With offseason workouts and minicamps in the rearview mirror and training camps a few weeks away, we assess the Oakland Raiders offseason moves and assign a letter grade in the video above.
Best move: In addition to acquiring big-name veterans in Justin Tuck, Maurice Jones-Drew and Matt Schaub, the Oakland Raiders made their best move of 2014 by drafting standout outside linebacker Khalil Mack with the No. 5 pick. I believe this offseason will play out in similar fashion. The Raiders added more than a dozen free agents and spent about $50 million in free agency. Yet I believe the best move of this offseason was drafting receiver Amari Cooper with the No. 4 pick. The Alabama product is polished and seems to be NFL ready. Oakland hasn’t had a 1,000-yard receiver in 10 years and it didn’t even have a 700-yard receiver last year. Cooper had 1,727 receiving yards last season for the Crimson Tide. Cooper is a gift for second-year quarterback Derek Carr. The addition of Cooper gives Carr a chance to get better. If the Raiders are going to turn their program around, it will be because Carr and Cooper grow together.
Riskiest move: I believe it’s not getting an established pass-rusher. The Raiders entered the offseason with receiver and pass-rusher being their biggest needs. The Raiders addressed their issues at receiver, but there are still big questions at pass-rush. Oakland had 22 sacks last year, which was tied for the second fewest in the NFL, and it had just seven sacks from defensive ends, which was the fewest in the league. The new starter at defensive end is second-round pick Mario Edwards. But he is considered to be better against the run. He had just eight career sacks in three years at Florida State. The Raiders considered pass-rushers in free agency, but didn’t land an established one. The hope is that Mack can become a dominant pass-rusher. He had four sacks as a rookie, but was always around the quarterback. Even if he develops, he could use help.
Deeper at receiver and linebacker: After the 2014 season ended with the Raiders going 3-13, there was a need for a roster overhaul. As the team heads into 2015, there is one position in particular on each side of the ball where Oakland is significantly better than it was last season -- receiver and linebacker. The starting receivers are Cooper and ex-49er Michael Crabtree. That is a big upgrade from James Jones and Andre Holmes at the end of last season. Jones was cut and Holmes is now the No. 4 receiver. The Raiders are as deep at receiver as they've been at any time in recent memory. At linebacker, the Raiders added Curtis Lofton and Malcolm Smith via free agency, and rookies Ben Heeney and Neiron Ball in the fifth round. Last year, the Raiders were ravaged by injury at linebacker. They should be better in both the starting lineup (Lofton will start at middle linebacker) and throughout their rotation.
Training camp outlook: The Raiders are starting the Jack Del Rio era. He is Oakland’s eighth head coach since 2004. There is renewed hope and optimism that the Raiders will break through and have a winning record for the first time since 2002. The reality is this team has won a total of 11 games in the past three seasons. The Raiders are still growing. But they did get deeper in free agency and there is hope that there is enough of a mix of youth and players in their prime to help this team start winning. Del Rio has preached the power of competition and it will be his theme of training camp. For me, the key is the development of Carr, Mack and Cooper. These are three potential stars. If the Raiders are going to start being relevant again, it will be because of these three players. That’s why they will be a focus of training camp.