Raiders

Murray's future largest offensive question mark for Raiders

Murray's future largest offensive question mark for Raiders

The Raiders had a top 10 offense this season, with balance uncharacteristic of previous seasons. The run game got going behind an expensive offensive line worth its massive weight, and quarterback Derek Carr led a dynamic air attack always cool under pressure. They’ll want to keep a good thing going, which should be easy with most members of the offensive depth chart under contract.

Running back Latavius Murray, tackle Menelik Watson and receiver Andre Holmes – Seth Roberts is an exclusive rights restricted free agent -- are key exceptions set for unrestricted free agency. Tight end Mychal Rivera and backup quarterback Matt McGloin are also headed for the open market.

That’s a small sum, with just one steady member of the starting lineup.

The Raiders are expected to extend Carr’s contract this offseason, but there might not be many new faces on offense.

Let’s take a look at each position group and identify where upgrades might help.

RUNNING BACK

The Raiders have an interesting decision to make here. Murray scored 12 touchdowns and averaged 4.0 yards per carry as the leader of a three-back pack, and should draw interest on the open market. If he re-signs, the Raiders seem set at running back.

Murray insists he wants to return, but another team may offer a deal the Raiders don’t want to match. That scenario could lead to his departure and a new power back in free agency or the draft.

The Raiders prefer to re-sign their own players, a point made clear by general manager Reggie McKenzie on Thursday. 

"When you're talking about a guy who is 6-foot-3, close to 230 pounds, there's not a whole lot of similar you can get there," McKenzie said in an interivew with JT the Brick on 95.7 The Game. "He's one of those kinds that don't come around too often when you talk about size. I'm always in position to want to re-sign our own players, but the finances of it always will play a part. You never know there's 31 other teams out there who may be communiciating to his representatives. We'll see where it goes, but we like to re-sign our guys."

They have productive, yet smaller options in Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington. The Raiders have been good drafting backs in the lower rounds – Murray was a sixth-round pick himself – and could mine for more production later in the NFL draft.

QUARTERBACK

Derek Carr will return to full strength from surgery to repair a broken fibula and plans to be the team’s starting quarterback for years to come. Connor Cook was drafted in the fourth round last year, showed quality arm strength and should be the primary backup moving forward.

Matt McGloin wants to go somewhere he can compete for a starting gig. That isn’t Oakland. The Raiders will need quarterbacks for camp and maybe one sticks, but they had just two on the 53-man roster in 2015.

RECEIVER

Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree headlined a productive group that came through time and again under pressure. It also waned some near season’s end. Both guys were battling injury late and certainly want to avoid that in 2017, when they’ll be primary targets yet again.

Slot receiver Seth Roberts is an exclusive rights free agent and is easily retained, but an upgrade is possible here. Holmes wants to return, but the market might dictate that considering his ability as a downfield receiver.

The Raiders receivers had far too many drops in 2017, Crabtree and Roberts especially. A sure handed possession receiver might be of benefit, especially a young player who can develop add injury protection to the unit.

OFFENSIVE LINE

The Raiders spent significant funds building a stout offensive line in recent offseasons, and it paid off in 2016. That unit was tough to handle, and became the engine that allowed skill players to thrive. The line weathered injuries at right tackle, and had the depth necessary to keep going strong.

Menelik Watson is an unrestricted free agent, and the oft-injured athlete’s market value remains truly uncertain. Austin Howard remains under contract and could start at right tackle, though competition could come from Vadal Alexander.

Left tackle might be a spot addressed in the draft, with Donald Penn entering a contract year and unsure of how long he’ll play beyond that. The Raiders even have options there with a deep, versatile line. Left guard Kelechi Osemele could slide outside when the time comes

TIGHT END

Lee Smith was lost to a broken ankle in Week 4, but the blocking tight end will be at full strength for the offseason program. The same should be said for Gabe Holmes, an exclusive rights free agent who should be brought back. Clive Walford still headlines the group, though the Raiders expect more from the 2015 third-round pick. The group could largely stand pat, with Rivera leaving in free agency and a few camp players added to the mix.

NFL Draft 2019: Best available Day 2 players for Raiders' No. 35 pick

NFL Draft 2019: Best available Day 2 players for Raiders' No. 35 pick

Raiders general manager Mike Mayock made no secret of his desire to add selections during the NFL draft’s second day. They don’t have a pick beyond No. 35 overall after standing pat Thursday night and making three first-round selections as scheduled.

This early second-round pick is the last chance to add to the Day 2 total without giving up later or future picks, and there’s a real chance the Raiders will move down to try and add selections in a deep portion of the draft.

The Raiders are considering a trade at this stage, though nothing will be decided until Friday.

“We’ve already had a couple offers for that pick,” Mayock said after the first round’s conclusion. “I had two offers for that pick before New England finished the draft. We pick third tomorrow. We turned down those offers because we think we’re going to have some more tomorrow.

"We can either sit there at 35 and take a player we love — we think one or two of them are going to be on the board — or we can move back down and pick up an extra pick. We love the 35th pick in this draft.”

The Raiders have quality available if they select there, or if they trade down a bit. The cornerback and receiver position groups are virtually intact, with several good interior offensive linemen also left.

[RELATED: Why Raiders picked Clelin Ferrell so high in NFL draft]

Quarterbacks drive up the price even in the second round, and a team going after Drew Lock might want an early crack at him before the Missouri signal-caller goes off the board.

Let’s look at some options for the Raiders at No. 35, or a bit later in the second round:

TE Irv Smith, Alabama: The Raiders need a versatile tight end, and he’s the best option left. It might take the 35th pick to get him. Smith won’t last long.

DE Jaylon Ferguson, Louisiana Tech: A productive small-school edge rusher has some question marks, but he could be a quality pickup for a Raiders team needing another defensive end.

OL Dalton Risner, Kansas State: This versatile offensive lineman could be an immediate answer at guard and a backup option at tackle. He wowed Raiders coaches at the Senior Bowl, and has a nasty streak they like.

QB Drew Lock, Missouri: The Raiders weren’t on the prowl for a quarterback in the first round, but Lock might present value if he remains on the board long enough. He also could be a tool to help the Raiders acquire extra picks.

CB Rock Ya-Sin, Temple: A tough cover man with great ball skills remains available, and would fit well with how the Raiders like to play in the secondary.

CB Justin Layne, Michigan State: The Raiders like this former Spartan, who is a big cornerback with a good understanding of how receivers run routes.

Guard Connor McGovern, Penn State: The physical interior lineman visited the Raiders’ facility before the draft. He could be a candidate if they trade down.

CB Greedy Williams, LSU: He’s fast and offers sticky coverage, but being a lackluster tackler and having inconsistent drive sent him down the draft board.

WR Parris Campbell, Ohio State: The Raiders already have plenty at receiver, but another speed demon couldn’t hurt.

OL Cody Ford, Oklahoma: This lineman was considered a first-round pick by some analysts, but he remains available. The Raiders could play him inside and add a physical presence in the run game with proper coaching.

How Raiders ended up picking Clelin Ferrell at No. 4 in 2019 NFL Draft

How Raiders ended up picking Clelin Ferrell at No. 4 in 2019 NFL Draft

ALAMEDA -- Raiders general manager Mike Mayock called Clelin Ferrell with some good news. The Clemson defensive end was the No. 4 overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft on Thursday night, accepting all the expectations that come with it.

Fair or not, Ferrell’s performance will be judged by his draft slot and who all those draft analysts thought should’ve been taken before him. That list is long.

The Raiders’ draft board was the only list that mattered, and they made the decision to stay at No. 4 and take a player whom outsiders believe would’ve been available later.

“It all goes back to this: There were flashier players who people may have had higher on their boards,” Mayock said. “On our board, it was him and Bosa right next to each other at that position.”

Mayock and head coach/football czar Jon Gruden had Ohio State defensive end Nick Bosa high on their priority list, and explored a move up to get him, but the 49ers snatched him without reservation at No. 2 overall.

That left Ferrell as the next best defensive end option available, and the Raiders were sure to get him at No. 4.

Trades were explored at that spot, but none fit the Raiders' liking. Getting any extra pick along with the guy you want is preferred, but there’s no guarantee Ferrell would’ve been around.

“You get phone calls, and you have to make some considerations,” Mayock said. “You make phone calls and do the same thing. At the end of the day, we didn’t think there was anything of enough value to cause us to change our plans.”

The plan was to nab an edge rusher early, and Ferrell was next up on the Raiders’ draft board that perfectly fit their defensive scheme and the locker-room culture the Raiders are trying to create.

“We pretty much knew he would be there,” Mayock said. “Everybody else had all the big names up there, but Jon and I came in this morning and double-checked everything, and he was our guy. ...

“He checked all the boxes. He’s going to be a three-down player. He’s 267 pounds. He’s a captain. When you talk to the guys at Clemson, they say he was the cornerstone of that defense. Everything he does reminds me of what we want in the Raiders.”

The Raiders are looking for leadership and character from a draft class that will be featured players when the team relocates to Las Vegas in 2020. They want guys who star on the field and look good on billboards as they transition to a new market.

Ferrell impressed Mayock and Gruden at meetings, and convinced them he could handle the pressure and adversity associated with a draft pick many didn’t expect to go so high.

“We sat in the room with Ferrell at the combine, and I think he’s one of nine kids, from a military whose father passed away,” Mayock said. “This kid can do so much, and all he had was this ball of positive energy. He was the energizer bunny for this national championship defense at Clemson. Everyone we talked to a Clemson said he was the guy.

"He had dealt with adversity. Playing in the national title game was nothing. Neither will coming out here. He has been through worse. He understands how to handle this, how to handle Las Vegas.”

[RELATED: Raiders taking Clelin Ferrell No. 4 surprised many]

There’s no doubt Ferrell is a schematic fit at defensive end, with the size and versatility to play well in the system.

“It’s very important, especially with the offenses we play in this division,” Mayock said. “A guy like Ferrell can play either side of the line of scrimmage and kick inside. That was important for [defensive coordinator] Paul Guenther.”