Raiders

Raiders defensive depth chart: Upgrades mandatory at several key spots

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Raiders defensive depth chart: Upgrades mandatory at several key spots

The Raiders have the salary-cap flexibility and draft picks required to significantly upgrade a talent-deficient defense. That unit was 30th in rushing, 19th against the pass and dead freaking last in points allowed.

Coordinator Paul Guenther needs more frontline talent and depth on his side of the ball, though there are a few members of the 2018 defense that will be counted on again next season.

Let’s take a look at the defensive starting lineup up as it stands heading into the offseason, and whether the Raiders can write those players in pencil, ink or a series of question marks where a name should be:

Defensive line

DE: ???
NT: Justin Ellis (ink)
DT: Maurice Hurst (ink)
DE: Arden Key (pencil)
Sub-package help: DT P.J. Hall (pencil)

The Raiders will be looking for upgrades across the defensive line, making it hard to put many names down with certainty. Both edge-rushing spots are up for grabs, with one vacant and likely filled by a veteran or high draft pick.

Key’s at the other end spot right now, but another import could take that spot as well. The LSU product could be an impactful situational pass rusher while developing skills, but was forced to play beyond that role. Dialing things back might be in his best interest.

The Raiders like Hurst a great deal, and have Ellis ready for the base defense. Another interior lineman could join the rotation, or even compete for serious snaps. The Raiders must get better up front, especially off the edges, and should spend significant capital to do so.

Linebackers

SLB: Marquel Lee (pencil)
MLB: ???
WLB: Tahir Whitehead (ink)
Jason Cabinda and Nick Morrow are available – Cabinda’s an exclusive rights free agent but should be back -- to assume the middle linebacker spot they manned last season. Both guys had solid moments working in a platoon, but an upgrade seems to be the right call here.

The Raiders could use a higher draft pick to get a middle linebacker, or bring in a veteran in free agency. Competition seems a necessary addition at the very least, though outright presumptive starter is the way to go. Lee performed well after moving to the strong side from the middle, but that position doesn’t play a ton with defenses in sub packages so often. His name’s still in pencil in case the Raiders snag an athletic edge rushing type who would play strongside linebacker and move to the line in sub packages.

The Raiders defense has lots of issues, and Whitehead isn’t anywhere near the top of the list. The veteran should return to the three-down role he held in 2018.

Secondary

CB: Gareon Conley (ink)
FS: ???
SS: Karl Joseph (ink)
CB: ???
Slot: Nick Nelson (pencil)
Conley will own one cornerback spot. Daryl Worley is expected to man the other, but we can't put him down yet. He’s a restricted free agent this offseason, and while the Raiders want to bring him back, there’s no telling what the open market will bear and whether the Raiders will match any offer or offer a high-round contract tender. There is a strong, belief, however, that Worley will be back.

Joseph showed great improvement down the stretch, and should be given an opportunity to develop further and bring physicality to the defense while attempting to be more of a big-play maker.

Marcus Gilchrist and Reggie Nelson are unrestricted free agentd and Erik Harris is restricted. Harris will likely return, but the Raiders should still look for an upgrade here in the starting lineup, either through free agency or the draft. ... Coaches like Nelson, who struggled some after losing valuable development time recovering from an offseason knee injury.

The Raiders could bring in some competition there, even as cornerback depth with Rashaan Melvin not expected back. A versatile corner could challenge and/or push Nelson over the spring and summer.

Madden 20 ratings: Which Raiders players are overratted, underrated

Madden 20 ratings: Which Raiders players are overratted, underrated

The Oakland Raiders were pretty awful in 2018, and the folks over at EA Sports apparently weren't asleep at the wheel.

The video game conglomerate recently released the rankings for every player in "Madden NFL 20," and the Raiders don't look great.

Three of the Raiders' five highest-rated players are new additions, with wide receiver Antonio Brown checking in at 98 overall as Oakland's highest-rated player. Center Rodney Hudson (93), safety Lamarcus Joyner (85), wide receiver Tyrell Williams (83) and quarterback Derek Carr (80) round out the top five.

As a team, the Raiders netted an overall team rating of 80, tied with the Detroit Lions and Cincinnati Bengals.

With that out of the way, let's take a look at which members of the Silver and Black are overrated and which are underrated in the popular game. Why, you might ask? Because it's July. 

Underrated

Antonio Brown, WR (98): No, this isn't a joke. Yes, Brown is a 98 overall and is the second-highest rated receiver in the game behind the Houston Texans' Deandre Hopkins (99). Therein lies the gripe. Brown, for all his locker-room warts in Pittsburgh, has been the best receiver in the game over the last five seasons and hasn't shown any signs of slowing down. He should have been a no-doubt member of the 99 Club along with Hopkins.

Johnathan Abram, Safety (69): While the Mississippi State product received nice rating, a first-round pick of Abram's quality deserved a little higher of a nod. Rookies in the secondary often struggle initially, but Abram has impressed early on in camp, and he likely will earn a starting spot alongside Karl Joseph (78 rating). I expect him to be one of the more impressive rookies this season.

Trent Brown, OT (78): If one of the Raiders' biggest offseason acquisitions only performs at a C-plus level, the Silver and Black will be in trouble. Brown had a decent year with the New England Patriots last season, but really came on in the playoffs, ranking second among the 24 offensive tackles who played at least 50 snaps by grabbing a 79.9 grade, per Pro Football Focus. If Brown performs at that level with the Raiders, his rating should improve as the updates trickle out.

Properly Rated

Derek Carr, QB (80): Carr might end up having a better year than his initial rating suggests, but based on his performance last season this seems like a fair place to put the Raiders' signal-caller. If there is a gripe, though, it's with some of the quarterbacks who are ranked ahead of or alongside him. Andy Dalton (80), Dak Prescott (81), Kirk Cousins (81) and Jared Goff (83) all are rated the same or higher than Carr. While Goff had a great 2018, it's hard to say he's a better overall quarterback than Carr, and with the offensive weapons the Raiders brought in during the offseason, Carr should enjoy a much better statistical season than he did a year ago.

Clelin Ferrell, DE (74): The No. 4 overall pick gets the "reach" rating, accumulating a ranking much lower than normally associated with his draft position. The Clemson product had a productive college career, but he'll have to prove he's an every-down edge rusher in order to rise to meet the rest of the rookie class edge rushers (Josh Allen (77), Nick Bosa (78) and Ed Oliver (79)).

[RELATED: Biggest question facing each AFC West team]

Overrated

Doug Martin, RB (78): After rushing for just 723 yards and four scores last season for the Raiders, this is way too high for a running back who is transitioning from muscle hamster to mentor in the twilight of his career. Expect rookie running back Josh Jacobs (74) to get the lion's share of the carries this season while Martin helps him adjust to life in the NFL. Mentor rating: 99. Actual running back rating: somewhere in the low 70s.

Richie Incognito, LG (76): He didn't play last season and will miss the first two games. He probably deserves to be rated in the low 70s until he proves he still can be a valuable NFL offensive lineman.

NFL Preview 2019: Biggest question for AFC West teams as training camp nears

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NFL Preview 2019: Biggest question for AFC West teams as training camp nears

The AFC West promises to be chock-full of excitement and intrigue during the upcoming 2019 season.

Reigning NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs look to repeat as division champs, while the Chargers hope to knock them off and give Philip Rivers a home game or two come playoff time.

You can't forget about Jon Gruden's Raiders, who have the offensive firepower to be a threat on any given Sunday. The Denver Broncos brought in Joe Flacco, so that's ... something?

None of AFC West hopefuls are without their warts, though, so let's take a look at the biggest question facing each team as we head toward September.

Oakland Raiders

With all the talk surrounding the offense, can the defense be decent?
Antonio Brown, Tyrell Williams, Josh Jacobs, Hunter Renfrow. You've heard all the names.

On paper, the Raiders should put up a lot of points this season. Unfortunately, the Raiders' defense was abysmal in 2018, and if it doesn't improve this season the Raiders won't be able to leave Oakland on a high note. 

The Raiders haven't finished better than 20th in points allowed since 2006, and they gave up an NFL-worst 29.2 per game last season.

In comes a host of new names, from Clelin Ferrell and Johnathan Abram to Vontaze Burfict and Lamarcus Joyner, looking to help Paul Guenther do what he did in Cincinnati and build a top-10 defense.

If the Silver and Black can get good contributions from the rookies, improved health in the secondary and some semblance of a pass rush, they just might make 2019 interesting.

Kansas City Chiefs

What will Patrick Mahomes do for an encore, especially if Tyreek Hill isn't around?

We still have no idea if the NFL will punish Tyreek Hill for the child abuse scandal that has dragged on throughout the offseason. With the NFL, it's impossible to tell when a decision will be made. But if Hill is suspended or if the Chiefs decide he should no longer represent their organization, that would be a massive loss for Kansas City and the reigning NFL MVP. Yes, the Chiefs drafted Mecole Hardman out of Georgia and still have Travis Kelce and Sammy Watkins, but the loss of Kareem Hunt -- who was released toward the end of last season -- and Hill would be hard for Andy Reid and Co. to regroup from.

If Hill enters the season on the team, there's every reason to expect Mahomes and KC to put up massive offensive numbers yet again.

Los Angeles Chargers

Can the Chargers maximize final years of Philip Rivers?

We're going to ignore Melvin Gordon's holdout because, unlike Le'Veon Bell a year ago, Gordon gains nothing by sitting out for an entire season. If the Wisconsin product chose to sit for the entire season, he would just have to play the fifth and final year of his rookie contract next season. So, I'm going to bet he's going to play.

On to the more pressing issue for the Chargers: time. Philip Rivers now is 37 years old and has been one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL over the past 10 seasons. But not everyone is Tom Brady, and eventually, Father Time will come for Rivers.

The Chargers have put a solid team around him, but were thoroughly steamrolled by Brady and the Patriots in the AFC Divisional Round last year.

Heading into 2019, the Chargers once again are loaded with talent, especially if Gordon comes around. But they will need to figure out who will fill Tyrell Williams's role after he left for the Raiders in free agency, and they'll have to hope their linebacking corps can stay healthier than it was a season ago. There's also a question surrounding their offensive line, which fell off toward the end of 2018. Can 2017 first-round pick Forrest Lamp win a starting spot and live up to his promise?

The Bolts are loaded with talent but have some questions to answer, and are running out of years with Rivers playing at a high level to answer them.

[RELATED: Which AFC West rookie will have biggest impact in 2019-20?]

Denver Broncos

Is Joe Flacco still elite a starter?

Other than falling headfirst into Peyton Manning and a Super Bowl title, John Elway has been abysmal at finding quality signal-callers in the Mile High City.

Case Keenum wasn't the answer, so Elway decided to deal for the once-elite, always-elite Super Bowl champion Joe Flacco.

Flacco looked washed a season ago when he threw for just 2,496 yards and 12 touchdowns before going down with a right hip injury and subsequently losing his job to rookie Lamar Jackson.

The 34-year-old Flacco now will have to look over at second-round draft pick Drew Lock. While the Missouri product doesn't figure to overtake the veteran this season, if the Broncos struggle and fall out of the playoff discussion early, it wouldn't be surprising to see Lock take over.