(Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire)
Editor’s note: This article is part of our Team Preview series as our staff covers all 32 teams entering the 2018-2019 season. Check out every team’s preview here.
I think a lot of things go without saying that end up being said anyway. This won’t be an exception when I retroactively declare that the 2017-18 season did not go well for the Oakland Raiders. The “Silver and Black” made many of their faithful fans and, undoubtedly the millions of fantasy owners (myself included) that bought into the hype, very disappointed. What looked like a sure-fire playoff berth and a projected offensive powerhouse, quickly turned out to be a season riddled with injuries, dropped passes, an underused run game and a defense that didn’t help their team stay competitive in many games – they had, not one, but two 4-game losing streaks! In both reality and fantasy: an overall mess that ultimately cost former head coach, Jack Del Rio’s job.
But today is a new day and, with training camp kicking off, a new season. Everybody has their eyes set on hoisting the Lombardy trophy and getting their fingers sized up for rings. The Oakland Raiders have an uphill battle to keep those hopes feasible. Fantasy owners of their skill players might be in the same boat, unfortunately. The fortunate part is that we won’t be teased as much as we were last year with the return of Marshawn Lynch to the league and the “lethal duo” of Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree. I say “as much” because there still is that potential, as there always is with every team, that will be there to tempt you come draft time. The offensive line COULD be much better, Jon Gruden COULD help get this team back on track, and Amari Cooper COULD have better hands. While there is a lot of “could” on this team (every team), these are also mostly “should” statements. There’s enough talent to both challenge for the division crown and appease fantasy owners.
On that note, let’s detail the names that I see as viable options for your fantasy depth chart. (Position listed next to name is simply my personal ranking compared to other players in the NFL at the same position)
(QB2) Derek Carr
Look, the fact of the matter is that the Raiders struck absolute gold with their best quarterback since Rich Gannon, back when they drafted Derek Carr in 2014. Carr has a very accurate arm (62% completion rate) and is capable of handling different schemes, seeing as he has had two different head coaches already. Last season was a disappointment by his standards as his overall rating dipped 10 points from 96 to 86, per Pro-Football Reference. Amari Cooper’s strange trend of dropping passes didn’t help much and he no longer has Michael Crabtree – signed with Baltimore in the offseason. This year the weapons Carr will have at his disposal are an interesting bunch: Cooper, an aging Jordy Nelson and the roller coaster that is Martavis Bryant round out the receiving corps while Doug Martin joins Marshawn Lynch in the backfield. With Carr’s talent and leadership skills, this could work. In regards to fantasy drafts, Carr probably falls out of the top 15, but I’d say his value as a QB1 remains strong if his offensive line stays healthy. Pro Football Focus ranked the Raiders offensive line 7th overall! If Oakland can utilize the run game more often, this line should hold up to provide Carr with all kinds of opportunities to throw to his play-makers.
(WR2) Amari Cooper
The 2-time Pro-Bowler will, once again, be the WR1 on this team. The key with him is concentration – he has all the tangibles, the size, the speed, good routes – but he has a fairly low catch percentage (sat around 50% last season). If the ball hits at least one hand, the receiver should catch it. If you are open by a stride and the ball hits both of your hands, it MUST be caught. Cooper has to step up, finish plays and ultimately be more than a 50 yards/game player. If he can get up to 75/80 yards per game, he’ll probably be right at the top 15 mark, assuming he finds pay dirt in at least half of the games. It’ll be interesting how that distribution plays out, considering Martavis Bryant’s potentially (and literally) larger presence in the red zone.
(WR3) Martavis Bryant
For reasons I have yet to fully understand, this is my favorite receiver in the league. This is a player with quite literally all the talent needed to be a hall of fame pass-catcher. He’s 6’5”, long wingspan, smooth hands, deceptive speed and a knack for finding the end zone. In 2015 he played in 11 games, starting in only five. Playing third fiddle, he put up 765 yards and 6 touchdowns. Now, catching passes from Ben Roethlisberger versus from Derek Carr will be different and something to keep in mind, but stretch those numbers over 16 games (fingers crossed) and you’ve got one heck of a WR3 or 4 your fantasy roster.
(RB3) Marshawn Lynch
Can Jon Gruden re-capture “Beast Mode”? I think so. Let him run wild, get him plenty of touches. He can still be effective, both bruising between the tackles and catching out of the backfield. If Carr is going to have a good year, Lynch will have to be a focal point and get defenses to stack the box, leaving more space for the wideouts. As you can expect, last year’s output absolutely lowers Lynch’s value, but at the same time makes him a pretty good player to stash on your bench, depending on where you draft and who is available.
(TE2) Jared Cook
Here is an interesting wrinkle to the offensive mix. The veteran tight end had a pretty nice year in 2017, racking up almost as many yards as he had from 2015-2016. He was targeted only 10 fewer times (86) than Cooper (96). It seems no matter who Carr has had, he seems to look for his tight ends quite a bit. So, while he is not a highly ranked tight end overall, he is someone that could surprise people if defenses start keying in on Cooper and Bryant.
In years past I’d be mentioning Jordy Nelson and Doug Martin’s names as headers. However, injuries have not been kind to either. Nelson thrived as Aaron Rodgers’ go-to target for 5 strong years prior to 2017. He failed to cross the 500-yard mark in a season he started 15 games. That kind of drop-off is something you can’t just ignore. He was also noticeably slower and failed to create separation in the majority of situations. Doug Martin will play second-fiddle to Lynch. He has had exactly 2 seasons where he produced more than 1,000 yards from scrimmage. Those seasons are also the only two full seasons he’s experienced. I’m not sure how he fits into the game-plans this season, but he could offer a nice change-of-pace back, but that reduces any value he might have unless Lynch gets injured or misses time otherwise. And, as with anything in fantasy sports, only time will tell.