Raiders fans could not ask for better news on Super Bowl Sunday. Finally, it could be time to Free Aldon!
NFL Insider Ian Rapaport reported that the NFL will reinstate edge Aldon Smith in March, as long as he does not suffer another drug test setback.
Obviously, this is huge for a Raiders defense that ranked in the bottom half in most statistical categories.
Ironically, many Raiders writers said it was time for Oakland to move on from their troubled pass rusher.
I couldn’t disagree more. Smith’s reinstatement means he’ll have an entire offseason to integrate himself back into the team.
Smith should secure the starting edge role opposite Khalil Mack. That means young tackles Jihad Ward and Mario Edwards can concentrate on playing inside defensive tackle as three or five shades. Bruce Irvin can also concentrate on full-time linebacker duties again. Irvin can also be utilized as a situational blitzer.
This gives Oakland more flexibility in the NFL Draft and free agency. They can focus on strengthening the interior of their defense via the nose tackles and inside linebackers positions.
Besides a natural ability to rush the passer, Smith brings an intensity and versatility the Raiders lacked last season. He should be utilized as a stand up rushing linebacker like his days as a 49er. Smith can also play a more traditional end role due to his length.
Not to mention, Smith can teach young players like Ward and Shilique Calhoun how to bend and use their length to defend the run and pass.
Plus, an improved Raiders pass rush means that Oakland secondary should improve as opposing quarterbacks will have less time to pass.
In other Raiders news, Khalil Mack won DPOY from the AP. Mack stole the award from Broncos rusher Von Miller. Funny, cause Mack is often compared to him.
Mack mostly wins the award thanks to his 11 sacks and five forces fumbles. However, I wouldn’t have given him the award due to his slow start and finish to the season. Mack had zero sacks when the Raiders needed it most for the playoff stretch.
Either way, congrats to Mack. He deserves it as a hard worker and stand up guy.
Meanwhile, Jack Del Rio and Derek Carr got snubbed for awards on the same night. Del Rio finished fourth for Coach of the Year despite helping his team earn their first playoff berth in more than a decade.
As for Carr, he was a long shot for the award when he broke his leg in week 16. Still, we all saw his impact on the Raiders by his absence in the Raiders’ final two games. Nonetheless, he finished tied for third for the NFL MVP award.
All in all, it’s a great time for Raider Nation!
It all started with some harmless dancing after a Marquette King punt. Somehow, that turned into a few 15-yard penalties.
Head coach Jack Del Rio couldn’t even understand it. He said he went without a single unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. The head coach said he had no problem with King expressing himself, but the punter needed to not cost the team on the field.
Then King’s expression took on new life at the Pro Bowl.
At first, it seemed harmless. A few viral videos of King making up with Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelcy after the two had a public back and forth in the media.
Then there were some harmless videos of King playing horse with the likes of Odell Beckham Jr. King even posted a video of him kicking and catching his own punt. Dope, right?
Then there was this:
— AqibTalib21 (@AqibTalib21) January 30, 2017
King posted a video of him mocking an incident where Raiders receiver Michael Crabtree got his chain snatched.
Teammate Bruce Irvin commented on the photo by saying King had no loyalty. The punter responded with a social media post that basically said everyone was overreacting.
Either way, are King’s visibility and brand an asset or detriment to the Raiders?
On one hand, King is only having fun and increasing the visibility of his team and personal brand.
During his time in Oakland, King has been one of the most approachable Raiders in the media, community and social media.
On the other hand, King is only a punter who sees the field a few times per game. Therefore, his antics could be seen as a distraction.
Not to mention, the off-field antics only brings attention to himself, not his team.
Tell me what you think via the poll above.
Say it with me, “Development.”
That’s the keyword headed into the Raiders offseason.
Many of us wish Oakland was playing in the upcoming Super Bowl, but they are not. A lot of that blame falls on the Raiders depth.
At the end of the season, they cycled through three quarterbacks. The left tackle and tight end positions saw multiple starters in 2016. The receiver and running back packages rotated at various times, due to minor inconsistencies and injuries.
On defense, the Raiders cycled through three starting middle linebackers, three starting strong safeties, two nickel backs and multiple defensive linemen.
This is not a bad thing. Good teams use a variety of players for any given situation. They also rely on depth when injuries happen.
Not to mention, Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio has preached competition at every level since he took over. He is also a proponent of the next man up theory, as are most coaches.
Hence, many of us will spend time addressing position upgrades via the draft and free agency. There is nothing wrong with that, because it is better to have one dominate starter than a few solid role players at any position.
Still, the Raiders need development from their recent draft picks. Players like Justin Ellis, Menelik Watson, and Denico Autry need to make up for the steps back that they took in 2016. Meanwhile, younger players like Vanai Alexander, Karl Joseph, Jalen Richard, DeAndre Washington and Cory James need to keep building towards their potential.
Even young stars like Derek Carr, Khalil Mack, Gabe Jackson and Amari Cooper have room for development into superstars.
Oakland has no room for steps back in 2017. In order for the Raiders to keep ascending, they must maximize the experience of players already on the roster. That’s how you build a perennial Super Bowl contender.
Everyone who watched NFL football this season can tell you that the Raiders were close to being the best team in the league. Now, they must prove it by continuing to develop the talent already on the roster.
Forget adding any one free agent or top draft pick. Sure, the Raiders could use an infusion of playmakers all over the roster. However, they’ve also accumulated enough talent and experience to have one of the deepest rosters in the league.
The Raiders have already built a foundation for continued success via their farm system of finding bargain free agents and solid late round draft picks.
Therefore, capitalizing on the development of Oakland’s young players is the key to this upcoming offseason. As these young players get better, they will perform better when they step in for injured starters. They will also force older players to improve or lose their jobs.
This how the Raiders can continue developing the competitive culture that will make them into one of the best teams in the entire NFL.
Simply put, the Raiders need their young players to get better after making the playoffs for the first time in 14 seasons.
Oakland acquired the winning experience in 2016. In 2017, he Raiders’ next step requires development of young players across their roster.
Just Develop Baby!
The Oakland Raiders regular season ended way earlier than any of us had hoped.
We would all rather watch our team in the AFC Championship. Unfortunately, that did not happen.
Instead, we’re forced to review the regular season. Here is my take on the key players for the Raiders season, as well as a bonus award.
Derek Carr is the MVP and it is not even close. Oakland’s score in the combined two games without Carr did not surpass the Raiders’ per game total.
Added, he was the emotional leader of this team via multiple fourth quarter comebacks. Carr may also have a claim to the league’s version of this award. He is also the obvious choice for Offensive Player of the Year too.
Khalil Mack was one of the lone bright spots for a Raiders defense that ranked towards the bottom in most categories. Mack graded as the best defensive player per Pro Football Focus. He also registered 11 sacks and four turnovers.
Rookie of the year
Jalen Richard wins this award for his contributions to the running game and return game. He provided sparks for this offense in the playoff game via a return and during a touchodown that occured on his first professional carry.
Moreover, Richard started the year behind fellow rookie DeAndre Washington but Richard finished the season with more rushing yards.
Kelechi Osemele came over from the Baltimore Ravens. He brought a nastiness to the guard position and the entire offensive line. Osemele is the one of the biggest reasons the Raiders had a top offense. He should anchor one of the best lines for a while.
Reggie Nelson and Bruce Irvin also contributed as newcomers. However, Osemele completely changed the culture of the offensive line. This earns him the row. Not to mention, the offense was superior than the defense.
Dan Williams deserves this award, despite being one of the best character guys on the team. Williams was one of the Raiders most consistent players in 2015. This year, he entered the season as a backup behind Justin Ellis. Williams eventually got his spot back, but he was not a gamechanger.
The Raiders cycled through multiple players at defensive tackle all season. A lot of that was Williams’ inconsistency. The Raiders struggled generating rush and stopping the run. Williams deserves a lot of the blame.
I published a similar version of this article on Inquisitr. You can read more about the Raiders awards on the website.
It is pretty easy to list off the reasons why the Oakland Raiders should not keep defensive coördinator Ken Norton Jr. A recent Just Blog Baby article makes a compelling argument for firing Norton Jr.
Additionally, head coach Jack Del Rio called out the defense it in his closing press conference.
“There were far too many explosive plays allowed this year, whether it be run or pass,” Del Rio said. “That’s, you know, that’s an area that must be addressed. That might be the number one thing that we must do better going into 2017.”
Not to mention, the Raiders gave up the most yards per play in the league. They also gave up the 13th most points per game. Oakland ranked No. 4 in penalty yards for defense. The Raiders also gave up the No. 10 most rushing yards per game and the 9th most passing yards per game. They also finished last in the league with 25 sacks.
All that said, Ken Norton Jr. deserves to keep his job for another season.
Placing the blame on him for the poor defensive play is irresponsible. Norton Jr. is merely the figurehead, coordinator and collaborator. He is not out there to execute plays, although he did once roam NFL fields.
Now, let’s look at why Ken Norton Jr. should stay another season in Oakland.
Defense played well in stretches
We all remember the horrible outings versus the New Orleans Saints and the Atlanta Falcons. It has also been cited that the Raiders gave up more points than any other team during the third quarter.
However, the Raiders played well in stretches. Quarterback Derek Carr led many fourth quarter comebacks but the defense put him in a position to do that. The defense clinched victories versus the Baltimore Ravens, Baltimore Ravens and Tennessee Titans.
Not to mention, the team led the league in turnover differential. That is precisely the culture Norton Jr. was supposed to bring with him from the Seattle Seahawks.
It is not all Ken Norton Jr.’s fault
Ken Norton Jr. earned some criticism for his play calling this season. There were times where he needed to blitz and didn’t. There were other times he made questionable coverage calls.
However, Norton was not out there missing tackles on big plays. He was not out there holding receivers and committing pass interference. That is execution.
Something all the Raiders defenders could have done better.
Not to mention, Jack Del Rio is a defensive mind. Therefore, I’d put some blame on him too. I’m sure Del Rio hired Norton Jr. as a first-time coordinator so the defensive head coach could still have some say in the day-to-day operations of the defense.
I don’t want to overlook the Raiders terrible defensive standings. However, let’s remember this team played with a ton of defensive linemen and linebackers. On-field adjustments are difficult when you go through three starting middle linebackers and play callers via Ben Heeney, Cory James and Pat Riley Jr.
It is hard to do anything when your interior players are either true defensive ends or out of shape. Denico Autry, Jihad Ward, Mario Edwards Jr., Dan Williams, Justin Ellis, Darius Latham, and Stacy McGee all took turns playing injured and inconsistent.
As for coverage, the Raiders lost their nickel corner to injured reserve and went through three starting strong safeties. You can blame play calling for poor coverage assignments, but corners David Amerson and Sean Smith are paid well enough. They should cover anyone via any scheme.
I’m not saying Ken Norton Jr. doesn’t deserve any blame, but he does not deserve all of it. This team featured new starters at both safeties, corner, two linebackers spots and two defensive line positions. Give Norton Jr. a break. These guys should improve with playoff experience and another year in the scheme.
There is no better replacement
Don’t give me your Wade Phillips rumors. No disrespect to him, he is a great football mind.. However, the Raiders need a coördinator who is more connected with their players like Norton Jr.
The only name that might be better is Gus Bradley, who also has a Seahawks pedigree.
Remember, Del Rio has maintained that he is building a winning culture. Part of that culture includes updating the facilities and playing music at practice. Another part of it is winning.
Phillips may know about defense and winning, but they do not know about this new Raiders culture. Del Rio does not need the old heads stepping on his toes.
Further, Norton Jr. and Del Rio played and coached together. Entering a third season with the Raiders, the duo will develop more chemistry and make better adjustments next season.
The team could roll the dice on an internal candidate, but you’re still talking about a team adjusting to a new leader and play caller. Let the defense continue to develop under Norton Jr. in 2017.
The defense will improve in 2017
I get the frustration. The defense did not make a sack in the last three games. They failed to rise to the occasion in the last regular season game versus the Denver Broncos and against the Texans.They also did not recover a couple of fumbles versus Houston.
Plus, the defense did not grow enough in year two of Norton Jr. This is especially true when you factor in offseason additions like draft picks Jihad Ward, Karl Joseph and Cory James and free agents Bruce Irvin, Sean Smith and Reggie Nelson.
Still, championships are not won in free agency. The Raiders should finally address the middle of their defense with the No. 24 pick in the NFL Draft.
Expect them to take a linebacker and/or defensive tackle with the first couple of picks, like I’ve said for three seasons.
Del Rio even admitted that the team did not get enough push in the middle via ESPN. He called out the whole defensive tackle group for not being factors this season.
Therefore, this team will get better when they get some consistency at middle backer and defensive tackle.
Plus, the Raiders should see Aldon Smith finally reinstated. That could allow Bruce Irvin or Khalil Mack to concentrate more on linebacker duties.
Further, Smith’s presence on the edge may slide Jihad Ward or Mario Edwards Jr. into full-time defensive tackle play. Both players could use some bulk to better anchor against the run, but they both have the god-given traits to terrorize guards in a pass rush situation.
Additionally, I expect Joseph and James to improve with another year in the system.
In the end, I believe Ken Norton Jr. deserves some blame for the poor defensive play. However, firing Norton Jr. will not solve all the Raiders problems. Give him one more season so this unit can develop together.
Good teams do not fire their defensive coordinators. The Raiders are finally a perennial playoff team and firing Norton would only set them back.
“We want more,” Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio said at his final press conference of the season. “As an organization, our goals are higher. So, that’s not going to change.”
Del Rio continued to talk about his teams’ good accomplishments. The fact that the team won 12 games, six-games in a row, and made the playoffs.
However, the Raiders leader is right. This team should not be satisified. They were a broken leg to Derek Carr away from at least playing in the divisional round of the playoffs.
So when we look back at the 2016 season, there are no moral victories.
It doesn’t matter that the team averaged more points per game than they have in a decade. It doesn’t matter that Derek Carr was an MVP candidate and his offensive line gave up the least amount of sacks. It doesn’t matter that Marquette King led the league in punts of more than 50 yards, or that the team lead the league in turnover differntial.
All that matters is that this team got bounced in the first round. All that matters is that this team lost a tie for the AFC West due to head to head losses via the Kansas City Chiefs.
Sure, the Raiders have a lot to be proud of. However, they also have a lot to improve. The 2016 season was merely a series of lessons to learn from.
Carr said it himself. The whole team has to work to be better next year. That is the only way they can take the next step as a legitimate Super Bowl contender.
If the Wild Card loss to the Texans showed us anything, it proved how valuable a single playoff experience can be to a team. Last season, Houston got spanked by Kansas City in the same round.
Hence, Oakland will benefit from their own whooping on ESPN.
Therefore, I don’t want to hear about brightsides or silver linings. The Raiders are building a winning culture and they can not be satisified with moral victories or advanced statistics.
What is tangible is that the Raiders will be sitting at home next week. They need to remember that and come back for more next season.
Forget, the moral lessons and sports cliches. Oakland must move forward and prepare to win more next season.
Further, it is time for us to expect more from our Raiders. It is time for the Raiders to expect more from themselves.
Only winning matters. No moral victories.
Just a few seasons ago, you could scroll through a Twitter search to find lots of fans calling for the job of Reggie McKenzie.
Now, the Oakland Raiders General Manager seems poised for his first executive of the year award. It is well deserved considering he helped this team develop from 4-12 seasons to 12-4 seasons.
Guess, what Raider Nation?
It is time to put even more faith, hope and positive energy towards the efforts of McKenzie.
Oakland will be without quarterback Derek Carr. Plus, they will be without left tackle Donald Penn. Both players have been cornerstones in the Raiders return to greatness.
Therefore, it seems easy to say our team is done. I’ve already written a piece that says the Raiders are not dead, yet. Meaning the team must belive in themselves and not make excuses.
Beyond that, Raiders fans must believe in the personnel skills of McKenzie.
Rookie quarterback Connor Cook and tackle Menelik Watson must both fill in for the crucial Carr and Penn.
Cook will become the first rookie to make his first pro start via the playoffs. Therefore, he is a dark horse. We know he won a lot of games in college with Michigan State. Otherwise, we must believe that McKenzie saw a starting quarterback when he traded up in the draft to get Cook.
As for Watson, he has started 17 games. He made five starts this season at right tackle, but he will start on the left side Saturday.
Watson has been a mixed bag. He has battled for the starting posistion, and he has fought injuries since coming into the league.
Per Pro Football Focus, Watson has played 255 snaps this season. The subscription service gave him a 70.0 grade, which ranks him around the 40th best tackle in the league. Hence, Watson has proven to be capable.
Now, we will see him in a playoff setting versus Pro Bowl defensive end Jadaveon Clowney. Clowney was taken No. 1 overall in the same draft as Khalil Mack and Carr. He has six sacks this season.
Therefore, Watson has a good chance to prove himself. on Saturday.
Either way, we got to trust McKenzie’s selection of the second round right tackle.
McKenzie selected Watson and Cook for a reason. It is time for both young players to prove themselves.
Don’t lose the fiath in Cook, Watson or McKenzie. Keep the faith Raider Nation.
The only news surrounding Raiders suspended end Aldon Smith is that there is no news.
The pass rusher has served his year-ban and awaits reinstatement by the NFL. Smith has met with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and other executives.
Smith has posted videos about his return. He even commented that he was back on Khalil Mack’s periscope.
However, multiple reports cite that their is no time table on his return.
Not to mention, Smith still needs to get into football shape and gel with his teammates.
I’ve maintained that he Smith is an x-factor for Oakland. His pass rushing ability and athleticism could easily help a Raiders defense that ranks towards the bottom of most categories.
Granted, Smith has to get reinstated before he can impact the Raiders defense.
Now, you can argue if he will return this season. You can argue if he deserves this cold shoulder treatment based on his history of being an offender of the NFL’s substance abuse policy. You can even if argue the Raiders need him as they gear up for their first playoff run in 14 seasons.
Nonetheless, my question remains. If the Raiders were not No. 2 in the AFC and leaders in the AFC West, would this even be a discussion?
Does the Raiders’s success hurt or help Aldon Smith’s chances for reinstatement?
Would the NFL be more eager to announce a decision on the Edge rusher’s future, if Oakland was not in the middle of a playoff run?
I don’t know. Maybe, the Raiders’ recent success has no impact on Smith. Maybe, it does.
I’m not one for conspiracy theories. Just a thought. Let me know what you think via the Twitter Poll.
Remember, when Matt Schaub was supposed to be the Raiders’ starting quarterback?
I remember seeing a young Derek Carr perform during a scrimmage against the Dallas Cowboys. It never seemed like it was too much for the young professional.
Sure, his feet were happy. He missed some throws, but he had a presence before his first NFL start.
Later that season, Carr received a lot of criticism for throwing the ball to check downs. Some of his top receivers were James Jones and Mychal Rivera. We don’t even need to mention some of the gems on defense and at offensive line.
Fast forward a few years and Carr’s MVP consideration is well documented. I’ve written about it as have many major outlets.
You look at Carr’s second season and we saw the glimpses in the first half. Carr’s performance tailed off at the end of the season as well as the team.
Then, he and the Raiders caught fire again this season.Is it a coincidence that the Raiders have risen with Carr?
Sure, the Raiders can attribute a lot of that success to Carr’s 22 touchdowns and five interceptions. Just look at last week’s victory over the Carolina Panthers.
Carr left the game with a pinky injury and the offense sputtered. Once Carr returned, he helped lead the team to another fourth quarter comeback.
Can this success be attributed to Carr alone?
First, you got to look at Carr’s offensive line. Anyone who watches tape can see Rodney Hudson, Kelechi Osemele and Donald Penn bring a nasty presence to the offensive line. Gabe Jackson and Menelik Watson are not too bad themselves. This group usually grades out as one of the best units in the league every week.
Then you got to look at Carr’s receivers. Both Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper are on track to surpass 1,000 yards. If you’re looking for impact, both players have their moments. Crabtree catches those passes that keep drives alive. Cooper turns those short passes into game changing plays like the touchdown versus Houston.
Don’t forget the other side of the football.
The Raiders defense has not been that good. They are No. 29 in yards per game and gave up the 11th most points this season.
But without Khalil Mack this unit would be much worst. Mack has registered an interception, three forced fumbles and nine sacks. He is tied at No. 6 in the league in sacks.
Even in that game versus the Panthers, Mack became the first player since 2009 to register a sack, forced fumble, interception and touchdown since 2009.
When Mack plays well, the Raiders are noticeably better. However, players like Bruce Irvin and David Amerson have also earned their keep.
Therefore, Derek Carr may become the league’s MVP after this season, but he has a lot of improved play from his teammates to thank as well.
Carr may be the most valuable player on the team tied for the best record in the AFC, but there are other players who could be labeled the Raiders’ MVP too..
Included their head coach Jack Del Rio who reversed the losing culture of Oakland.
Raiders writer Maurice Moton wrote a good piece about the new era of Raider Nation via Bleacher Report. In it, he calls for Raiders fans to embrace the franchise as they rise into an elite football team.
To piggy back off Moton’s writing, Raider Nation needs these young and bandwagon fans. These are the people that put us on national television. That is the sort of attention we need as young players like Derek Carr, Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper ascend to greatness.
These casual and new fans ensure that our players get their due respect. They also bring the revenue needed to help our team stay in their home market. Funny how the city of Oakland finally has a proposal after the Raiders put together their best season in 14 seasons.
Nonetheless, I get it. It’s hard to embrace warm-water fans when you’ve been riding with these teams through 14 years of obscurity. It’s hard to celebrate with the same people who were laughing at you. Us “real fans” have been defending this team on twitter, at lunch tables, and via radio for years.
All of a sudden we see people with Raiders beanies and snapbacks? Hence, we have a right to distance ourselves from those people who did not ride for the team during the Lane Kiffin or Jamarcus Russell eras.
However, we also have a right to welcome them to the most passionate and educated fan base in the world. Granted, I am biased.
Currently, I live in Los Angeles. The kingdom of bandwagon fans. All of these people who were embracing the return of the Rams suddenly admire the Raiders. Go figure.
I could be petty and tell them to F**** themselves. Otherwise, I could be happy that they are finally seeing what I have been loving for years. The Raiders have the best history, colors and brand of football in the NFL. Of course, that is just my bias speaking.
The point is, don’t test everyone’s fan card. These young and bandwagon fans can easily convert into die-hard members of Raider Nation. Let’s all unite under the Silver and Black. We all can enjoy the highs because it has been a hell of a ride to get here.