Oakland Raiders

Derek Carr

We really have no idea how far the Raiders would have gone in the playoffs last season if Derek Carr had not suffered a season-ending injury. Remember, Oakland posted a 12-3 record in Carr’s 15 starts as the former second-round pick proved himself to be elite.

All Carr did in his third season was put up nearly 4,000 passing yards with 28 touchdowns and just six interceptions. It was a continuation of a young career that has seen the former Fresno State standout tally some absurd passing numbers.

He was aided by starting receivers Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree, who both put up 80-plus receptions for north of 1,000 yards. Add in the league’s second-best offensive line, and the Raiders’ offense was absolutely top notch.

What helped Oakland improve leaps and bounds from the previous season was a defense that progressed at an alarming clip for opposing AFC East teams. Khalil Mack earned NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors. David Amerson, Reggie Nelson and rookie Karl Joseph solidified what was still a pedestrian secondary.

Though, that’s where GM Reggie McKenzie and Co. focused on during the draft.  Despite some major off-field concerns with assault allegations being thrown his way, former Ohio State cornerback Gareon Conley could be a Day 1 starter.

He already boasts pro-level skills and could immediately become the Raiders’ top cover guy. That’s dependent on how his off-field situation plays out, but it was a risk the Raiders were willing to take. Oakland then doubled down in the secondary with safety Obi Melifonwu in the second round. While he’s similar to Joseph in terms of skill-set, the talent was too much for the Raiders to pass up on in the second round.

Should Oakland’s defense continue to improve in 2017, we could be looking at championship contention here. That’s only magnified by the fact that this squad added even more reinforcements on offense.

Obviously, it starts with former Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch, who came out of retirement to join his home-town team. Lynch might not be the same player that dominated the league years back for the Seahawks, but he should be refreshed after taking a year off. If nothing else, he’s a marked upgrade over Latavius Murray in the backfield.

Speaking of upgrades, Oakland also added tight end Jared Cook and all-everything receiver Cordarrelle Patterson to the mix. Each will provide a new dimension to the Raiders’ offense. Simply put, the Raiders are now legitimate Super Bowl contenders. That much isn’t even in question.