Entering training camp, there’s a few outlooks fans can take. Either are valid, especially since meaningful games won’t be played for another two months, and hitting won’t start until about August.
But the blueprint has been drawn out.
Reasons for Raiders optimism
The Raiders added top-talent at key positions — Rodney Hudson, the second best center in football per Pro Football Focus, and one of the most elusive running backs in Roy Helu. Tight end Clive Walford is an intriguing player who could become an instant contributor and potential pro-bowler, along with Amari Cooper.
Cooper is probably the quietest prospect turned pro in all of football right now. He answers a question in three to five words, however complex it might be, and still gets it right.
He was successful in college, in large part, due to his yards after the catch ability. He doesn’t have extreme size, nor does his wow when going for jump balls.
But he figures to duplicate his college production at some point in his professional career, and maybe accumulate 1,200 yards in his rookie year.
No doubt, Crabtree will be a threat to do the same, and Walford should surpass 500 receiving yards as well. With an upgraded run defense, additions Curtis Lofton and Dan Williams, Oakland has a shot at being average to above average against the run.
The offensive line as a whole, too, could be better than previously anticipated. Through the first two weeks of training camp, J’Marcus Webb is holding his own at right guard, and the size of the starting linemen is nearly equitable to the TransAmerica tower.
Reasons for Raiders pessimism
It’s the Raiders, and if that isn’t enough for you to be pessimistic, there’s not much else that can be done for you.
Ok, there are some legitimate reasons. They made some strides in the right direction, but Lofton might be as bad as he was in New Orleans over the past two seasons.
No doubt, even his worst season is well above what Miles Burris has done in the NFL, but Lofton has never been a terribly talented player and is on the wrong end of his career.
The defensive secondary is pretty talented, but the top three cornerbacks all have injury histories that may haunt Oakland.
There’s also the offensive line.
They’re a group who could be very good, or fairly bad. The right side is still a pretty major question, tackle Menelik Watson is just a big guy with athletic ability, but gets knocked around because his football knowledge and technique are absent.
He’s never been a huge football guy, and simply had the build for it. His upside is there, no doubt, but he’s going to have to take a major step forward to be worth a damn.
There’s another issue at right guard, but can easily be helped by signing free agent Justin Blalock, or making a trade with any other team.
Perhaps one very overlooked issue is at left tackle. Donald Penn played a very nice 2014 season, and showed no signs of being as old as he is.
But he’s still 32, and that’s not an age where the human body recovers well from repeated blows, nor knee and ankle problems heal quickly.
If Penn goes down, his replacements are Watson and Webb, neither are players who have had much success in the NFL.
If the offensive line deals with an injury or two, or struggles again in general, the additions of Crabtree, Cooper, Walford and Helu won’t be nearly as impactful.
It’s pretty difficult for a football team can be successful with a below average offensive line.
Lastly, because the team is another mish-mash of talent that might take too long to mend together.
That’s a part of what happened to the 2014 Raiders season, the offensive line struggled to adapt to everything, the coaches weren’t fond of young players and started guys like Andre Holmes when better players were there.
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.