It’s obvious that the Raiders have upgraded their roster. It’s also obvious that the AFC West experienced similar upgrades across the board, leading prognosticators around the league to picking the Raiders to finish anywhere from first to fourth in the division. The Raiders face a daunting schedule this year not only due to the arms race in the division, but they face all four NFC West teams in interconference play. This includes the Super Bowl champion Rams, the 49ers and the Cardinals, who all look like playoff contenders.
In order for the Raiders to have success in 2022 and not find themselves staring up at the rest of their division by season’s end, here’s what needs to fall in their favor.
Much ink has been spilled this offseason about the addition of Davante Adams, and rightfully so. He’s one of the best in the game. However, getting the ball to him, Renfrow and Waller will be more challenging if the Raiders’ offensive line can’t hold up.
“What they’ve shown in practice is nothing but they’re trying to get better,” quarterback Derek Carr said Wednesday about the offensive line. “I’m excited to watch them play.”
The Raiders’ offensive line has a lot to prove. LT Kolton Miller is a stud and former first-round pick. After that, the line is made up of late-round picks, undrafted free agents, rookies and journeymen. That doesn’t mean they can’t play, but it remains to be seen if they can hold up against the likes of Joey Bosa and former Raider Khalil Mack.
But head coach Josh McDaniels’ offense has a history of maximizing the talent of players who weren’t necessarily top draft picks. He also frequently uses screens and crack blocks to keep defensive linemen from pinning back their ears and teeing off. His play-calling often keeps linemen off-balance and hesitant, which buys the offense a little extra time.
The more time the linemen spend together and in the system, the faster they will play. The development of rookies Dylan Parham and Thayer Munford will also be keys in determining the success of the Raiders’ offensive line.
The secondary has some intriguing new parts and some promising young players. Losing Casey Hayward and Trayvon Mullen Jr. feels like a loss talent-wise, but Hayward was largely a zone corner and unlikely to be as effective in Patrick Graham’s diverse scheme.
“Our defense – one thing is the relentless effort that they try to play with every day is really impressive to me,” Carr said. “Every play matters. They’re thinking about situations. They’re thinking about the regular season. There’s a purpose to their work.”
The group is unproven and retained some players who have played poorly in coverage, notably Johnathan Abram and Amik Robertson. But Maxx Crosby and Chandler Jones coming off the edges should provide opposing quarterbacks little time to scan the defense and pinpoint passes.
The secondary should not have to stay sticky in coverage for long periods of time, which should allow them to hold up better. Nate Hobbs and Tre’von Moehrig are coming off exceptional rookie years and should take another step forward in their sophomore campaigns. With the addition of Rock Ya-Sin, the overall depth of this group is more talented than in recent years.
McDaniels didn’t fare well in his first stint as a head coach. His Denver Broncos started 6-0, but from there it went downhill and he was fired before he finished his second season. The question now is whether he learned and evolved from his first head coaching gig, or is he another coaching re-tread, more suited to be a coordinator than a head coach.
McDaniels lost the locker room, made terrible personnel decisions and ruffled the fans’ feathers in his first opportunity as head coach.
But it seems clear that McDaniels has learned from his experience as head coach of the Broncos and brings those lessons along with two decades of elite offensive coordinating to the Raiders. He is more mature, experienced and inherited a team with a strong foundation. None of the personnel decisions to date are head-scratchers, and the roster appears to be better and more promising than the one he took over.
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