The Raiders were meant to be Super Bowl contenders in 2017, but it didn’t work out that way. Despite Derek Carr returning to the lineup and uneven season from him together with inconsistencies from Amari Cooper and a running game that struggled to get off the ground early in the year meant that the Raiders struggled to a 6-10 season.
That disappointment led to a change at head coach, with Mark Davis tempting Jon Gruden down from the commentary booth with a ten-year, $100 million contract. With him come enormous expectations and more than a few risks, but the Raiders have never shied away from high hopes or colossal let downs. If they want to avoid the latter, where should Reggie McKenzie focus his attention and $28 million in cap space?
The Raiders used their 2017 first round pick on Gareon Conley, who played reasonably well albeit in limited time. Their second round pick went on Combine hero and safety Obi Melifonwu, but the secondary still needs considerable work in 2018.
Gruden will hope to get considerably more out of last year’s draft class, but with only Sean Smith as a viable option at corner and Karl Joseph struggling to reach the star status he was drafted for don’t be surprised if the Raiders invest seriously in the secondary again this year. While they are unlikely to clear enough cap space to be able to afford the likes of Malcolm Butler or Trumaine Johnson, they could land someone like Patrick Robinson and hope to get the same outstanding year that the Eagles did.
Let’s take this as a whole, because outside of Khalil Mack there is little to get excited by in the Raiders front seven. Their linebacker depth chart is extremely thin, and while I am sure they would like to keep NaVorro Bowman, the free agent is going to get a lot of offers from around the league.
Defensive tackle is also a problem spot for the Raiders and has been for some time and as things stand there is very little talent under contract at that position. There are a number of veteran defensive tackles like Tom Johnson or Stephen Paea that could come in and eat up snaps, but they aren’t going to make an impact.
This is where the Raiders are likely to go with their draft capital. Roquan Smith and Bradley Chubb would be good additions, but if they wanted to find their own version of Aaron Donald then they could do worse than taking Washington’s Vita Vea, who has the athleticism to be far more than an interior run stuffer.
For the first time in 18 years the Raiders are going to have to address the kicker position. In 2000 they took the remarkable step to draft Sebastian Janikowski in the first round, and since then he has booted 428 field goals and 574 extra points for the team, but after missing all of 2017 with a back injury the Raiders said they would not be pursuing Janikowski for another stint with the club. So, what do they do?
Giorgio Tavecchio is an exclusive rights free agent and can be brought back at minimal cost, but he was just 76% on field goals last year, including missing two from inside the 40. The likes of Graham Gano, Cody Parkey, and Matt Bryant are all available as free agents and were far more accurate than Tavecchio, but they would also cost more, and with the Raiders as close to the cap as they are right now it might not be wise to spend an extra two or three million on a kicker.
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