2019 Oakland Raiders
2019 Oakland Raiders

This article is part of our Team Previews series.

Oakland Raiders

THE SKINNY

The Raiders added flashy offensive weapons Antonio Brown and Josh Jacobs this offseason to keep a select batch of fans intrigued ahead of the team's impending move to Las Vegas. Still, the pressure is on for a squad that claimed just four victories in 2018, and games will be won and lost in the trenches.

THREE THINGS TO KNOW

ENTER AB
Whether it was a feud with former teammates or selling $500 Cameo videos to his fans online, "Mr. Big Chest" had quite an interesting offseason in the tabloids. Nonetheless, Antonio Brown's game drowns out the noise and the Raiders ultimately found their needed upgrade at wideout in the months after shipping Amari Cooper to Dallas for a first-round pick. Brown's top-flight combination of speed, agility, footwork, hands and route running led to first-team All-Pro honors in four consecutive seasons (2014 to 2017) and he led the NFL with 15 touchdown receptions last year. There will be questions surrounding his ability to build chemistry with polarizing QB Derek Carr on short notice, especially considering Brown has enjoyed catching passes from a future Hall of Famer (Ben Rothlisberger) his entire career. Although a step down in signal-caller efficiency could affect Brown's production negatively, Oakland is slated to embark on a tough schedule given the team's surging division foes, which could translate to an enticing game flow on a weekly basis for a No. 1 receiver like Brown. In an effort to take some of the load off his shoulders in the wake of Seth Roberts' departure and Jordy Nelson's retirement, free agents Tyrell Williams, J.J. Nelson and Ryan Grant were brought in, along with draftee Hunter Renfrow.

RETOOLED GROUND GAME
The Raiders' decision to select Alabama's Josh Jacobs with the 24th overall pick in the 2019 draft made it clear they had no intentions to bring back 33-year-old Marshawn Lynch. Even when newcomer Isaiah Crowell suffered a torn Achilles during the offseason, Oakland chose to re-sign Doug Martin for depth purposes rather than go back to a worn-down Lynch, whose 2018 campaign ended with just 376 yards on 90 carries over six games thanks to a groin injury. Martin has been given countless chances to prove himself in the NFL, but he may be a bit washed up himself at 30 years old and should only pose a threat to DeAndre Washington and Chris Warren, while Jacobs totes the rock on a regular basis. The latter averaged one TD per every 10 touches for the Crimson Tide as a junior in 2018. According to Pro Football Focus, 41 percent of Jacobs' carries went for either a first down or a score, the highest mark of any running back in all of college football last year. Jacobs' appeal also includes his fresh tires, as the 21-year-old amassed only 251 carries over his entire collegiate career. Although the Raiders lost Kelechi Osemele at guard, they made former Patriots left tackle Trent Brown the highest-paid offensive lineman in NFL history, and they will count on him to provide run support in addition to protecting Derek Carr.

MAYOCK ON THE CLOCK
Following in Jon Gruden's footsteps with a late-career change from the broadcasting booth to a prominent role in the Raiders' organization, Mike Mayock was enticed by the opportunity to toy around with three first-round picks as he became Oakland's GM at the turn of the calendar year. In an effort to transform a defeated franchise culture following a disappointing four-win season prior to his arrival, Mayock stuck to his guns by not trading away any of the aforementioned first-round selections. To start with, he targeted leadership by tabbing edge rusher Clelin Ferrell at No. 4 overall. The hoots and hollers weren't as severe as when Gruden felt the need to trade Khalil Mack away and subsequently whined about not having a viable pass rush, but there was a general consensus that Ferrell was a reach with potentially generational talents in Devin White and Josh Allen still left on the board. Mayock continued the theme of securing his own core by electing not to pick up safety Karl Joseph's fifth-year option. Joseph will now be forced to battle the team's third first-rounder Johnathan Abram for playing time next to Lamarcus Joyner before becoming a free agent next year. Mayock's trip to the CFP National Championship also became noteworthy, as he went on to use four of his nine draft picks on players from either Alabama or Clemson.

PIVOTAL PLAYER: Derek Carr
Dispelling rumors of a potential trade-up in the draft for a certain 5-10 Sooner on Jon Gruden's wish list, the Raiders ultimately elected to keep Carr and his $22.5M cap hit, while completely revamping the offense around him. Carr's toughness has never been in question, but he accounted for just 20 TDs versus 17 total turnovers in 2018.

BAROMETER

RISING: Josh Jacobs
Jacobs' stock is on the upswing before his first career training camp even begins. An Achilles injury suffered by Isaiah Crowell frees up added rushing opportunities, while Jalen Richard simply handles pass-catching duties.

FALLING: Marcell Ateman
As a rookie, Ateman averaged 4.4 targets over Oakland's final seven games, but his path to relevance behind Antonio Brown and Tyrell Williams will be obstructed by the additions of J.J. Nelson, Ryan Grant and Hunter Renfrow.

SLEEPER: Foster Moreau
The Raiders hope that Moreau, who finished top five among tight ends in every combine workout except the three-cone drill, can harness his physical tools and improve as a route runner. He's already a capable blocker.

KEY JOB BATTLE – NO. 1 TIGHT END
Much like the large-scale overhaul of Oakland's wideout corps following Amari Cooper's midseason trade to Dallas in 2018, the team's tight-end room has been filled with a slew of fresh faces in an attempt to fill the void left by Jared Cook's free-agent departure. Cook, who made his first career Pro Bowl just last year at 31, amassed a total of 122 receptions for 1,584 yards and eight touchdowns on 187 targets in 32 games for the silver and black over the past two seasons. A portion of this significant volume is now up for grabs and will naturally be dispersed between primary pass-catching weapons Antonio Brown, Tyrell Williams and the versatile Jalen Richard, but there's certainly an opportunity for a new No. 1 tight end to emerge as well. Heading into training camp, it appears as though Darren Waller has the inside track to landing the role. A former college wideout at Georgia Tech, Waller not only harnesses elite 4.46 speed, but he also measures in at a respectable 6-6 and 255 pounds. The 26-year-old joined Oakland with only four games remaining during the 2018 regular season, but Waller made his presence felt by racking up 44 yards on his maiden reception as a Raider. The primary concern with Waller is inexperience, as several lengthy suspensions due to substance-abuse violations held him to just 18 total games played from 2015 through 2017. Although Waller may have the starting job locked up come Week 1, don't discount the possibility that fourth-rounder Foster Moreau could eventually make some noise as well. GM Mike Mayock wouldn't have invested a top-150 draft pick in the LSU product if he didn't believe in Moreau's athleticism and upside as a pass catcher.

KEY ACQUISITIONS:
ANTONIO BROWN – WR (from Steelers)
Left on a sour note despite six straight Pro-Bowl appearances.

TYRELL WILLIAMS – WR (from Chargers)
AB's new complement caught 16 TDs over the past three seasons.

JOSH JACOBS – RB (Rd. 1, No. 24 – Alabama)
First back selected in April should enjoy prominent early-down role.

FOSTER MOREAU – TE (Rd. 4, No. 137 – LSU)
Brings 4.66 speed to a thin TE room following Jared Cook's departure.

HUNTER RENFROW – WR (Rd. 5, No. 149 – Clemson)
Could immediately serve as slot man in the team's three-wide sets.

KEY DEPARTURES:
JARED COOK – TE (to Saints)
Career highs in catches, yards and touchdowns during 2018 resurgence.

JORDY NELSON – WR (retired)
Retiring after 11 seasons and 72 TDs, unless Aaron Rodgers calls.

MARSHAWN LYNCH – RB (retired)
Team turned to Doug Martin over Beast Mode after Isaiah Crowell injury.

THE INJURY FRONT
Antonio Brown, WR – With what we know now, the reasoning behind Brown's absence during the 2018 regular season finale can essentially be attributed to the turbulence afflicting his relationship with the Steelers, but it should also be noted that the wideout was battling minor knee soreness late in the year as his former employer went on to miss the playoffs. Brown just turned 31 in early July, but a handful of workout videos posted to social media throughout the offseason show that the gifted receiver still has yet to lose a step. Nonetheless, expect coach Jon Gruden to hold his new prized possession out of preseason action as Brown plans to debut in the silver and black Week 1 against Denver.

Kolton Miller, T – The Raiders' first-rounder in Year 1 of Jon Gruden's latest stint with the team became a glaring weak spot along the team's offensive line as his rookie campaign wore on, but a Grade 2 MCL sprain to Miller's right knee sustained Week 4 played a major role in his early breakdown. The UCLA product displayed a great deal of toughness as he played at least 50 offensive snaps in 11 of 12 regular-season contests following the injury, but pass-blocking issues, in particular, haunted Miller on occasion. Although the athletic left tackle should be just fine for training camp, Oakland's training staff may want to monitor the amount of wear and tear forced upon Miller's hobbled right knee.

Keith Smith, FB – The sixth-year fullback is slated to miss the first few weeks of training camp after injuring his knee while working out on his own just before the team was scheduled to arrive in Napa, California. Although he appears to have avoided any serious concerns such as ligament damage, Smith will likely begin camp on the PUP list, while undrafted rookie Alec Ingold handles fullback duties. The latter racked up 17 rushing touchdowns and an additional four scores as a receiver in four seasons at Wisconsin, but it's Ingold's blocking prowess that could make him a candidate to become the next Gruden Grinder in the event that Smith suffers any additional setbacks.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Bryce Danielson
Bryce covers the PGA for RotoWire and provides input on the golf cheat sheet. He also contributes to the coverage for NFL, NBA and other sports.
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