The Oakland Raiders will be a completely different team in 2014. In fact, this is the third year of the Reggie McKenzie and Dennis Allen era and it is the third new iteration of the Raiders roster. With a focus on fixing the salary cap, McKenzie has overhauled the Raiders roster every year, fielding unique teams each season.
Now that the cap situation is fixed, the Raiders have what they feel is the best roster in years and are ready to compete. But as with every roster in the NFL, the Raiders have both strengths and weaknesses throughout. Let’s take a closer look at where the Raiders are strong and where they have weaknesses.
Offensive Line/Run Game
When was the last time you could say that the Raiders offensive line was a strength? For years now the team has been trying to fix an offensive line that was one of the worst in the league. After losing in the Super Bowl, the entire Raiders roster got old quickly and the offensive line was no exception. The Raiders tried to address it but a number of draft pick busts as well as a tendency to focus on skill positions has led to an era of putrid line play in Oakland.
This year will be a whole different story. There will be new starters at four of the five positions, assuming you do not count Menelik Watson as a starter last season. Though Watson did have some starts, he spent so much time injured I would not have considered him a starter.
I expect the Raiders offensive line to be as follows from left tackle to right tackle: Donald Penn, Gabe Jackson, Stefen Wisniewski, Austin Howard, Menelik Watson. Howard, Penn and Jackson are all over 330 pounds, Watson is not far off at 315 and Wisnkiewski is the “small guy” of the group at 307.
This is a group of maulers who excel in downhill run blocking and the Raiders have a stable of backs to send through the holes created by the big uglies. The Raiders hope that by using Darren McFadden sparingly, they can preserve his health. To that effect, they brought in Maurice Jones Drew and Kory Sheets to bolster a back field that already had McFadden, Latavius Murray and Jeremy Stewart. Stewart may be the lone man out of this bunch, but no matter who makes the roster, they will likely all see playing time as the Raiders will run the ball heavily.
Defensive Front Seven
The Raiders stuck to a theme of building through the trenches this offseason. In addition to the numerous offensive line additions, the Raiders signed Justin Tuck, LaMarr Woodley, Antonio Smith and CJ Wilson, re-signed Pat Sims and drafted Justin Ellis. Needless to say, they really felt the need to add a lot to the defensive line.
While there are some slight concerns about depth at the defensive end position, this Raiders defensive line will also be a formidable force. The ends are veterans with a ton of experience and success while the interior is filled with both veterans and youth, many of whom come with massive bodies to stuff up the offensive line and let the linebackers run free.
Speaking of linebackers, the single best unit for the Raiders may very well be the linebackers. Adding Khalil Mack to play across from second year player Sio Moore was a huge move. Moore already impressed as a play maker in his rookie season and is only expected to get better. Meanwhile, Mack looks like he could end up being a franchise talent on defense.
Middle linebacker Nick Roach struggled a bit in his first season with the Raiders. A former outside backer, Roach had some issues getting off of blocks due to his smaller frame. But with the massive bodies the Raiders have brought in to play in front of Roach, he should have more success this year.
The Raiders also have amazing depth with Miles Burris and Kevin Burnett sitting in the wings. Both have played as starters in the NFL and both will be ready to come into games for relief or injury without making the defense take a big step down in talent. Combined, the defensive line and linebackers for the Raiders will be one of if not their single biggest strength.