Raiders

Five Raiders to watch in Week 15: Derek Carr must raise game vs. Jaguars

Five Raiders to watch in Week 15: Derek Carr must raise game vs. Jaguars

OAKLAND -- The Raiders will play their last game at Oakland Coliseum on Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars. It will be an emotional day for everyone involved.

That includes Jon Gruden, as attached to this East Bay fan base as anyone. The Raiders coach has shut off his emotions all week, driving focus into preparation for this game against the Jacksonville Jaguars. That’s the last Oakland moment he can control, and Gruden plans to take advantage.

Gruden desperately wants this win, and a victory might finally provide the opportunity to be emotional about the team’s scheduled move to Las Vegas.

“I wish I had time to stand up here and thank all the fans," Gruden said earlier this week. "I wish I had more time to really sit down and make that the big story here, and thank the fans for their support over the years, and what this franchise has accomplished, and what it means and what Oakland means to the Raiders. So, I’d like to thank everyone that welcomed us back when we came back and I know that they are going to stay with us when we go, but I appreciate all the fans and their loyalty and their support. We’ll try to give you one hell of a show.”

In order to put on a showstopper, the Raiders will need good performances from these five guys.

QB Derek Carr

I generally try to leave the franchise quarterback off these lists, but we’ll make an exception for the last Raiders game in Oakland. He got booed off the field after last week’s first half and again at the end, but this fan base still has a great affinity for the signal-caller who started virtually every game since 2014.

Carr owes them his best on Sunday, and odds are great he’ll put on a show for the faithful. He must improve upon recent performances to execute his plan. Carr will need help from a so-so receiver corps and an offensive line -- Trent Brown’s questionable with a pectoral strain -- that haven’t been at full strength all season.

Emotional Derek Carr is generally the best Derek Carr -- the season opener is a great example -- so we should anticipate him being on top of his game. The Jaguars have struggled mightily this season. but they’re sure to put up a fight during the final game in Oakland.

Carr is capable of putting a team on his shoulders, and he might have to with the Raiders defense playing as it is.

RB Josh Jacobs

The Raiders don’t have much to play for. Their playoff hopes are essentially dead, with the path to the postseason now complicated calculus when it was simple math not long ago. Jacobs is this team’s offensive engine, the player who matters most in what the Raiders do moving the football.

They know that. They believe his fractured shoulder can’t get worse and are hoping to trot him out there Sunday to help win the last game in Oakland. Jacobs' play exponentially increases their chances to win, and Jacobs knows that. He desperately wants to win this game.

The rookie is expected to be active, though it’s unclear exactly how much he will play. A 20-plus carry dose should do the Jaguars in. If he can provide that, the Raiders are in great shape if the defense holds up even a little bit. If not, Sunday could well be a struggle.

CB Isaiah Johnson

There’s no telling how much the fourth-round draft pick will play Sunday. Heck, he might not play at all.

Johnson hasn’t done much since returning off injured reserve, at times a healthy scratch since being activated around midseason. He has sat behind other guys during a playoff push and that made sense, but now it doesn’t. The Raiders are essentially out of the postseason running, with cornerback Daryl Worley either out with a neck injury or moving to strong safety in the base package.

That provides an opportunity to see what Johnson’s got. He won’t be his absolute best, not after missing most of training camp and half the regular season with a facial fracture suffered in the first regular-season game. Rookies can’t make up for that lost time until the following offseason, and Johnson clearly would’ve played earlier had he not been behind.

But it’s time to throw him out there as a test, to see what you’ve got in a talented young player. If he gives up a massive play, so what? The guy has to learn on the job. That’s how Trayvon Mullen has done it, and the Clemson product has thrived despite making some rookie mistakes. It’s time to let Johnson do the same.

DE Maxx Crosby

A devout Raiders follower made a flag to hang over the Oakland Coliseum railing -- enjoy that while you can Raider Nation, the tradition isn’t following you to Las Vegas -- to honor the departing club. He featured a skull and swords as crossbones, with a name filling out the remaining fabric. It said Mad Maxx.

That honors the rookie pass rusher who has already adhered himself to the fan base with one sack and pressure after another. He has proven a better run defender than people have expected. The Silver and Black need him to step up Sunday and generate heat largely missing from recent games.

Crosby currently has 7.5 sacks and would certainly like to reach 10 in his rookie year, needing at least a sack on Sunday to make that happen and give him a chance to compete for the Defensive Rookie of the Year award.

WR Tyrell Williams

The veteran receiver just isn’t right. Coaches volunteered that Williams' plantar fasciitis has plagued him all season despite it keeping him out just two games in the early going.

Williams simply hasn’t produced at a No. 1 receiver level, which has hurt the offense as a whole. Drops have been a real issue, and his lack of consistent separation can be attributed to his ailing foot.

He is not even on the injury report and is expected to play, and Williams has to produce if that’s the case. He remains the team’s best receiver and has to act like in the final game played in the spot where his grandparents live, in the town where he spent so much time as a kid.

NFL Draft 2020: Fifteen Prospects for Raiders to watch at Senior Bowl

NFL Draft 2020: Fifteen Prospects for Raiders to watch at Senior Bowl

Last year, Jon Gruden, Mike Mayock and the Raiders' coaching staff got a close look at a number of prospects who eventually would don silver and black while coaching at the Reese's Senior Bowl.

The Raiders won't be coaching this year, with their 7-9 record keeping them from the not-so-prestigious honor that is given to the Cincinnati Bengals and the Detroit Lions this season.

After hitting a home run with the 2019 draft class, Gruden and Mayock are looking to stack classes and fill some of their gaping holes via the 2020 NFL Draft. 

While they won't be coaching in Mobile, Ala., this week, the Raiders still will be hyper-focused on the talent at the Senior Bowl, of which there is a lot that could help the Raiders next season.

Yes, probable high draft picks Justin Herbert (QB, Oregon), Terrell Lewis (EDGE/LB, Alabama), Kristian Fulton (CB, LSU) and Javon Kinlaw (DT, South Carolina) all will be present at the Senior Bowl. And yes, all could intrigue the Raiders. But since the smart money is on Gruden selecting a wide receiver and a linebacker in the first round, we will spend this time focusing on some likely Day 2 and Day 3 guys.

Wide receivers

The Raiders need to select multiple receivers in the 2020 draft. I expect they'll grab either Clemson's Tee Higgins or Alabama's Henry Ruggs in Round 1 (CeeDee Lamb would be nice, but I don't expect he'll be available.) One receiver won't do it, though, and the Senior Bowl has a number of veteran pass-catchers who figure to be available later in the draft.

Michael Pittman Jr., USC: At 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, Pittman is a big-body receiver with bear paws for hands. He's a physical receiver and uses that to his advantage. Pittman has got a good catch radius and is a sufficient route-runner, but he lacks the ability to separate at the top of the route and isn't a dynamic catch-and-run guy. He'd be a solid Day 2 grab.

Brandon Aiyuk, Arizona State: He'll likely start to shoot up draft boards (we have him mocked to the 49ers with the last pick in the first round), but Aiyuk brings all the tools you want in a wide receiver. He has good hands with great after-the-catch ability. Likely won't be there, but he's one to watch.

Chase Claypool, Notre Dame: As my colleague Dalton Johnson noted, Claypool is a touchdown machine. The 6-foot-4, 229-pound athletic marvel has great hands, is an efficient route-runner and is great in contested catch situations. Drafting him would give the Raiders a jump-ball threat if they choose to move on from Tyrell Williams. 

Jauan Jennings, Tennessee: At 6-foot-3, 208 pounds, Jennings has prototypical NFL size. He led the Volunteers with 57 catches for 942 yards and nine scores. Questions about his character likely will make him slide, but a good showing in Mobile will help his case. 

Collin Johnson, Texas: Size, size, size. Johnson is 6-foot-6, 220 pounds and a lethal red-zone threat. Great at attacking the ball at the high point while maintaining control of his body.

K.J. Hill, Ohio State: Hill doesn't have the breakaway speed you'd like, but he's solid sub package wide receiver with great hands and polished route-running ability. Definitely, someone for the Raiders to watch.


Edge rushers

Marlon Davidson, Auburn: A Day 2 pick with a specific skill set, Davidson has impressive strength and uses his hands well which allows him to win at the point of attack. Great at keeping runs inside. Not a game-changing rusher, but someone to watch.

Jabari Zuniga, Florida: Zuniga is a versatile edge defender who has a powerful first step and strong hands that have destroyed tackles at the collegiate level. His lateral quickness and wingspan make him a good run defender as well.

Kenny Willekes, Michigan State: Willekes has an insanely high motor and is ultra-competitive. He's the type of player Gruden would love to add to the DL rotation. He is a good run defender and has a solid array of pass-rush moves. Needs to get stronger, but has a high-floor.

Bradlee Anae, Utah: Anae is quick and has good hands. He's a versatile guy who can rush the passer from an up or down position.

Secondary

K'Von Wallace, Clemson: Another Clemson guy? Why not? The Raiders need another safety alongside Johnathan Abram, and Wallace comes from the winning-factory in Death Valley. Wallace is a high-IQ player who played all over the secondary at Clemson. He's most successful as a roamer. At 5-foot-11 his lack of size could be an issue covering downfield at the NFL level, but I wouldn't be shocked to see the Raiders go here.

Linebacker

Malik Harrison, Ohio State: The Raiders need an answer at middle linebacker and Harrison might be the guy. He's a physical thumper in the run game. Coverage ability needs some work, but Harrison should intrigue Mayock and Gruden.

[RELATED: Raiders should follow draft blueprint, raid LSU-Clemson]

Defensive tackle

Leki Fotu, Utah: A late Day 2/early Day 3 guy, Fotu is perfect for a team that needs to create more pressure up the middle. He's an explosive player with great hands. At the moment. he's a rotational piece but could become a starter in time.

Davon Hamilton, Ohio State: At 6-foot-4, 310 pounds, Hamilton is a mountain of a man. He's a smart player who was productive even when facing constant double teams at Ohio State. To beef up the defensive line, the Raiders should look at Hamilton.

Kicker

Rodrigo Blankenship, Georgia: The Raiders almost certainly won't move on from Daniel Carlson, but if they do, Blankenship could be an option in the late rounds or as an undrafted rookie. He has a big leg and was very reliable during his time at Georgia.

Raiders’ Senior Bowl experience was vital to excellent 2019 NFL draft

Raiders’ Senior Bowl experience was vital to excellent 2019 NFL draft

The Raiders took their entire football operation down south this time last year to coach the Senior Bowl’s North squad.

That’s a luxury afforded to terrible teams from the NFL season that just concluded, and the 4-12 Raiders certainly were one. The provided an up-close look at some of the NFL draft’s finest prospects available throughout the selection process.

The Raiders got to see how players work in practice and pay attention in meetings, with an opportunity to swap squads – the 49ers coached the South – on the practice week’s final day.

Head coach Jon Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock got a great evaluation of every Senior Bowl prospect.

That week in Mobile, Ala., turned out to be an information gold mine. They learned to love a lot of those prospects and capitalized on opportunities to acquire them in the NFL draft or shortly after.

The Raiders drafted four Senior Bowl participants and signed three more after the amateur selection process.

“Coaching and being there really helped us a lot,” general manager Mike Mayock said after the NFL draft. “It really is a big deal to be involved in that game.”

The Raiders certainly hope this Senior Bowl week bears fruit, albeit with a lot less access to the prospects. They’ll send a slightly smaller contingent to this important evaluation week, though the Silver and Black still will canvas this group from stands over the sidelines. Practices start Tuesday, beginning a three-day stretch that’s more important than the All-Star Game itself.

Last year’s close-up look ended up putting several participants in silver and black.

The Raiders got Mississippi State safety Johnathan Abram in the first round, LSU tight end Foster Moreau and Houston cornerback Isaiah Johnson in the fourth and Clemson receiver Hunter Renfrow in the fifth. Then, they signed Wisconsin fullback Alec Ingold, Notre Dame linebacker Te’von Coney and UC Davis receiver Keelan Doss as undrafted free agents.

Everyone save Coney spent most of the year on the 53-man roster and many of them made a major impact on the 2019 Raiders.

Those guys should be an even greater part of the 2020 squad, with Abram expected to rejoin the starting lineup after he underwent season-ending shoulder after Week 1, and optimism is high after what was essentially a lost season for Johnson after he suffered a preseason facial fracture.

Renfrow developed into a major player, and even Ingold became a reliable blocker and short-yardage back. Moreau was a touchdown machine in his first season, forming a promising tight-end duo with breakout star Darren Waller.

The Raiders preferred Senior Bowl participants last year, and this practice week is something vital to pre-NFL draft evaluation. The Raiders have five selections in the top 92, broken down into two first-round picks and three more in the third down.

[RELATED: Raiders' Gruden, Mayock at East-West Shrine Bowl practice]

Last year the Raiders favored players from either championship college programs or Senior Bowl participants, with rare exceptions. There’s no telling if that’ll be the case again this year, but Senior Bowl game and practice film is a vital piece of the evaluation process.

“Everybody will tell you they look at the Senior Bowl practice tape, the Senior Bowl game film over and over and over,” Gruden said last year. “You watch the matchups over and over and over.

“I remember doing it with [late Raiders owner/GM Al Davis]. He would put the Senior Bowl on for the 44th time and I would say, ‘how many more times are we going to watch that game?’ There’s tremendous value in it. It’s a great tool and provides great matchups you would never see if you didn’t come here.”