The Khalil Mack debacle has ended and now Jon Gruden is tasked with preparing his new squad for the fast approaching season, sans Mack. Now that the pass-rushing juggernaut and former NFL Defensive Player of Year will be playing in a Bears uniform, Oakland is looking for the rest of the team to pick up the slack. Though there are plenty of questions surrounding the Raider’s now Mack-less defense, there is no certainty that the offense is ready to carry the Men in Black to the playoffs, despite a slew of big names on the depth chart.
Let’s start with the offensive line. Over the past few seasons, this has been one of the team’s key strengths. But age is slowly catching up to this squad. Donald Penn is 35 and entering his 13th season. Besides the injury concerns, Penn’s performance is likely to experience decline sooner rather than later. Rodney Hudson (30) and Kelechi Osemele (29) are both among the league’s best at their positions and should still have a couple good seasons left, but the time is now for these two o-line stars if they want to be a part of a championship calibre Raiders team. Gabe Jackson (27) is a stud at right guard and still relatively young; while rookie first round pick Kolton Miller has a promising future at left tackle. The Raider’s o-line is on track to have another strong season, but the core is not getting younger and their window of opportunity may not be open for too much longer.
At running back, the Silver and Black have plenty of name recognition. In 2017, Marshawn Lynch showed he could still wreak havoc on opposing defenses, rushing for 891 yards on just 207 carries. But he is 32 and is far from the Marshawn Lynch we saw during his glory days in Seattle. Despite his age, coach Gruden still sees plenty of value in his workhorse back. “I love him. I love being around him,” says Gruden. “…he’s all football. He loves it. He competes. I’m excited to see him with his pads on.”
Meanwhile, backup RB Doug Martin (29) may not be old on paper, but his inconsistency and lackluster performance last season got him booted from Tampa. At just shy of 30, Martin’s career has tapered off quickly. It isn’t too late for him to contribute to a winning team, but it won’t be in a starting role. Oakland will rely on him to take some of the load off Marshawn in the backfield, but it remains to be seen if Martin has anything left in the tank. Third in the rotation is Jalen Richard (24), a solid depth back who is also good in the receiving game.
Now things get interesting with the receiving corps. Jordy Nelson had some great years with Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay, but he is now 33 and coming off a season where he posted a disappointing 53 receptions for 482 yards in 15 games. In fairness, he didn’t have Rodgers feeding him the ball for most of the season. Sure, Nelson is probably still capable of putting up some impressive numbers, but one can imagine that his best days are behind him. At the very least, Nelson provides some veteran leadership on a relatively young receiver corps. He has already had an impact on his other receivers, such as Amari Cooper.
“He’s always trying to give advice about the things that they did in Green Bay. Obviously they were really explosive on the offensive side of the ball. Every time he talks, I listen and it always makes sense when he talks. I’m always listening and always adjusting to the things that he tells me because I know it’s something good,” says Cooper.
Speaking of Amari Cooper, he is a big, fast, and athletic receiver; who at the ripe age of 24, is just getting started. There is some concern about his tendency to drop catchable passes, (10 last year), but look for him to have a bounce-back year after amassing just 680 reception yards last season. In addition to the uncertainty surrounding Oakland’s top receivers, Oakland’s lack of depth at the position could be another point of concern. The addition of former Pittsburgh wideout Martavis Bryant would have made for a strong addition to the offense, but he was released at the beginning of September after it was learned that there was another looming suspension for substance-abuse violations. Luckily, Seth Roberts is not a bad player to have as your number 3 receiver.
At tight-end, there is a lot to like about Jared Cook. He’s big (6’5, 254 ibs) and has good speed for his size. He isn’t quite the red zone specialist that it was once thought he would be, but he can still contribute. He is another Raider over 30, but expect Cook to get plenty of chances to make some big plays for Gruden’s offense.
Finally, la pièce de résistance! Derek Carr has established himself as a top-tier signal caller. He is 27 and in the prime of his career. A pro-bowler in each of his last three seasons, Carr has proven he can play with the best of them. But if he is going to lead the Men in Black to the Super Bowl, he is going to have to take his game to the next level. He has the luxury of being surrounded by experienced veterans and talented youngsters, and now he has to make the most of it.
There is little doubt that this Oakland offense is loaded with talent. But Oakland’s defense is even more vulnerable than it was with Mack, so the pressure will be on for this offense to perform. It will be on Derek Carr and an aging supporting cast to push the Silver and Black back to the postseason.