Raiders

Raiders have miles to go in quest to catch AFC West champion Chiefs

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AP

Raiders have miles to go in quest to catch AFC West champion Chiefs

The Kansas City Chiefs own the AFC West. They have three straight division titles and five playoff appearances in Andy Reid’s six years as head coach.

Sure, the Chiefs haven’t won a postseason contest in that stretch, though there’s a chance to snap that streak Sunday afternoon against Indianapolis. But, to focus on that ignores a greater point.

Kansas City is the AFC West gold standard.

Raiders head coach Jon Gruden wants to own this division. Doing so will require beating the team current sitting on top.

That means doing better than the Chiefs and Reid, his longtime friend and colleague.

The Raiders have a long way to go to reach the level of consistency that has produced a 65-31 record in the last six seasons. The Raiders have a long way to producing even a stellar one-off season capable of winning this division.

Even 2016’s 12-4 Raiders campaign was foiled by Kansas City, which finished with an equal record but won the division on a tiebreaker.

[RELATED: How Raiders can (realistically) improve Derek Carr's supporting cast]

All that was before quarterback Patrick Mahomes burst on the scene. He’s an MVP favorite in his first year as a starter, considered by many to a top tier talent at 23 years. Barring injury, Mahomes is capable of dominating the division (and the league, for that matter) for an extended stretch.

The Chiefs also have great offensive weapons in Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill. They have some holes on defense, and give up far too many yards and big plays. That unit can play well from ahead, and have a low bar to clear for victory considering the offense averages 35.3 points per game.

The Raiders were dead last in the division after Gruden’s decision to tear the roster down. He doesn’t have Khalil Mack or Amari Cooper but is loaded with assets aimed to reconstruct the roster as he sees fit. The Raiders have four NFL draft picks in the top 35 overall, including three in the first round. He has roughly $78 million in salary cap space, with flexibility to increase that sum with penalty-free cuts. The Raiders also don’t have a major extension upcoming, meaning Gruden can turn this roster over quickly.

[RELATED: Quinnen Williams, three other Alabama prospects declare for NFL draft]

That provides hope the Raiders can go from worst to playoff contention. That will only happen makes the right choices and finds impact players.

He doesn’t have to copy the Chiefs model, but he needs to find quality pass rushers and athletic cover guys at linebacker and safety to complete a deep safety. The offensive line must also return to dominant form and, of course, the quarterback must be awesome.

While the L.A. Chargers are also a forced to be reckoned with, the Raiders have to be major players within the division to be the steady playoff contender and AFC force expected when Gruden was re-hired to lead the Raiders football operation.

Reaching such heights is certainly possible, but there’s a lot of work ahead and smart acquisitions to make before consistently competing within the division and its title holders in Kansas City.

Derek Carr, relief pitcher? Fresno Grizzlies tease offer on Twitter

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AP

Derek Carr, relief pitcher? Fresno Grizzlies tease offer on Twitter

Derek Carr was tied for the NFL's fifth-most accurate quarterback in 2018, finishing the season with a career-high 68.9 percent completion percentage. But can he hit the strike zone?

We might learn the answer to that question as soon as next season. After an exchange with the Triple-A Fresno Grizzlies on Twitter on Wednesday night, the Fresno State alum could be in line to come out of the bullpen for the Washington Nationals affiliate.

If it was any sport other than minor-league baseball, we'd be skeptical of the chances. But no promotion is too outlandish during the dog days of summer -- shy of a team pulling an Air Bud. 

Or, the Grizzlies thought they were speaking with Ohio University pitcher Derek Carr.

Perhaps Carr would just want to get ahead of the curve, if a pair of online sportsbooks are to be believed. If the Raiders are truly the favorites to select Kyler Murray in the draft, chasing two-sport stardom is a novel approach from Carr. 

The 27-year-old was also a good sport about rumors surrounding his future in Silver and Black. 

With three first-round picks in this year's draft, maybe Gruden and new general manager Mike Mayock can consult the aspiring GM in their own locker room. 

Senior Bowl: Raiders to coach quality edge rushers, team's biggest need

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USATSI

Senior Bowl: Raiders to coach quality edge rushers, team's biggest need

The Senior Bowl rosters were announced on Wednesday morning, providing a complete look at the North squad the Raiders coaching staff will guide through a practice week and the Jan. 26 Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala.

Prized Kentucky edge rusher Josh Allen isn’t on either roster despite a previous commitment to play the Senior Bowl -- he was expected to be on the South squad coached by the 49ers -- a bummer for all sides to be sure.

There are plenty of quality edge rushers on both sides, which will help Jon Gruden, Raiders scouts, and coaches get a close look at their biggest position of need.

Boston College pass rusher Zach Allen headlines the North Squad’s defensive ends and is someone commonly projected to go later in the first round or early in the second.

The Raiders, as a matter of fact, have three draft picks in that window. Their first pick sits at No. 4 overall, followed by 24, 27 and 35.

Mississippi State’s Montez Sweat was assigned to the North team, but the Raiders will still get to scout him in 49ers' run practices and see him play up close.

Most of the coaches’ time will be spent with the North side.

Let’s take a look at edge rusher on that team, which the Raiders will get a long look at this week:

Zach Allen, Boston College, 6-5, 285
Widely considered the top edge prospect on the North squad, Allen has burst and bend to get around tackles and to the quarterback. Analysts say he has a high ceiling and is a scheme-versatile defender. He’s solid against the run who can generate steady pressure. Impressing Raiders coaches could help him end up in silver and black with one of the team’s high picks.
Projected: Early rounds

Charles Omenihu, Texas, 6-6, 275
This big, agile defensive lineman is considered by many to be a top 50 pick, and a solid Senior Bowl week could secure such draft status. He was the best pass rusher in a Big XII not known for defense, but had a breakout senior year with 9.5 sacks. He can be a complete player impactful against the run and pass, without significant weaknesses. He hustles, plays with violence and is explosive. Keep an eye on him all week.
Projected: Early rounds

Jalen Jelks, Oregon, 6-6, 245
Jelks is super fast off the edge, and can use speed to create havoc off the edge. He also has great length, which helps him as a run defender. He isn’t the biggest pass rusher at 245 pounds, and while he’s a powerful player, he has a long way to go in terms of technique. He might be better suited for a 3-4 defense, but the Raiders can determine working with him whether he can fit into their system.
Projected: Early to middle rounds

L.J. Collier, TCU, 6-4, 276
Collier finished his senior season with six sacks and 11.5 tackles for a loss, but is considered a later-round selection due to a lack of explosiveness and lackluster bend and flexibility. Analysts say he’s good taking advantage of poor blocking technique, but that won’t happen much at the NFL level. He should be considered a developmental prospect, though he has the competitive streak to push for continued improvement.
Projected: Late rounds

Byron Cowart, Maryland, 6-4, 293
This top prep recruit bounced around in college, from Auburn to a junior college and finally to Maryland. He has great size and athleticism, but should still be considered a project with a high upside. He must flash during the Senior Bowl to rise up draft boards
Projected: Late rounds

John Cominsky, Charleson 6-5, 275
The Senior Bowl offers small-school projects a chance to shine, and Cominsky must use the practice week to prove he can compete against the big boys. He had 39.5 tackles for a loss in the past two years.
Projected: Late rounds

[RELATED: 49ers, Raiders staffs to coach Senior Bowl]

Here’s the full North roster: