In the third year of a full-scale rebuild, the Oakland Raiders finally have the cap space and decent amount of draft picks to seriously move forward. There are only ten players on the roster that were part of the team in 2011, with only four of them (Khalif Barnes, Denarius Moore, Stefen Wisniewski, and Marcel Reece) expected to be starters in 2014.
Their starting offense has been overhauled massively. And given all the new faces, here is how it will probably look in 2014, not counting any rookies that are drafted next month.
QB-Matt Schaub: It’s well known the QB situation was bad last season, and Matt Schaub isn’t Joe Montana here to fix everything, but he’s workable. He can manage the offense well and hopefully not have another streak of pick-sixes. Unless they upgrade in the draft, Schaub will be the starter in week 1.
RB – Maurice Jones-Drew: Yes, the Raiders signed Darren McFadden who knows the offense already, but the coaching staff also knows what they have in McFadden, a straight line runner with no wiggle to his game. Maurice Jones-Drew, despite losing speed with age, is still the best back on the roster. He can grind out yards anywhere, as well as block and catch. Latavius Murray is a dark horse for the job, but he is a complete unknown.
FB – Marcel Reece: One of the best fullbacks in the game, can block, catch, and run the ball. He has the ability to line up all over the field and make plays. Is quite possibly the best offensive player on the entire roster, yet needs to see more snaps. If offensive coordinator Greg Olsen can find more ways to feed the ball to Reece, the offense can really pick up.
WR – James Jones: Jones fits the mold for a no. 1 wide receiver, something they have been labeling Denarius Moore as for quite some time. Jones may be nearing 30, but still has great hands, underrated speed, and uncanny veteran route running abilities. He will easily be the new Andre Johnson for Schaub.
WR – Rod Streater: After being signed as an undrafted free agent two years ago, Streater first amazed the Raiders by being an electrifying deep threat, and followed it up by harnessing his all around game in 2013. While both are speedy playmakers, Streater is far more consistent than Denarius Moore, who he will likely share snaps with in two wide sets. Moore and Streater will both be on the field when Oakland goes three wide. With the depth of this draft at WR, its feasible the Raiders could find a wideout later in the draft as well.
TE – Mychal Rivera: While hes not up there with Julius Thomas or Antonio Gates, Rivera is a reliable weapon from the tight end spot. He has decent speed and reliable hands. As written in the tight end breakdown, Rivera and Nick Kasa form a serviceable duo and shouldn’t require an upgrade with so many other holes on the roster.
LT – Donald Penn: Yes, Reggie McKenzie whiffed on getting Jared Veldheer back. But in his place, he got a pretty good replacement. Penn struggles in his consistency, but made a Pro Bowl and is a big body. His contract is only guaranteed for 2014, so he is a pretty good option for a one year stop-gap while Menelik Watson develops. Dennis Allen has stated that as of now, Penn and Stefen Wisniewski are the only guaranteed starters on the roster at this point.
LG – Kevin Boothe: While Khalif Barnes would make sense, Boothe has good starting experience, including a Super Bowl. While he does struggle in pass blocking, he is strong in the run game and rarely penalized. However he will face competition from Barnes, Tony Bergstrom, and Lucas Nix. It’s not the most inspiring group; Nix, Boothe, and Barnes all grading negatively in Pro Football Focus’ rankings. Bergstrom might give him a run for the job, but Boothe should enter week 1 as a starter.
C – Stefen Wisniewski: With Veldheer gone, Wisniewski steps up as the leader of the offensive line. He is the best blocker on the team and one of the most underrated centers in the league. He will face no competition for the job and should continue to develop as a foundational player for the franchise.
RG – Austin Howard: While Howard has developed into a good right tackle while playing for the New York Jets, the Raiders announced he would be playing right guard shortly after he signed. It’s a perplexing move for a team who doesn’t have a clear starter at right tackle, but it could be a blessing to replace some of the awful guard play of the past few seasons.
RT – Menelik Watson: Injuries and learning the NFL hindered Watson’s rookie year. He only played 177 snaps, but if he’s healthy for this season, he should make a run at a starting job. While it remains to be seen if he can ever play left tackle in the NFL, he is the most talented person on the roster that can play right tackle as of now. The team would prefer to keep Khalif Barnes and Kevin Boothe on the interior line, and Tony Pashos and Matt McCants, two of last year’s starters at right tackle, are both unsigned.
It’s not the star-studded group some envisioned, especially with the options at left guard and right tackle, but with smart play calling, Greg Olsen can hide the flaws of his player and turn this into a productive unit. The team also has a chance to upgrade on some of these players in next month’s draft.