Derek Carr's season-ending injury prior to an embarrassing 27-14 wild-card loss to the Texans shed further light upon the signal-caller's importance to the ascending team. With the pieces in place for an explosive offense in 2017, the Raiders' sights are set on winning their first AFC West title since 2002.
THREE THINGS TO KNOW
SORRY AMARI, BUT THERE'S PLENTY FOR EVERYONE
A multitude of mouths to feed on offense conspired to prevent Amari Cooper from reaching elite fantasy status as he reeled in just five touchdowns during his sophomore season, while also failing to record a single 100-yard receiving performance through the team's last nine games. As opposing defenses worked to shut down Cooper, No. 2 receiver Michael Crabtree exploded for his first 1,000-yard campaign since 2012 to go along with eight TDs on 89 catches and 145 targets. Seth Roberts and Andre Holmes also combined to snag eight touchdowns, but the latter flew the coop in free agency. Further diminishing Cooper's 2016 output was the Raiders' inclination to pound the ball on the ground in the red zone. With the team handing the rock to Latavius Murray 26 times inside the 10-yard line alone, the running back ultimately poached a career-high 12 TDs over 14 games. Murray signed with the Vikings this offseason, but veteran Marshawn Lynch is a more than able replacement assuming no rust from a year away from the game. Meanwhile, the addition of a legitimate threat at tight end in Jared Cook figures to aid in opening the field for Cooper, but joining the exclusive double-digit TD club could still present quite a challenge for the third-year wideout, as QB Derek Carr continues to spread the wealth to multiple weapons.
COMMANDING THE TRENCHES
More often than not the big guys up front are overlooked, but the Raiders' offensive line deserves all the praise it's garnered after a 2016 campaign in which the team allowed a league-low 18 sacks and 41 QB hits, the latter of which was 10 fewer than the second-ranked Titans. Demonstrating just how respected the unit is, three of Oakland's offensive line members earned trips to the Pro Bowl, including center Rodney Hudson, guard Kelechi Osemele and tackle Donald Penn. The team's expensive gamble on Osemele in free agency certainly has paid off thus far, as Pro Football Focus ranked him first among left guards in terms of run blocking last season. Positioned next to the aforementioned First-Team All-Pro guard, Penn also graded as the top run blocker at his position, so the left side of this offensive line will have Marshawn Lynch salivating for carries. Second-year players DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard also will factor into the backfield rotation to a lesser degree but figure to be mostly involved on passing downs. Seventh-rounder Elijah Hood is a bruising downhill runner, but his path to goal-line work is blocked by Lynch. The stout line is the foundation for the upside of the Oakland attack, and QB Derek Carr should feel plenty secure behind the barrier they provide upon his return from a leg injury.
Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie wasted no time addressing several needs on the defensive side of the ball during the 2017 NFL Draft, leading off with the first-round selection of highly-touted Ohio State cornerback Gareon Conley at No. 24 overall after he slipped due to reports of off-field allegations. The 6-0, 195-pound rookie possesses the vital size/strength combo necessary to make an immediate impact, while boasting the versatility to be positioned either in the slot or on the outside. Regardless of where Conley fits in next to David Amerson and Sean Smith, a Raiders secondary that ranked 24th in pass defense last season must ameliorate in order to alleviate the intense pressure placed upon reigning Defensive Player of the Year Khalil Mack and pass-rusher Bruce Irvin. Despite lacking certainty at middle linebacker, the team waited until the fifth round to pick Marquel Lee, a standout from Wake Forest who will battle for the No. 1 MLB spot. Lee's competition includes inexperienced options in Ben Heeney and Cory James, though the Raiders may elect to sign a veteran security blanket at some point. Continuing with the theme of young talent earning snaps on defense, third-rounder Eddie Vanderdoes is a candidate for quiet, yet crucial production at defensive tackle following the departures of Dan Williams and Stacy McGee.
PIVOTAL PLAYER: Derek Carr
A broken right fibula in Week 16 ended Carr's brilliant 2016 campaign prematurely, but a promising recovery has the fourth-year QB slated to take on a full offseason workload. Coming off a 3,937-yard season in which he completed 64 percent of his pass attempts while notching a 28:6 TD:INT ratio, Carr has the look of an MVP contender.
RISING: Marshawn Lynch
A 31-year-old RB on the rise? Lynch is a unique case, as he'll be running behind one of the league's most dominant offensive lines, well-rested after a year away from football. Beast Mode is back.
FALLING: Clive Walford
The free-agent addition of fellow TE Jared Cook will severely limit Walford's volume in the Raiders' high-powered offense after a disappointing 2016 campaign in which he caught just 33 passes for 359 yards on 52 targets.
SLEEPER: Seth Roberts
Although Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree run the show at WR in Oakland, Roberts notched five TDs in the team's first 11 games last season. The third-year pro will be attempting to prove he's worthy of a long-term deal.
KEY JOB BATTLE – RUNNING BACK ROTATION
The Raiders' backfield has been subject to a few offseason modifications since Latavius Murray ran for 788 yards and 12 touchdowns on 195 carries last year, as Murray's departure for Minnesota via free agency left Oakland with a vacancy at the No. 1 RB spot. The front office was not bashful in their pursuit to fill the void, enticing former Seahawk stalwart Marshawn Lynch to come out of retirement after a season spent away from the game. The physical rusher figures to be the early-down workhorse and goal-line bruiser, but the duo of 5-foot-8 complements DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard will continue to compete for touches on passing downs and change-of-pace situations as they enter their second year in the league. Both Washington and Richard eclipsed 100 touches during their rookie campaigns, but it could take an injury to the 31-year-old Lynch for either young weapon to emerge in terms of consistent fantasy production. The Raiders also spent a 2017 seventh-round draft selection on 21-year-old Elijah Hood out of the University of North Carolina, but his playing style imitates that of Lynch, so Hood is slated to spend his first NFL season under the veteran's wing.
Marshawn Lynch – RB (from Seahawks)
Back in the NFL after a one-year hiatus to play in his hometown.
Jared Cook – TE (from Packers)
Nine-year veteran with 17 career TDs is set to lead TE corps in Oakland.
Cordarrelle Patterson – WR (from Vikings)
Versatile return specialist has the potential to be a downfield threat.
Jelani Jenkins – LB (from Dolphins)
Candidate to replace Malcolm Smith as the team's weak-side linebacker.
Latavius Murray – RB (to Vikings)
Hit pay dirt 12 times in 2016 but failed to reach 800 rushing yards.
Andre Holmes – WR (to Bills)
Hopes to see increased role in Buffalo after consecutive quiet seasons.
Malcolm Smith – LB (to 49ers)
Guaranteed $13 million by 49ers after leading Raiders with 103 tackles.
Menelik Watson – OT (to Broncos)
Hindered last season by lingering effects from 2015 Achilles injury.
THE INJURY FRONT
Derek Carr, QB – Carr's 2016 campaign was cut short by a broken fibula suffered in Week 16, but the Raiders haven't shown concern with their franchise quarterback's health, signing him to a five-year, $125 million extension in June. Carr is expected to be fully ready for the start of training camp.
Amari Cooper, WR – Cooper was hindered by a shoulder injury throughout the last few weeks of the 2016 season, but he didn't miss game action before electing not to play in the Pro Bowl. There are no indications of any lingering health issues for the third-year receiver as he looks to remain a focal point of Oakland's powerful offense in 2017.
Khalil Mack, DE – The NFL's 2016 Defensive Player of the Year did not participate in the Pro Bowl due to a minor back injury, but he's slated to be full-go for training camp after racking up 73 tackles, 11 sacks, five forced fumbles and a defensive touchdown last year.