No other team in the National Football league seems to have had a better offseason and progressive year in 2015 than the Oakland Raiders.
Last year's Super Bowl champs, the Denver Broncos, are part of the AFC West division along with the Raiders who should surely make a postseason run and in preseason are already expected to be one of the most dynamic and competitive teams in the league.
They picked up last year's interceptions leader Reggie Nelson and a stud cornerback in Sean Smith from their division opponent—the Kansas City Chiefs, a team that many insiders have finishing first in the AFC West this upcoming year.
The Raiders looks more poised and ready for the season ahead.
“We look ready to compete and hopefully this year is better than last,” said Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio in a press conference during training camp.
Although J.J. Watt was the NFL sack leader last season with 17.5, Khalil Mack was just 1.5 sacks behind, and he wasn't the one who just went through back surgery, a delicate procedure with an unknown timetable to return.
So you take Watt out of the equation and the Raiders have now arguably the best pass rusher and sack master. Yes that is right, he is better than Von Miller.
Even if you don't agree, his play speaks for itself, Miller is never able to take on three linemen at once—Mack has done it multiple times—including against the Pittsburgh Steelers last year in their week 9 meeting.
Miller only had 11 sacks last year, tied for eighth with Geno Atkins (Cincinnati), Aaron Donald (Los Angeles Rams), and Kawann Short (Carolina), and these three are all defensive tackles, which means sacks are not primarily their job.
“It makes me happy that he [Mack] is on my team,” said quarterback Derek Carr in a press conference. “I’m glad he’s not rushing me with that kind of anger. We have our own pass rushers in our division to worry about, he’s one I’m just glad I get to play with. Not only that, we’ve become really good friends, which is more important to me than anything.”
The work of an interior defensive linemen is simple—stop the run and consistently take on double teams to create space for the rest of your teammates.
Needless to say, the stats speak for themselves.
“We have that belief in one another,” said Carr. “I can go up to him at some point at the end of the game and say, ‘hey man go finish this thing, go get this sack and end this game,’ and he’ll do it. We have a great relationship, we can tell each other anything. To watch him play, to watch him work, is such a joy.”
Carr, 25, is without question one of the leagues favorite quarterbacks, on and off the field, and he has just two seasons under his belt.
“It's been a great offseason,” said Carr in a press conference. “We’re just trying to put the work in to make sure we go out there and earn some more wins than we earned last year, so far it’s going good but I can’t wait.”
Playing for a Raiders team that has been working towards their winning ways since their Super Bowl loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2003, Carr looks like he is destined to become the next quarterback great in Oakland if he continues his progression.
With a calm demeanor and love for the game, his teammates and family, Carr looks seasoned well beyond his years and everyone who is part of the silver and black love it.
Carr threw for 3,987 yards and finished the year with 32 touchdown passes and just 13 interceptions for a passer rating of 91.1 and a completion percentage of 61.1, up three percent from his rookie season percentage of 58.1.
He also did a wonderful and efficient job of distributing the ball to his teammates. Seven players had 28 or more catches for the year, with nine tallying a dozen or more.
Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper each had strong years. Cooper, playing hurt, had 1,070 yards on 72 catches and played with a foot injury that he neglected to mention until after the season ended. Crabtree tallied a team-high 85 grabs and nine touchdown grabs, finishing with 922 yards.
Together, Crabtree and a healthy Cooper could quite possibly be the most electric and dangerous duo receivers in the NFL.
You add 1,000 yard running back Latavius Murray into the offensive mix and that blend seems like a result for success, especially when you take a look at the Raiders strong offensive line that includes arguably one of the best guards in the league in Gabe Jackson.
Jackson was previously moved to right guard after starting all 16 games at the left side, but the move should help the offensive line in the interior since they added free agent acquisition Kelechi Osemele and the return of one of the best centers in Rodney Hudson.
“I mean, it's a learning process and there are growing pains but it's also fun, too,” said Jackson in a press conference. “You can't over think it. You've just got to be a football player.”
There is still question as to who will start at right tackle for the upcoming year but the left side seems to be filled by Donald Penn.
It looks like the offense will have a difficult time being stopped and the defense will contain some of the most feared pass rushers if you add what Mario Edwards and Dan Williams did just a year ago from the defensive line position.
The defense also added Bruce Irvin, who when healthy and not suspended is a phenomenal pass rusher to compliment Mack well.
Look for the Raiders to succeed and to make moves during the 2016-17 season, especially in the AFC West.