In case you’re the one NFL fan who somehow missed one of the biggest storylines of the 2018 NFL season: the Oakland Raiders went out and made the biggest “splash” coaching hire of them all, finally luring Jon Gruden out of the broadcast booth and onto the sidelines as the team’s next head coach.
While the early returns on his personnel moves have been rather questionable (and that might be generous), there are still a lot of pieces in place for him to work with, especially on offense.
Quarterback: After back-to-back seasons flirting with 4,000 yards passing and 30 touchdown passes, it’d be sufficient to say Derek Carr took a step in the wrong direction last year. Whether it was a function of (former) offensive coordinator Todd Downing, or just the team underperforming as a whole, Carr simply wasn’t the same “emerging star” that we saw in years past. Gruden is supposed to be something of a “quarterback guru,” although it’s no secret that his shoot-from-the-hip style is known to bruise the psyche of his quarterback as much as it will boost it. On top of that, Carr is going to need to develop a rapport with two new wide receivers who will see plenty of snaps in this offense. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Carr get off to a slow start this year, but settle into more of a groove as the year goes on.
Running Back: Last Fall, the Raiders signing of Marshawn Lynch looked half like a publicity stunt, and half like a potential disaster. But even as the Raiders lost four of their final six games, Lynch might’ve been their best player on offense. Over the second half of last season, Lynch ran for 625 yards (on 135 carries) and five touchdowns. From Week 12 onwards, Lynch averaged 99.7 total yards per game. Ironically, after fans decried the Raiders for not giving Lynch the ball even more down the stretch, Oakland went out and signed running back Doug Martin, the former 1st-round bust of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Martin looked miserable when he played last year, but Gruden can’t stop gushing about him in Oakland. Fans aren’t going to be pleased if they see more of the same Martin in Oakland, at the expense of giving Lynch the ball.
Wide Receiver: Expected to take that next step towards becoming a bona fide star, there were few players more disappointing in all of fantasy football than wide receiver Amari Cooper. Cooper had his worst season in the NFL to date, with only 48 catches for 680 yards. However, his supporters and teammates were quick to point out that Cooper was playing with a nasty foot injury (that he chose not to publicize) for nearly all of last year, which hampered his production (Downing’s offensive scheme didn’t help matters either). To further bolster the receiving group around Cooper, the Raiders went out and signed long-time Packers star Jordy Nelson, and troubled Steelers receiver Martavis Bryant. If nothing else, Nelson will be a tremendous veteran that can help mentor Cooper, and if the Raiders can simply help Bryant “stay clean” off the field, both of them could be major additions to the team.
Tight End: With the Clive Walford experiment now over at tight end, the Raiders became the next stop on the merry-go-round that is the career of journeyman tight end Jared Cook. Cook has all the potential in the world, but is plagued by inconsistencies and drops; in his nine-year career, he’s never had more than 700 yards receiving and/or five touchdown catches. He’s one of those guys who’s a decent solution, but still leaves you looking for an upgrade.