When the Raiders enter offseason preparation, they face a much different AFC West than in 2017. Granted, most divisions show some fluidity over the years. Yet, this division evolved over the course of this year. If the Raiders desire to compete, they must address potential issues before they turn into giant headaches in 2018 and beyond.
In a division filled with premier edge rushers, Oakland needs to prepare. While Donald Penn performed at a Pro Bowl level, he turns 35 in April. As a result, the need for a quality apprentice needs increase. Drafting David Sharpe may not be the answer to either slot. Therefore, Reggie McKenzie must draft and develop an heir to Penn. After 2019, Penn’s current deal expires, the smart move resides with drafting a tackle in 2018, allow him to compete on the right side. If he is versatile enough, slide him to the left side upon Penn’s retirement.
Additionally, the right side needs attention as well. The rotating door of journeymen, lower round draft picks does nothing to solve the issue. Menelik Watson cannot remain as the lone top-60 pick. Austin Howard struggled, as did Watson, Alexander, and Kirkland. Newhouse provides a better shade of adequate. However, facing left ends/linebackers like Bosa and Miller twice a season requires talent. If the Raiders have championship aspirations, the entire line, not three-quarters must be talented enough to handle the rush.
For the first time in years, the Raiders actually lack backend speed. David Amerson, Sean Smith, and Reggie Nelson will never win versus speed receivers. For instance, Brandin Cooks beat Smith on deep routes repeatedly, over two years, for two different teams. Gareon Conley, when healthy holds the key to the future. On the other side, uncertain exists. While technique remains important, the ability to stay with receivers of various speed and agility matters. Facing an improving Tyreek Hill twice yearly will force McKenzie’s hand into improving this unit. For example, this graph represents Hill’s 2017 versus Oakland.
Top Down Knowledge
This is not one of the myriad of articles calling for Jack Del Rio’s job. These articles pervade social media, Reddit, etc. Rather, this topic serves as a warning that the Denver Broncos are the only AFC West team with a more precarious head coaching position than Del Rio. This weekend, Pro Football Talk ran a non-story about the Raiders retaining him as “50-50”. First, every coach will either coach or not. By that logic, they all have a fifty percent chance of leaving.
To keep the wolves of change off his back, Del Rio needs to find a flexible, aggressive offensive mind, let him coach without interference. Entering the offseason, the Chargers and Chiefs own a step on the Raiders offensively. If Del Rio and McKenzie can hire a sharp coordinator, that step dissipates.
Given these points, the Raiders look behind two teams. If they aspire to climb over them to the top, adjustments must occur in this offseason. No one expects drastic change. With immediate attention, these issues become strengths. On the other hand, continued ignorance will set Oakland back.