Oakland Raiders: Final Unit Grades for 2016 Season
What’s the final grade on the Oakland Raiders 2016 season by position? Where are the strengths and weaknesses on the roster?
Just when you thought the Oakland Raiders would challenge the New England Patriots in an AFC Championship matchup, quarterback Derek Carr breaks his fibula with the postseason two weeks away. Of course, it’s hard to replace an MVP-caliber quarterback, but this franchise should celebrate a 12-4 season.
After almost two weeks, with emotions removed, it’s time to grade each roster unit and the coaching staff.
Coming into the season, we already knew the Raiders would field a powerhouse offense with offensive guard Kelechi Osemele added to the roster. How much did his presence affect the rushing offense? Did Carr finally quiet the remaining Matt McGloin supporters?
The Raiders defense showed some good and some ugly during the season. Oakland ranked No. 2 in takeaways (30), but ranked dead-last in yards allowed per play (6.1). Though perplexing on the surface, it’s clear the Raiders operated a bend-but-don’t break defense. Once Carr went down, the defense couldn’t get off the field and completely broke down on all levels.
As for the coaching staff, changes have already been made, but we’ll take a look at how the coordinators, assistants and head coach handled the 2016 season.
How did this team win 12 games? Where are the strengths and weaknesses on this roster?
Passing Offense: B+
Before Carr’s season-ending leg injury, he earned mentions as the NFL MVP with the likes of Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan. Furthermore, we saw how the offense and defense performed without the third-year signal-caller on the field.
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Carr doesn’t just provide the intangibles. He continuously provided a late-game safety net for this squad. He engineered seven game-winning drives. Some view the stat as a negative since the Raiders fell behind so often. However, we must also acknowledge the team’s ability to play 60 minutes and deliver in critical situations.
Based on box score numbers, Carr’s second and third years look similar. However, if you’ve watched the games, it’s clear his decision-making skills have improved. He’s cut his interceptions in about half from 13 to six. He improved his completion percentage to 63 percent. As mentioned, he’s surgical with the game on the line.
Carr didn’t accomplish his late-game heroics without help. Wideout Amari Cooper addressed his drop issues over the previous offseason and led the team in receiving yards in consecutive seasons. Both Cooper and Michael Crabtree logged catch percentages above 60 percent in 2016—an upgrade from percentages below 60 last year.
Despite how good the Raiders offense performed going through the air, drops continued to plague the receiving unit. Oakland left ample air yards on the field in the previous season, per Pro Football Focus’ Mike Renner:
Derek Carr has had the most passes dropped (31) and the most air yards lost due to drops (278) of any QB in the league
— Mike Renner (@PFF_Mike) December 5, 2016
The Raiders’ drop issues arose in their wild-card matchup against the Houston Texans, which significantly impacted rookie quarterback Connor Cook’s performance:
W/o the Raiders drops, this game would be a lot closer. Connor Cook has shown some promise, IMO.
— Tony Grossi (@TonyGrossi) January 8, 2017
If the Raiders pass-catchers address their slippery fingers during the offseason, new offensive coordinator Todd Downing will have the keys to a top-three passing offense.
Rushing Offense: A
Osemele should rank as one of the best 2016 offseason pickups. His presence elevated the Raiders’ ground attack and provided versatility along the offensive line. The former Baltimore Raven also played left tackle in emergency situations. His primary and secondary roles fully justify his five-year, $58.5 million deal, per spotrac.com.
Gabe Jackson deserves kudos for shifting over to right guard after playing two seasons on the left side. He handled the move without a single public complaint or gripe about the difficulties in switching from side to side. Running back Latavius Murray became a battering ram due to his quality interior linemen sealing running lanes between the tackles.
After signing Osemele, McKenzie acquired two rookie ball-carriers who literally hit the ground running.
Undrafted rookie Jalen Richard, burst onto the scene in Week 1 with a 75-yard run for a score. His long touchdown run aided a miraculous comeback capped by a gutsy two-point conversion call in the New Orleans Saints’ building.
Fifth-round pick DeAndre Washington jumped off to an early start and contributed to changing the pace at running back. Though, he hit a lull period between Weeks 11 and 14. The coaching staff rendered him inactive for two games, and he barely touched the football in the other two. In Week 16, he gashed the Indianapolis Colts run defense for 99 yards and back-to-back 22-yard rushing touchdowns.
Unfortunately, Carr’s injury didn’t allow us to see if Washington’s breakout game marked the starting point for a string of productive performances.
The Raiders didn’t have a 1,000-yard rusher, but their running back trio ranked No. 6 in yards and touchdowns. Oakland also made opponents realize its offense is capable of winning games with the ground attack.
Pass Defense: D+
The Raiders decided to extend cornerback David Amerson’s contract and acquire Sean Smith to cover the perimeter. Early and often, the coaching staff left Smith open to criticism with a lack of or late help over the top in slant routes.
In the first two games, wide receivers torched Smith for more than 100 yards. He eventually settled down as the season progressed, but faltered in a few spots against top-tier wideouts. On the opposite side, Amerson also experienced some lapses in coverage or committed costly penalties to hand over automatic first downs.
Cornerback D.J. Hayden showed incremental improvements in the slot position before his season ended due to a hamstring injury. The Raiders’ 2013 first-round pick saw his perimeter coverage assignments dwindle in the previous year. As expected, Smith replaced him permanently on the outside.
Through 11 games, Hayden showed physicality and awareness on the inside. At times, he matched well against the tight end. Can he play safety and stick with the team? Probably not. He’ll likely sign with another club as a nickelback as opposed to taking less as a reserve safety.
Defensive back T.J. Carrie’s decent play also indicates the Raiders would likely part ways with Hayden as his contract expires. The third-year pro showed versatility filling in on the inside and outside during the season.
Safety Reggie Nelson logged a team-leading five interceptions. However, some of his takeaways occurred at the end of halves when opposing quarterbacks tossed one final pass as time expired. Fellow safety Karl Joseph provided defensive help on two levels:
More on Karl Joseph: #Raiders allow 6.33 yards per pass play when he’s in vs. 7.31 when out; 4.88 per run when in; 4.55 when out
— Josh Dubow (@JoshDubowAP) January 5, 2017
The rookie safety inexplicably stood on the sideline for the first two games and missed the last four due to a toe injury. The Raiders’ coaching staff must utilize the safeties more strategically to help out their bigger perimeter cornerbacks, who lack closing speed, against dynamic receivers.
Run Defense: F
Including the playoffs, the Raiders allowed 100-plus rushing yards in 12 games. Without defensive end Mario Edwards Jr., the defensive line couldn’t stop speed or power rushers.
The Dan Williams–Justin Ellis combination up front fell flat during the previous season. Despite massive size between the two, neither resembles a solid defensive tackle able to pressure the pocket or a gap-stuffing nose tackle.
When signing Williams during the 2015 offseason, it’s clear he lacked the ability to harass the quarterback. However, he came to Oakland with a reputation as a two-gap defender able to clog running lanes. In August, the seventh-year veteran didn’t even start. Ellis outperformed his competition to earn more reps but failed to seal gaps in the trenches.
The holes within the front seven shouldn’t fall squarely on Edwards’ shoulders. Rookie second-round pick Jihad Ward didn’t translate his training camp performances to live action. Among ranked players at his position, he’s ranked last on Pro Football Focus.
There’s much room for Ward’s development, but we must scrap comparisons to Edwards simply based on their second-round draft status and position—at least for now. Linebacker Perry Riley handled second-level run duties adequately, but it’s not guaranteed that he returns. The Raiders must address the linebacker position with multiple acquisitions.
Special Teams: A-
Just when you thought kicker Sebastian Janikowski should be put out to pasture, he converts on 82.9 percent of his kicks. It’s a decent percentage for a 17-year veteran, who’s never shown consistent accuracy year to year.
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There’s one concern with Janikowski. He’s not accurate on 50-plus yard kicks, converting just three of eight from that range. In the postseason, Green Bay Packers kicker Mason Crosby nailed two 50-plus yard attempts to send his team to the NFC Championship game. As we all know, postseason games come down to a few yards and possibly a game-winning field goal. Could the Raiders depend on Janikowski in a playoff contest decided by a long field goal?
With one more year on his contract, Janikowski will likely stick around for the 2017 season. However, don’t be surprised if kicker Giorgio Tavecchio pops up on the roster during the summer as insurance.
Punter Marquette King’s iron leg prevents the opposition from starting short drives. He’s an unheralded asset in forcing opposing offenses to drive the length of the field. As a passionate player, he often showboats after good punts. The coaching staff will likely ask him to tone down the personal fouls for the upcoming season. According to Associated Press writer Josh Dubow, he racked up three infractions, which goes overboard for a punter:
#Raiders had 27 personal fouls, led by Crabtree’s 4 and King’s 3
— Josh Dubow (@JoshDubowAP) January 11, 2017
On a brighter note, Richard’s return skills have filled voids at kick and punt returner. Despite the inability to break away for a touchdown, the Southern Mississippi product logged 708 yards between kick and punt returns. His ability to juke and cut upfield shorten drives for Carr and co.
The Raiders opted to allow Bill Musgrave to walk away after his contract expired. In a corresponding move, the team promoted Downing to offensive coordinator.
Musgrave will serve as the Denver Broncos quarterback coach next season. Obviously, the Raiders felt their offense could sustain losing an offensive coordinator who built a two-year rapport with Carr. Nonetheless, the coordinator-quarterback combination worked wonders in high-pressure situations.
Before Carr went down with an injury, the Raiders fielded the No. 2 scoring offense. Musgrave also successfully assimilated new parts within the rushing offense. However, after a Week 17 loss to the Broncos, head coach Jack Del Rio publicly criticized Musgrave’s play calling:
Del Rio with a swipe at OC Bill Musgrave: “Latavius has only five carries. How does that happen?”
— Vic Tafur (@VicTafur) January 2, 2017
It’s possible, the Raiders will incorporate more rush attempts with three solid ball-carriers in an attempt to alleviate pressure off the passing offense.
Despite sealed love letters from Raiders fans to Wade Phillips during the offseason, he signed on as a defensive coordinator for the Los Angeles Rams. For the moment, Ken Norton Jr. will retain his position on the Raiders coaching staff.
The Raiders need talent at linebacker and along the defensive line, but Norton must adjust his game plan to mask deficiencies. Oakland came into the season with more defensive talent compared to the previous year, but his unit didn’t show much improvement. The Raiders ranked No. 22 in points allowed in 2015 and No. 20 in the same category during the past season. With a background as a defensive coordinator, Del Rio bares some blame in this area.
Del Rio earned Coach of the Year honors:
Jack Del Rio has been selected as the winner of the Greasy Neale Professional Coach of the Year award.
— OAKLAND RAIDERS (@RAIDERS) January 19, 2017
It goes without saying that he deserves major credit for leading his team through a tough schedule, in terms of travel, that included three of the first four games on the road, a trip to Mexico City and an extended stay in Florida for back-to-back games on the east coast.
At the moment, the Raiders’ locker room seems to have a balance of respect and comfort with Del Rio pulling the strings. His aggressive approach to the season also projects a strong trust for his offense. More times than not, Blackjack Del Rio hit big on offensive gambles.