Raiders

Fantasy football cheat sheet: One to draft, one to avoid at each position

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USATSI

Fantasy football cheat sheet: One to draft, one to avoid at each position

Are you ready for some football?

Dumb question. Of course you are, why else would be reading this.

Fantasy football season is upon us, and if you've stopped by for some advice that will take you from league laughingstock to holding the trophy, then I'd like to think you've come to the right place.

So, you want to know who to draft? You'd like to know what big names to dodge? Well, I have you covered.

Let's start with this: Yes, you should draft Saquon Barkley, Alvin Kamara or Christian McCaffrey if you can. Please, select Baker Mayfield, Patrick Mahomes or Aaron Rodgers. I'm not going to tell you to draft Kyler Murray because I shouldn't have to. He was the No. 1 overall pick, and he's in a good offensive system -- albeit with a bad line -- for his skill set.

Would I have needed to tell you to draft LeBron James in 2003? No? Take Kyler if you can.

Now that we have that out of the way, let's look at one player you should draft and one you should avoid, at each position.

Quarterback

Draft: Derek Carr, Raiders
Yes, I know all about the stats. The yards per attempt, per completion, all of it. That was then, this is now.

The Raiders revamped their offense to give Carr the best arsenal of weapons he's ever had -- Antonio Brown, Tyrell Williams, Hunter Renfrow, Josh Jacobs and Darren Waller form a dangerous, explosive group. Carr also has been locked in during training camp, showing better command of Jon Gruden's offense. The Raiders will score a lot of points., and you can expect a bounce-back year from Carr.

Avoid: Drew Brees, Saints
Wait, what? You thought it was still 2009? Brees is old, and Father Time, as they say, is undefeated (although Tom Brady is giving him a run for his money).

Brees has playmakers in Kamara and Michael Thomas, but he showed signs of slippage last season, and Sean Payton has been transitioning the Saints' offense to a more run-heavy approach to compensate in recent years. Fade.

Running back

Draft: Kalen Ballage, Dolphins
OK, yes, the Dolphins' offensive line has some issues. But Ballage is talented, and he'll have a lot of opportunities, especially with Kenyan Drake banged up.

The Arizona State product ran a 4.6 40-yard dash and is great catching passes out of the backfield. He should be available in the later rounds, so you might want to look like the smart guy and pick him up.

Avoid: Leonard Fournette, Jaguars
I just don't see the point. Fournette isn't explosive nor efficient, and he doesn't break tackles. The addition of Nick Foles as the Jaguars' QB won't magically make Fournette faster and more elusive. No thanks.

Wide receiver

Draft: Adam Humphries, Titans
Yeah, everyone hates Marcus Mariota. The guy only threw 45 touchdown passes to just 19 interceptions in his first two seasons, beat the Chiefs in the playoffs at Arrowhead Stadium in Year 3, and couldn't feel his hand last season. What a bum.

With the Titans finally committed to playing to Mariota's strengths, I expect Humphries -- if he's healthy -- to develop good chemistry with his QB and rack up the targets. Give me all the Titans stock.

Avoid: A.J. Green, Bengals
Let's make this one really simple. Green can't stay healthy. He's already hurt, and has missed at least six games in two of the past three seasons. Oh, and he's now 31 years old. Oh, and Andy Dalton still is his quarterback.

Tight end

Draft: Darren Waller, Raiders
Did I mention I'm bullish on the Raiders' offense? Waller is an athletic freak who ran a 4.66 at the combine. With the Raiders bringing in Brown, Williams and the like, Waller will have a lot of chances to torture defenses that are focused on the other guys.

Avoid: Jimmy Graham, Packers
It might be the end of the line for Graham -- at least as a productive fantasy tight end. He didn't have the 2018 that many predicted last year in Green Bay, notching just three games with more than 55 receiving yards. Plus, the Pack brought in Texas A&M stud Jace Sternberger to share (and eventually take over) the duties as Aaron Rodgers' tight end.

Kicker

Draft: Robbie Gould, 49ers
Now that he's done throwing his contract fit, Gould can get back to being one of the more reliable kickers in the NFL. Plus, Jimmy Garoppolo is back, so the 49ers' offensive attack should give Gould more scoring opportunities.

Avoid: Anyone who isn't Justin Tucker, Greg Zuerlein, Stephen Gostkowski, Gould or Harrison Butker
Honestly, if you don't get one of these five guys, and maybe Will Lutz, you're better off playing kicker roulette.

Defense/Special Teams

Draft: Denver Broncos
Vic Fangio with Von Miller, Bradley Chubb, Chris Harris and the boys? Yeah, pick up the Ponies.

Avoid: Baltimore Ravens
But ... but ... the Ravens always have a good defense. Yes, Baltimore's defense has been a terror for a long time, but this could be a transition season for that unit. The Ravens lost Eric Weddle, C.J. Mosley, Terrell Suggs and Za'Darius Smith in the offseason. That's a lot to overcome. Best to use the Ravens as a streaming option.

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Surging Raiders face tough upcoming tests in Packers, Texans offenses

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Surging Raiders face tough upcoming tests in Packers, Texans offenses

The Raiders haven’t played a true home game in forever. That's true, even though the Silver and Black have two games left in a five-game stretch played away from Oakland that will define this season.

They have started it off well, with two quality wins in three attempts. The team has rallied together during this time, facing in-game adversity and practice-week setbacks head on. This group doesn’t wilt, finding ways to beat Indianapolis and Chicago after what could’ve been a demoralizing loss in Minnesota.

Head coach Jon Gruden deserves credit for guiding the Raiders through with expert game plans. The coaching staff and the locker room’s leadership core have kept the team together during tough times playing difficult opposition.

The path doesn’t get any easier as this road trip winds down. In fact, the competition ratchets up. The Raiders face Green Bay on Sunday and Houston the following week before returning to Oakland for a three-game homestand.

Yeah, that’s Aaron Rodgers and Deshaun Watson in consecutive weeks. Those elite quarterbacks are as tough as they get, with an ability to score at will and perform well in the clutch.

The Raiders have scored 55 points in the last two games with a solid run game and efficient passing, with strong starts in both wins. That will be essential yet again if the Raiders are to continue performing well against a run of legitimate playoff contenders.

This two-game win streak, punctuated by an excellent win over the Bears in London, has brought positive press about the coaching staff and the team's toughness. The next two games could offer a reality check -- or densely pack the bandwagon. 

The Packers and Texans offer stiff competition to a Raiders team right in the thick of the AFC West race. The division is bunched up at the moment, with the Chiefs and Chargers each losing two straight games. The Broncos have won two in a row. The Raiders are in a position to make some noise in the division, especially if they can get at least one win out of the next two games.

The schedule gets a bit easier after these two, with golden opportunities down the stretch. There are weak sisters on the schedule that a quality team should handle and a flood of division games. The Raiders can remain highly competitive if they maintain a strong ground game offensively while shutting down the opponent’s rushing attack.

Early leads allow the Raiders to play their way, with a steady diet of Josh Jacobs working behind an imposing offensive line. The Raiders seem committed to playing solid run defense, but the back end must hold its own against excellent quarterbacks. Doing so puts most every game in play, even those where the Raiders look inferior on paper. 

[RELATED: Why Jackson sees so much potential in this Raiders O-line]

The Raiders have played quality competition tough, and found ways to win three important games through five attempts. They aren’t going to win every game, nor should that be expected from a team managing significant talent losses via injury, suspension or other.

Coming out of this two-game stretch with a win, or even two, would show the NFL these Raiders arrived before many expected, and that they’re a legitimate playoff threat heading into the season’s second half.

How Raiders' Isaiah Johnson improved his game while on injured reserve

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How Raiders' Isaiah Johnson improved his game while on injured reserve

ALAMEDA – Raiders cornerback Isaiah Johnson lost valuable development time during his rookie season through no fault of his own. It was stolen from an inadvertent knee to the head by teammate Marquel Lee in the first preseason game, where Johnson suffered a concussion and a facial fracture that put his professional career on hold.

He didn’t play or practice again during the preseason and was placed on injured reserve right after the 53-man roster was set. That final act gave Johnson belief that the entire season was not lost.

The Raiders planned to designate him for return near midseason, when he was healthy and able to contribute on defense and special teams. Defensive contributions will be harder without nine weeks of practice and playing time, especially for a former receiver with just two seasons experience at cornerback, but Johnson isn’t bitter about that.

He applied proper perspective to his downtime and set to handle this setback as best he could.

“I feel like everything happens for a reason,” Johnson said Monday. “I believe in marathons, not sprints. Everybody has a time and place for something to happen. My time just wasn’t then. When I got hurt, it didn’t really destroy me mentally. I knew there were steps to take to get where I want to go. I used it as a learning experience.”

That wasn’t always easy. Johnson was merely watching others practice and play, trying to learn conceptually without an ability to apply it on a practice field.

“I’m going to be honest: It’s really hard sitting in meetings, watching tape that you’re not on,” Johnson said. “After a while you mature and learn how to be a pro. Once you do that, you watch all that film and start applying it to yourself, so when you come back [to practice], you can use that knowledge.

"I kind of felt that today. I found myself applying some of the tools I learned during the six weeks I wasn’t playing.”

Johnson started practicing on Monday, opening a 21-day window for the Raiders to activate him or place him on season-ending injured reserve. Johnson expects activation when he’s eligible to play after eight weeks on IR.

He’ll have nine regular-season games left if all goes to plan, offering plenty of time to accomplish this year’s primary objective.

“My only goal is to help the team win games,” Johnson said. “That has always been the case, so I can do everything I set out to do. Whatever they need me to do, I’m going to come in and do it.”

Johnson is a top-tier athlete perfectly built for press-man coverage, though some development was required and understandable for someone who took up the cornerback position as a junior at the University of Houston. The Raiders need cornerback depth with Daryl Worley moving into more of a hybrid role, with Nevin Lawson and Trayvon Mullen as options to pick up Worley’s outside cornerback snaps when he roves across the defensive backfield.

Johnson will be involved in that but should be an immediate contributor on special teams.

[RELATED: Jackson, Johnson practice as Raiders prepare for Packers]

He was known as an excellent gunner in punt coverage and should give special teams a lift the moment he’s eligible to play. That’s a role he’s ready for right away.

“I have always enjoyed playing special teams,” Johnson said. “I feel like [special teams coordinator Rich] Bisaccia has a great system, and I feel like I can contribute the moment he puts me back on the field. I’m trying to show the coaches that I’m ready to go.

"I know I’ve been out, but I’m working to come back.”