Raiders

Raiders well equipped to 'slam the ball with a beast'

lynch-marshawn-white.jpg
AP

Raiders well equipped to 'slam the ball with a beast'

Raiders head coach Jon Gruden needed specific tools to run his running game. He wanted blocking tight ends and a bruising fullback, relics of a bygone offensive era.

“If Marshawn Lynch is the feature back, I think it’d be nice if we serviced him with a fullback,” Gruden said at the combine. … You need a blocking tight end if you’re going to slam the ball with a beast. So, those are two things that I’m looking for.”

Gruden said he wanted to import some old-school elements to help run with brute force.

Enter free-agent fullback Kyle Smith and tight end Derek Carrier. Welcome back, Lee Smith.

Then, on Sunday, Raiders made another vital move in this old school effort. They cut Marshawn Lynch a $1 million check.

The Oakland native’s roster bonus came due and the Raiders had no problem paying it, the clearest sign Lynch will be the Raiders feature back in 2018.

He’ll have a great chance to thrive in that role. The Raiders have a hulking, expensive offensive line (that still needs a right tackle). They have new ancillary blocking elements, and the centerpiece remains in place.

That last part was expected in recent weeks. The coaching staff, offensive line coach Tom Cable especially, wanted Lynch back. NFL Network confirmed those facts, stating Lynch will be around in 2018.

That was the case, even with Doug Martin’s addition. The former Tampa Bay back is expected to be a backup bruiser, someone who might put DeAndre Washington or (less likely) Jalen Richard’s job in jeopardy.

The Raiders can cut Lynch without a cap hit. Lynch is scheduled to make $6 million in salary and bonuses, with another $2 million available in incentives. The Raiders should hope to pay those; it would mean Lynch is running well.

The Raiders have given him a great opportunity to do so. They have solid blocking and a coach in Cable who helped him succeed during dominant days in Seattle.

Lynch proved he’s still got it in 2017’s second half, with 70 percent of his 891 rushing yards in the final eight games. He struggled early on, and upset some fans by helping the opposition during a scuffle with Kansas City. That mitigated a PR bump the Raiders looked for when signing a popular Oakland native just months after committing to Las Vegas long-term.

Jack Del Rio and staff grew tired of what they perceived as leeway given to Lynch unavailable to others, and probably wouldn’t have kept him on if still gainfully employed.

Gruden seems committed to Lynch this season, though nothing is ever 100 percent with an enigmatic rusher who doesn’t make private thoughts public.

His elusive, rough-and-tumble rushing style fits well with what Gruden wants, though he demands commitment to the team and sport. Sports Illustrated relayed a story of Gruden saying he needed a “full-time Lynch.”

If he gets that, the Raiders run game should thrive.

 

Raiders receiver quest may continue in NFL Draft

Raiders receiver quest may continue in NFL Draft

Go ahead and put receivers Amari Cooper and Jordy Nelson into the Raiders starting lineup. Use a pen. Only injury would be cause to reach for the White Out.

New Raiders head coach Jon Gruden loves both guys. He said Cooper will be the passing game’s main attraction. He imported Nelson for his on-field production and locker-room leadership.

The Raiders are looking to upgrade receiver depth, a point made clear in free agency. They went after Ryan Grant, who eventually signed with Indianapolis. They brought Eric Decker in for a visit, though he left without a deal.

The NFL Draft could provide an upgrade. The Raiders could use some help in the slot, and with a sure-handed speed demon to take the top off a defense.

This draft class doesn’t feature a pass catcher worthy of the No. 10 overall pick, with few considered first-round talents. Help can be found down the draft, with early contributors seemingly available in the early and middle rounds. Here are a few options that could help the Raiders passing game:

Christian Kirk, Texas A&M
-- The former Aggie is a strong, target well suited for the slot. He can handle physical play at the line of scrimmage, has good hands and analysts say he’s adept at finding soft spots in zone coverage. He doesn’t have a huge catch radius, and doesn’t have burner speed to thrive on the outside, but he could be effective taking the smaller chunks offered in Gruden’s offense. He’s also a solid return man, and could help on special teams.
Projected rounds (per NFL.com): 2-3

James Washington, Oklahoma State
The former Cowboy doesn’t have D.J. Chark’s raw speed, but has plenty of big-play ability the Raiders need offensively. He uses solid positioning, hands and high-point ability to make important catches down the field. Analysts say he has great build-up speed and avoids physicality at the line. He can work inside and out, but could create space inside for Cooper and Nelson to work in favorable matchups. He isn’t built like a typical NFL receiver, but finds ways to make plays.
Projected rounds (per NFL.com): 2-3

Dante Pettis, Washington
-- Gruden likes precise route running, a trait Pettis has in spades. He could be a weapon from the slot, and can create separation quickly. Analysts also say he’s good finding open space during scramble drills, and has reliable hands. Physical corners can be bothersome, and he doesn’t have top-end speed. He could be an impactful member of an offense, and could help return punts as well.
Projected rounds (per NFL.com): 3-4

Deontay Burnett, USC
-- Burnett is built like a slot receiver, with plenty of experience playing inside. CBS Sports considers him a solid sleeper prospect among slot receivers, and analysts say he’s good making catches in traffic. He’s good in scramble drills, and can take big hits without losing possession. He isn’t great on deep passes and scouts say he doesn’t have room to add significant muscle mass to his relatively thin frame. He could be an asset in Gruden’s scheme, and available later than aforementioned receivers.
Projected rounds (per NFL.com): 4-5

Damion Ratley, Texas A&M
-- NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah tweeted about Kirk's teammate on Saturday morning as an intriguing prospect with size, speed and solid route running. He could be available late, a viable option if the Raiders look toward other positions earlier in the draft. He averaged 23.1 yards per catch, with an ability to make plays after the catch. His draft profile suggests he needs help battling physical corners, and may need better focus each play to compete steadily at the NFL. 
Projected rounds (per NFL.com): 6-7

Why Raiders players should pay close attention to NFL Draft this year

Why Raiders players should pay close attention to NFL Draft this year

ALAMEDA – Raiders players should keep a close eye on who gets drafted next week. Pros typically follow the NFL’s amateur selection to see where their team gets help, or whether competition’s coming to their position group.

Some Raiders, however, might see their roster spot given away.

The Raiders have 76 guys on the roster already, a high sum created by a hyperactive free-agent signing stretch. They have 11 draft picks coming. If each one gets used, that leaves three open spots on the 90-man offseason roster.

GM Reggie McKenzie will sign more undrafted free agents than that. The Raiders have a penchant for finding diamonds in the rough, and will target several after the draft concludes.

“What we’re going to do is we will evaluate all of those free agents after the draft and if we feel like we can upgrade, we will,” McKenzie said Friday in his annual, required pre-draft press conference. “So, that’s not going to hinder us from trying to sign some players. We’re just going to have to compare, you know, to what we have. We’re going to bring in the best 90. We only have X amount of spots. We may have to create some.”

That last line means some guys on the Raiders roster won’t stay long. They won’t get a chance to impress Jon Gruden’s coaching staff over an offseason program. They’ll get two weeks of offseason workouts and next week’s voluntary minicamp. That’s about it.

It’s fair to say fringe players signed before Gruden came aboard should be worried, considering the influence Gruden has on the roster. That includes players last year’s practice squad and maybe some recent draft picks who haven’t established themselves yet.

There are plenty on reserve/futures contracts who can be filtered out to create the roster space required to add preferred members of this year’s amateur class.

A well-known name may be among them, considering the Raiders must free some cap space to sign their rookie class. Per the NFLPA, the Raiders have $1.8 million in cap space. Their rookie pool is $9.454 million. The space required to sign the class isn’t found with simple subtraction – we won’t bore you with the details – but the Raiders will have to create a little bit of space to get everybody signed under the cap. Such maneuvering could include cuts or restructures or 2018 space created by a contract extension given to a certain elite edge rusher. The Raiders have options in that regard.

Roster space, however, is a bit more cut and dry. Only 90 spots exist. They’ll have to shuffle folks out to bring others in, and it’s going to happen soon.