In the 2018 NFL season the Raiders already have a clear idea of who their two best players will be. In fact, if their two best players are not Khalil Mack and Derek Carr, either the front office struck gold in the draft or something went wrong. After those two, Rodney Hudson and Kelechi Osemele make up the absolute strength of the team as the best linemen. While most teams expect a drop off after the best four players on the team, the Raiders that fill out slots 5-7 represent an interesting cross-section. They are young, aging, or unproven. However, in order for the Raiders to make the playoffs again, these three players will need to excel.
- Amari Cooper
The easiest bet to appear somewhere in the top five players for the Raiders, Amari Cooper is also perhaps the most important player. He has, by far, the most volatile floor and ceiling as evidenced by his tumultuous but successful early career. In his first three seasons he has made two consecutive pro-bowls and on top of back-to-back 1000 yard seasons.
Yet last season, by any measure, was abysmal as he trudged through injury, ineffectiveness, and confidence issues. If Gruden can get Cooper and Carr on the same page, Amari can rocket up this list. Even if Cooper finishes somewhere in the middle of his potential ceiling and floor he would still a valuable asset. However, the upper-limit of the offense’s ceiling is likely determined by how much more dominant Cooper can become in the next two years.
- Bruce Irvin
Bruce Irvin’s name has been floating around Raider’s twitter since the firing of former Defensive Coordinator Ken Norton Jr. His big personality and rub people the wrong way. However, he was by far the most important defensive free agent in the last few years. Initially, many hoped he would be a potential 10-sack season candidate who would be the perfect rush-backer to bookend Khalil Mack. It is not that Irvin has been ineffective but rather that he has been inconsistent. He has notched 15 total sacks and 115 tackles in his two-year career with the Raiders as a DE/SLB. Considering his status as a self-made, speed and quickness ‘backer with his hand in the dirt, Irvin has done a fine job. Yet, he disappears or seems to check out from games.
- Karl Joseph
Some may wonder why Michael Crabtree sits below Karl Joseph; in my opinion, this has more to do with Joseph’s potential impact. While Crabtree is a very high-level role player, Joseph could morph into an absolute stud at free safety. Joseph flashed as a ground covering heavy hitter in the backfield. He is a smaller guy and will almost never be the designated Tight End coverage back, but the potential is there for him to evolve into a backend force.
Crabtree, for all his merits, has very real limitations in what a team could consistently expect from him. He lacks top end speed. Plus, his hands have been good but inconsistent at times. More than anything though, Crabtree is slowly creeping up in age and probably should not be counted on in a couple more years. Joseph, however, should be expected to be a fixture on the team for at least another five years.