon retired. The Raiders also added James Jones and Maurice Jones-Drew, but Schaub’s weapons cache still leaves a lot to be desired. Rod Streater was the most consistent receiver in Oakland last year, finishing with 60 catches for 888 yards and four touchdowns. Denarius Moore put up similar numbers, hauling in 46 passes for 695 yards and five scores. On paper, Jones upgrades the receiver group, but life is a whole lot easier in an offense with Aaron Rodgers, Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb.
Then there was the team's curious decision to go with the oft-injured Darren McFadden over the unstylish yet reliably productive backup Rashad Jennings. Even with low expectations, McFadden managed to disappoint last year, running for 379 yards on 114 carries, an average of 3.3 yards per carry. With Jones-Drew joining him behind Schaub, the Raiders have a backfield that would be really easy to get excited about if it were 2008 or 2009.
Add it all up, and there’s little reason to be too optimistic about anyone on this team, Schaub included. He should not even be considered a backup in traditional 12-team leagues. Schaub should only be drafted as a third option for those of you in two-quarterback leagues.
Most overvalued player
Maurice Jones-Drew, RB – It’s hard to find an overvalued player on this team, since no one is ranked all that highly, but Jones-Drew earns the ignominy of the title. He played 15 games last year and ran for 803 yards on 234 carries. He found the end zone just five times, the fewest in his career among seasons in which he played at least 14 games. He’s approaching 2,500 career touches and turned 29 in March. As part of what looks to be a pedestrian offense in Oakland, there’s little reason to believe Jones-Drew will make any significant impact in fantasy leagues. You’re better off going for someone with at least a bit of upside.
Most undervalued player
QB: Matt Schaub, Derek Carr, Matt McGloin
RB: Darren McFadden, Maurice Jones-Drew, Latavius Murray, Marcel Reece
WR: James Jones, Rod Streater, Denarius Moore, Juron Criner, Andre Holmes, Greg Little
TE: David Ausberry, Mychal Rivera
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The Raiders defense was largely a fantasy non-entity last year, unless you were trying to take advantage of a unit that surrendered 48 total touchdowns and ranked in the bottom fourth of the league against quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers. If you became well acquainted with that bunch last year, you likely won’t recognize the 11 players on the defensive side of the ball for Oakland in 2014. The team has six new starters, including three across a defensive line that ranked among the worst in the league last year. According to Pro Football Focus, the Raiders had the fifth least-effective pass rush in 2013. The team tried to rectify that by signing Justin Tuck, Lamarr Woodley and Antonio Smith. The Raiders used the fifth overall pick in the draft on linebacker Khalil Mack out of the University of Buffalo. Mack was a force for the Bulls, setting an NCAA record for forced fumbles and tying the record for tackles for loss. He racked up 100 tackles, 10.5 sacks, 19 tackles for loss, three interceptions and five forced fumbles in his senior year, and he immediately becomes one of the best players on this unit.
Oakland brought back Raider legend Charles Woodson to play free safety and signed Carlos Rogers away from the 49ers to be one of the two starting cornerbacks. The team ranked dead last in the league in pass coverage according to PFF, so it was clear that it desperately needed to revamp both the pass rush and the secondary. Tyvon Branch lost 14 games to injury last year, but he remains one of the best strong safeties in the league and a guy to keep an eye on in IDP leagues. In 2012, he had 94 tackles in 14 games, and he has never had fewer than 100 in a season in which he played all 16 games.
Outside of Branch and Mack, middle linebacker Nick Roach and Tuck deserve IDP consideration. However, until we see something from the Raiders, it’s a team defense that fantasy owners can ignore.