Josh Schrock

NFL preview 2019: How Raiders' offense stacks up against AFC West rivals


NFL preview 2019: How Raiders' offense stacks up against AFC West rivals

After a season in which the Raiders' offense struggled -- ranking 23rd in yards per game (336.2) and 28th in points (18.1) -- the Silver and Black gave their unit a facelift by adding Antonio Brown, Tyrell Williams, Josh Jacobs, Ryan Grant and Hunter Renfrow.

With a new arsenal of offensive weapons and a full year in head coach Jon Gruden's system under his belt, quarterback Derek Carr figures to have Oakland's offense firing on a different level in 2019. 

The revamped offense should help the Raiders navigate a difficult schedule and stay afloat in the AFC West ... at least for a little bit. 

But with stars like Patrick Mahomes, Philip Rivers, Tyreek Hill, Keenan Allen and Emmanuel Sanders occupying the division, how does the Raiders' offensive unit stack up against its counterparts within the division?

Let's take a look:

Raiders vs. Chiefs

Quarterback: This one doesn't require a whole lot of analysis. Mahomes is the reigning NFL MVP, fresh off a season in which he threw for 5,907 yards and 50 touchdowns while leading the Chiefs to the AFC Championship Game. While Carr has the talent to put up MVP-caliber numbers, it's been a few years since he showcased that level of ability. Edge: Chiefs

Running backs: Without Kareem Hunt, the Chiefs' explosiveness took a hit toward the end of the NFL season. While Damien Williams filled in admirably after Hunt was released, it's unclear if he can be that effective over the course of a 16-game season.

The Raiders' running game was atrocious in 2018. The Silver and Black ranked 25th in the NFL with 1,628 yards and averaged 4.2 yards per rush, good for 21st in the league. Drafting Jacobs should give the Raiders a dynamic threat out of the backfield, but the success of the running game will be determined by the improvement of the offensive line and whether or not the downfield passing game is a credible threat. Edge: Chiefs

Wide receivers/tight ends: Yes, the Chiefs have Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce. But Hill still is waiting for the NFL to make its decision on a possible suspension after child abuse allegations were levied against him, so there's no telling how many games he'll play next season. 

The Raiders brought in the best receiver in the game by acquiring Brown, and added another deep threat in Williams and a sure-handed slot man in Renfrow who will have to work his way into the lineup. Don't sleep on tight end Darren Waller who had Raiders camp buzzing all spring. I'll get bold here, and give the nod to the team with the best player. Edge: Raiders

Offensive line:  The Raiders' offensive line went from one of the best in 2017 to one of the worst in 2018. A combination of coaching change, scheme change and injuries plagued the Raiders' line from the jump. The line struggled in zone blocking and Kolton Miller battled through a number of injuries all season.

Despite a number of injuries on the interior, the Chiefs boasted one of the best offensive lines in football last season, per Pro Football Focus. Mitchell Schwartz is one of the best tackles in the game. Cam Erving was OK at left guard but he's better in a swing role if the Chiefs can find someone to replace him. KC brings back all of its starters one way or another, so this one is easy. Edge: Chiefs

Overall: Advantage Chiefs

Raiders vs. Chargers

Quarterback: At age 37, Rivers remains at the top of his game and is one of the most lethal signal-callers in the NFL. A step or two above Carr at the moment. Edge: Chargers

Running backs: Melvin Gordon wants a new deal from the Chargers, but LA is a franchise that doesn't play that game (see: Antonio Gates' three-game suspension in 2005 for missing the report date to camp). Gordon will show up eventually and Austin Ekeler is a dangerous scatback. The Raiders' running game, while it should be improved with Jacobs, doesn't measure up. Edge: Chargers

Wide receivers/ tight ends: Keenan Allen is the second-best receiver in the division. The Chargers didn't want to pay Tyrell Williams, so he headed north to the Raiders. The Bolts hope Mike Williams can fill the No. 2 role. A healthy year from tight end Hunter Henry would help the Chargers maintain their offensive output from a season ago when they averaged 26.8 points per game. But if Mike Williams can't live up to his first-round billing, the Bolts' offense could see a drop-off. Edge: Raiders

Offensive line: For all the talk about the improvement to the Chargers' offensive line, their unit had a lot of warts last year. Aside from Russell Okung, who remains a top left tackle, the Chargers' O-line struggled. Right tackle Sam Tevi gave up eight sacks and 12 hits, while left guard Dan Feeney gave up eight sacks and eight hits. LA didn't make a move to replace any of its starters, hoping the return of 2017 second-round pick Forrest Lamp can give the group a bump. Edge: Push

Overall: Rivers over Carr gives the Chargers the nod

[RELATED: Raiders' 2019 success will be determined by these three players]

Raiders vs. Broncos

Quarterback: Carr had a subpar 2018, but the Broncos had real quarterback problems last season. John Elway whiffed on the decision to bring in Case Keenum, and opted to trade for the decidedly un-elite and almost certainly washed Joe Flacco in the offseason. Not sure there's another Mile High Miracle up the Super Bowl champions sleeve. Edge: Raiders

Running backs: Phillip Lindsay surprised last season, while Royce Freeman fell flat. Both return this season and likely will be asked to carry a big load, especially if Flacco is unable to perform at the level expected of him. While Lindsay was great in his rookie season, Jacobs was the first running back off the board for a reason. He was an electric do-it-all back at Alabama and has limited wear on his tires. I expect big things from Jacobs. Edge: Raiders

Running backs/tight ends: Emmanuel Sanders is trying to return from the torn Achilles that ended his 2018 season. He's 32 and it's unclear how good he'll be when he returns. Trying to fill his shoes is Courtland Sutton, DaeSean Hamilton, Tim Patrick and rookie tight end Noah Fant. There's some potential but the group is unproven. Edge: Raiders

Offensive line: The Broncos made some changes to their offensive line this season. Last year's starting right guard now is the center. The guy who started at left guard in Week 1 now is at right guard. Denver drafted Dalton Risner, a right tackle out of Kansas State, and moved him to left guard. They signed Ja'Wuan James to play right tackle and Garrett Boles is back at left tackle. The reshuffled group could have some issues, but they also have a new offensive line coach in Mike Munchak. Edge: Push

Overall: Advantage Raiders

NFL preview 2019: Raiders' three most important players for next season

NFL preview 2019: Raiders' three most important players for next season

There are a few different paths the 2019 Raiders can take. 

They can travel a similar road to 2018, with an offense that looks like it hasn't left 1999 and a defense that's incapable of getting off the field. That one's no fun and will make for a miserable final year in Oakland.

Door No. 2 has the Raiders' offense improving drastically in 2019, with the additions of Antonio Brown, Tyrell Williams, Hunter Renfrow and Josh Jacobs expected to give quarterback Derek Carr the necessary weapons to torture opposing defenses. Door No. 2 also sees the defense continue to struggle as the young Raiders experience growing pains and limp to a mediocre finish, somewhere around 7-9.

But let's talk about Door No. 3. After all, the great thing about sports is that hope always springs eternal.

Do the Raiders have the talent on both sides of the ball to go from a 4-12 campaign to a potential playoff berth? Possibly.

But if the Silver and Black are to have a successful 2019, they will need three players in particular to have big seasons to lead them back to the postseason.

Derek Carr, QB

This one is a no-brainer.

It's Year 2 in Jon Gruden's system and the Fresno State product now has a number of offensive weapons at his disposal. The Raiders attempted to solidify the offensive line by signing Trent Brown, picked up Brown and Williams to be weapons on the outside, and drafted Jacobs to give them a more dynamic threat out of the backfield.

Carr is confident in his grasp of the playbook after a full season and appears to have already developed good chemistry with Brown and Williams.

With the weapons in place and the system further ingrained, the Raiders need Carr to get back to his 2016 MVP-level form in order to successfully navigate a brutal schedule. If he can do that, the Raiders could be a dangerous team in 2019.

Clelin Ferrell, DE

It might not be fair to put this much pressure on the rookie, but the Raiders absolutely need him to be productive this season. Forget productive, Ferrell must have an instant impact if the Raiders are to be successful.

Many people saw the drafting of Ferrell as a reach, especially for a team that is in desperate need of pass rushers who can make an immediate impact. Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock ignored the knocks on Ferrell and drafted the Clemson product with the No. 4 overall pick in April.

Now, Ferrell must reward their faith by becoming a three-down edge rusher who can impact the game starting Week 1.

The Raiders' defense was atrocious at pressuring the quarterback in 2018, registering an NFL-worst 13 total sacks, while allowing opposing teams to score 29.2 points per game (also a league-worst).

Raiders defensive coordinator Paul Guenther is building a defense and Ferrell has to be a key part of that unit right away for the Raiders to turn their fortunes around.

[RELATED: Biggest question for each AFC West team]

Lamarcus Joyner, CB/S

Did I mention the defense was horrific last year? OK, good.

Enter: Lamarcus Joyner.

The Raiders signed the veteran safety at the start of the new league year. Joyner will move around in the back end of Oakland's defense, but he should spend a lot of time at slot corner, with Karl Joseph and rookie Johnathan Abram getting the bulk of the time at safety in the base defense.

With Gareon Conley and Daryl Worley expected to start at the outside corner positions, Joyner's versatility and leadership in the secondary will be paramount for Guenther's unit.

Joyner has been mentoring Abram early on in the offseason program, and his leadership will go along way to helping the Mississippi State product feel comfortable in the starting role, which in turn can allow Joyner to settle into the slot corner position that would most benefit the Raiders' defense.

Carr. Ferrell. Joyner. As they go, so do the 2019 Raiders.

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


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.