Assessing the roster shortcomings that Reggie McKenzie should address during the offseason is an intricate process. Because it is unlike the majority of NFL franchises that have established cornerstones for their rosters. Conversely, the Raiders currently have a limited number of positions that are solidified, and the team is devoid of proven difference makers on all both sides of the ball. McKenzie’s personnel decisions during the initial two years of his tenure were discussed in one of my previous columns, as his inability to secure playmakers to the roster that he systematically eviscerated has been the primary reason that Oakland’s has scuffled to a 8-24 record during the past two years. With an estimated $64.4 million in cap money at his disposal, McKenzie certainly has no viable excuse for not garnering some desperately needed talent in free agency. If he is successful in keeping Jared Veldheer (likely) and Lamarr Houston (50/50 chance), he should still possess sufficient resources to collect several highly effective newcomers, which will be supplemented with other functional but less exhilarating signings to potentially enhance the talent base even further.
However, the draft process will also be immensely critical, and McKenzie’s preference of utilizing it as the primary vehicle toward building his roster is well-chronicled. As of now, he will have seven selections at his disposal, and could conceivably receive more once the compensatory picks are announced in March. Since there are numerous roster slots to examine, this particular piece will focus upon Oakland’s offense, while the defensive needs will be discussed in a separate article.
Offensive overview Greg Olsen begins his second year coordinating the offense under Dennis Allen, and will preside over a unit that has deficiencies along the line, a collection of possible contributors at RB, several promising performers at WR and TE, and a mammoth need at QB. After the new infusion of new roster additions has concluded, Olsen must attempt to improve a unit that ranked 23rd overall in 2013, averaged 333.8 YPG, and ranked 24th in scoring (20.1 PPG). The rushing attack did finish a respectable 12th last season (125 YPG), although that output was impacted through several 100+ yard performances by Terrelle Pryor. Olsen does have some existing pieces to work with, and will be receiving others as the offseason unfolds. But fortifying the QB position is an absolute must, if the offense is to achieve the degree of effectiveness that is necessary for this franchise to finally move forward.
After two highly disappointing seasons, the Raiders must exhibit tangible progress this year in order for McKenzie and Allen to keep their jobs. And sealing the cavernous crevice that exists at QB would represent a sizable step toward accomplishing that. McKenzie needs to obtain a signal caller who is more proficient than Terrelle Pryor and Matt McGloin. And he cannot afford yet another misstep in his evaluations of the position. Particularly after last year’s ill-fated trade for Matt Flynn, coupled with his employment of a fourth-round selection on Tyler Wilson, who is now a Titan. Allen clearly does not perceive Pryor to be his starting signal caller moving forward, and essentially abandoned the third-year QB in favor of Matt McGloin last season. This position could be addressed in free agency, although the options that exist in this market are headlined by Michael Vick, Josh Freeman, Matt Schaub and Josh McCown. That should be at least somewhat sobering to all members of Raider Nation.But if no QBs are added in free agency before the draft commences on May 8, then a signal caller will almost assuredly be taken early in that process. And if at least one option from the highly discussed trio of Teddy Bridgewater, Johnny Manziel and Blake Bortles remains available when McKenzie can utilize the fifth overall pick, then that would be his most likely choice. Provided that he does not eschew that opportunity, and instead chooses to trade down.
Darren McFadden was sidelined for a total of 29 games during his six seasons with Oakland, and will likely be missing all future contests for another team. If he is allowed to depart as expected, the Raiders will not possess an extremely dynamic back with consistent big play potential. But amid the need to improve at so many positions, it is plausible that McKenzie will not draft a back, or will do so only in a late round. Primarily because Rashad Jennings performed efficiently when called upon in 2013, producing 1,025 total yards on 199 touches. He started eight contests for the Raiders while McFadden assumed his customary position as sideline spectator, and appears capable of handling the RB1 role. While he does not reside among the league's upper tier of backs, he would at least supply respectable production. Plus, his continued presence would provide far more dependability than was experienced with McFadden as the lead back. Also, even though Marcel Reese was strangely underutilized by Olsen last season, he is a gifted runner and receiver, who will be effective when allotted sufficient chances. 2013 draft pick Latavius Murray will also have an opportunity to be within the mix, after missing the entire season with an ankle injury. But again, he belief from here is that this is not a position that McKenzie will address aggressively in the draft.
Oakland has three wideouts who have displayed proficiency, and each could excel if the QB position is upgraded suitably. However, no member of this trio can be considered to be a legitimate WR1. Rod Streater paced the Silver & Black in receptions (60), yardage (888), and has cemented a role within the offense. But he is a possession receiver, who won’t instill immobilizing fear in opponents. Conversely, the athleticism and size of 6’4”, 240 pound Andre Holmes can create problems for many defensive backs. Holmes did not garner his first reception until Week 11, yet led the team with a 17.2 YPC average, while also finishing third in yardage (431). He also delivered Oakland's most prolific production by a WR during 2013, when he collected seven passes for 136 yards on Thanksgiving. He delivers sufficient big play potential to remain actively involved in the game plan. Meanwhile, Denarius Moore might still possess the most talent within this unit, but his inconsistency could ultimately push him below the undrafted duo of Streater and Holmes on the depth chart. Despite the existing talent at WR, the lack of a true WR1 should compel McKenzie to locate a wideout who can fit that description. That could easily be done in free agency. However, he could also seize Sammy Watkins with fifth pick, if Bridgewater, Manziel and Bortles are all unavailable.
Mychal Rivera was selected in the sixth round of the 2013 draft, and proceeded to play in all 16 regular season contests. That enabled him to amass 407 yards on 38 receptions, and produce four TDs. He displayed enough promise to be considered as a serviceable TE. However, he only started three games, in part due to his deficiencies as a blocker. It is very possible that one of McKenzie’s draft picks will be utilized to add another option at this position.
Veldheer only played in five games last season, due to a torn tricep. But he is very effective when healthy, and securing him to anchor the line is critical. McKenzie will attempt to accomplish that, although it is unlikely that he will employ the franchise tag. Stefen Wisniewski has performed respectively at both guard and center. However the remaining components within the line remain somewhat underwhelming. 2013 second round draft pick Menelik Watson missed 11 contests as a rookie, but would supply the team with another viable alternative at tackle if he can begin making contributions to the offense. It would behoove McKenzie to bolster this unit during the draft. And if he fails to keep Veldheer, then addressing the tackle position becomes a high priority.