• With the additions of wide receivers Antonio Brown and Tyrell Williams, the Raiders appear to be a more talented team on paper this season. But can they compete in an AFC West division that includes the Chiefs and Chargers?
By Andy Benoit
August 22, 2019

The 2019 NFL season is just weeks away, so Andy Benoit makes a few predictions for each NFL team. Today he analyzes the Oakland Raiders, who finished 4-12 and last in the AFC West last year.

The offense underachieves. New star receivers Antonio Brown and Tyrell Williams are both at their best working the intermediate levels on deeper dropback passes. Those require aggressive throws late in the down, which is not Derek Carr’s forte. His best intermediate work is done on seam routes, where the ball comes out earlier in the down. Other throws require more pocket patience than Carr can consistently muster. At least this year, however, Carr’s comfort in the pocket doesn’t waver early in the down quite so often, thanks to the improvement of left tackle Kolton Miller (a movable but determined pass-blocker) and addition of expensive free agent right tackle Trent Brown, who rectifies what had been Oakland’s weakest spot.

Tight end Jared Cook’s departure proves costly. He wasn’t a great blocker, but Cook, now a Saint, could split out wide and catch passes, giving teeth to Jon Gruden’s 1x3 trips-receiver sets. Gruden’s passing scheme is much more modernized than people realize, at least on shorter throws, where he makes great use of formation wrinkles and intersecting releases. But it’s hard to scheme a comprehensive passing game without a threatening receiving tight end. 

The defense remains stale. A futile pass rush is to blame. Instead of blitzing, coordinator Paul Guenther prefers to play two-deep zone coverage, which only works if your front four can disrupt the quarterback. The addition of fourth overall pick Clelin Ferrell isn’t enough; the Raiders still need at least one—if not two, or even three—other edge rushers. Second-year defensive tackles Maurice Hurst and P.J. Hall continue to progress, but neither is destructive enough to spearhead a D-line. 

Gareon Conley breaks out. The 2017 first-round corner was quietly stellar for much of last season. He has a good sense for route concepts outside. With Daryl Worley back and rookies Trayvon Mullen (second round) and Isaiah Johnson (fourth round) adding fresh new depth, plus ex-Lion Nevin Lawson replacing the up-and-down Nick Nelson in the slot, it’s a stronger Raiders cornerback corps. Even better are the new safeties, ex-Ram Lamarcus Joyner and first-round rookie Johnathan Abram. The Raiders can win on the back end, encouraging Guenther to revisit some of the creative blitzes he learned earlier in his coaching career with the Bengals. 

BOTTOM LINE: The Raiders are better on paper than a year ago, but nowhere close to the level of the Chargers or Chiefs.

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