The regular season is officially upon us and to finally put the offseason behind us I would like to give you guys my five predictions for the 2018 Oakland Raiders.
- Derek Carr will finally establish himself as a top tier quarterback – As a Raider fan it is not hard to notice a great quarterback considering some of the options we have had in the last 10-15 years. With the exception of Rich Gannon and I guess you could throw Carson Palmer in there as well, there has been a serious lack of talent at the quarterback position in Oakland for the past 15 years. Andrew Walter, Marques Tuiasosopo, Aaron Brooks, Kerry Collins, Bruce Gradkowski, and possibly the worst of all, Jamarcus Russell, just to name a few. So I’m sure you could imagine the excitement I experienced after watching Derek Carr’s first couple of seasons. Even though Carr has been good, especially in 2016 when he likely would have won MVP had he not gotten injured, he hasn’t been consistent enough. As Raider fans we can make excuses for Carr all day complaining about Todd Downing’s terrible play-calling last year or his lack of weapons in his rookie season. While those may all be valid points, in order to establish himself as an elite quarterback he must prove that he can deliver on a weekly basis. With an offensive guru like Jon Gruden back at the helm and Greg Olson back as the offensive coordinator, look for Carr to have another MVP-caliber season where he will finally reach the 4,000-yard mark and throw for 30 plus touchdowns, barring any injuries.
- Amari Cooper will have a breakout year – My previous prediction and this one obviously go hand in hand. Similarly to what I previously stated about Derek Carr, Amari Cooper also needs to find some consistency. As the majority of the Raider’s offense did, Amari Cooper’s game took a major step back last season with a severe case of the drops and injuries hampering his year.After surpassing the century mark in each of his first two seasons, last year he totaled only 680 yards receiving coupled with 7 touchdowns. Gruden has made it known since day one that Cooper will be the “headliner” of our offense and with Derek Carr’s number one target over the past two seasons gone in Michael Crabtree, I think Coop is due for a huge year. I like the additions of Brandon Lafell and Jordy Nelson and even though I know Jordy Nelson isn’t the receiver he once was, I still think he has the speed to command double coverage, which is the same role that Crabtree played (hopefully with fewer drops) and ultimately frees up Cooper to take advantage of one on one situations. With that being said I don’t see Lafell or Nelson taking many targets away from Cooper. Coop has never been a major red-zone threat and I don’t think that will change much with the addition of Jordy Nelson and Brandon Lafell but I do believe he can rack up over 1,200 yards and he will have at least 80 receptions to go with 8 touchdowns.
- Marshawn Lynch will be a top 10 rusher in his final NFL season- The return of Oakland’s prodigal son was a tad anti-climactic last year. Are you starting to notice a trend? Yeah our offense sucked last year. Marshawn ran 207 times for 891 yards and 7 touchdowns last year for an average of 4.3 yards per carry. Those are not great numbers by any means but it was still good enough for him to be 15th in the league in rushing. No one really knows what Jon Gruden’s West Coast offense will look like but if his past is any indication, the Raiders will be running the ball a lot. Many people viewed the addition of Doug Martin as a negative for Marshawn Lynch but I believe he will just come in and spell Marshawn Lynch on certain third down situations. With an improved passing game that will spread the field and take some defenders out of the box, Marshawn will have at least 250 carries for over 1,100 yards and 10 touchdowns.
- The Raiders defense will be better than last years even without Khalil Mack – This might be my hottest take of this article but bear with me. Last year the Raiders ranked 20th in total defense allowing a total of 373 points and 5,601 yards of offense. That defense started and ended with Khalil Mack. Last year’s defensive coordinator, Ken Norton had never been revered as a great defensive play caller but more of a hype man and it showed. It was obvious that last years defense lacked talent and overall depth because opposing teams were starting to figure out that as long as they took care of Bruce Irvin and Khalil Mack up front they would have all day to torch our secondary. While Jon Gruden managed to trade away our best defensive player by a long shot he also managed to improve our starting defense as well as the depth behind our starters. The only returning starters our defense will have from last year include Safety Karl Joseph, Defensive End Bruce Irvin and Nose Tackle Justin Ellis. The additions of Rashaan Melvin, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Marcus Gilchrist, Daryl Worley, Tahir Whitehead, Derrick Johnson and the three talented rookie defensive lineman in Arden Key, Maurice Hurst and P.J. Hall, should prove to be a deeper unit with much more versatility than last years defense. Pair those acquisitions with a talented and much respected defensive coordinator in Paul Guenther, whose scheme is the same used in Minnesota’s top ranked defense from last year and the 2018 Raiders defense could rank in the top half of the league.
- The Oakland Raiders will finish the season 9-7 and compete for a wildcard – If you thought my last prediction was a hot take then this one is probably even hotter. The combination of Derek Carr’s MVP season and our defensive improvements even with the loss of Khalil Mack will make for an up and down season that ultimately ends with a wild card berth and a second place finish in the AFC West behind the Los Angeles Chargers. Jon Gruden’s complex offense and maniacal energy will be what carries the Raiders into the postseason, which over exceeds the media’s predictions of a 7-9 season at best because of the loss of Khalil Mack.