Three things you need to know from Raiders’ 27-24 victory over Dolphins


Three things you need to know from Raiders’ 27-24 victory over Dolphins

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – Three things you need to know from Raiders’ 27-24 victory over the Miami Dolphins on Sunday night:

1. Stayin’ alive
The Raiders season could fall apart at any moment. Another loss (or two) would put them out of playoff contention, and they know it. They simply had to beat Miami. Had to. And did.

It wasn’t always pretty, but the Raiders found a way to stay on the tightrope. This delicate balancing act will carry forth into a bye and a Week 11 showdown with New England in Mexico City.

They got lucky today, with Kansas City and Denver losing. They vaulted right back into the wild-card hunt and remain alive in a packed AFC West. The Raiders aren’t scoreboard watching just yet. They have business to attend to. Nothing matters if the Raiders don’t go on a winning streak, with precious little margin for error.

They understand the circumstances, and remain committed to clawing their way back after a disastrous start to the season.

“It’s beating a dead horse to say we never thought we’d be here, even at 4-5,” tight end Lee Smith said. “That’s still one heck of a lot better than 3-6. We still have a long way to go but, if we lost in Miami, we wouldn’t stand a chance. If we win out, it still doesn’t guarantee us anything.

“I don’t think we need to focus on winning seven straight. We just have to keep ourselves in it. Every game’s a must win now. We dug ourselves a hole but, if there’s any team in the National Football League that I would want to climb out of that hole, this would be it. “

2. Cook becoming Carr’s best friend
Derek Carr didn’t have a dominant receiving tight end in his first three seasons. That’s why he pushed so hard to get Jared Cook. We’re seeing why that was an important move, because Carr and Cook are now in sync.

That was clear on Sunday night, when Cook hauled in eight receptions for 125 yards, and did it on nine targets. Cook’s in the midst of a productive stretch, with 18 catches for 290 yards in his last three games combined.

He leads the team in receptions and receiving yards. A total of his 26 receptions have gone for a first down.

“He’s a matchup problem,” head coach Jack Del Rio said. “We’ve had our issues defending other guys like that around the league, the last couple of years. This year we set out to get one of our own, I feel like we have acquired one of our own. Tonight was an example of it. He can be a real factor, he can be a matchup problem for people, and I thought he did a great job tonight.”

The Raiders are getting a big return on investment, and Carr is taking advantage of his new guy in the middle.

“It’s just time and hard work,” Cook said. “I don’t think you can have too good a rapport with your quarterback. The chemistry is strong, and it’ll get better the more we play together.”

3. Marshawn goes Beast Mode:
The Raiders wanted to get the run game going on Sunday night, and Marshawn Lynch helped them do that. He had 14 carries for 57 yards and two touchdowns, with some tough, efficient runs mixed with some highlight-reel runs. His best was a 22-yard touchdown jaunt in the first half, and he scored from three yards out later in the fourth quarter.

He’s had an uneven start to his Raiders tenure, but the Silver and Black need his physicality in the backfield. They missed it last week in Buffalo, when he served a one-game suspension for unsportsmanlike conduct.

“It’s important to get him going,” Cook said. “He’s so good when he gets involved, and he was pretty productive with the runs he had. We need Marshawn going strong to thrive as an offense.”

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 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 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 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 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 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.