The Raiders could see half the regular-season roster turn over from last season to the next, maybe more. That’s no shock for a team with four wins in 2018 going through a full roster rebuild entering head coach Jon Gruden’s second season (this time around) and general manager Mike Mayock’s first.
They’ll need big impacts from new players both young and old this season to remain competitive, with some all-star efforts to show roster upgrades are actually happening.
Let’s take a look at five new players poised to make a major mark this season:
WR Antonio Brown
The top spot is also the most obvious. The Raiders gave Pittsburgh a third-round pick and a fifth-rounder for Brown, and then gave the All-Pro a massive raise. Trade compensation wasn’t much, but the money certainly is a sum the Raiders hope to turn into significant offensive production.
That seems likely, considering Brown’s recent track record. He has recorded at least 101 catches, 1,284 yards and nine touchdowns over the last five seasons. Again, that’s a baseline for what to expect in 2019, which would mark one of the best receiving seasons in Raiders history. He doesn’t drop passes – Brown caught 104 of 105 catchable targets – and works incredibly hard to maintain great health. Brown is also a great improviser and is working hard to build the chemistry required to utilize that trait.
Brown talked extensively in his introductory press conference about setting a new standard in the Raiders' locker room. Time will tell if that happens, especially if the Raiders start losing, but the production should be dynamic and steady if he remains healthy. That will also create openings for others in the pattern, making life easier on the entire passing game.
DE Clelin Ferrell
The first of three Raiders first-round draft picks fills the position of greatest need rushing off the edge, where the team received little production last year. Ferrell is a perfect scheme fit capable of playing a 4-3 base end spot, with experience setting an edge in the run game and getting after the quarterback with efficient technical ability.
Critics may cry about his lack of elite athletic traits, but Ferrell was always productive for college football’s best team. He had 27 sacks for Clemson the past three seasons, including 11.5 sacks and 20 tackles for a loss last year. His offseason work and progress with defensive line coach Brentson Buckner, a fellow Clemson alum, will be key in him filling a three-down role as a rookie.
It’s always difficult to expect such returns from a rookie, but the Raiders need it from someone they took so high in last month’s NFL draft. They’ll get great work ethic and character, but they need steady production as well.
RB Josh Jacobs
The Raiders longed for a young feature back with Josh Jacobs’ traits. That’s why it was important they got him in the first round, landing him with the No. 24 overall pick. He could be a true three-down back at times, even with Jalen Richard taking some of the load off his back.
There’s great potential to fill a major role right away. After all, Jacobs, is powerful, quick, agile and excellent in space as a runner and receiver. He’s a willing pass protector, as well. He hasn’t been a true featured back since high school, and producing at a level worthy of such a role would be a sign the Raiders got a good one. He and Brown could offer production from the skill positions required to make this offense dynamic and life easier on quarterback Derek Carr. There’s some uncertainty about whether Jacobs can do so much right away, but he has the qualities required to prove doubters wrong.
OT Trent Brown
The Raiders handed Trent Brown a record-setting contract right after free agency began, and it was no surprise he accepted it without hesitation. All that money must be worth one thing above all else: peace of mind.
Brown must be a stable, impenetrable force on the right side in 2019, preventing quarterback pressure and creating rushing lanes from his side. Nothing else will do.
Brown was excellent for New England down the stretch last season, pairing great size with surprising athleticism to perform his job well. Brown is capable of locking down the right side, especially while playing next to standout right guard Gabe Jackson. Brown often promotes his rags to riches story, but maintaining excellent production will be as important as his ascent. That especially true for the team that paid him so much money.
DB Lamarcus Joyner
The Raiders will move the high-priced free agent signing around the secondary, always in vital roles. He’ll play mostly free safety in the base defense, and move to slot cornerback during the regular occurrence where sub packages are required.
Those were two weak positions last year, and Joyner can strengthen both with solid play in his preferred rotation. The Raiders will need safety depth to account for Joyner’s movement, and certainly have it with Johnathan Abram, Karl Joseph and others. The Raiders needed a smart analyst playing deep, with speed to close and defend deep shots. Joyner can do that, and blanket smaller, quick slot receivers on key downs.