Raiders

What Raiders’ offense should expect with Antonio Brown traded to Oakland

What Raiders’ offense should expect with Antonio Brown traded to Oakland

Antonio Brown had a ho-hum 2018 season. On the field, anyway. The four-time first-team All-Pro had 104 catches for 1,297 yards and 15 touchdowns — pretty standard statistics over his past six seasons.

An average year for Brown is a dominant showing for anyone else. His TD count would’ve been his only personal best of the bunch, but every number would’ve tied or neared a Raiders franchise record.

That includes golden eras featuring Hall of Fame receivers, including Tim Brown. Antonio Brown would be the best Raiders receiver — Randy Moss was neither good nor engaged while in silver and black — since Mr. Raider.

Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree are the only Raiders 1,000-yard receivers since Moss in 2005, a prolonged drought without dominance in the pattern.

Brown will provide that for the Raiders after being acquired from the Pittsburgh Steelers on Saturday night for a third-round and a fifth-round pick, both in 2019, even though he’ll be 31 when next season kicks off.

Brown has six consecutive seasons with at least 100 catches, 1,280 yards and eight touchdowns. That incredible baseline would be welcome in Oakland, where the Raiders don’t have much firepower in the receiver room. Quarterback Derek Carr needs a receiver of Brown’s talent level in essentially a prove-it season as the team heads toward Las Vegas in 2020.

Brown’s availability has been as impressive as recent stat line. He has missed just four games over the last six seasons, even fewer due to injury.

He skipped the 2018 regular-season finale, but that followed his issues with the Steelers.

A tumultuous end of the season started a run of controversial comments as he worked to get out of Pittsburgh, but this story isn’t about that. It’s about the on-field addition, and there’s no doubt Brown still can play.

Brown is a probable Hall of Famer, someone who works incredibly hard at his craft. That never was called into question, even when his role in Pittsburgh’s 2018 discord was outlined in great detail by local press.

Brown always is in great physical shape and has been steadily productive. How long, however, can he sustain this gold-jacket pace? Brown has entered his 30s, and has three years left on his current contract.

Top-shelf receivers have remained productive into their mid-30s with sustained health — Tim Brown certainly did, though that’s far from guaranteed.

[RELATED: Brown traded to Raiders for two 2019 NFL draft picks]

Antonio Brown should be a top receiver for the next few years at least, likely through the three years remaining on his contract, including this important stretch as the Raiders transition to Las Vegas.

This trade will be dissected at length in coming days, especially in relation to what draft capital the Raiders gave up, the additional money paid for a 30-something receiver and whether he’ll help a Raiders team that’s in early stages of a roster rebuild. There’s no doubting, however, that he can fit Jon Gruden’s offensive scheme and the unit is a lot scarier than it was before.

Raiders roster analysis: Defense still needs help after major upgrades

Raiders roster analysis: Defense still needs help after major upgrades

General manager Mike Mayock has been candid about the Raiders’ defensive deficiencies, especially in a press conference at the NFL scouting combine.

He wasn’t just complaining about the problem. Mayock and head coach Jon Gruden executed an aggressive plan to fix it. The Raiders added several established veteran free agents, especially through the middle of the defense, to improve a unit that hasn’t been good enough in recent years.

The Silver and Black even came out ahead following a crazy Thursday where the Eli Apple deal dissolved and versatile defensive back Damarious Randall came aboard.

The Raiders are much more talented heading into the 2020 campaign, though an upgrade or two could complete what has been a solid offseason to this point.

Let’s take a look at the current state of the Raiders defense, an analysis that pairs well with Friday’s edition of the Raiders Insider podcast. You can find that below, on our NBC Sports Bay Area/California YouTube channel or wherever you get your podcasts. Also, check out our Josh Schrock’s ranking of the top 20 Raiders defensive players.

Here’s our positional breakdown, where they’re set and where the Raiders need some help.

Defensive end

Starters: Maxx Crosby, Clelin Ferrell
Top reserves: Carl Nassib, Arden Key
State of the position: Crosby was a revelation last year, finishing second in defensive rookie of the year voting. He hit double-digit sacks and proved a far better run defender than people thought. Ferrell had some setbacks in his rookie season – he lost 15 pounds with the flu before midseason – and performed below expectations associated with his draft slot. He has vowed to be better in 2020 and has the work ethic required to make great leaps. Nassib’s a versatile weapon an upgrade over 2019 situational pass rusher Benson Mayowa, though he doesn’t come cheap. Nassib also is a solid run defender who can also operate as a stand-up rusher. Key has talent and bend but hasn’t performed well in games to this point.
Help wanted?: Another edge rusher couldn’t hurt, even if it’s just a situational player later in the NFL draft, but the group will be fine even without another impact player.

Defensive tackle

Starters: Johnathan Hankins, Maliek Collins
Top reserves: Maurice Hurst, P.J. Hall, Daniel Ross
State of the position: Collins makes the interior much, much better. He has the interior pass-rush ability lacking for the Silver and Black in recent seasons, which is vital to the success of Paul Guenther’s defensive scheme. Collins would’ve led the Raiders in quarterback pressures in 2019 and has excelled battling through double teams. He’ll help those around him, making the entire line better. Hankins is a solid run defender and Hurst will have a significant role in the rotation, especially in the sub-packages. Hall will be pushed by others in the group.
Help wanted?: Collins takes the edge off this need, but the Raiders could use one more piece to this puzzle. The former Dallas Cowboy is working on a one-year deal and Hankins has a season left on his deal, so adding another player would help the 2020 group and provide some help in future seasons.

Linebacker

Starters: MLB Nick Kwiatkoski, WLB Cory Littleton, SLB Marquel Lee
Top reserves: Nick Morrow, Kyle Wilber
State of the position: Adding Kwiatkoski and Littleton to the group makes linebacker a team strength. They should pair as three-down linebackers. Lee could man the strong side, but he comes off frequently for a defensive back. Morrow has experience at both interior spots and is a quality backup who could start at any linebacker position if required.
Help wanted?: The Raiders are set here in the short and long term, something unusual for a Raiders franchise that has struggled to find proper fits at the position.

Cornerback

Starters: Trayvon Mullen, Isaiah Johnson, Lamarcus Joyner
Top reserves: Nevin Lawson, Keisean Nixon
State of the position: Mullen’s a long-term solution at one cornerback spot. Joyner’s solid in the slot, where the Raiders prefer him to play. Johnson’s still raw after losing much of his rookie year to a concussion and facial fracture suffered in the preseason. Lawson has tons of starting experience and Nixon is a valuable backup. All that said, the Raiders were looking for a top cornerback to start opposite Mullen and still don’t have that player. Eli Apple would’ve been the frontrunner to play outside, but his deal fell apart this week and he’s now back on the open market.
Help wanted?: The Raiders need a top cornerback in the draft. Like, really bad. They could and probably should use the No. 12 or 19 selection on a plug-and-play cornerback and complete the position group. They could use Randall there if nobody else seizes the job, but free safety seems like a better fit for him.

[RELATED: NFL Draft 2020: Raiders should select one of these five defensive backs]

Safeties

Starters: Johnathan Abram, Damarious Randall
Top reserves: Jeff Heath, Erik Harris
State of the position: If Randall ends up playing safety as expected, this group suddenly is stout. Abram has a lot to prove but has great potential as a physical tone-setter. Randall could free him to be aggressive with his ability at free safety, though he can move around and do a lot of things well. Heath and Harris have extensive starting experience and are solid reserves. They could fill in well in case of injury or if Randall’s needed at cornerback, where he spent the first three years of his NFL career.
Help wanted?: The Raiders could’ve used another safety before Randall arrived, Now that he’s committed to the Silver and Black, the position’s a great shape.

NFL Draft 2020: EA Sports to create 'virtual moment' with Roger Goodell, picks

NFL Draft 2020: EA Sports to create 'virtual moment' with Roger Goodell, picks

The 2020 NFL Draft will be unlike anything seen in recent memory. But EA Sports is going to do its part to add a shade of semi-normalcy.

Due to the global coronavirus pandemic, the annual event, which was slated to be held in Las Vegas, instead will be held remotely. This, of course, means top prospects like Joe Burrow, Chase Young, Justin Herbert and Tua Tagovailoa won't be able to have their handshake moment with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.

Not so fast.

NFL Media's Ian Rapoport noted Friday that EA Sports will create a digital meeting between each first-round pick and Goodell that will be shown as part of the broadcast.

EA Sports has reached out to those assumed to be picked in the first round and asked how they would interact with Goodell if the draft were being held in person. There have been several memorable draft moments between prospects and Goodell, including Miami Dolphins defensive lineman Christian Wilkins almost taking out the commish with a shoulder bump last year.

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

Each first-round pick also will get to select a high school to receive a $2,500 grant toward their football program.

It won't be a normal draft, but the virtual walk-ups will at least add something to what will be a unique broadcast.

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