Rebuilding Raiders ill equipped to weather early-season injury plagues

Rebuilding Raiders ill equipped to weather early-season injury plagues

The Raiders had three linebackers get hurt in Sunday’s loss at Minnesota, forcing them to find outside help.

One of them is down a while, with Marquel Lee formally placed on injured reserve on Tuesday. It’s uncertain how Vontaze Burfict and Nicholas Morrow will come out of these health issues, losing even one more puts the Raiders at a significant disadvantage.

They’re already feeling the impact of lost talent at receiver, safety and along the offensive front, with legitimate downgrades at all of those spots. Even losing return man Dwayne Harris is a blow.

The Raiders are floundering at receiver with Antonio Brown out the door and no one proving worthy of his starting spot. He’s an elite talent, so it’s impossible to come out equal or ahead, but even serviceable has been hard to find without Brown.

It’s plain to see that the Raiders miss Johnathan Abram at safety, even with his over-exuberant rookie debut.

Working without guards Richie Incognito for two games and Gabe Jackson for at least four games is a setback. Interior offensive line depth has been better than other spots -- Jordan Devey and Denzelle Good deserve some credit there -- but there’s a far bigger issue if Trent Brown’s down for any length of time.

The star right tackle entered Sunday with a knee ailment and left with an ankle injury that kept him from finishing the game. Going from Brown’s sure-handed play to Brandon Parker would be a major red flag for the offensive front.

The Raiders are not unique dealing with significant injury setbacks. Every team goes through them at important positions.

Their ability to weather these injury plagues is far worse than most. Such is life for rebuilding team.

Impact players can come quickly through free agency and high first-round NFL draft picks but depth is built slowly, through a series of successful drafts. Head coach Jon Gruden has been through two, and new GM Mike Mayock only one.

Mid-round picks and developing late-round prospects generally flesh out depth charts, and that takes time. Roster depth was lost following a series of subpar draft classes starting in 2015, and it will take some time to recover.

The receiver issue was created by Antonio Brown’s late exit, just before the regular season’s start. It gave the Raiders zero time to find a proper replacement. Brown’s off-field issues obviously are troubling and have put him on the street following a short New England Patriots stint, but that was a real blow from an on-field perspective.

Had Brown never been in the picture, they certainly would have drafted differently or upgraded the roster with money earmarked for him this summer.

These significant setbacks are ill timed, impacting the team during a brutal road stretch that includes five straight games played away from home and against legitimate playoff contenders from the NFC North and AFC South.

[RELATED: Could Doss be Raiders' answer to wide receiver issues?]

Injuries are starting to mount and are creating issues on both sides of the ball, leaving them exposed to good coaching and game plans. At this point, the Raiders must cross fingers and hope Trent Brown and Burfict especially can continue on, considering how vital they are to the on-field product.

The Raiders must figure out how to cope without key cogs and prep new players quickly, because a prolonged early losing streak could derail the season quickly.

NFL rumors: Donald Trump says season should start on time despite coronavirus

NFL rumors: Donald Trump says season should start on time despite coronavirus

President Donald Trump held a call with the commissioners of major American sports leagues Saturday, and offered a prediction for the upcoming NFL season.

Trump told NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and the other members on the call that the NFL season should start on time despite the coronavirus outbreak, ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski and Adam Schefter reported. Trump reportedly told the commissioners that he expects arenas and stadiums to be filled come August and September, according to Wojnarowski and Schefter.

However, it's currently unclear if public health officials agree with Trump's prediction. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases as well as a lead member of the White House's coronavirus taskforce, told Warriors star Steph Curry that sports only can return once the country as a whole has turned the corner with the outbreak and the medical system no longer is under strain. Then it will be easier to identify cases, and the cities won't be overwhelmed.

It is unknown when sports will return and how it will look when they do.

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While Trump's optimism might lift some spirits, it will be up to public health officials to determine when it is safe for sports to begin and be held with fans in attendance. With many epidemiologists expecting the virus to surge in the fall, the NFL's season could be in jeopardy.

While all major sports currently are on pause, the NFL is planning to start the season on schedule and hold games as normal with fans in attendance.

The NBA suspended its season indefinitely after Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19 on March 11. The NHL, MLB, PGA Tour and MLS all followed suit, with the NCAA choosing to cancel the men's and women's tournaments altogether.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver reportedly said on the call that his league would love to "lead the way" in jumpstarting the economy but they only can do so once they are told by public health officials that it is safe.

[RELATED: Raiders reportedly eyeing DT at No. 19 in draft]

Trump reportedly also brought up the idea of the leagues lobbying for a tax credit that used to exist for fans. This credit would allow fans to deduct concessions and ticket prices from their taxes, according to Schefter and Wojnarowski.

The call included commissioners and top executives from the NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, MLS, WNBA, WWE, PGA Tour, LPGA, UFC, IndyCar and Breeders' Cup, according to a White House pool report.

As of Saturday, there were more than 270,000 cases of coronavirus in the United States and more than 7,000 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and NBC News reporting.

NFL draft rumors: Raiders expected to take defensive tackle in Round 1

NFL draft rumors: Raiders expected to take defensive tackle in Round 1

The Raiders stocked up in free agency, spending big to fix a defense that was leaky at best in 2019.

Coach Jon Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock now must turn their attention to hitting another home run in the NFL draft. With the No. 12 and No. 19 overall picks, most expect the Raiders, who have glaring needs at wide receiver and cornerback, to address those holes in some manner with their first two picks. That might not be where Gruden and Mayock are planning to go, though.

Bleacher Report's Matt Miller reported Friday, citing league sources, that most around the league expect the Silver and Black to draft a top wide receiver with the No. 12 pick, but use their second pick on a "middle-of-the-field" defender since the Raiders would like to make an upgrade at defensive tackle.

The middle of the field was a massive problem for the Raiders' defense in 2019. But they went out and added defensive tackle Maliek Collins and linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski to lead the unit. They also lucked into signing safety Damarious Randall, upgrading the middle of the field at all three levels.

However, the Raiders do still need some help in the middle of their defensive line. Collins is young and thrives beating double teams, but he only signed a one-year deal. Maurice Hurst had a nice 2019 but he still needs to improve and Johnathan Hankins, while great against the run, doesn't move the needle rushing the passer.

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If the Raiders do want to draft a defensive tackle -- it might not be the best use of a first-round pick -- there are a few elite talents they could look at.

Derrick Brown leads this year's defensive tackle class. The 6-foot-5, 318-pound Auburn product might be the most complete defensive tackle to enter the draft since Aaron Donald. He has powerful hands, an unreal motor and can play in odd and even fronts. He's a Day 1 plug-and-play starter with All-Pro potential. Brown is expected to be a top-10 pick so the likelihood of him donning and Silver and Black is low.

Second on the list is South Carolina's Javon Kinlaw. The 6-foot-5, 315-pound Gamecock is an elite pass-rusher with all the tools and the strength of a bull. He has a great first step and unreal explosiveness. Kinlaw might be a shade below Brown but he appears to have Pro Bowler written all over him. He could be available for the Raiders at No. 12, but it's doubtful he slips to No. 19.

The next two players are end of Day 1-beginning of Day 2 guys, which means the Raiders must be sure they can contribute right away to take them at No. 19 or must trade down to make the pick lineup with the talent.

Next up is TCU's Ross Blacklock, a 6-foot-4, 305-pound load who has all the goods to be a star at the NFL level. Blacklock has the size, length, power and athleticism to be a dynamic playmaker at the NFL level. While some evaluators believe it might take him some time to adjust to the NFL game, he has all the tools you want in a three-down interior defensive lineman.

The last high-end interior defensive lineman is Oklahoma's Neville Gallimore. The rare defensive tackle that is defined by his speed, the 6-foot-2, 302-pound Gallimore has all the looks of a Day 1 NFL starter who can collapse the pocket and put the quarterback on his heels. His quickness, motor and power are traits that leap off the tape.

[RELATED: McKinney headlines top DB prospects for Raiders to target]

Now a middle-of-the-field defender could mean a safety like Alabama's Xavier McKinney, which would mean the Raiders would shift Randall to corner where they have a huge hole after Eli Apple's contract couldn't get finalized.

If Kinlaw or Brown falls to the Raiders, Gruden and Mayock should snap them up. Both would be a powerful inside presence who could open up rushing lanes for Clelin Ferrell and Maxx Crosby.

But if both are off the board and corner like Florida's C.J. Henderson or even LSU's Kristian Fulton still are available, it might be wise to address to cornerback need first and see if a defensive tackle like Davon Hamilton,  Raekwon Davis or Justin Madubuike falls to them in the third round.