As NFL owners met in Scottsdale Tuesday, coaches and front office personnel touched on a number of topics.
For the Oakland Raiders, coach Jack Del Rio and general manager Reggie McKenzie were made available, and were pretty forthcoming.
Del Rio spoke on the decision to not make a push to sign veteran corners as the team has done the last two seasons, sharing confidence in the team’s young defensive backs:
“As a staff coming in and everything and evaluating, we felt like that was one of the more talented positions that needed to develop. Certainly staying healthy will be important for DJ (Hayden). (Travis) Carrie played well in his role and we feel like that group has a chance to develop beyond where they are.”
Hayden in 2014 was a whole different player than in 2013, more physical and more like his college self, though injuries were still a factor. If he stays healthy, the Raiders could be looking at a very high upside, impact player on one corner. The downside is clear, as injuries have been a theme in his first two seasons as a pro.
Carrie and Keith McGill, both drafted on the third day of the 2014 draft, flashed serious talent and had solid collegiate careers. I expressed a desire several times on social media to see more of them during the 2014 season, and it appears the wish has been granted.
While the Raiders added linebackers Curtis Lofton and Malcolm Smith, the depth is questionable. Neither are known for their coverage skills, and big plays in the middle of the field could come in bunches. That’s not to say they’re guaranteed, though, and a big time pass rush would help a lot. Sio Moore isn’t a great cover linebacker, either, so the skepticism will remain until proven otherwise.
Third-year linebacker Moore has proven invaluable to the young roster and may be in line for a contract extension in the near future. He is a solid locker room presence, who even through tough times has helped the team stay upbeat.
His play hasn’t peaked, either, and he should remain a core player for years to come.
Del Rio considers the Raiders offseason to date a successful one. The team brought in 10 free agents, most of whom are projected starters and are upgrades over the players they’re replacing.
Del Rio said:
“It wasn’t the sexy, get-the-name receiver everyone is clamoring for. That’s not what it was, but it was a very effective, methodical approach to going out and filling some needs and addressing some of the issues that we felt we had with our roster.”
Oakland kept to their game plan, and while the signings were pretty vanilla, I’m in agreement with the new head coach.
Center Rodney Hudson and defensive tackle Dan Williams are impact players whether they’re nationally recognized or not. Both players help solve the big issue with the run game last season.
Safety Nate Allen should prove valuable in the center of the field, and there may finally be marginal depth at linebacker behind the starters.
In all, the Raiders made some solid roster improvements, probably more than other teams with splashier signings.
The hole on the right side of the offensive line should be addressed in the upcoming draft. A tackle is needed for the long term, as is right guard. If Menelik Watson and Austin Howard find their groove, then great.
But I wouldn’t put my eggs in one basket, especially with so many potential options to trade back in the draft.
On draft day trades, I’m a fan. In the case of Khalil Mack, McKenzie made a move that I wouldn’t have, and he was right. But more often than not, adding picks is the way to go.
Stanford Tackle Andrus Peat, Miami linebacker Denzel Perryman, Stanford receiver Ty Montgomery, and Ohio receiver Devin Smith are sleeper types who can be had as extras for a few small moves.
The four aforementioned players project to be significant contributors, but most won’t be in Oakland without some wheeling and dealing.
Former Raiders center Stefen Wisniewski is still a free agent. The 26-year-old wanted to be paid like the best center in the league, though he played like one of the worst last season.
It’s no surprise Wisniewski is still looking for work, and will likely take a one-year deal to prove his worth. He’s now being considered a budget free agent.
The Raiders, on paper, finally look like they’re ready to break their funk and start winning again. They’ll need to stay healthy to do so, but the new coaching staff’s accolades provide room for optimism.
I considered last season a potential turning point, but the coaching staff put the kibosh on it with a vengeance. Former defensive coordinator Jason Tarver did and said some things that left even the dimmest of individuals befuddled.
In the instance of three receivers being covered by one player in London, versus Miami, in 2014, his response when asked was along of the lines of “we fixed it.”
Really, partner? You fixed it? You mean after the incident helped Oakland become the laughingstock of the league for awhile?
Tarver’s ineptitude, coupled with a rookie quarterback and below average offensive line, wasn’t going to be pretty. Add the career-ending concussion to linebacker Nick Roach, and the disastrous season was happening.
This year should be different. Of course, that’s what the fellas tend to say after messing up for the third time — if they get that far.
To win in 2015, Oakland needs some receiver upgrades. Drafting Amari Cooper or Kevin White, though, may not be the best solution.
If the Raiders do stand pat at the fourth pick, Leonard Williams, if he’s there, or Dante Fowler Jr., wouldn’t be bad options.
Montgomery (Stanford) ran a unofficial 4.28 second 40-yard-dash at his pro day recently, and could be the next Percy Harvin without all the baggage.
Smith (Ohio State), comes off as the Randall Cobb type of the draft, and is the best deep threat this year. If Williams falls, Oakland should pounce without hesitation. They could add Smith in the second and possibly Montgomery in the fourth.
That leaves room for Perryman (Miami) or an upgrade at right guard in the third round, and some value picks later on.
If Williams isn’t there at fourth overall, though, the Browns have two first round picks and need receiver help. As well as quarterback help, linebacker help, not to mention psychological help.
Jason Leskiw is SFBay’s Oakland Raiders beat writer and member of the Professional Football Writers of America. Follow @SFBay and @LeskiwSFBay on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of the Oakland Raiders.