As per last year, I’ll be sharing projections for every team in the NFL. I use past production in specific roles for each team’s scheme to work out realistic production profiles. You can see how accurate I was in 2017 in my IDP Projection Marking series.
Just when we all thought the Raiders had turned the corner, they remembered who they were in 2017 and crashed back down to earth.
The team only won six games which was bad enough but they followed that up with sacking their head coach and awarding Jon Gruden a ludicrous deal to tempt him back to coaching.
The defense in 2017 was particularly uninspiring. Aside from Khalil Mack, there were really no success stories. This team is in desperate need of a defensive catalyst and they hired Paul Guenther to be that for them. He cut his teeth with the Bengals and as such, is likely to field a similar defense. There are a number of players who could be really good IDPs on this team but given the schism in terms of personnel (Gruden allegedly had a separate draft board to GM Reggie McKenzie), some growing pains should be expected.
Maurice Hurst was one of the very top talents in the draft until a heart issue was discovered at the Combine and his draft stock was turned upside down. The Raiders eventually halted his freefall and unsurprisingly, he received glowing reports from OTAs and so far from camp. The heart issue has not gone away and could be an issue at any time but Hurst has the potential to be a top interior pass rusher. He’s well worth the gamble.
Justin Ellis seems to have hold of the nose tackle spot next to Hurst but is really a fairly average talent. There is little IDP upside here.
P.J. Hall was drafted early and has some potential but came out of a small school and is facing a big step up. He might be a long shot but his selection at least tells us the new coaching staff is probably not a big fan of Eddie Vanderdoes.
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At the time of writing, Mack is holding out of training camp which is a nightmare for Oakland. He’s no doubt asking for the biggest defensive contract in NFL history and although he might be worth it, it’s by no means certain that the Raiders can afford it. They’ve already poured salary cap into their offensive line and quarterback. Assuming the situation is worked out somehow, Mack should again be an elite IDP. His being DE-eligible is a massive help too.
On the other side, Bruce Irvin is moving to a more traditional end role. He won’t line up in a hugely different spot but he will have his hand in the dirt more. It’s debatable how much difference that really makes but we do know it’s a good move for his IDP value. He should be a contender for being a top-25 option at the position.
Jon Gruden has got a lot of heat for signing vets but this is one spot where Guenther might be more to blame. He was very much part of the Bengals’ long-term willingness to sign aging also-rans at the position. This is the weakest part of the Raiders’ defense.
Tahir Whitehead has managed to record 232 total tackles across the past two seasons without actually being very good at all. He’s probably the top option on this team which should be a major worry going into the season. He could again record high tackles due to opportunity but it’s a gamble.
Derrick Johnson was really showing his age in 2017 which led to him losing playing time down the stretch and ultimately being released. It’s hard to watch his tape from last year and see a player who can hold up to a full-time workload in an increasingly aerial league.
Behind those two veterans is a motley collection of also-rans. It seems that linebacker likely will still be a major need next off-season.
One of the biggest headscratchers off the off-season was the Colts letting Rashaan Melvin walk out the door. He only played 552 snaps in 2017 but was clearly the best corner in Indianapolis. If someone had paid him, it would make sense, but he only signed a one-year contract in Oakland. The Raiders should be extremely happy and if he can recreate his 2017 provides a solid player to man the side across from Gareon Conley.
Conley has his own issues, however, and has already picked up an injury in camp. He really needs a run of luck. Assuming he can recover OK, Conley will essentially be a rookie having played just 92 snaps in 2017. He could be fairly heavily targeted which will lead to IDP points.
Manning the slot will be either another veteran in Leon Hall or rookie Nick Nelson. Nelson was selected in the fourth round and has reportedly started well as a professional. He is promising but starting Melvin, Conley and Nelson at the position would leave Oakland very, very short of experience.
Karl Joseph is probably the most secure player here. He’s shown the ability to be pretty flexible and (coming from the Bengals) Coach Guenther has shown a preference for versatile, flexible players at the position. Joseph is seen as a strong safety by some but has just 100 solo tackles in two years on the team. He’s more than a box player. He should be the most productive player at the position but that does not make him even close to an elite player.
Across from Joseph, we see a fascinating battle developing. Reggie Nelson brings veteran savvy and scheme experience. Obi Melifonwu (just 34 defensive snaps in 2017) brings youth, athleticism, and potential. Marcus Gilchrist brings the coaching staff’s favor given they gave him a one-year, $4.5m contract just months ago. It seems likely that all of the three players will disappoint as IDPs.
Khalil Mack. The contract impasse is a big worry but Mack has proved that he’s a top player and he can likely shrug off the off-field concerns to produce when it matters. We haven’t seen him put together a true monster sack season yet but it’s certainly in his range of outcomes.
Obi Melifonwu. There were few bigger fans of Melifonwu as a prospect than this writer. He’s big, he’s fast, he can play in all defensive phases, he’s a mismatch… But his rookie season was stunningly disappointing. He was hurt for months then came back to look like a fish out of water in Mexico City. When he was on the field (all of 34 snaps) he even spent a chunk of time at corner. It’s too early to write him off but he’ll need to show a lot more to even be worth an IDP roster spot.
Maurice Hurst. The heart issue is terribly worrying and as a late-round pick, he’s got an uphill struggle ahead of him. But even so, Hurst is exciting. He flashed elite level talent in college and if things work out could ascend at some point to the elite level of pass rushing tackles dominated by Aaron Donald, Geno Atkins, and Kawann Short. That’s not going to happen in 2018 but he has the ability to get there someday.
If you close your eyes and squint a bit, you can see a future where it all comes together and the Raiders have a top ten defense this season. Equally, it’s possible to see how they remain a bottom ten defense with their best asset on the way out. The smart money is probably on a solid but unspectacular defense that tries to be a little too clever for the level of talent they have available.
Thanks for reading.