Tyrell Williams

Ranking Raiders' top five position needs to fill in 2020 NFL offseason

Ranking Raiders' top five position needs to fill in 2020 NFL offseason

The Raiders made it to 7-9 this season despite some significant talent deficiencies. It’s just a fact. Excellent rookie play covered some of that up. Resilience did the rest.

The Raiders were, before they ran out of gas near season’s end, far better than the sum of their parts.

And no, that’s not a backhanded compliment. It’s a sign of progress during a multiyear roster rebuild that’s far from complete.

Closing the season with five losses in six weeks exposed fatal flaws and illustrated how much work lies ahead. 

Head coach Jon Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock have great tools to upgrade this roster, with $67 million in salary-cap space -- they can easily make more -- and five NFL draft picks in the first three rounds. That includes two in the first.

The Silver and Black can build upon an excellent 2019 NFL draft class and fill several needs that became glaring near this season progress. Here are the top five needs the Raiders must fill this offseason.

And, spoiler alert. You won’t see quarterback listed below.

I’m of the belief the Raiders should keep Derek Carr and upgrade the roster around him. He’s a quality QB working with an excellent supporting cast. Unless Gruden/Mayock identify someone truly special in the draft, stick with Carr.

That will infuriate half this story’s readers. Yeah, Carr’s that polarizing. I just think that, at this time, the Raiders' assets are best used fortifying this roster at these positions.

1. Receiver

I seriously considered having some fun with this ranking by listing receiver twice, maybe even three times. That’s how bad the position group needs upgrades after the Antonio Brown fallout. We won’t rehash all that here, but it decimated the receiver corps. Brown never played a down and the in-season trades couldn’t even offer a quick fix.

In sum, the Raiders need quality receivers in bulk.

The Raiders simply must draft a receiver with one of two first-round NFL draft picks. Then they should draft another in the third round.

They should also add a veteran free agent, no matter what they decide to do with Tyrell Williams’ pay-as-you-go contract. If they part with Williams after one injury-plagued season, they can spend big on veteran help. The free-agent class is as light as the NFL draft class is deep, so they have to choose wisely if they give Williams’ money to someone else.

2. Linebacker

If receiver could’ve occupied three spots on this list, linebacker could’ve held the other two. The Raiders should essentially start over at linebacker after another terrible year at the heart of their defense.

It’s time to cut bait and release Tahir Whitehead, a great guy and good leader who simply doesn’t make enough plays. That would free up $6.25 million in salary cap space.

It’s time to draft a linebacker earlier than the fourth round for the first time since Rolando McClain, and it’s time to use a first-round pick to do it. Or package third-rounders to get a good one in the second. Clemson’s Isaiah Simmons seems ideal, though he might not make it to No. 12.

I think the Raiders have set a stage to bring Vontaze Burfict back after his 12-game suspension, but they can’t bank on someone working with a zero-tolerance policy for illegal hits in a game influenced by adrenaline.

The Raiders need two linebackers at least, a drafted player and a vet. And they should keep Will Compton for good measure. It’s time to set this position up for the future, and use assets required to do it right.

3. Defensive line

The Raiders drafted an edge rusher fourth overall and another in the fourth round. Guess which one seems like a home run?

The draft is funny that way. Maxx Crosby had 10 sacks as a rookie and proved a three-down defensive end. Clelin Ferrell wasn’t quite so spectacular, but he made progress and should benefit from a full offseason getting bigger, faster and stronger.

That shouldn’t stop the Raiders from adding another pass rusher. Benson Mayowa’s headed to the highest bidder (as he should) and the best pass rushers come in waves. Adding a young pass rusher in the early rounds seems smart, especially considering the Raiders desire to build this defense through the draft.

The interior line’s in better shape, though a top three-technique could be attractive to coordinator Paul Guenther. Johnathan Hankins, P.J. Hall and Maurice Hurst can man the middle in 2020 if a special player isn’t available at the right value, and Dion Jordan’s possible return would give the interior pass rush some juice.

Getting another edge rusher seems more important, even with Ferrell and Crosby in the fold.

4. Cornerback

The Raiders couldn’t be happier with Trayvon Mullen’s progress. Last year’s second-round pick should be a starting outside cornerback for a long, long time. It’s uncertain what the Raiders will do on his opposite side.

It’s impossible to assume Isaiah Johnson’s ready for a full-time gig after missing half the season on injured reserve and proving unable to see action later in the year.

Daryl Worley’s headed for unrestricted free agency and won’t take discounts. His market will decide his future, even if the Raiders like his versatility and toughness when playing on the outside.

It’s also time to take a look at Lamarcus Joyner’s position. The veteran prefers to play slot cornerback -- he was underwhelming inside at times in 2019 -- but might be the team’s best free safety. He could move back deep, where he played under Wade Phillips with the L.A. Rams.

His position will dictate how bad the Raiders need cornerback help.

The Raiders need a steady presence outside if Worley bolts, even if they like Johnson and Keisean Nixon. If Worley leaves and the team moves Joyner back to safety -- coaches remained steadfast Joyner stay in the slot last season -- the position group might need some shuffling around Mullen.

Also, if Joyner stays in the slot, Johnathan Abram might need a partner at safety with Erik Harris in reserve.

We’ll see how all that shakes out.

5. Running back

Josh Jacobs is a true feature back. He ran a ton in his first professional season, which should be punctuated with an Offensive Rookie of the Year award. Right now, he doesn’t have backups behind him. Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington are both set for unrestricted free agency.

[RELATED: Josh Jacobs should win NFL Rookie of Year despite missing time]

The open market and outside opportunity could dictate a possible return for both or either player. But it seems clear the Raiders need a bigger back to accent Jacobs and take some of the workload off his broad shoulders.

A veteran mentor or a young bruiser could bring a different skill set to the position group.

Raiders to 'strengthen' wide receiver group after collapse this season

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USATSI

Raiders to 'strengthen' wide receiver group after collapse this season

ALAMEDA – Wide receiver might’ve been the Raiders’ greatest team strength entering the 2019 campaign.

They had an elite No. 1 in Antonio Brown, a dynamic and steady producer set to be the offensive centerpiece. They had Tyrell Williams as a big-bodied No. 2 who was a faster-than-you-think deep threat. Ryan Grant was established as a quality No. 3, with Hunter Renfrow as a rookie slot receiver looking to make an instant impact. J.J. Nelson had sprinter’s speed and was pushing for a bigger role in training camp

Quarterback Derek Carr was excited to work with that deep and talented group. It fell apart before the season even started. Before long, Carr was throwing to receivers he had just met.

The position group imploded, thanks in massive part to Brown. The volatile, self-centered receiver put the team that traded for him through the wringer, with one problem after another until he was eventually cut without earning a dime of his three-year, $50 million contract extension.

That transaction alone downgraded the Raiders' receiver group from an "A" to a "C." Then Tyrell Williams sustained foot injuries in Week 2 that he battled all season. Then Grant proved ineffective and got cut. Nelson was rarely available and got cut, too.

The Raiders were left to piece the position group together in-season with low-grade trades. Williams never got completely right, with his plantar fasciitis hindering his effectiveness. This group suffered from all that turnover and a key injury, so it’s no surprise the Raiders need a positional overhaul heading into this offseason.

“We still have some young guys that are still somewhat unproven,” coach Jon Gruden said Monday, “but we’ll be looking to strengthen that group, yes.”

Renfrow’s the only carryover locked into the lineup. The fifth-round draft pick developed into an excellent slot receiver impactful on important downs working the middle of the field. He’s a bigger down-field threat than you’d expect for someone of his size, with the potential to be an impactful player for a long time.

“We asked him to do a lot in the last few weeks and he delivered,” Gruden said. “He ran some routes [last week against the Denver Broncos] that were outstanding, but to answer your question, I just think he’s earned that status. When you practice the way he practices and you do the things that he does, you can’t help but try and feature him a little bit more and more.”

The Raiders burned a 2020 sixth-round pick on Trevor Davis who was acquired from the Green Bay Packers and cut before season’s end. They used a 2021 fifth-round pick on Zay Jones, who had zero chemistry with Carr and didn’t do much while playing a lot. He had a year left on his rookie deal, but the jury’s out on whether he’ll make next year’s roster.

Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock have a tough decision ahead with Williams. He signed a four-year, $44 million deal last offseason that’s essentially pay-as-you-go, meaning they can break free from it this year without dead money attached.

The Raiders could offer than money to another veteran or stick with Williams believing better’s ahead when he’s healthy. Williams hadn’t missed an NFL game before this season and has been a 1,000-yard receiver when given the chance, with a track record as a good No. 2 throughout his career.

“We have to go back and I watch him in training camp and Week 1 when he was healthy against Denver, and he’s a talented guy,” Gruden said. “But it’s hard to play when your feet are on fire and his feet were hurting bad. It’s a credit to him to play through it, but we need to get him healthy. We got to get his situation resolved, that was a lengthy discussion we had [in a Monday exit interview]. But we think he’s an excellent football player, he’s just got to get right.”

The Raiders need additions even if Williams remains.

It seems likely and logical the Raiders use one of two first-round draft picks on a receiver. This draft class is loaded at the position, with the prospect of landing another good one with one of three third-round picks.

[RELATED: Clelin Ferrell vows to return to Raiders 'completely different player']

The Raiders could cut Williams and use money earmarked for him on someone else, though the receiver free-agent class looks only so-so. New York Jets receiver Robby Anderson’s an intriguing talent. Gruden has used older receivers to great effect before, with A.J. Green and Emmanuel Sanders set to hit the market.

Is that better than keeping Williams, who will be 28 next year, and surrounding his even temperament and quiet leadership with talented young players from the draft?

There’s no doubt the Raiders will address the position group at several points this offseason as they try to help a productive run game and make this offense deeper and steadily dynamic.

“Yup,” Gruden said. “We are going to have to take a good look at it.”

Raiders' Tyrell Williams remains confident after 'frustrating' season

Raiders' Tyrell Williams remains confident after 'frustrating' season

ALAMEDA – Tyrell Williams is an easy-going, soft-spoken guy. That works against assumptions for NFL receivers, who can be loud, aggressive and brash, openly demanding the gosh-darn ball, often while using far more colorful language.

Williams doesn’t do that. Not his style.

One warning: don’t mistake kindness for weakness.

The Raiders receiver is as supremely confident as louder members of his fraternity. That’s why this season has been such a bummer.

Williams has been just okay a season into his tenure with the Raiders, a golden opportunity to prove he deserves to be a No. 1 receiver. He exceeded 1,000 yards in 2016, when he inherited that title due to a plague of injuries at his position with the then-San Diego Chargers.

He got promoted again this year after the Antonio Brown disaster ended with severed ties. Williams was excited about being the primary target, looking forward to a massive season in silver and black.

That hasn’t happened, with pedestrian numbers while dealing with plantar fasciitis that simply won’t go away.

“It has been a frustrating season,” Williams said on this week’s Raiders Talk podcast. “It didn’t go exactly how I wanted, but I still feel like I was able to make some plays and get through the injury stuff that was going on. I just kept fighting through. I am proud of myself and the fact that I have worked through the injuries and some of mistakes that have happened. Through all that, I still feel like I’m one of the best receivers and it’s about continuing to work and get myself healthy. My big focus has been on working through the adversity and finishing the season strong.”

There’s one game left Sunday against the host Denver Broncos, maybe more if things go right in other games. Williams is still battling bad feet, even showing up on the participation report Thursday after missing practice. It’s a physical battle for sure, but its ever-presence has been a mental strain.

“I haven’t been able to do much of anything outside of football while trying to rest my feet, so it’s always on my mind,” Williams said. “I know there are a lot of guys battling a lot of different things. I’m no different. I’m not using it as an excuse for why I may have had a down year. I want to be able to prove the player that I am, and I just haven’t been myself completely this year. Getting healthy is the most important thing, so I can prove to myself and others the type of player I am.”

Williams hasn’t lost an ounce of confidence during this process. He still believes he can be a dominant player when healthy. He has been fortunate in that regard before this season. Williams hadn’t missed an NFL game before the Week 6 win over Chicago in London, the first of two games out.

“I just want to be out there,” Williams said. “Having an injury take me out of two games was the toughest part. I didn’t want to miss any more. I knew I had to fight through it and play.”

[RELATED: Darren Waller already has checklist to build off Raiders breakout season]

Williams never brought up his feet after returning in Week 8, even when production proved inconsistent and drops showed up at inopportune times.

Absolute trust in his ability remains, and Williams believes he will re-establish top form. He wants to do that in silver and black. He signed a four-year, $44 million deal last offseason that’s essentially a pay-as-you-go deal, but believes he’ll be around and also is taking diligent notes after every game to find growth opportunities in-season and after this campaign ends to be a better Raider in 2020.

“Each week I try to make a list of ways I can get better in the offseason,” Williams said. “I have compiled that as much as I can, and I’ll go back after the season and watch all the film and change some things. But, after each game, some things kind of hit me right away that you can’t work on during the season but you can attack in the offseason. My list is always long. I’m always finding things to get better at.”